I flew from Stockholm to Munich to experience the more traditional Bavarian culture. I very much enjoyed my 2014 visit to Berlin and wondered how it would compare. This was my first flight within the European Union and it felt a bit like cheating to enter without the passport control dance. Riding the S-Bahn from the airport confused me a bit since they only sell single tickets and not any kind of stored-value card and I received a tut-tut from someone impatient in the queue.
I stayed a Meininger hostel in Schwanthalerhöhe which seems like a real neighborhood and not as touristy as closer to Marienplatz. It is situated near a giant rail yard which I hoped meant better transit but really just hosts teenagers sitting on the bridge and enjoying beers. Meininger is definitely the biggest hostel I have ever seen with 5 floors of 12 rooms each hosting 6 or more. All this capacity hosts a variety of teenagers who take school trips together, presumably with a teacher. The heat outside, topping off at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, surprised me and challenged the climate control in my room, leading to some sweaty evenings. I immediately set out for dinner at Bodhi and enjoyed a vegan schnitzel and a mediocre beer. Germany has a droll foodie reputation but this was a solid meal and artfully presented. I felt circumspect not speaking German but I watched the waiters code-switch for a few people.
Returning to the hostel, I met my roommate Josh who originated from Canada and spent the past few weeks in the Baltics teaching business skills. He invited me for dinner but I demurred and offered to meet up for a beer after a walk. I wanted to check out Karlsplatz and Marienplatz before dark, both impressive. The square itself is an amazing third place which America sadly lacks, full of happy Germans imbibing. I headed back via an overly-expensive train ride to Augustiner Bräustuben to meet Josh. This hofbräu is likely similar to all others but its size and woodwork impressed me. The dunkel a less so, but I enjoyed chatting up Josh about American politics. The hofbräu closes at midnight so we headed back to the hostel for another pint. Avoiding the teenagers at the bar playing Uno, we enjoyed the warm evening and chatted up some other hostelers, including a boisterous but incoherent German who had the worst English of any I have ever met. Better than my German, I suppose.
Beginning anew the next day, I made a run for it through Marienplatz and along the Isar River. I do not normally travel with my shoes but I hope to run my first half-marathon when I return to the States and need to keep in shape! I enjoyed seeing the street vendors and turned my nose up at the murky waters. I had confusion about how to cross a major thoroughfare until I ran down into the train station and up the stairs opposite like Rocky! Afterward, I treated myself to brunch at Marais, a former haberdashery, and had eggs and uncharacteristically cherry pie.
I had to do some ridiculous dance to check out of my room and immediately check back in which required stowing my luggage in an automated locker. I appreciate this level of automation one usually only sees in Asia. I debated the day’s plans as it started to rain and decided to visit NS-Dokuzentrum which details the rise of the Nazis in their home base of Munich. I appreciated the political machination perspective which is usually overwhelmed by the wars and the atrocities. The temporary exhibit impressed me with modern documentation of political stickers, including anti-fascist and anti-anti-fascist ones which remix each other’s messages. I have seen several anti-Nazi stickers around town and apparently one woman documents and scrapes off anti-anti-fascist ones. The staff unhelpfully recommends taking a complementary fold-out chair with you through the four floors which ended up being ballast for me.
I had a quick lunch at a sandwich shop and an awkward exchange about a sandwich whose bread type I could not discern. Outside a man verbally accosted me and I pretended to speak pidgin German and laugh with him. I returned home to check into my hostel again and took a quick nap. I headed out for dinner at Max Pett, another vegan restaurant, and had a great Indian dish which was full of everything! I chatted up the waitress about vegetarian food throughout Europe and we both agree that Germans do it best. Ka-Hing arrived earlier than I planned so I abbreviated my evening to let him into the hostel. He looked a little worse for wear and apparently had some epic party night in Prague at a five-flood venue the night before.
Ka-Hing and I began the day with a giant brunch in Schwanthalerhöhe at Cafe Westend. Ka-Hing futzed around with Google Translate’s photo language recognition but I fell back to asking the waitress for vegetarian options. Service in Germany seems less engaging and prompt than America and one must be persistent to order or pay. Next door to the restaurant was the endless staircase, an art installation that reminds me of a previous, Sisyphean software job.
