Monday, May 10, 2010

Fri 7 May - Sun 9 May: München

Our second trip to Germany, and for me, on the back of only 2 hours sleep, due to the small matter of staying up all night to watch the General Election. More of which on the next blog entry.

You know you're in Germany're at the airport, waiting for your luggage, and the screen above the belt says that your bags are to be loaded onto it in "16 minutes." Not 15, but 16 mins. In fact, I only waited 7. They're even more efficient that we're led to believe.

"Laptop and lederhosen." is the expression apparently used by Germans to describe the paradox that is Bavaria, and its capital, Munich. And there was certainly plenty of the latter on display. At first I thought it might be due to a local festival, or perhaps it was because of the weekend and they were 'dressing up,' but I've read that for some Bavarians it's just standard, everyday clothing for them. I think they look rather strange. Actually, it makes the men look like overgrown public school boys. I kept thinking of Just William. C thinks they look quite sexy in them. Yeah, can't see it myself. Didn't see many women in them, but I am reliably informed by a German friend that it's becoming more and more common for women to wear it.

The city itself takes some time to warm to, in my opinion. The main square on Marienplatz is rather small with the impressive Neues Rathaus, or new town hall, (which needs a damn good clean), a few historical buildings scattered around in no particular order, together with a few modern shops and chains. Distinctly underwhelming for what is supposed to be the focal point of the city. A very high climb to the tower of St Peter's church gives you the panoramic view, but nothing different to the same kind of view I've seen over a dozen times, and not really marking out Munich as being particularly distinctive.

What is fun, or not if you're not too partial to heights, is the very tight space you find yourself in when trying to catch a glimpse of the city below you. There are tall barriers in place but nothing in between you and them so you're right in front of them as you as soon as you exit the tower. There was no way I was going to lean on them, no matter how secure they appeared. In order to walk around you literally had to squeeze past people.

It's only by devoting enough time walking around do you get a good feel of a place. And the more I saw of Munich, the more I liked. My highlights would have to be two of Munich's many parks: the splendid and perfectly manicured Hofgarten, and the wonderful Englisher Garten. And in keeping with tradition we even saw a game of cricket in the latter. I saw two wickets fall! There's also a small area of one of the park's streams which creates waves big enough to have been adopted by 'city-surfers', and we saw several showing off to the surrounding tourists all snapping away.

I think it's quite hard to say why I've enjoyed so much the trips to Munich and, last December, to Cologne. They're obviously not the tourist traps of places like Paris, or Rome, or London. And they don't have that stand-out "must see" thing that you are told about in advance. Speaking as a Briton, I can't remember ever hearing anyone say that they planned to holiday, or even take a break, in Germany. True, it's not as exotic or as fashionable as other places, but I think it's almost just as rewarding for the type of experience you get. You have to work harder to appreciate Germany I'd say, on the back of my two short trips there. You can't just hovver around the centre and expect to find everything you came to see all easily mapped out in front of you.

You have to move away and discover its other areas. Which I guess could be said of any city, but how many people actually explore much beyond the obvious sights? If you come to Munich, or Cologne (and I'm going to guess other German cities) and never venture very far, you're most likely to go home feeling disappointed.

I have also found a real affinity with the Germans, in the same way as I have with the Flemish. Again, maybe it's because I know that almost everyone I speak to will have excellent English and so I can actually have a proper conversation with them. But, the place just feels far more like England than I have ever felt in Wallonia, France, Spain. They also serve fabulous coffee.

Not too mad on the cuisine, although it doesn't help that I don't eat pork sausages which sort of cuts in half things you can actually eat there. The only night we went out for a traditional German meal I ate some rather tastless and dry duck (I think it probably was the entire thing, judging by the size of it), potato dumplings (foul), and red cabbage (usually a fan, but this one was too sour for my liking). All served to us by a very tall and buxom woman in lederhosen. They are a big-boned lot, these German women. I don't mean overweight, more large-looking. Wouldn't look out of place playing rugby.

The trains, surprise surprise, were all quick and punctual. For €9.40 you can buy an all-day ticket which covers up to 5 people.

3 nights is certainly enough time to see a lot, although there was still plenty more we could have done. Munich enters my "list of cities I want to see again."

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