Sunday, July 14, 2013

München Adventures

We invited a couple from Indianapolis to join us for our final continental European trip.  They invited two more couples (all of us good friends from our CrossFit Indy North gym), so in the end we were a rowdy group of 8 with a plan to have some fun and blow off some steam in Munich and Prague.  Munich first!

One of the few pics of the entire crew (Lauren, Kerry, Me, Chris, Ashley, Jeremy, Doug, and Victoria)
We had a lot of fun planning the trip and deciding on what other city (besides Prague, more on this later) to choose.  It boiled down to Berlin, Vienna, or Munich, and for cost and activity purposes, Munich won.  I will also say that we stayed 3 nights in each city.  Knowing Kerry's and my propencity to rush through a city in 1 or 2 days, my fellow expat (and best resource for this trip), Steve said "we might'of well have grown roots!"

We met everyone at Munich's airport on Saturday morning 22-June.  Of course, as I had expected, no one slept a wink on their flight from Indianapolis, and we had a full day planned!

Walking into the city center from the old west gate after dropping off luggage.  We tried to check in early for a quick snooze before setting off, but no dice.  We're in this for the long haul.
 While we had a quick snack at the airport before taking the S-bahn into town, we needed a proper lunch.  So we dived headfirst into the world of Bavarian cuisine for our first lunch at Augustiner Großgaststätte, one of Munich's best-rated and most traditional Bavarian restaurants.

I'll go out on a limb and say this was an eye-opener for the group.  If you've read my past posts you know I can get a bit adventurous with the local cuisine, and the group was caught off guard with this one.  Everyone survived, although we did have to make additional pit stops at more familiar establishments.

I had the traditional Munich favorite, Leberkäse.  Essentially the largest slice of bologna you'll ever eat.
The literal translation is liver cheese, but contains no liver. It was called pink meat bread by our group, and was looked up on in general disgust, although I enjoyed it with the mustard.

Kerry had another traditional favorite, Weißwurst (white sausage).  Inexplicably it came floating in a bowl of warm water...

Doug fit in easily with that beard.  He just gave a knowing nod to the waiter and got a 1/2 liter of dunkel and this dish.

On the other hand, Jeremy was approached by a hen-do selling some interesting male underwear - one was elephant shaped...

Doug showing how he prepares his meals at home with this bronze statue of a boar

Going noodling with this bronze statue of a catfish - am I doing it right?

The new town hall in the marienplatz - looks old and gothic, but relatively new, built in the early 1900's.

The landmark Frauenkirche - Cathedral of our Dear Lady, the seat of the Archbishop, and what not.
We booked a bicycle tour of Munich (Mike's Bicycle Tour), thinking it would be a nice introduction to the city for our sleep-deprived crew.  Similar to Amsterdam, Munich is a great city for cycling with it's flatness and attention to bicycle lanes.  The tour takes you past numerous buildings and sites with some history lessons injected by our guide.  As I'm writing this three weeks later, you'll forgive me if I forget some of the finer details.  Anywyay, I wouldn't want to spoil the experience for anyone who was planning on going themselves!

I will say that while I was excited to ride bikes in Munich, my excitement doubled when we met our tour guide.  I was trying to place his accent (not very German-sounding), and then he said we'd wrap up around "Seven Chirty" (7:30).  I had nearly placed his heritage when he announced he's an Irishman hailing from a suburb of Dublin!  I always say that adding an Irishman to your trip makes it better!

Ashley had her eye on the purple single speed

Kerry got a comfortable 10 speed

Jeremy and I in a hurry to get things going!

We started off around the very large Residenz palace, where we learned about Ludwig I of Bavaria, his architect Leo von Klenze, and the fascinating history of how many times this palace had been rebuilt.  The most recent restoration was after World War II, when it was significantly bombed by Allied forces.  They've done some very detailed, expensive restoration to the main facades - some of which have just recently been completed - but some of the walls are just painted to look like 3-D stone blocks.  Our guide pulled no punches when he said the famous museum inside which holds the best collection of European interior decoration is the most boring museum you'd ever make the mistake to visit!

We stuck to the exteriors.

