I was excited to land in Munich at the early hour of 6 AM, when the city’s residents were still in their beds or were probably holding their breaths, squeezing themselves into dirndls and lederhosen, preparing for a day of raucous merry-making. The airport itself was mostly deserted with shops closed and only the enquiry desk inhabited by two jolly ladies in decked in their Oktoberfest gear, catching up on the morning gossip. After collecting our luggage, quickly freshening up and getting chided by staff at the S-Bahn counter for disturbing them before opening time (7 AM), we bought our public transport day-pass (Partner / Gruppen Tageskarte) from a vending machine and were on our way to town.
Once we climbed out of the platform area, the main hall of the Hauptbahnof (the central train station) was a different scene altogether. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that you were witnessing a Saturday night on the town, rather than 8 AM on a cool September morning. Tourists buying last-minute, heavily-overpriced Trachten to ‘fit in with the locals’; shopkeepers stacking ‘Made-in-China’ souvenirs in their stalls; women performing last-minute checks on their make-up; groups singing what I imagined were drinking songs while chugging beer by the bottle to prep themselves for the boozy day ahead; and train staff and police trying to make their way to their duties for the day, while expertly dodging all of the above.
If you don’t know which way the fest is when you land at the station, worry not – the throngs in their costumes will lead you there. We, on the other hand (though tempted by the festivities) were headed another way that day. After wrapping up our visit to Dachau and its ex-concentration camp that morning, armed with our map and audio guide, we were ready to pound the cobbled streets and see the sights of Munich.
Except that we never quite did.
As we were striding with purpose (‘City walk, you will be conquered in the next 4 hours’) towards the exit gates of the train station, we were stopped in our tracks by someone shouting out H’s name. With a fair amount of disbelief (who in the crowd of hundreds of mostly fest-goers on a Saturday afternoon knew us personally?), we turned around to find ourselves face-to-face with his old college buddy and his wife.
Now I’m not unsocial (I did have a good time hanging out with them), but of course, I had to reconcile with the reality that our sightseeing plans were about to be completely sidelined. We spent the rest of the evening recounting old stories and incidents and discussing life and future travel plans over a nice dinner with beer at the Augustiner am Dom next to Frauenkirche (you know, the twin onion-domed building you see in all the pictures of Munich). The highlight of my meal being discovering ‘Russ‘, a delicious lemonade-infused wheat beer (Weissbier). Its lager cousin goes by the name ‘Radler‘ (you may have heard of it as ‘shandy’ but that doesn’t sound half as interesting as its European name).
As the story goes, the drink was invented by an enterprising Bavarian brewer who decided to make up for his low stock of beer by mixing it with 50% lemonade to serve the thousands of cyclists (radlers) in his yard. As the story narrated by our server at the restaurant goes, the Russian emigrants who came to Munich weren’t hardy enough to drink the strong Bavarian bier, therefore, were given a watered-down-with-lemonade version. No guesses as to what my drink of choice was for the rest of the trip (Thank you, Russia!).
Our next day was in Munich too, but we were headed to the Oktoberfest in the morning itself, so there was no chance of catching up on our pending walk about town (really, watch how a few litres of beer can wash over any plans of sightseeing you may have had). We did get to see a few of the churches (Michaelskirche and Frauenkirche) and the BMW museum on our first day, but this short stay in the city was a reminder of why I should probably slow things down a bit with my itineraries. There’s no room for surprises (even if pleasant ones like this).
I’m sure, of course, that the next time you give me a pen and paper to chalk out my itinerary, I’m not going to be any less ambitious with stuffing it with places! But, to Munich, a city that I’ve totally enjoyed my limited time in, I owe another, longer visit.
Have you been to Munich? How did you like the city?