Munich: Maybe Another Time?

By the time we arrived in Munich it was snowing. Neither Jamie or I have been in falling snow for quite some time. It was magical when the first flakes fell upon our upturned faces.

Our hotel was right down the street from the train station. It was conveniently located in walking distance to nearby neighborhoods and only a few train stops away from Marienplatz, the medieval main square.

Coming from the clamor and confusion of the crowded Istanbul airport, the quiet orderliness of German train stations was a welcome change. Transportation in general was fantastic here: organized, on time, reasonably priced, with easily navigable stations. The train station nearest us had really nice food options strangely enough. I bought to-go salads and espresso there nearly each morning and Jamie also found croissants and pastries she enjoyed.

One thing I was unaware of was how much culture Germany and Turkey share in common. I was aware that many German archaeologists work on Turkish sites but I had no idea so many Turks also travel, live and vacation regularly in Germany and vice versa. It is a wonderful transfusion of cultures. Some of the best street food in Munich was from kebab and falafel stands. The Turkish market was stocked with wonderful tea selections allowing us to re-live our Istanbul memories in a small way. Every single human group was once an immigrant at some point in history. We would do well to remember that cultural exchanges benefit both sides in the long run, far outweighing any temporary differences or difficulties.

Munich’s enchanting main square, Marienplatz.

Munich’s main square was Christmas postcard perfection. Lightly coated in snow with flakes falling abundantly. The mulled wine was winter warmth in a mug. I’ve never been so filled with holiday spirit and joy. It felt like a living, breathing Christmas carol. Maybe it was the glühwein. We had just discovered white glühwein and we were both smitten.

I absolutely adored the open-air Viktualien Market offering endless cuts of meat, cheeses and holiday trinkets. Although the actual Christmas Markets were officially closed, this space functioned as an acceptable alternative for me. There were hot wine stands, sausages and sweets abundant. We even found fantastic deals on bottles of glühwein and picked up some cheeses. I had some sausage and pork belly with spicy mustard from a small butcher shop as well. 

One of our favorite activities here was church and cathedral hopping. We visited several stunning examples of Gothic and Baroque buildings, ranging from opulent whites to decadent stone and gold interiors. All the places we visited were within walking distance and each one offered a unique style and feel. The architecture as a whole was a fantastic mixture of modern, baroque and ancient. 

Some of the most beautiful and exquisite Baroque churches and cathedrals.

The depths of the history of this place are written in stone on the facades of each building. There were main shopping avenues and commercial areas integrated into old plazas and historical constructions. The Gothic and Neo-Gothic exteriors were some of the best architectural examples of the entire trip. I enjoyed the mix of color, high pointed roofs and intricate detail that Munich and the nearby towns of Fusen and Dachau all offered. 

We made sure to stop by the legendary Hofbruahaus but I was immediately overwhelmed by the noise and sheer size of the beer hall. Again since I can no longer have beer, or pretzels, something about these monuments to wheat-based delights just doesn’t appeal to me. Our mistake may be that we aren’t drunk with a group of boisterous friends to get rowdy with. We instead headed across the street to the slightly quieter (at the moment) Augstiner Keller. While sipping on wine, probably the only people in the hall to not order beer, Jamie shared amazing news from back home.

Her job was able to keep her position open! She would be able to return to the same position she bravely left to make this trip happen. That’s the benefit of having such strong connections to the people you work with. Our plans for our return back home were all falling into place and it was fantastic news to share over a drink.

Enjoying the Gothic architecture of Munich.

Although the churches were beautiful, we had arrived in Bavaria at the worst possible time to see just about anything else. The region was experiencing a Covid spike and actively shutting down throughout our stay. This contributed to our lack of success visiting places such as the Residenz Munich and Nymphenburg Palace. We would love to return one day and visit these exemplary palaces.

Overall it was a safe thing that indoor tours were limited exclusively to those who had recently tested negative, but in the moment it was frustrating as free tests were not available and our ability to fully enjoy Bavaria was diminished. I was soon to discover the extent of the regulations the hard way: by taking a train, showing up and getting rejected. 

I was determined to take a day trip to the nearby concentration camp, Dachau. It is a popular day trip from Munich and something I feel incredibly important to visit in person. I can only imagine the gravity of the situation and the intensity of being in the location where such horrors occurred.

I walked by myself to the Munich station and easily caught my train, hopeful everything else would be as smooth as German public transit. From the train I caught a perfectly timed bus along with another larger tour group and a family.

It took us through the slush filed streets of Dachau, slowly making our way towards the drab buildings emerging like wicked beasts in the distance. I felt a heaviness in my heart staring out the window.

Screeching to a halt, our boots crunched over the beaten snow driving it further into the mud and rocks. Heads down we filed into the front office.

Walking the streets of Dachau.