We planned to go to the Deutsches Museum after breakfast so we navigated the U-Bahn and its Kafkaesque ticketing system. One can either buy a single ticket for €2.80, a slightly more economical Streifenkarte at 5 rides for €13, or a day pass for €6.80. Needless to say, I made the wrong decisions most days and wonder why Germans lack a stored value card! We made our way to the Deutsches Museum, a 100-year old science museum, and did not appreciate the size and scale of the place due to ignoring the map. We spent about half our time on the dated astronomy floors but appreciated the computer floor beneath, including an original Cray and several abacus and counting technologies. We ran out of time and cursed our poor planning as we missed the extensive aeronautics floor.
Our pressing plan for the day was a Third Reich walking tour, a bit of disaster tourism. Our British guide did a serviceable job walking us and explaining the sights. It was a small thrill to stand in places I had read about like the Beer Hall Putsch and Kristallnacht. She used careful speech to explain how Germans interpret themselves and their predecessors’ acts, only slipping once when metaphorically referring to some people as figuratively blown away by some events who were later literally blown away. However, this exercise was duplicative and inferior to the NS-Dokumentationszentrum.
We trekked out west to Backstage for traditional German music. The venue was massive and might contain a thousand people on a good day, although we sat in the back section with a more intimate deck. One could buy a liter of beer for €4 and plenty of people used the free grill to prepare their sausages. We fell in with two expats from Ireland and South Africa and their less communicative local German friend. They generously shared their pretzels and conversation with us and we gossiped about our various travels. As time passed the place filled up with footballers watching European champion league finals which Ka-Hing enjoyed while I chatted up the less interested wife. Lacking any dinner options for me we walked east towards our hostel and had a forgettable meal at Servus Heidi. We debated a longer night out but I was tired so we retired around 11.
The next day we ironically ate breakfast at California Bean, nothing special but on our way towards Nymphenburg Palace. The grounds of this palace and the expanse of the building impressed me, including a canal for royal transport. However, the interior of kings and queens bedrooms and 36 portraits of women dragged. One exception was an epic fresco on the ceiling.
Ka-Hing and I split up so he could see the NS-Dokumentationszentrum and I went to the Bavarian National Museum. I had some trepidation since this was not geared towards international tourists and indeed most exhibits lacked English translations. Still, I got something out of the Typically Munich and the puppeteering exhibits, getting some taste of the German gestalt. More troubling was “No Secrets”, featuring a panopticon, 1984 book with a camera, and other interpretations of government surveillance. I have unease about digital footprints and tracking and make some efforts to avoid them. Several of my friends and I have varying levels of commitment to this and I respect but feel slightly schizophrenic about additional precautions. I am glad that these fears are filtering into the larger public consciousness but remain pessimistic about the long-term.
I met up with Ka-Hing and we watched the Rathaus-Glockenspiel show at 5 PM, which must have been gripping back in the day. The crowd cheered as one of the mechanical knights offed the other but there was no encore. I also discovered the boar of Marienplatz which gave me a piggyback ride. We padded around looking for a pint and settled on the Augustiner, a retread for me. We met a Korean exchange student studying in the UK and gossiped about our respective presidents and their woes. Our new friend was impressed that I attended a political rally in Seoul but I was not impressed with her lack of knowledge of Korean clubs like Octagon.
We went back to our hostel to make evening plans and met two new hostel mates. Coincidentally the younger woman lived in Marietta, Georgia where I grew up although I did not return her enthusiasm for that area. Ka-Hing and I left for dinner at the park, coincidentally related to Augustiner, and fought off gnats and unfortunately did not chat up anyone new. We had the ambition to listen to music at Cord but due to mistranslation, we found ourselves at a dance club opening at 11 PM. I have never been the third person at a club before but the place started rocking around midnight. Germans have superior stamina and we could not keep going this late!
Monday started off with a bang and our two new hostel mates became bedmates while I was sleeping. I had ear plugs in but Ka-Hing’s upper bunk was a-rocking. We quietly stepped over their strewn clothes and snuck out. Most restaurants were closed for Whit Monday, celebrating 50 days after Easter, so we went to the train station for breakfast. I wisely chose to check in before eating which took about 45 minutes of confusion and six queues to end up navigating a ticket vending machine down an unusual decision tree. Frustrated but ticketed, we began our 7-hour train ride to Berlin. The 7-hour travel time, lack of wifi, and $150 price tag disappointed me. Allegedly I could have flown for $31 instead!