Munich, Germany

Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, I got a message from my friend Mai, who I hadn’t seen in years and was living in Munich. I was really looking forward to catching up with some of my long lost friends and relatives during my travels. I decided to see her and her husband Mikey the very next week, as my weekends were all pretty full with events over the next month, and she had a few days off. I searched for cheap flights on the internet, and found there was no such thing at a week’s notice. As I had to fly to Munich, then Copenhagen for Sensation White that weekend, then back to Amsterdam, I could not book online, so had to call SAS (Scandinavian Airlines was the cheapest) in the UK, who charged another 20 pounds for phone bookings. Total trip cost nearly $400. I have quickly realised that my dream of not planning my travel, just seeing what happens, and hoping to book cheap last minute travel was not feasible. For anyone planning on travelling, plan ahead. Plan every detail including where you’ll stay, how you’ll travel and budget carefully. You can save thousands of dollars by booking as far in advance as possible. Unfortunately, booking everything last minute has burned through my cash at double the expected speed.

I flew SAS to Copenhagen, then down to Munich. The plane ride was an experience in itself. It was a beautiful sight flying over the coast of the Netherlands during the day, seeing the coastline clearly, with all its dams and weirs and modern windmills lining the borders of the sea. SAS are highly awarded for their excellent customer service, however they use a lot of small planes for their shorter trips. Each of my planes was no bigger than 60 seats. I’ve seen private jets that were bigger. You can feel turbulence a lot more on a smaller plane. Luckily the weather was good so we had very little. At each airport we landed out in the furthest section from the terminal, with the tiny private planes and maintenance sheds, and were shuttled by bus, in and out of the terminals. The staff was lovely, and we landed early. Since I only had a backpack, I left the airport quickly, and headed for the train station.

At the exit to Munich airport there is a large open square covered by giant white sails, with many different sculptures in cages. I caught the S-Bahn (express trains for travelling inter-city) to Leim to meet Mai and Mikey. Unfortunately, I did not realise the text I had sent them earlier did not go through, as it was a local mobile number. Luckily, there are payphones everywhere in Germany, and they accept card, so it was easy to call them, and they only lived a 10 minute walk away. They lived in a unique looking terrace house shared with five other travellers. It looked like a large barn on the outside, which had been split into three separate properties. They had a large backyard, with a very dark green blow up pool (well past due to be emptied) and an internal foyer to leave your shoes with an old piano. Inside there was a kitchen and toilet attached to a living and dining area. Downstairs was the basement where Phillipe, their French-Canadian flatmate was living. Up the beautiful large wooden staircase was the main bathroom and three large bedrooms. In these resided the French Francis, and the Italian-Germans Pasco, Vanessa and Fabio. These three were from a northern part of Italy, close to Austria, that used to be part of Germany before the border was moved again, so they all spoke fluent German, with an accent, but only some of them spoke Italian. At the top of these stairs was another staircase that resembled a fat ladder to the loft. This is where Mai and Mikey lived and it had a room and an open foyer that had a sink and open shower (which we didn’t use). There was also a small attic/storeroom with a mattress, which I fondly nicknamed ‘The Cave’. This is where I slept, when I could.

Mai and I used to party pretty hard when we were younger, and as we sat on the couch catching up on the details of our lives for the last four years, we polished off a bottle of vodka that I had bought cheap through duty free at the airport. We laughed and joked and argued until five in the morning. It was refreshing to realise that nothing much had changed in our friendship, and that we were both pretty much the same people we had been in our early twenties. The next day we went for a day trip into Munich city. We caught the U-Bahn (slower trains for city travel), with Phillipe who kindly offered to be our guide for the day, as he had recently taken a guided tour of the city. There are u-bahn stops practically every 500metres in the city, so it is easy to walk past several stations on our wanderings. Our first destinations were some of the cathedrals. There are fifteen cathedrals in the heart of Munich, and we visited four. Luckily, they didn’t charge an entry fee like in Belgium. I was amazed by the completely different styles of each church we visited. Some were very ornate, gilded with gold, built high into the skyline on monumental columns, clearly designed to impress. Others seemed more renaissance style with beautiful artworks decorating all the walls and alcoves and ceilings. Or else they had elaborate white stone sculptures lining the walls and columns. The gothic cathedral has a lot more punishment and retribution in its themes, with skulls and demonic looking creatures decorating its doors, archways and columns. One of the churches had a crypt at the back of the church with several important priests and members of the royal family buried there. I didn’t stay down there long, it felt very oppressive and there were definitely some unhappy spirits down there. The last church we looked at was Mai’s favourite. It was clearly not a tourist church, as it was very quiet and practically empty. The walls were rough looking red brick, and it was only small, but it had some of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen in my life. Huge paintings dominated entire walls of large alcoves, and the entire high dome across the ceiling depicted beautiful angels. A window in the roof let in a beautiful light at this end of the church, in contrast with the dark entranceway, creating a light path leading to the bright pulpit and cross in the centre of the altar. It was a humbling and beautiful sight, in a church that was unassuming and felt very spiritual, unlike some of its grander tourist attracting cousins.