The man asked me for my Covid Vaccine. I handed it to him. He asked me for my picture ID. I handed it to him. He asked me for my recent negative Covid test. I froze.

“We require a negative Covid test for all visitors” I can hear him saying through my moment of panic. I must have missed that requirement somehow. He explains the policy just started this week.

He starts to list testing centers nearby, just a train stop away or another bus down the road. As kind as he is to offer a place to get tested I know I don’t have the time. It will take a while to travel to a test center and then get results. Tests were also pretty expensive, although I believe they were reduced greatly or even free if you had been exposed to Covid. Plus I had planned to return to Jamie just after lunch time.

I found myself sitting outside Dachau in the cold, barred from entering a concentration camp. It was a weird feeling. Should I be disappointed I wasn’t let in? What a weird thought to think, being sad to not enter Dachau. The family behind me was rejected from entry as well. I wasn’t the only one at least.

Taking the bus back to the train station I decided to see if I could make something out of the time I had allotted and go explore the town. It was mostly empty and most things were closed. I walked the barren winter grounds of a nearby palace. I had a cider at a local pub, the only open one.

I walked through the falling snow on a bridge across a still trickling stream. The town itself was cute, and the walk was nice enough. I caught the train back to Munich and texted Jamie that I was on my way back.

Stunning English Garden, such a great place to take a break from the city.

Unfortunately the months of travel (and maybe my recent walks alone in the cold snow) finally caught up to me. I woke up drained and exhausted and needed to rest. Fortunately for me my body recovers quickly. One day of downtime was all I needed for my exhaustion to clear up, but it was a long day full of naps and hot Turkish tea.

We did take a walk through the English Garden. It showed me how lively and exciting the park could be at a different time of year. The beauty was undeniable but the weather made outdoor activity mostly unbearable. Except for some brave surfers that is! Donning wetsuits and grabbing their shortboards they hopped into the nearly freezing river water rushing through the park. I’ve never seen surfers in a landlocked park before! Definitely something unique. In warmer months grabbing a nearby drink and kebab and watching the surfers would be really fun.

Surfing in a river! Such a unique way to ride a never-ending wave.

The main reason we went to Munich in the first place was to use this city as a base for exploration deep into the Romantic Road. This is the area that fairytales such as Goldilocks and Rapunzel are based on. Many towns and castles along the road are connected directly to these old children’s tales making this a place of literary history and pre-Disney magic. 

Our previous road trip experiences of a flat tire in France and receiving fines in Florence were steering us away from renting another car already. The snow and ice that soon covered the Bavarian roads reaffirmed our decision not to test our luck again.

This meant a change of plans and resulted in an awkward amount of days left over without a clear connection to our stay in Strasbourg and our eventual flight home from Paris. We considered traveling to Germany’s wine region, further north. We entertained the idea of Switzerland or Amsterdam, even bypassing Germany altogether. In the end Jamie was able to plot a route and find places to stay that allowed us to thread our way through Germany, to France, then Belgium, and finally back into France again. Crossing international borders is like crossing between states here, it was seemless with no interruptions.

To get some of the Romantic Road experience of forests, small towns and fairytales we decided to take a train, a bus and then a shuttle to Neuschwanstein Castle. Known as the inspiration for the iconic Disney Castle, this is a must-see stop along this part of Germany. Sadly my research showed that the nearby museum was closed, and even more worryingly, the shuttle from town to castle didn’t run in inclement weather, although it was technically possible to hike from the last bus stop to the Castle itself.  

The snowy streets of Fusen. It was here that we really felt the affects of Covid lockdowns.

The urban heat of Munich must have sheltered us from the intensity of the winter storms: that is until we travelled into the countryside on the train. When it came time for our day-trip the snow was driven nearly vertical from the intense winds just a few minutes outside Munich. We could see only white out the train window. The trolley to Neuschwanstein would not be running today. Our other option was to hike. Considering the high winds, the snapping tree branches and an uphill climb in the snow, our chances were slim.

Arriving in the town of Fusen we immediately noticed how empty it was. Coming from Munich where nearly everything was open we were surprised. Lunch was below average and the glühwein was the worst of the trip, hands down. Too much sugar. We snapped a few photos, decided it was not worth it to continue our castle site-seeing excursion. Empty handed and shivering cold, we did stop by a discount store to finally buy me a winter jacket, warm socks and long underwear before taking the very next train home. Up until now I had just been layering light sweaters from back home, probably getting weird looks from locals.

In the end, Munich did not meet our expectations. It may have been the time of year, it may have been that we stayed for too long, it may have been the two attempts at day trips that didn’t go our way. I could see how places here would be lovely in warmer weather or even charming in the snow with less restrictions another time. Someday we need to return to Bavaria and give it another shot.

Now we head to one of the most storybook, Christmas-obsessed, market-filled region of the entire trip: Strasbourg and Colmar in France!

Keep exploring,

Austin & Jamie

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