Twenty years ago. When I was single and lived on a tight budget.
I couldn't afford to stay in a Munich hotel then, so I camped at the Thalkirchen Campgrounds. And it was sheer luck that had made this possible. Without a tent and sleeping bag they didn't want to give me a site. I tried to convince them I'd be fine sleeping on my sheet in the open air. But in Germany rules could not be broken. Then, fate intervened, teaching me that when you traveled low to the ground amazing things happened. This was when you were more likely to encounter kind strangers who touched your life in unforgettable ways. It was such a stranger, a German Namibian, who appeared out of the blue (actually, he worked at that campground) and loaned me a tent and camping equipment, making it be possible for me to enjoy a few days in Munich.
Now, twenty years later, as we rode the U-Bahn to our apartment, I hoped it would be as luxurious as the website description. And it was - gleaming tiles, granite surfaces, a stylish bathroom, comfortable bed. In a word - contemporary.
Adding to our joy was the discovery that the neighborhood was as trendy as you could hope for. It was a Saturday afternoon when we arrived. Summer at its best, and the streets were bustling. I felt immensely happy to be here. All around us there were lots of lively cafés, international restaurants, bars, bakeries, supermarkets, and wine shops. Finding it impossible to ignore the irresistible cakes on display at one of the busy cafés, we grabbed an outside table and placed our order.
Strong cappuccino and moist, dark chocolate cake filled with fresh blackberries, combined with oodles of summer ambience - how could you not fall madly in love with this city? Sharing such a divine experience in the company of locals who were hanging out, having a good time with friends/partners/family should definitely be number one in a rule book on how to enjoy a visit to Munich.
Armed with Rick Steves' guidebook, we wandered over to Marienplatz to start his "walking tour". A festive atmosphere pervaded the city. Throngs of people - tourists and locals - were out and about. At Marienplatz we stood in front of the extremely ornate neo- gothic New Townhouse - one of the very few buildings that survived the bombing of WWII. It was almost 5:00 and the glockenspiel was about to "joust". A huge crowd practically smothered us. However, it was definitely worth it. We watched all four parts of the spiel - a wedding procession, the joust, cooper's dance, and finally a rooster crowing.
Looking around at the other grand buildings of the square, it was hard to imagine that they were all rebuilt after 1945. Unlike other German cities, in Munich bombed buildings were rebuilt to resemble the originals.
Right at the top of the New Townhouse is the Munchner Kindl -a mini monk with outstretched arms, with a book in one hand. This is the symbol of Munich.
Discovering Munich is such a treat because there are so many beautiful surprises awaiting you. As we strolled through the pedestrian heart we arrived at the Viktualienmarkt. This is a daily market with many produce stands as well as other specialty foods like cheeses, olives, baked goods, wines, etc.
Wandering along bustling pedestrianized Sendlingerstrasse you come across an eye catching baroque building. It's the Assam Church, built by the Assam brothers who were architects. They built this as an advertisement for their skills.
From our apartment it was just a few minutes walk to the Isar River. From the bridge, looking back in the direction of our apartment, you see the towers of a nearby church and lots of green shrubbery and low trees lining the banks. Along the bank on the opposite side there are green spaces and a cycle lane that follows the river for many miles. Quite amazing to be in a major city, but escape to peaceful nature so easily. To enter the Altstadt from here we walked past the Deutsche Museum which is on an island in the river. Then we came to the Isartor, one of four old gates through which you enter the old town. Quite charming. I really loved the human scale of Munich.
The famous Hofbrauhaus with its huge beer halls was ridiculously loud and crowded. We wandered around looking for a suitable spot out of the 5000 seats with every intention to do what every tourist in Munich was supposed to do. But when we realized the smallest sized beer we could get was a liter, we had the perfect excuse to escape the rowdiness and seek out a more peaceful beer garden. Leaving the Hofbrauhaus we entered the Platzl, Munich's medieval heart. This whole area was flattened in the 2nd World War. I reminded myself of that fact as we walked past the bustling cafés and restaurants.
We ended up having our beer at the Viktualienmarkt. Local breweries take turns to sell here, at this market, and a board advertises which ones are available. Didn't make any difference to us. All the Bavarian beer I'd had was fantastic, and so was this.
I climbed up the 306 steps to the spire of St. Peter's Church and was rewarded by terrific views of Munich. It was interesting to see the Bavarian Alps which were surprisingly so close to the city.
The Residenz was the Wittelsbachs downtown palace.
Outside the grand buildings there are beautiful formal gardens which you enter through an arcade. Along the walls of the arcade are murals which tell the history of Bavaria from 1155 to 1688. I spent quite an entertaining morning examining these murals and then wandering around the gardens.
I didn't go inside the Residenz which houses a pretty good museum. Just looking at the grand building and grounds from the outside was quite impressive. What did not come as a surprise to me was that this palace was modeled after the Medici's Pitti Palace in Florence (so was the palace at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris).