Nov 1, 2011
Seeking fertile agricultural land within striking distance of their Catholic base in Italy, the Benedictine monks chose the area just north of the Alps for their new home. The medieval name for monk was Munichen and the name of the capital of the state of Bavaria was derived from this word. Eventually, control of the region was granted to Heinrich der Löwe and later passed to the Wittlesbach dynasty. Trade in salt was the major industry for centuries.
The arrival of the plague in 1349 AD brought devastation to the city and continued to kill its residents for the next 150 years. When it was clear the Black Death was not the threat it once was, the tradesmen who built the casks and barrels, the Schäfflers created a special dance to remind those in power how lucky they were. The dance is performed every seven years, to this day, but one of the figures on the famous clock, the Glockenspiel dances the Schäfflertanz every day.
The buildings and wide avenues that are admired by millions of visitors each year and serve as a major tourist draw today were mostly built during a prosperous period in the 19th century. When King Ludwig II was crowned in 1864, he went on a spending spree that bankrupted the royals and decimated the government treasury. A building bubble that burst, sound familiar?
The population nearly starved to death during WWI, the Nazi Party was first formed within its boundaries and the Second World War nearly obliterated it from the map. The entire world watched in horror as the 1976 Munich Olympic Games became the setting for a terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes.
Things began to look a lot brighter when Munich won the right to host the first game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In 2008, the whole city partied for the entire summer to celebrate the 850th birthday of the founding of their beloved home. Nowhere was the action livelier than in the world-famous Hofbräuhaus.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Anyone looking at the map of our route for the past couple of weeks might wonder why we left Germany to visit Prague and Vienna, before taking the train back into Germany to see Munich. Part of the reason we did this was because Munich is a terrific hub for flights to other major cities in Europe and we had formulated a plan for our travels once the weather turned cold.
We certainly didn’t want to miss Munich because our good friend Renate lives there. She is a woman we met in southern India during our first year of retirement travel. We wanted to see her again and spend a little time in her fair city. She is a dedicated traveller much like us and we had tried to connect with her over the course of the past five years, without luck. She was in Mumbai in the spring around the time we were there as well, but we were like ships passing in the night and missed seeing her there.
She offered to look for a little pension near where she lives in Munich, but we wanted to find a place that suited us completely, and when we notified her of our choice, she replied that we were in a relatively ‘international’ part of the city, a district that wasn’t very ‘Bavarian’ at all. She said we would be perfectly safe, and this was reassuring, though we had read the comments about the hotel on TripAdvisor and knew that the street, not far from the railway station, had its pros and cons.
It was great meeting up with Renate once again; she is a lively person, full of life, energy and off beat ideas. It certainly keeps her young and interesting, and after meeting some of her wonderful friends, it’s clear they feel the same way about her as we do. We spent our first day together walking the short distance to the historic center of Munich; visiting the famous Hofbrauhaus and shopping in one of the mostly lovely outdoor markets I’ve ever seen in a developed country.
We loaded up on local bread, wine and cheese and topped it off with lovely olives, pickled peppers and dolmades. From there we headed to Schwabing, the gentrified district north of the centre to visit her lovely apartment and then gather some friends for dinner at a local restaurant. We had agreed to meet the friends at the bookshop of Lotte, a close friend of Renate’s, but when Mara called that the restaurant was jam-packed, we suggested she come to the bookshop and we would make a meal out of all the treats we had purchased at the market.
It was a great impromptu party amongst the piles of books and art-house DVD’s that Lotte and his partner sell. We could hear the chirping of the dozens of rescue birds that Lotte keeps in the back room; it was quirky, fun and interesting all at the same time.
Anil and I spent the next couple of days on our own, exploring the historic centre and returning to the market for more of everything we had enjoyed from our first foray. The following day we joined a small tour group for the short trip to Dachau, the first concentration camp built by Hitler, and one that became the model for all the others that were constructed during his reign of terror.
Dachau was something we felt we had to see, and I have to say it wasn’t as terrible as we expected it might be. There were few surprises about the camp itself, other than the fact that everything that occurred in the other camps, spread across Europe, went on here as well. The site has been turned into a fairly gentle memorial to those who lost their lives, and even more so to those who managed to survive.
The most difficult part of the tour was the 15-minute film that was screened before we walked around the grounds. The brochure we were given suggested that young children under 12 might find the film and the crematorium distressing and that parents were advised to consider keeping the children away from these two portions of the tour. To my dismay, two Indian families were part of our tour and they took the children into the screening room and through the crematorium. What ever were they thinking; perhaps they weren’t thinking at all.
Our tour guide was an American from Seattle, who now lives in Munich, and he was the perfect host, showing knowledge and sensitivity to the memorial, and it was great to have someone who is a native English speaker. He told us that on one of his tours he encountered a 90+ year-old survivor who was returning to Dachau for the first time since it was liberated. The frail man took the time to thank all the people in the tour for coming; he saw it as a sign of respect for those who didn’t make it out.
That evening, we were invited to Renate’s for a home-cooked dinner, and it was delicious. Renate volunteers at a local prison, visiting inmates and helping them reintegrate into society once they are released. Some of the prisoners raise organic chickens, and we were treated to a tasty chicken casserole. We met another friend of Renate’s, Stephan, who shares a community garden plot with her outside the city. They had great fun and variable success with their vegetables and flowers, but persevere because they love the work and the camaraderie.
The following day was Sunday and Renate had something special in store for us. She knows that we love to walk and she suggested we take a local train to a nearby lake that has walking paths that wind along the lake with great views and lovely places to stop for hot coffee or cold beer. We had spent so many weeks in cities; we were more than ready for a stroll in the countryside. We went to the train station and purchased a ‘partner pass’. It’s the greatest transit offering we’ve ever come across in all our travels. A partner pass is good for a full day’s travel on buses, trams, U-bahns (underground metros) and S-bahns (suburban trains) and doesn’t expire until the wee hours of the following day.
It is good for up to five people and costs only 12.80 € (less than CAD 20.00). It can work for a group of friends, or for a family, and if the children are under 12 years of age, they only count as half a person, so that a couple could take up to six young children on the pass. This meant that Anil, Renate and I could travel all the way to Sharnberg and back, a journey of about 45 minutes, all on the same ticket.
While purchasing the ticket we noticed that riders could travel with their dogs, but have to purchase a single half price ticket if they are travelling with more than one pet. Lots of people bring their dogs onto the trains, trams and buses and we saw signs indicating that the animals had to wear a muzzle. This took only a little getting used to, but it was more disconcerting when people brought their dogs into pubs and restaurants. This would never be allowed back home.
While we were waiting for the S-Bahn a family arrived all dressed in traditional Bavarian costumes. Renate asked them if I could take a photo of them when it was clear how delighted I was with their outfits. I thought that perhaps they were a dance troupe, but they told Renate that they were singers. I never dreamed I would meet the Von Trappe family while travelling in Germany, hehe!
We had a bit of an adventure on the way to Starnberg; they were doing repairs on a portion of the tracks, so all passengers were required to get off the train, transfer to buses and travel through the small towns and villages for almost an hour, and then had to transfer to the train once again. Renate kept apologizing for the inconvenience, but we didn’t mind at all. It gave us a chance to see the various homes and shops along the way.
What we didn’t realize was that the additional travel time was eating up the precious afternoon hours when the sun was high and warm, but we enjoyed our walk just the same, stopping for cold beers and hot pretzels shortly after arriving at the lovely lake. Once we were fortified, we set off walking through the most beautiful forests and past lakefront properties. There were far more people on their way back from the walk than there were walking in the direction we were taking.
At last we arrived at the tiny village of Berg. We thought of stopping for refreshments, but it was clear that if we did, we would not reach our starting point before dark. We used the restaurants facilities as if we were guests, and then turned around and retraced our steps. I was surprised to see a marker indicating we had almost 5 km to walk back to Starnberg. It had been so lovely, I had completely lost track of the distance we had covered. We weren’t at all concerned about the time and didn’t hurry as we strolled along the lake watching the sunset and the sky turn a wonderful shade of pale pink.
There were few other stragglers besides ourselves and most were making their way to their cars, but we headed back to the train station, hoping that the repairs had been completed and that we would be able to stay on the train all the way to Munich. We weren’t so very lucky, but it didn’t matter, the return journey always seems to take less time that the outward trip, and once again we transferred to a bus and back again to the train.
Anil had given Renate what seemed to me an insurmountable task when we first arrived. Remembering the great South Indian food we had eaten together in Mahabalipuram, he asked her to find an Indian restaurant that served dosas in Munich. To our surprise and delight, she found one that had just opened two weeks earlier and we made our way there.
When we arrived at the Mumbai Restaurant, we were greeted outside the front door by the owner, handing out complimentary glasses of Prosecco mixed with mango juice. We took our glasses inside with us as it was getting quite chilly and ordered dosas for the three of us. And what a delight they were! They were perfectly made, and the coconut chutney and sambar were divine. What a terrific way to end such a perfect day.
On our last afternoon in Munich, Anil and I set off to walk around an area of the city, just north of the train station. We had some tickets left for the tram, so we decided to return to Mumbai for another dosa (who knew how long it would be before we would be able to eat them again?) and then planned to walk back south towards our hotel.
I made the mistake of getting all excited when I saw they had thalis on the menu and we ordered two different ones instead of sticking with the dosas we had so enjoyed the previous night. A thali is a steel plate that holds several small steel containers of vegetable and meat dishes and rice and condiments are served as well. The chicken curry was hugely disappointing and there was no dahl (stewed lentils) in sight. It was a hard lesson, I hope I’ve learned it well – ‘stick with the meal that brought you back in the first place’.
We enjoyed our walk back through the grounds of the University, and managed to find the small museum dedicated to a group of students who had formed a resistance organization called ‘The White Rose’ in 1942. They were alarmed at the influence that Hitler was having on their fellow citizens, and were caught and summarily executed for distributing leaflets on campus.
We first learned of their heroic deeds when we visited the museum in Berlin that outlined the actions of a group of Nazi officers who had attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1944. The events of the failed plot were portrayed in the 2008 movie Valkyrie. For some reason, we both felt we had to stop by as a show of respect for the incredible bravery of those young students.
There were so many other things that interested us in the fascinating city of Munich, but as we will be coming back to Europe in the spring in order to take our flight back to Canada at the end of May 2012, we left many of them for later because we felt strongly that we would be back in Germany. Renate will be away travelling in Turkey and has offered to let us stay in her apartment for some of the time we are in Munich again.
Renate spent the day doing errands and preserving some of her bumper crop of quinces. We invited her over to our hotel for a goodbye drink and some snacks and she surprised us with a jar of freshly made jam. She also arrived with plans to take us to a free documentary on a ‘garage band’ in Reykjavik and then to a famous Bavarian restaurant for a typical meal. The film was a strange endeavour, thank goodness it was free, but the restaurant was great and the meal tasty.
We walked Renate to the tram stop but it wasn’t as hard to say goodbye as it might otherwise have been, because we feel rather strongly that we will see her again in April or May next year. It was a cold night and we walked quickly back to our hotel, shivering and thinking of our train journey the next day that would take us up and over the Austrian Alps and down into Italy. We planned to break our journey for two nights in Bologna and then continue on to Sorrento where warmer weather was waiting to welcome us.