Our guide had Kerry and I (and another volunteer) pose as the Feldherrnhalle statue

Here's the actual statue, honoring the Bavarian army
What's significantly more interesting than our goofy pose is that this is the site.  In 1923, Hitler and his Nazi supporters were ready to overthrow the govenrnment after Hitler's rallying speech in a beer hall.    After being confronted by Bavarian police and ordered to stop their march, they refused.  A massacre ensued and Hitler was imprisoned.  This became known as the Beer Hall Putsch.  Although Hitler failed here, he succeded 10 years later when he gained enough followers to take over as Germany's chancellor.  

Under Nazi occupation, the area by this statue was occupied day and night by the SS honor guard, every time a citizen walked passed, it was compulsory to give the Nazi salute, as a sign of support.  Failing to due so was a good enough reason for imprisonment.  As Bavaria was not a huge supporter of the Nazi rule, they would often walk behind the honor guard to avoid having to give a salute.  The alley behind the statue became known as "Shirker's Alley" by the soldiers.  Today a memorial exists to those shirkers as a trail of bronze cobblestones in the street.  

That's the story that stood out most to me from our bike tour, but all said, it was a great introduction to the city.

Doug and Vic in the park

Bavaria's fascinating state chancellery building - the wings were bombed and rebuilt with glass, to symbolize government transparency

Zooming in on the columns reveals pock marks from bombing damage

Kerry cruising through the English Garden

The canal through the garden (a big park actually)

The Chinesischer Turm - location of the 2nd largest beer garden in Munich, 7000 seats.

Kerry got a traditional pork knuckle and a stein of wine

Liters of Beer!  and Saurkraut!

Surfing is popular at the canal at this spot where you get a perpetual wave - crazy to watch!

Our Irish tourguide finds the high ground to herd us back together

The Luftgaukommando VII - another very interesting building in Munich which was a district headquarters for the Nazi air defense.  Most symbols of the Nazi party were destroyed, but this building was preserved.  The first giveaway are the eagles above the doorway.

Subtle at first, the door grillwork detail reveals swastikas

SS helmet reliefs above the windows (with anti-pigeon spikes)

Our tourguide making sure we all made it through the crossing OK

The Maximilianeum on the banks of the river Isar - the wing on the left is another example of the attention to detail for restoration post WWII.  This building started as a school for gifted children, was occupied by the Nazis during the Third Reich, and is now the home of Bavarian Parliament. 

We were told that all the gold mosaics on numerous buildings face west to catch the setting sun.  Jeremy really latched on to this detail.

Our Irish tourguide finding more high groud on the bridge over the river Isar, as he talks about the building to the left.  I'm going to pass on trying to look up the details again on this one (did you really think I simply remembered all that stuff from earlier?!?)

So I gotta hand it to our friends here, going nearly 36 hours without sleep and managing not to crash a bicycle.   Rest was well earned.

The next day had a better weather forcast than Monday's, but neither were terribly promising.  We took the train down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Alps for a hike.  Partenkirchen was originally a Roman trade route to Venice, from the year 15.  Then, in neighboring Garmisch, from 1589-1596 they executed over 10% of the population by burning at the stake or garroting (strangling).  The accused were tried for witchcraft by causing poor crops and disease.

So logically, if she weighs the same as a duck, she must be made of wood, and therefore a witch.

Ahh, I love cherry-picking facts from Wikipedia articles!

Anyway, in these modern times, the area hosted the 1936 winter Olympics (the first year to feature alpine skiing) and more recently hosted the 2011 World Alpine Skiing Championship.  There was no snow to be had obviously, luckily they have a wealth of trails along the ski slopes for walking and taking in the sights.  The nice part about walking in a ski resort is that some of the lifts and cable cars still operate, so you can hike up, and pay to go down thereby avoiding the associated knee and toe pain.  While this is the location of Zugspitze, the tallest peak in Germany, we tackled a more modest route in the foothills to the Kruezek mountain station.

Just some nice views of south German countryside

We're a fit bunch off to a good start.  But what are these low-hanging clouds?

