Sunday, January 17, 2016

Munich, Germany

Surprise Layover in Munich, Germany

Let me start by saying that I had no plans to visit Munich on this trip.  Sure, I would love to tour Germany, and I probably will someday.  On this trip, however, Mom and I had arranged to visit Budapest, Vienna, and Paris.  As we waited in Chicago at ORD to board our flight to BUD (connecting through MUC), we were informed that the plane had some sort of mechanical problem.  No big deal, tons of flights are delayed.  However, knowing that we would miss our connecting flight, I went to the desk to inquire about rebooking us on a new connection to Budapest.  The attendant at the desk apologized profusely that they couldn't get both of us on an early connecting flight.  Rather than becoming upset, I seized the opportunity to take a 10.5 hour layover to explore Munich.  Surprise!

Since the internet wasn't working well at all in ORD, I called home while I waited to board, and asked my dad to very quickly look up the main attractions in Munich.  Unfortunately, the phone reception was crazy bad that day in ORD, so I didn't get much of what he was saying.  However, as soon as I landed in Germany, I picked up a few fliers about what to do on a quick trip to Munich, and got started.  Yes, I suppose I could've paid for internet access on the plane, but as a Millenial, I have problems with the principle of paying for things like the internet.

Munich, a Quilt of Green
Landing in Munich, I pried my eyes open and peered out the window.  From a few thousand feet up, Munich reminded me of quilt with bring green squares and little holes where groups of houses peeked through the fields.  Mom and I wandered off the plane jetlagged, exhausted, overheated, and ready to hit the ground running.  When we went to ask for help at the counter, I was very surprised to hear my mom suddenly start speaking full sentences of German.  She had mentioned a few times that she studied German for a few years in high school, but never spoke much about it beyond that.  She's been my mom for 26 years, and I had no idea her German was that good.  After I got over my, "Oh, you actually speak German?" surprise, we dropped of our suitcases and jackets at an airport office, found the S-Bahn, and rode to Marienplatz, the City Center.  It's really a pleasure that getting from the airport to the center of city on public transportation is so simple in Munich.

(She still says she doesn't speak much German, but I still say I saw her communicating successfully and getting directions that she both asked for and understood.)

Lunch at Paulaner
On the train to Marienplatz, we met this Canadian guy who had moved to Munich years earlier.  He told us all about what we should do and see in the City Center on our short stay.  Since I was very, very tired, I really appreciated that he kept talking with us and kept us awake so we didn't miss our stop.  He recommended that we eat lunch in a beer garden, which he explained is a relaxing lunch out that is popular in Germany.  He emphasized the importance of high quality (for food and other items) in the Bavarian region, and told us a bit about what types of foods we should order.

Our first stop off the train was lunch.  After many hours of flying, we were both parched and hungry, so we took the Canadian guy's suggestion and got a table at Paulaner, a popular restaurant with a beer garden.  Exhausted, we plopped down in chairs and ordered a beer to split, because what else do you drink in a beer garden?  I think the server thought it was funny that we were splitting one beer between two people, but neither me nor my mom is much of a drinker.  One was plenty.

For lunch, we ordered spaetzle, salad with a mustardy dressing, and plum strudel for dessert.  Oh, the tastes!  So many yums!  In my memory, this was the best lunch of the entire trip - maybe partly because we were so hungry, and maybe mostly because the food was great.  This was my first time eating spaetzle, which I learned are like tiny little dumplings.  This was not my first time eating strudel, and certainly would not be the last time eating strudel on this trip either.  After lunch, Mom and I pepped up a bit despite the heat, and we resolved to go do some sightseeing before returning to the airport.

Spaetzle at Paulaner
Salad at Paulaner
Plum Strudel at Paulaner
Mom, looking stylish as she nimbly "zumbas" her way
up 300 steps.
Though most of Munich was closed (I guess they do the Sunday thing.), we found a church that was open, and was packed.  As soon as we wandered in the door to check out the art, we immediately understood why it was so packed: the church had air conditioning.  When it's over 100 ºF and the restaurants are hotter than hot and you're dressed in long pants and layers from the plane, any venue offering AC is the place to be.  We sat respectfully on the benches for a few minutes and gazed appreciatively at the art around the church.  This particular church had an attached bell tower, which we decided to climb so we could get a view of the whole city.  As we purchased our tickets to ascend the 300+ steps, the man selling tickets smiled and laughed that we were climbing up in this hot weather.  Wearily, we smiled and asked if the first two steps onto the platform to get to the staircase counted in the 300.  Fortunately, those steps counted, which only left 298 to go!