Next stop was the main markets, which looked like an old watercolour painting. They had tiny little shops and stalls with green or red and white striped sail covers, along a cobblestone road that ended in a square. It smelled so good with fresh bread and pretzels, sausages and cured meats, fruit and vegetables, a huge range of fish and cheese. At the square there were long lines of wooden bench picnic tables, which were full of people drinking pitchers of beer, even though it was 2pm on a Tuesday. At the end of the square was an old maypole, and there were ancient fountains with small sculpted figures decorating the place, which spouted cold running water you could drink. After a quick pit stop for the bathroom (50c later, you have to pay for public bathrooms across most of Europe, I think they made a killing at Coone and the Gang with 15000 partygoers using the toilet), we headed off for a snack. I bought my first German sausage roll (like a hot dog). I got a spicy sausage stuffed with cheese. Don’t ask me how they get so much delicious melted cheese through every section of the sausage but it tasted divine, though very filling. Then we headed along another road, under a huge archway, touching three out of four lucky lions lining the wall of a small palace as we walked along. Touching four is bad luck as you are being too greedy. I then climbed some giant steps to have my photos taken with giant lions, ignoring the giant statue of the arrogant looking Duke overlooking the same square. There are many lions of varying shapes, sizes and designs all across Europe. On a return trip I think I might do a tour to find as many of them as possible.

Next we headed off to the English Garden and parklands. The place really felt like Autumn with beautiful large trees boasting a range of brightly coloured leaves, with just as many on the ground crunching underfoot. The grounds were green and lush, and we walked along a covered path lined with trees, along to the Japanese garden. This was a small Japanese style house with some maples, sculptures and rock gardens, which were connected to the main garden over a small river via a range of arched bridges. I found out later that at the bottom of this river, some rocks are stacked up to create waves, which the locals surf in. I am definitely going to check it out if I return to Munich. We wound our way up a long hill to a beautiful monument that included an old bridge or canal way with vines growing on it, attached via glass walkways to a modern building with an older building in the middle of it. Phillipe said it was some sort of military building, and they built the extensions in glass to show they had nothing to hide, since the earlier wars. At the end of the archway, was a small monument to a group of students who were killed by the Nazis for protesting against them. Next to this was a recently constructed marble pit leading down to a fallen soldier, for all the unnamed soldiers killed during both wars. I found both of these really moving, understated pieces to demonstrate remembrance and respect. With peace in my heart we wandered back to the train station then home, for another night of drinking.

Our plan was to head to Dachau (a concentration camp near Munich) the next day. Unfortunately I woke up with a killer flu, so decided to stay home, drinking lemon, ginger, garlic, chilli and honey tea. After ten cups a day for two days, the germs were gone and we went out again. We headed to the Hofbrauhaus with the whole gang. I was very excited to see my first German beer hall, especially since it is one of the oldest in Germany. We drank one litre beers in Maß (pronounced mass) glasses, which most tourists call steins. I also drank Weiss beer, which I was informed is a breakfast beer, but it was much lighter and tastier than the standard beers. So I could try as many different types of German food as possible, I ordered the mixed appetiser. This included dark rye style bread that’s a little bit sweet, a couple of different cheeses, mixed pickled vegetables, and eight different types of sausages. Though I tasted everything on the plate, it was so rich I could not finish it all, and some of the cheeses and sausages were so strong I nearly felt sick. I finished with a pretzel and a radler, which is half beer half lemonade, as I really did not have room to fit another litre of beer in. I have no idea how people traditionally eat such rich food and drink so much beer every day. There are sausages and beer designed for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Needless to say I put on some weight that week. We finished up at a dark little cocktail bar around the corner, drinking scotch and vodka. Spirit shots are only 3 euros in most bars, but they charge up to 7 euros when you add soft drink, as it is treated as a cocktail. I learned to drink straight spirits very quickly to save money, but the quality is high so I really enjoyed it.

The next night we went out for dinner again, as it was Francis’ last night in the house before she headed to Nepal. As Mai is Japanese, and Mikey lived with her in Japan for three years, we hunted out a good sushi restaurant. The first place we tried was really crowded, we couldn’t sit together, and the owners didn’t speak a word of Japanese. Deciding we didn’t want to eat Chinese made sushi, we tried another restaurant. The food was quite nice, I had a bento box with teppanyaki chicken, salad, rice and tempura, though it was a little expensive and the staff were rude. We then headed to an Australian bar to meet up with some crazy Kiwi friends of theirs. The pub was downstairs, and joint owned and run with an Irish bar. It was a classic picture of what an Australian bar might look like in a Hollywood movie, made by someone who’s never been to Australia. The only Australian beer they served was Fosters, and there were yellow road signs decorating the walls depicting place names and animals. There was a surfboard hanging from the roof, and pretend Aboriginal art that was definitely not traditional, as the dots were way too big. Although I had to laugh, it did feel a little bit like home. The place was packed as it was karaoke night, and all the traditional bar karaoke songs were murdered in the usual fashion, though there was the odd good singer. Most of the patrons were American or English, with a few Germans. We left after a few drinks as it was so crowded and loud, it was impossible to have a conversation or really enjoy ourselves. We headed to another bar, with dark red lighting and a strange mix of mellow house/reggae/folk music. Definitely not my scene, but I made the best of the situation by drinking more and dancing like an idiot. It helped that I had a really awesome group of people to hang out with, which made it a lot of fun.

For my final day in Munich, Mai suggested I check out this big park near Leim, since the others were working or beginning to move rooms. I walked for a while, discovering what looked like a small self-maintained community village. There were small garden plots with tiny log cabins, wooden picket fences and dirt paths. There were no electricity lines, and the gardens contained a range of vegetables, flowers and hedges. When I got back the others explained to me that they were gardens for hire. Many European countries purchase small garden plots away from their homes, which they tend to, then relax on the front deck of the small cabins to enjoy their weekends. They are also very popular with the elderly community, giving them a hobby during their days. I kept wandering, pretty sure that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but having a good sense of direction and enjoying my walk. I eventually found a main motorway, and a small park with play equipment, and lots more autumn leaves. This made for some beautiful pictures. Then I headed home before it got dark, just in case I was lost. I did find the main shops up the road from the house and made my way home. I found out later that I should have turned left instead of right as I exited their street, so I headed in the opposite direction to where I should have been going. It had been a week since I had arrived at Leim, and we had walked in the dark. I tend to pay less attention to directions when I am following people than wandering by myself. In times like this I reflect that maybe I should have bought an iPhone before I left home, in case I ever get seriously lost. It would also be nice to check in to some of the awesome venues I have been to, an option that is still not available on normal Facebook. However, I trust my instincts and sense of direction, and have not gone badly wrong yet, and enjoy the feeling that I am travelling more traditionally, before amazing apps and technology. Anyway, if I hadn’t gotten lost, I would never have found those beautiful mini gardens.

On my final night in Munich, I decided I wanted to go back to the Australian bar to watch Australia vs. New Zealand in the Four Nations game. It was not so crowded this time so we could have a decent conversation. As the game was playing in England, it started at 8pm. Unfortunately, even though it was a sports bar, the screens were quite small, so I had to watch carefully as I didn’t have my glasses. It was a good game and I felt patriotic and closer to home. We decided to grab a snack, and browsed the very mixed menu which included asian, fried, salads, burgers and steaks. We got a mixed seafood basket and some wedges, which were pretty fatty, and they had no sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. There was no bbq sauce either, only HP (an English version), so I called that another Australian fail.

We then headed out to a club called Backstage. The Italians had stayed at home to have dinner then meet us there. Unfortunately, they were on Italian time, drinking coffee and enjoying themselves, so they didn’t get there until 1am. The venue had four separate areas. Outside was already closed when we got there. There was some international death metal band playing in the main building, but entry was 30 euro. The building out the back had two more rooms, one playing metal and one reggae. Entry was 10 euro and metal was deserted so we went into reggae. It’s not normally my style, especially for a whole night, but I broke out my RnB dance moves and drank plenty of jagerbombs. Each time you bought a drink they gave you a token worth 1 euro which you could change back for money when you returned the can. Judging by the amount of empty drinks lying around the venue, I would say they make a lot of money out of this enterprise. Later in the night they had a dance off competition, where a bunch of riskily dressed females shook their ass on stage. While I was impressed with some of their moves including upside-down star jumps and hip rolls that went as low as a limbo stick, most of them were pathetic. Vanessa suggested I get up there after watching me do my thing on the dance floor, but I didn’t want to show them up (joking!). The final was one hopeless trollop wearing fluoro mesh versus one Jamaican girl wearing a bikini and woven skirt. Thankfully, the Jamaican won as she could actually move. She is going to the finals in Berlin next month. I was grateful when the whole charade was over, so we could get on with the music and enjoying ourselves. We left an hour early, and somehow walking home, Vanessa and I lost the others. We also discovered that neither of us had really wanted to leave and would have enjoyed dancing the night away until close, but as we thought we were the only ones, it wasn’t to be. We got home, realised we had no keys, and waited for the others. After 15 minutes and still no sign of them, we decided to knock on poor Phillipe’s window to let us in. I passed out upstairs, to be woken up half an hour later by the others, desperately looking for Vanessa. She had gone to sleep on the couch in the lounge room in the dark unnoticed.

The next day after sleeping in, I collected all my belongings and tried to hastily say goodbye to everyone. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised how long this would take, and by the time I walked to the train station I had just missed my train. I caught another train, heading to the airport via a different (and much longer) route, rather than waiting another half hour. I sprinted through the airport, knowing I had already missed the two hour check in deadline by 15 minutes and hoping to argue my way onto the plane, as I had forgotten to use web check in (again). Fortunately, Lufthansa are not worried about the deadline when flying within the EU, and I checked in easily using their self-service system. I had a really good time in Munich and look forward to heading back there later in my travels to hang with my new friends again.

Next stop… Sensation White at Copenhagen

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