Trying to stay on the path - which was nicely graveled, but there were quite a few forks that were not on my "map".  By map I mean the photo of the generic trail map posted back at the train station that I took on my phone...
Here you can use it too, the glare adds an extra challenge


The clouds are keeping their distance and we can enjoy some nice mountain views

The trail continued along a gorge

We stopped at a mountain cabin for food.  But no English was spoken and we were struggling.  Luckily a cook came out and said "we have pancakes and fries".  I said "we'll have 3 orders of each".  Thanks for making it easy!

By pancakes, the cook was talking about traditional Bavarian apple pancakes.  They came out in a huge iron skillet.  Halfway through our walk, those pancakes with applesauce and pineapples were damn tasty.  Sorry for the terrible pic.

As we wrapped up our meal, the rain started.  Some were more prepared than others.  Luckily that cook was cool with sharing a few extra garbage bags.

We had a close encounter with a heard of cows (some with horns) crossing our path.  We got some nervous stares but they left us alone.

The mist is getting really heavy, and we're all starting to get wet.  I'm having some flashbacks of Lake District rain.  We enter this ominous tunnel.

Our party is starting to get separated in the mist - you see Doug and Vic barely.

We were abut 5 miles in and more-or-less miserable.  Luckily we found the cable car which will get us back down to civilization.  And we paid dearly for the luxury at 15 euro a person from Kruzeck.  They charge that rate because the Alps views are so amazing.


Reality...smiles all the way, better than being wet!

It got pretty humid in our little car as we cruised down the mountain
We got cleaned up and headed back out Sunday night to the Hofbrau house for some more Bavarian cuisine, because it was the only place serving food that late...

I forgot the camera, but got a phone pic of the Bavarian band at Hofbrau house.

Liter of dunkel all the way, then another liter, again, only faster.

Liters only at the Hofbrau house.
So, ordering off the late night menu was a challenge.  The English menu was only the full menu.  So, you needed the German late night menu, the German full menu, and the English full menu to cross reference the subset of dishes available on the late night menu, if you cared to know what you were getting.  Or you could be like Doug and just point at something, hedging your bets that you had a 1 in 12 chance of getting Leberkäse.  Well guess what Doug pointed to...

Leberkäse aka meat bread.  Guess who this dish got passed to?  In addition to his sausage variety plate.

The 2 Liter Club (not bad for Americans, but equivalent in volume to what 13 year old German girls drink on a school night)
The next day we took a tour of Dachau concentration camp.  We had an excellent, knowledgeable tour guide, Stefan, who knows a lot about Munich in general, and offers private tours.  You can contact him directly for all things Munich tourguide related -  There you go, nice plug.

In terms of visiting notable Holocaust sites, Dachau complemented our visits to Auschwitz in Poland and Anne Frank's House in Amsterdam.  Dachau was not an extermination death camp like Auschwitz, but it was essentially the first camp the Nazi's set up which paved the way for all other sites - both concentration and extermination.

Also Stefan complimented our tour guide Anna from Auschwitz very well.  While Anna's tour focused on the horrible, detailed conditions and events which took place there, Stefan's tour was more historical, explaining events leading up to opening of Dachau and gave more of an overview of it's role throughout Nazi rule.  While somber, the tour did not have the same emotionally devastating effect I felt after the Auschwitz tour, which was OK by me.

Our crew with Stefan as we look at an aerial shot of the camp

Approaching the gate to the camp

The saying on this gate "work sets you free" is the original propaganda statement used at that was copied on the gate at Auschwitz.

Dedication to the US Army liberation troops.  Recall that Auschwitz was liberated by Russians.

The roll-call yard, with mock-ups of the barracks.  Most of the buildings at Dachau were destroyed.  The opinion of the times was to destroy and forget.  Not until the 60's did the next generation decide to memorialize and remember.

I really appreciated the explanation of propaganda at the time.  At first glance, you might just think this was some journalistic photo of the prisoners.  However, our guide really opened my eyes to the amount of subliminal propaganda in this photo (which was used widely in posters).  Look closely.  1.  The camera angle - looking down on the prisoners, they depicted as being sub-human.  2.  The health of the prisoners - broad shoulders, looking well-fed, as if to say the prisoners are in need reform to be functional members of society.  3.  The eyes are blacked out (from the shadow cast by their brows) - it removes the humane aspect, their individuality, or maybe to make them look more menacing and deserving of their imprisonment. 

