After postcard-perfect Amsterdam, it was nice to be in a real city. Munich is located down south in the German state of Bavaria and is the third most populous city in the country. Though Bavaria has long been a bastion of conservative politics in Germany, Munich is an island of liberalism, and I could easily see myself living here. It reminded me of Milan in many ways; both are stylish, livable cities with grand architecture and low crime, and both are considered second cities to Berlin and Rome, respectively.
Munich has been a major European cultural center for hundreds of years, but not all of its history is admirable. In 1920, Munich became home to the Nazi Party. Hitler’s famous “Beer Hall Putsch” happened in a beer hall in Munich, at which he and his supporters attempted to overthrow the Weimar Republic and seize power. Half of Munich was destroyed by bombing during World War II, but it recovered and, since the 1980s, has had one of the fastest growing economies in the country. Munich is what many Americans envision when they think of Germany (think beer halls and lederhosens), so we figured it was the best place to start our trip.
I wasn’t too excited about German cuisine before our trip, but the food ended up being one of my favorite things about Germany. Munich specializes in Weißwurst (white sausage made of minced veal and back bacon, flavored with parsley, lemon, onions, and cardamom) served with Weißwurstsenf (sweet mustard) and freshly-baked Brezen (pretzels). Traditionally, the sausages are made early in the morning and eaten as a snack before noon, since preservatives aren’t used and the meat is not smoked. They’re heated in water for about ten minutes and brought to the table in a big bowl of hot water. I couldn’t get enough of this meal!
And just thinking about the beer we had in Munich makes me salivate. I’m usually quite picky about my beer — “dark ales from craft breweries only, please” — but every single beer I had in Germany was infinitely better than anything I’ve had in the U.S., and Bavaria takes its beer even more seriously than the rest of the country. Since 1516, German beer has been brewed according to Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law), which stipulates that water, barley, hops, and yeast are the only ingredients that may be used in production. This law was introduced partly to prevent price competition with bakers; since only barley could be used for beer, other grains like wheat and rye were saved for bread. Thanks to Reinheitsgebot, German beer is absolutely delicious and the reason I will never drink American beer again (sorry, Brooklyn Brewery).
Biergartens (beer gardens) are a central part of Munich culture. The concept originated in Munich in the 19th century because breweries wanted to reduce the temperatures inside beer cellars in the summer, so they covered river banks with gravel and planted shady chestnut trees for cover. One of our dinners was at a biergarten in Viktualienmarkt, a huge, historic open-air food market. As New Yorkers, Anthony and I couldn’t help but wonder how such a traditional place survives, taking up a hefty amount of space, year-round, on the most expensive real estate in Munich. Turns out, the government understands how much locals love Viktualienmarkt, so it charges vendors only a small percentage of their gross income and bans fast-food chains, allowing beloved old-time shops to still exist. Imagine if America could put the interests of its people above making the highest profit!
Like all good cities, Munich has numerous public parks. We spent one afternoon in Englischer Garten, one of the largest urban parks in the world. With rolling lawns, a famous nudist area, and multiple biergartens, it’s no wonder we loved this park. In fact, the highlight of our entire stay in Munich may have been watching surfers at Eisbach, a small man-made river that flows through part of Englischer Garten. Yes, you read that right — you can go surfing in the middle of Munich. Just past a bridge near the southern edge of the park, Eisbach forms a constant standing wave that has become a popular river surfing spot for experienced surfers. There are even surfing competitions here. We spent hours watching them, completely mesmerized — and we’re from Hawaii!
If someone only had time to visit one city in Germany, I’d probably tell them to visit Munich. They’ll get all the obligatory beer halls, World War II history, art museums, and famous concert halls, but they’ll also get a glimpse of the way in which modern-day Germany does everything better. It grapples with its tumultuous history better than America does. It cares about the well-being of its people more (and I haven’t even touched upon its free college tuition yet!). It makes better beer. It’s even created a more efficient way to surf. Throughout the rest of our trip, Germany just continued to prove to us that it does life better.
I could have stayed forever, but it was time to visit some castles. Auf Wiedersehen, Munich!
Tips for future travelers:
Have dinner at Hofbräuhaus. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this famous beer hall because it’s incredibly touristy, but we loved it so much that we went twice! It’s boisterous, it’s loud (especially when the oompah-music starts at night), and the floors are sticky with beer — but what an experience! Munich wouldn’t be Munich without it. Plus, the food is fantastic. Get yourself some Weißwurst.
Climb up St. Peter’s Church for the best view of Munich. There’s a €2 entrance fee and 306-step climb, but the view is well worth it.
Our hotel, Hotel Splendid-Dollmann, was pure class. The lobby has a wood-paneled library, the breakfast rooms made us feel like we were dining with royalty every morning, the hotel left us a couple of hardcover German novels on our bed to take as souvenirs, and it was just a quick walk to Marienplatz. It was the perfect place to stay in elegant Munich.
Try a Schmalznudel at Schmalznudel Café Frischhut. This light, fried, yeasty dough is basically a glorified funnel cake, but it was a delight watching the pastry chef make this in front of the shop window. You’ll get to witness the terrifying amount of butter he uses, as well as the impressive number of regulars who drop by for one of the four pastries made here.