Inside the glorious, air conditioned church.
(In my case, I found the AC, not the religion, to be the glorious part.)
Memorial Candles
From the top of the bell tower, we spotted all the buildings we had strolled around, as well as the famed Glockenspiel.  Despite the heat, we felt ok at the top of the tower because of the strong breeze up there.  From above (and at ground level), Munich turned out to be charming and picturesque.  Before visiting, I had heard many people express that they weren't interested in visiting Germany because of the Holocaust.  Of course, many of the people back then are not the same people as now, and Germany has certainly owned its war crimes and made reparations, despite the fact that no one can ever bring back the millions of lost lives.  I always knew this, but had never made up my mind on whether or not I would visit Germany.  I felt open to the idea of visiting Germany, but simply hadn't gotten to it yet.  After spending one short day in Munich, I am very pleased to report that I felt very welcome in the city and that I would like to eventually go back and see more of the country.  Everyone I encountered was friendly and helpful, and I had a very enjoyable, albeit short, stay.  Someday I intend to return to Bavaria to see the Neuschwanstein Castle, which is what the Disney castle is supposed to be based on. (Other people claim the Disney castle is based on the Alcázar in Segovia.  All three look very similar.)

Spectacular views from the top of the bell tower
Atop the bell tower
I would be particularly interested in returning to Germany and visiting one of their Holocaust memorials to get a sense of what the attitude toward WWII is in modern Germany.  I remember than when I visited Vietnam and learned about the Vietnam War, we were told that they kept the American POWs in good conditions and fed them very well.....which seemed extremely false based on the fact that the Vietnamese set all dialogue for interviews with American soldiers.  We also visited a jail in Vietnam where American POWs were kept and tortured, and saw a great deal of their anti-American propaganda footage.  I don't know a lot about what Germany's current take on WWII is, and would be interested to learn how their museums and memorials handle the topic.

Just before 5 pm, we raced back down the 300 steps of the bell tower and sweated our way over to the Marienplatz central square where the Glockenspiel stands.  The Glockenspiel is a large clock that has around 30 figurines that move on a track and dance and joust each day.  At precisely 5 pm, the 12-ish minute show began.  The figures started to spin and move.  Some of the figures even jousted!  Of course, since the clock is in Munich, the knight dressed in Bavarian colors always wins the joust.  The Glockenspiel cemented Munich as a charming city in my mind, because the old-timey clock is very sweet, and you can't help but smile when you watch its show.  The famous clock has two different scenes on two different levels.  The top scene portrays the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine.  The jousters are there to celebrate with them.  The bottom scene shows the Coopers' Dance, which became a traditional dance in German and symbolizes loyalty.

While watching the show, we noted with amusement that the Glockenspiel is built into the town hall, which is known as the Rathaus.  Pronouncing the word "rathaus" with English pronunciation sounds like "rat house," which (being from Chicago) we decided seemed appropriate for a building full of politicians.  I have no idea what politics are like in Munich, or if there's corruption there, but I know there are more than enough corrupt politicians in Chicago for both cities combined.

Keith Haring posing with his work
With a few short hours left before we had to return to the airport to fly to Budapest, we headed to the Kunstalle München, which is the Keith Haring Museum.  Keith Haring was an American artist who used his art for political activism.  He was strictly against capitalism and excess, promoted equal rights and environmentalism, and raised awareness for HIV/AIDS.  Much of his work shows cartoon figures that look like inflated stick figures in poses from ancient Egyptian art.  These figures in his work are often highly critical of society.  To the viewer, it seems that Haring's goal was often to expose and criticize what he saw as evil or unjust.  One topic he often created artworks about was the relationship between people and technology.  In one piece, Haring is shown speaking while wearing a TV on his head, obviously suggesting that he thought people were way too involved with their TVs and missing out on real life.

Artwork by Keith Haring
All too soon, left the museum and headed for the S-Bahn to take us to the airport.  Along the way, we enjoyed passing several chamber groups of musicians casually playing classical music around the winding streets.  We also passed an ATM, which is known there as a "geldautomat."  Pronounced in English, a "geldautomat" basically sounds like a machine that spits out gold.  Unfortunately, we just got some Euros, no gold. Anyways, we boarded our late night flight, said auf wiedersehen to Munich, and flew off to Budapest.
Heehee! :)


  1. This brings back such fabulous memories of a wonderful trip with you! Your blog helps me to remember the wonderful details of our trip!

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