A guide to all the different prisoner types.  The first inverted triangle color represented the type:  red for anti-Nazi German nationals, green for actual criminals, blue for foreigners, purple for Jehovah's witnesses, pink for sexual offenders (but mostly homosexuals), black for gypsies or vagrants.  A 2nd triangle (to create the star of David) represented Jews.  

A walk through a detainment building (essentially a prison within the prison)

The concrete edges mark the original locations of the many barracks on the camp (which were destroyed)

A memorial to the unknown prisoner, with the message "to honor the dead, to admonish the living" was one of the first memorials placed on site.  Now this is in sharp contrast to the picture before.  Here you see an emaciated prisoner in his baggy clothes, but his head is up with a sense of pride, and you can see the eyes clearly.

While the gas chamber at Dachau was never used, they still burned the executed prisoners in these ovens.

Another memorial - showing twisted, emaciated bodies

This memorial honors the prisoners with various types of badges.  But notice the lack of green (actual convicts) and black (mostly gypsies).  Now this was a bit of an eye-opener.  At the time it was controversial to memorialize convicts so they were left out, despite the inhumanity they were subjected to.  And then even to this day, gypsies are still widely despised.  It does cause me to reflect on prejudices that even I am guilty of, when making flash judgments in certain situations.

The crew after a long tour, but I wasn't even thinking about the girl on the top step who was embarrassed to be in my photo.  Sorry.

So we got back to the city and split off for a bit to shop around and just get a break from each other, as all large groups should do from time to time.  So Kerry and I went back to the market near the old town hall to see what kind of shops we ran into.  The following photos were taken in sequence, meaning I did not skip any stalls between photos.

Whew!!! Bavarians like their protein.  I give this display an A+.  This last photo gets into the good stuff:  hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs, and brains in top center.
While, I would've enjoyed frequenting these stalls if I lived here or had access to cooking facliites, I only picked up some dried sausages for the train ride tomorrow.  Oh and then I saw this:

Not too shabby either.  Good balance.
We regrouped at the Hard Rock Cafe for some overpriced beverages and more familiar snacks (see the first photo at the top of the post).  It's OK - it's not a big surprise that Bavarian food is a bit of a shock for Americans, as evidenced by the latest montage of photos.

That night we had an enjoyable meal at a Greek restaurant.  It was easily voted best meal of the trip to-date.  Vic ordered hummus (or houmous, as they spell it in the UK).  So when she said "Do you have hummus?"  the waiter said "Pommes?  Of course we have pommes!".  Vic said, "Yay! We'll have the hummus!".  Of course, he brought out fries (or chips, as they say in the UK).   We all had a good laugh, and feeling sorry, the waiter brought out some extra tzatziki sauce for dipping.  Yes, hummus is Middle-Eastern, not Greek!  

A sweet release from Bavarian cuisine
On the way home we stopped at the Augustiner brew house (different from the other place we went to for lunch on the first day), for another liter of helles top up.

Both Google translate and Google search fail me here.

Ashley and Jeremy at Augustiner
Again, words fail me for this picture above our table

Doug and I are probably 3 liters deep.  Doug did make some nice local friends who were cubbies fans:

"I love Chicago, man!  Go cubs!"  (apologies for the classic shutter-stick I'm so well-known for)

Lauren and Chris enjoying the streets of Munich at night

Our air-conditioner - Jeremy had trouble operating his...

Munich's taxi's are all Mercedes.

The next day we ate breakfast at the train station (oh, sorry I meant to say we ate breakfast at the train station every morning!).  I had a salmon sandwich and a coffee (I was getting tired of bratwurst or bbq chicken).  Then we hopped on a train to Prague.  And our adventures continued...

Watching Django Unchained on an iPad in the "Boys cabin"


  1. Nice post Jeff. Thanks for the Munich memories. Food was not what we expected altho we loved the sauerkraut, beer is best served in litres (loved the Hofbrau), and the sights. Interesting seeing it in the green summertime. Bummer about the cable car views, rain is my top pet peeve when travelling. I have a little Thor's Hammer trivia for you from Iceland if I ever get that post up (hopefully later today my time - I must be on Peters' time on this post). Bike tour looked like fun.

  2. This post made me thirsty for a liter of beer.... or two