Germany: Munich and beyond

It’s a little weird to visit the world’s most famous beer hall without ordering a world famous beer. But that’s exactly what I did in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. But first things first. Munich has two distinct seasons: Oktoberfest and the rest of the year.

Munich during Oktoberfest, borrowed from Business Insider. Armageddon is close.
Max-Joseph-Platz on a regular non-Oktoberfest day.

As Munich turns into a veritable hell on earth on Oktoberfest, our visit was cleverly timed to happen a few days before this debaucherous fest. Nonetheless, I still braved the crowds to enter the Hofbrauhaus, a much revered centuries-old drinking institution, because I wanted to…I don’t know…maybe get a glimpse of the excitement that ensues once people get intoxicated. I guess I was secretly hoping for a bar brawl.

The fraulein working there wasn’t impressed. This voyeur was an insult to the generations of hardy beer drinkers who have gathered in this hallowed place for a pint of the golden elixir.

To hell with bucket lists.

I scurried out like a man named Mohammed and ended up dining in a much more welcoming place nearby.

But not before snapping a quick picture.

Thank goodness that, as the capital of Bavaria, Munich has a lot to offer visitors apart from the sweet feeling of alcohol intoxication. I like beer as much as I like ultra-religious people. Or geckos. Or people who see the need to comment on other people’s bodies for whatever the reason (Translation: not much).

Although we tend to have differing opinions, le hubby and I both grudgingly agreed that the city’s main square, Marienplatz, was a fine place to be.

It sits at the very heart of a lively pedestrian zone bordered by some really great shopping boutiques. We spent some time lingering beneath the shadows of the New Town Hall which, at almost a century old, is pretty modern compared to other buildings in the city.

If the strapping Neo-Gothic architecture of this Neues Rathaus does not impress you, the Rococo-style Asam Church surely would. This once private chapel of two 18-century hustlers was one of the most ostentatious buildings I’ve ever seen. Though compact in size, it’s bursting with religious iconography and gilded in enough gold and silver to make pimps jealous. #ott

No pictures inside.

It is said the brothers Asam, who worked as architects, used the church as a promotional brochure to attract clients. How very resourceful.

It’s easy to get claustrophobic after awhile, so we headed to the Hofgarten for some fresh air. There were people dancing and playing boules and, after deciding both activities took too much effort with a one-and-half-year-old, we sat in the shade of a large tree in Cafe Tambosi and ate plenty of tomato bruschetta.

Someone’s batteries are fast running out.

With our toddler fast asleep, le hubby and I quickly snuck to The Residenz, the downtown palace of the Wittelsbach and seat of the government until 1918.

The Wittelsbach’s not-so-humble abode.

The building was another exercise in showing off, and contained a room made entirely from Bavarian freshwater shells.

Yes…you read right…shells. There’s even a mermaid that, in its heyday, has red wine spouting from her breasts, in case a roomful of shells do not bowl you over.

Wait, am I in the Playboy Mansion?

There is also this:

The Antiquarium.

And this:

A private chapel. A little blurry, but it will have to do.

One of our favorite places to hang out in Munich, apart from this flamboyant shell room, was the ViktualienMarkt. It’s open-air market with a busy beer garden in the middle, where you can sit under chestnut trees and order all the calamaris and baked fish you want from Germany’s famous fast-food chain, Nordsee.

Approximately 40 minutes out of Munich is Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp where not just Jews and Nazi opponents, but also tens of thousands of “pesky undesirables” like Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists and gypsies, met their end. The area was massive, and it was a long and sobering walk to the gas chambers and back.

Along the way, miles and miles of grey concrete blocks served as ugly but necessary reminders of the past, and you’d think that humanity would glean invaluable lessons just by being here. Or at the very least show a smidgen of respect. But judging from the number of grinning tourists posing in front of their selfie sticks, it seems not.

A little further out is the small village of Oberammergau (I know, it took me awhile to figure out how to pronounce this as well). It’s worth a quick stop, if only to gawk at the painted houses and skill of its woodcarvers.

Why can’t all buildings be painted?

As the village is located in a relatively poor region, the people here have turned to the only plentiful resource they have — wood. We loved browsing the small art galleries filled with expensive whittled works — but there are only so many wooden souvenirs we could buy without being mistaken for a lumberjack at the airport.

Although it looks modest and unassuming from the outside, the Oberammergau Church has one of the prettiest interiors I’ve seen. Gilded wooden statues grace its nave and aisles, looking like real marble or gold.

Drama.

Of course, everyone goes to Bavaria for Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle famous for inspiring Walt Disney. Conceived by “Mad” King Ludwig who died before it was completed, Neuschwanstein took 17 years to build and is the ultimate wet dream for castle buffs. I’ve seen many pictures of this place — and thus was psyched to see the real thing.

Effing gorgeous, that’s what it is. (Not our picture)

The castle was set atop the hill and not immediately visible from the carpark. What was visible though, was the ridiculously long queue for the buses and horse-drawn carriages to transport (lazy) visitors uphill. But never mind! I’ll happily do the steep 30-minute trek on foot with a toddler while 7 months pregnant because I’m feeling lucky!

Fifteen minutes on, I felt my confidence faltering with each step. Mary’s Bridge, which offers the the most glorious view of the castle, is closed. And to top it all off, the place was swarming with a United Nations of tourists. I had vaguely recalled that it’s advisable to book your tickets and time slots online but, for some reason, I did not do it (mom brains!). Entry tickets, as we were about to find out, were fully sold out.

Just to give you an idea of how high we climbed while I was heavily pregnant. #winning

And so we arrived to the castle doorstep, ticket-less and dejected, like how a bunch of poor commoners must feel when they are refused an audience with the king. We had walked all the way up for nothing (well, maybe it was a great workout, though I hated to admit it at the time). And the few pictures that we took turned out looking like this:

I suppose you can’t win it all.

STAY

Citadines Aparthotel, Munich Soundproofed apartments with a tram stop out front, offering a short, hassle-free ride to the city. The one-bedroom units are a little small but good for short stays. $$

TIPS

  • Munich is one of Germany’s most pleasant cities and is a great base for many highlights in Bavaria. A two night stay is sufficient to see the city’s top sights; but one should plan on staying longer if making day trips out of the city.
  • Oktoberfest is a cultural celebration and an interesting time to visit Munich for those without young children. It is ultimately up to you to decide if it’s worth the crazy crowds and surge in hotel prices.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle can ONLY be visited on a 30-minute guided tour. If it’s on your bucket list, be sure to book tickets in advance for an additional fee— especially during peak tourist season — or risk not getting in at all. Once there, be prepared to queue for transport — neither of which gets you to the castle doorstep. I preferred to walk: the hike up, while steep, is shady and pleasant.

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