The next day, we arrive in Munich. It’s one of the cities I have been so excited to visit. Again, my avid interest in its recent history (WWII) and a family connection that leads me to believe that our ancestors lived in what is now Germany, piques my interest.
We pick up our guide, Hildren, and proceed on a bus tour in the pouring rain. The mist and clouds don’t interfere though: Hildren’s voice is well modulated, clear and almost accent free. She tells us everything – no holds barred: here and there, she points out the Nazi buildings, distinctive by the coat of arms stamped on the walls of places Hitler approved. Museums, offices, hotels, a beer hall: all were commandeered to give tribute to the birthplace of the Nazi party. When many of these sites were bombed during the war – up to 80% of the city in fact - the ruins were buried, creating hills of life all over the city, where grass and trees now grow instead of hatred.
Munich has a population of 1.3 million and is the state capital (Bayarn, or Bavaria). Hildren considers Munich to be young (only 800+ years) in comparison to many others in this area, such as Regensburg, which was founded over 2000 years ago. The architecture is far more linear; many of the buildings are newer and modern, particularly because of the destruction from the war. We pass through a roadway lined with linden trees – a soft wood favored by many carvers. Ahead of us is the Nymphenburg Palace, the birthplace of Ludwig II, descendants in a long line of Wittelsbachs, who ruled for centuries and made this their exclusive summer home. Now it’s filled with music and people, who have access to the ponds in front, filled with geese and ducks and swans.
We pass by Philip Lam’s house, Germany’s most famous soccer player, just to give us an idea of the level of incomes found in this vicinity (a small house would cost about 2 million euros).
Many residents stroll the streets in traditional Bavarian outfits – aproned dresses or leiderhosen. Hildren tells us that the costume is worn only for special occasions: such as Octoberfest – which is held in September, and is winding down to its final day - this Monday.
Munich is a candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in all the villages nearby as well as within the city: villages such as Oberammergau, which would host the cross country skiing.
There are rounded rooftops, multi-coloured buildings, beautiful shutters both real and painted. Garden plots for those who live in apartment buildings are placed throughout the park lands.
Two new, stunning pieces of architecture are the creation of BMW (Bavarian Motor Works). One is designed to resemble a car engine at the top of the building: Hildren says locals claim it looks more like four beer steins crowded together. The second building is a sleek steel and glass affair: this is where you can go (for 500 euros) to be formally introduced to your new car.
The roof over the old Olympic stadium (now used for a multitude of sports activities) resembles a huge tent. The Olympic needle is a short CN Tower.
Hildren tells us how Octoberfest began: it was 200 years ago at the wedding of Ludwig I and Therese. They invited the entire population, providing a horse race as well as other entertainment. It was such a success that the celebration occurred every year thereafter. At first, the farmers would bring their own beer, while later, beer halls were erected and the townspeople made a fortune selling it. Munich now proudly proclaims itself the beer capital of the world. You can drink beer here when you are 16, but you must be 18 to drink anything else. Even university students who are given scholarships are provided with a stein per day. Recently, the dates were changed to the latter part of September, mostly because the milder weather attracted more visitors. It’s famous partly because it’s an enormous beer fest that is usually very peaceful. Over seven days, at least 17 millions visitors will come to Octoberfest. Only the local breweries are allowed to sell their wares.
We pass by a huge white statue of a running man, through the Arch of Victory, and the palace where the famed Queen Sisi (Elizabeth) liked to spend her time in the winter. The court church displays crypts in the centre of a street. Palm trees – transplanted for a Royal – sway in the wind outside a café. The eternal flame flickers in the rain. We pass by the former Nazi Headquarters, where a museum is planned, and the obelisk plaza. We see the Conference Centre where, in 1938, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, France, Italy and England, giving Sudetenland to Hitler’s government. Later, he marched into Czechoslovakia and took the entire country, without any reaction from the agreement signatories. It was only the beginning.
Koenigplaz (Royal Square) is surrounded by huge Greek style buildings, which are now museums. Ludwig II’s brother Otto was King of Greece for thirty years, so he brought his love of their architecture back to Germany.
There is a new film centre under construction: Germany will be the white sausage film academy, Hildren jokes.
The art museum was rebuilt in the style of its origins, leaving the original slice of building tucked inside the newer version, a kind of scar, to demonstrate how much of it was damaged in the war.
The English Garden Park is lush under the clouds and a weak drift of sunlight. It’s popular, says Hildren, especially because you are allowed to bathe nude under the trees. But not in the cold and rain today, we answer.
There is a huge, stunning cupola atop a former army museum. Here is Prinzregentstret where the Nazi art museum stood. Art mainly stolen from their rightful owners.
Between the slats of a bridge over the raging Isar river, we see surfers! It’s a popular spot, where brave surf boarders right the waves, even though it’s technically illegal. The Bavarian Museum is enormous and ornate. The gold plate of a huge angel of peace stature glints out from the greenery of a roadside park. This slice of woodland and flowers stretches straight across the city, 14 kilometres long. We pass the house of the inventor of the x-ray; a stature of Ludwig II (who, despite being insane, is known as a hero for his designs, castles, schools, establishing the Red Cross here). The Parliament buildings are stunning: paintings grace the walls, along with statues and arches.
We enter the Old City on foot. The enormous cathedral of Our Lady soars above the buildings: Hildren instructs us that, by law, no building is allowed to be taller than the cathedral within the old city limits. Here we find an enormous statue of Maximilian, as well as their winter palace and the opera house. The latter was, contrary to the tradition of the times, built for the general population. When it burned down, the people agreed to an extra tax in order to have it rebuilt.
When we round a corner, we are suddenly in Marianplatz, with its breathtaking town hall. Decorated with statues and gargoyles and carvings, it’s an incredible sight. In the centre, a huge glockenspiel peeks out from its platform, but unfortunately, it only moves around at noon.
Some of the group decides to shop, while 16 of us opt for a visit to the Octoberfest site. Guess which one I join?
The Octoberfest site is similar to the CNE. Covering a huge amount of space, there are hundreds of beer tents along with a ferris wheel and other carnival rides. There are thousands of people here, all friendly and welcoming, their beer breath and red flushed cheeks alight with the uninhibited freedom that alcohol provides.
We find a perfect table in one of the beer halls and soon join those very same revelers. A band plays familiar German tunes and we sway and sing, drinking from huge steins. Although the waitress brought eight at a time in one visit, I need two hands to lift the golden liquid to my lips. We eat meat and salads and converse with the young people at the table behind us. When we are forced to leave, we high-five our way through the throng. We are all thrilled with the experience.