Germany Day 4: Munich

We have been to Munich several times before, but thirty years clouds the memory and things change over time, so it was still an adventure for us.

We started the day with a wonderful breakfast at Hotel Laimer Hof. I had forgotten how much I miss German brötchen (rolls). German brötchen are like hard rolls, chewy and somewhat crispy on the outside, but soft and doughy on the inside. For breakfast, they are served along with thinly sliced cheeses and meats (what we might call lunchmeat) in addition to butter and jam. A typical German breakfast may also include tomato and cucumber slices, soft boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit and müsli. But it is usually the brötchen I fill up on, perhaps one with cheese and meat, and another with butter and jam. I have not yet found an equivalent to German brötchen in the States. I need to learn how to bake these. Anyone know of a good recipe?

Since our hotel was near Schloß Nymphenburg, we started our tour by exploring the grounds around the palace. We arrived before they had turned on the fountains in the ponds in front of and behind the palace. Schloßpark Nymphenburg is quite large, with a nice combination of landscaped gardens, statues, ponds, canals, and woods. Interleaved throughout are walking paths that lead to unexpected treasurers such as smaller palaces tucked away in the woods.

We enjoyed the peaceful morning stroll with the mixture of history and nature. I was surprised to see what looked like an American Coot in one of the ponds. Later I learned that the American Coot has a relative, the Eurasian Coot, which looks very similar. We also saw a duck that I did not recognize. Further research revealed that it was a Red-crested pochard. I find it interesting to notice the similarities and differences of wildlife around the world.

From Schloß Nymphenburg, we took the Straßenbahn (street car) or "Tram" to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to get to the old town center of Munich. Even though it takes a little longer, we chose the Tram instead of the S-Bahn so that we would stay above ground and we could take in the views of the neighborhoods and store fronts along the way. The Tram took Arnulfstraße most of the way there. Along the way, we found it unusual to see some people playing basketball on a basketball court in front of a school. We didn't think basketball was very common in Europe, but evidently that is changing.

For our walking tour of Munich's historical center, we walked through Karlstor (one of the remaining gates from Munich's medieval city wall), down the pedestrian Neuhauser Straße to Marienplatz (Munich's central square), then over to Viktualienmarkt (the farmer's market). We made it to Marienplatz just in time for the Glockenspiel to ring the bells and the figurines to spin and dance. Afterwards, we found a little beer garden in Viktualienmarkt to sit down for a lunch of Weißwurt (Bavarian white sausage) and a beer for Left Buddy.

It was white asparagus season and there were booths along Neuhauser Straße and in Viktualienmarkt selling it. White asparagus is grown underground, under mounds of dirt, never allowing it any sunlight, so it never turns green. White asparagus is considered to have a more delicate flavor and is slightly sweeter than green asparagus. White asparagus is so common in Germany that it is just called asparagus (Spargel). We thought it kind of funny that some of the booths were also selling green asparagus like it was a novelty, so the signs were Spargel and grüner Spargel, where Spargel is assumed to be white, instead of saying weißer Spargel. I don't even remember seeing green asparagus in Germany thirty years ago.

After lunch, we just wandered around, not really paying attention to any maps most of the time, just turning down the next little street that looked interesting. Our only goal was to make it to the Chinese Tower in Englischergarten in time for coffee and kuchen (cake). Whether it was luck, good instincts or our memory was better than we thought, we managed to come across most of the highlights of the inner city. But first we wandered around Viktualienmarkt, enjoying the many, cute little fountains, the maypole and seeing all the different produce and wares that were for sale. Then it was on past Frauenkirche, Alter Hof, Hofbräuhaus, Max-Joseph-Platz, Residenz, and Odeonsplatz, then through the Hofgarten to the Englischergarten and the Chinese Tower. And yes, we made it in plenty of time to have coffee and kuchen.

Even though I enjoy visiting large cities, I find myself drawn to the parks and wildlife within the cities. The green escapes from the buildings and pavement within cities seem to make them more livable, at least to me. And the Englischergarten is the granddaddy of them all. It is slightly larger than Central Park in New York. It has man-made streams, lakes, beer gardens, open fields of grass and tree-lined paths. We took a wrong turn on our way to the Chinese Tower and found ourselves at the Eisbachwelle, a man-made standing wave in one of the streams that people line up to take turns surfing on. I'm not quite sure why I said wrong turn, there are no wrong turns when you are exploring. After our coffee and kuchen at the Chinese Tower, we continued north in the park to Kleinhesseloher See, a man-made lake. We enjoyed watching the people paddling around the lake in their boats amid the ducks, geese and swans. We saw mandarin ducks, graylag geese with baby goslings and a mute swan on a nest. Mute (white) Swans seem to be much more common in Europe than in the States. We saw quite a few earlier in the day at Schloß Nymphenburg. After walking under the busy Isarring road, we headed out of Englischergarten to find an U-Bahn (subway) stop. We didn't even make it half way through the length of the park.

We wrapped up the day by taking the U-Bahn over to Sendlingertor to see Asamskirche and then walked over to Theresienwiese for dinner at the Frühlingsfest. It was rush hour on a week day, so we got the full experience of what it is like to commute on the U-Bahn in Munich. The Sendlingertor is another gate from the old city wall, but not as interesting to look at as Karlstor. Asamskirche is another story. It is a small church, but very lavish and intricate. From there we walked down Nußbaumstraße and Beethovenstraße, through Beethovenplatz and Kaiser-Ludwig-Platz. It was a relatively quiet walk through a neighborhood, past the University Hospital and Theresiengymnasium (an old, small grammar school). What impressed me was that even off the beaten path, there was still plenty of old, intricate and interesting architecture. Theresienwiese is the large field where the Oktoberfest is held in the fall, and where the Frühlingsfest is held in the spring. The Frühlingsfest is much smaller than the Oktoberfest and seemed to be visited by more locals than tourists. There were carnival rides and games and just one large beer tent with a band, which is where we headed. We don't know if there was some kind of special event going on, but the majority of the people coming in were about high school or college age and dressed in traditional German clothing, drindls and lederhosen. The band started the evening playing traditional German drinking songs, but, as the evening wore on, the songs became more and more modern, perhaps to appease the young crowd. After we had our fill of fest food, Left Buddy had more than his share of beer, the young crowd got rowdier and the music got more modern than we liked, being old folks, we headed back to our hotel, in its quiet little neighborhood and called it a successful day of touring.

As usual, I created a photo album for you to enjoy, Little Glimpses of Munich.