Munich

Last year when I visited Munich I forgot to write a blog on the city and so this post is a combination of my experiences of my recent trip but also last years.

The first stop for any tourist in Munich is Marienplatz. Here you see Munich’s dominating Town Hall with the two towers of the Frauenkirche nearby. The square certainly feels like the heart of the city, always with something going on.

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Close by is the Viktualienmarkt, a popular daily market with fresh food, crafts and touristy tat. From here you can tackle your first stein of beer, enjoy a fresh pretzel or pick up some souvenirs to take home.

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From here I would recommend that you visit St. Peter’s Church. Not only is it beautiful inside, but for a few euros you can climb to the top of the spire for some spectacular views of the city with the even more spectacular backdrop of the Alps. Unfortunately both years that I visited Munich, the Frauenkirche towers were covered in scaffolding which tainted the view a little so I hope to return one day when this is complete.

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Even if you visit Munich outside of Oktoberfest you won’t miss out on the beer. The breweries all have their own permanent beer halls and gardens, the most famous being Hofbrauhaus. I imagine it is pretty busy all year round but if you cant fit into the main hall, explore a bit upstairs and you should find a seat, although the atmosphere is arguably much better downstairs.

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As I visited in a big group of 10 we had to go upstairs to find a table. All of the beer halls are pretty similar but from my experience their main difference to the Oktoberfest tents is that they will sometimes serve half litres. Food in the beer halls is all pretty similar.. pork knuckle, schnitzel, and various forms of sausages. Most food is served with a potato dumpling, saukraut (shredded cabbage), or their version of a potato salad which I loved. Hofbrauhaus and other halls that are more geared for tourists tend to have English menus if you ask. I would recommend this as eventhough you may recognise some words on the German menu it may not be exactly as you would expect. In England most items on a menu will be a meal in themselves ie. chicken, veg, and potatoes, whereas we experienced that sometimes what the menu said was literally it and you could end up soley with a roast chicken or a plate full of sausages and nothing else.

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Munich has a wonderfully rich culture thanks to it being the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria in the Holy Roman Empire. This, fused with the more recent architecture from the Third Reich has created an absolutely fascinating city. Even though I have visited twice so far, I am yet to visit some of the cities main ‘attractions’.

Some of my group took a day to visit the Deutsches Museum which focuses on Germany’s strong scientific and technological developments. Apparently it was a fantastic trip although the Museum is absolutely vast, and takes days to really see everything. It is under the same organisation that own the Deutsches Museum in Berlin which is possibly my favourite museum so I am certainly keen to see its sister site.

I am also desperate to see the Munich Residenz, the former palace of the Bavarian monarchy. I hope to visit Munich again soon, but not during Oktoberfest, so I can completely focus on what this glorious city has to offer. I would love to hear of anyone’s recommendations! I have however managed to go on a few day trips whilst in Munich as there is SO much to see close by in Bavaria too.

Dachau Concentration Camp, the first in Germany, is not far from Munich. It was an unforgettable but heart wrenching experience. This was the first and is still the only Nazi Camp that I have visited. I have, like most English children, studied the Holocaust in quite a lot of depth and so have known for a long time the horrors that took place. But I really don’t think anyone can really fathom the atrocities until visiting somewhere such as Dachau.

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I was able to visit Dachau thanks to the organisation that I visited Oktoberfest with – PP Travel. So I don’t know how you would get there using public transport. I also visited Andechs Abbey with PP. The stunning Baroque church is a site of pilgrimage, and stands proud on the landscape. For a small fee you can climb the spire giving spectacular views of the Bavarian countryside. However the main draw of the Abbey to tourists, is its brewing business. You may find it surprising, but monks have always been big brewers and this tradition has continued at the Abbey. In the Middle Ages, when water was often unsafe to drink, alcohol was usually the best option. In addition to this, the thick ales that the monks brewed would help sustain the monks when their diets were very simple or when they wished to fast. At the Andechs beer garden you can try their traditional dark beer, or if that isn’t your cup of tea then they also brew lager which is much easier to drink!

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In the very south of Bavaria, nestled on the edge of the Alps, is the village of Hohenschwangau. To get here you need to get a two-hour train to Fussen, and then a ten minute bus. As you make your way up the hill you soon see the castle of Hohenschwangau. You can go inside the castle but we didn’t have time.  Although originally a medieval castle, the present construction is 19th Century. It was here that the ‘mad’ King Ludwig II spent his childhood, and developed his love of fairytales and opera.

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These interests developed as Ludwig grew older. When he unwillingly became King, he built the castle literally of his dreams, inspired by his obsession with the composer Wagner and his operas. This castle was Neuschwanstein. Ludwig paid for the castle personally. Although this meant he had to borrow substantially, he did not spend the money of his subjects. Rather than an architect, a stage designer was employed to design the castle which really emphasises how dedicated Ludwig was to its magical appearance. The castle was never finished but the rooms that were, are open to the public and highlight the lavishness of the King’s design. Not only is the castle beautiful but the story of Ludwig is fascinating and I would certainly recommend visiting this iconic site that would later inspire Walt Disney’s fairytale castles.

The ticket system at the castle is odd. You buy tickets at the centre in the village and you buy a timed ticket. Groups of around up to 30 are allowed in at five minute intervals and if you miss your slot there are no refunds. You are taken round by a ‘guide’ who keeps you all together and activates your audio guide at the right time. It only lasts half an hour so you don’t get any time to dawdle which is a shame but I felt it was enough time to see the rooms and the audio guide is designed that you hear everything within the half an hour.

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Photo’s aren’t allowed inside, hence the lack of snaps. But I think even if I was able to take some, they wouldn’t have done it justice! There is a bridge close by to the castle that gives spectacular panoramic views over to the castle but unfortunately for us it was being renovated and was therefore closed. We knew this in advance luckily but it was a shame as we were either too close to the castle to see it all or had trees blocking our view.

Now the final trip that I have gone on from Munich was actually to Austria, but very close to the German border. This was also a trip with PP so I am unsure if any public transport goes here. We visited the small ski resort of St Johann in Tirol.

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It was here that some of us decided to try paragliding. Although not as exhilarating as skydiving it was still spectacular and it really gave the best views. Adam said that he had two hawks that flew at his level while he floated down! Our instructors allowed us to steer a little and also did acrobatics which saw us almost flipping upside down! We ran off the top of the mountain but apparently in the Winter they ski off, which is definitely what I want to try next. When we visited Neuschwanstein we saw people paragliding there which I imagine was incredible so if you do visit the castle and fancy paragliding, see if you can combine the two! Our paragliding was with this company and all of the instructors were lots of fun and I thought their prices were pretty reasonable. They do lots of other sports too at various price ranges so check them out.

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That evening, PP took us to a Guesthouse in a national park in the Wilder Kaiser mountain range. Here we had Austrian food and evening entertainment. It is a beautiful place but apart from hiking I’m not sure if there is much to do.

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If you hadn’t noticed, there is a lot to do in and around Munich. I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Bavaria and I cannot wait till I get to see what else it has to offer.

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