On Sunday June 26, I boarded a long-distance bus from Berlin to Munich. Normally, I prefer trains. They’re typically faster, smoother, and more spacious if a bit more expensive. But this particular bus was too good to pass up at only €22 and only a bit slower than the train.
We went south along one of Germany’s famous autobahns for about 8 hours. Unfortunately we hit lots of traffic so the bus did not drive at incredibly high speeds even though there are no speed limits. I met a German guy in Sicily and he explained to me that Germany has studied the issue and they know they would have less car accidents if they put speed limits on the autobahns, but the people don’t want them. (There are speed limits the closer you get to cities – it’s only out in the country where there aren’t any.)
I arrived in Munich and checked into my hostel. Then I went across the street to get some food. I went to a bierhall, which are very traditional in this part of Germany (Bavaria) and are not only places to drink beer but to have a simple meal. The tables are long, wooden benches, so it’s very communal. It was great for me travelling alone because it’s easy to make new friends.
I got a typical meal – bratwurst and a potato salad. I had a nice conversation in English with a German guy who was in Munich on business. He ended up giving me recommendations on things to see and do. We also talked to two guys about my age who were from mixed families. One was half Canadian half German, and the other half American half German. They’d both lived all over the world because their parents worked in embassies.
The next day I took a self-guided tour of Munich using my Rick Steves guidebook. Munich was less museums and individual sights, but the city itself is more pleasant, walkable, and easy to spend time in. Both Munich and Berlin (and many other German cities) were completely destroyed in the war and rebuilt later. However, during rebuilding, Munich used old photographs (taken by the Nazis, incidentally) and decided to rebuild their city exactly as it was, to the best of their ability. It has a great main square, Marienplatz, and a lively city center with a market, Viktualienmarkt, and many shops and restaurants.
There is also a great city park, the English Garden. Apparently named the English Garden because it was somehow inspired by something in England. It has a bunch of manmade canals running through it that you can swim in. At one point there is a current that locals surf in.
In general the park had a very beach-like atmosphere. There were fields with sunbathers (sometimes completely naked, normal in Germany), volleyball courts, surfing, and swimming. My theory is that it’s because this part of Germany is quite landlocked – probably a thousand miles to the sea in the North, and the Alps to the South. So they made their own beach in the park. Columbus, Ohio needs an English Garden.
I took a swim in one of the streams. It was nice because the current takes you along. I left my shirt and shoes downstream, walked upstream, jumped in, and floated back to my things. (I have a waterproof money belt for my wallet so that stayed with me.)
In Munich I also spent some time relaxing and socializing. I made friends from the US and Canada as well as Mexico, Italy, Germany, and Portugal and spent time with them. We watched Germany beat and eliminate Italy from the 20-16 Euro Soccer Tournament which was a bummer for me as I was rooting for Italy. The match was very close and ended in penalty kicks after a 30 minute overtime. Italy and Germany are both two of the better teams on the continent.
I also visited Olympic Park, site of the 1972 Olympics. They ended up having a travelling Star Wars exhibit which had tons of original costumes and props, great to see. (Below is the actual original Han Solo frozen in carbonite.) And I visited BWM-Welt, or BWM World, a showroom and museum about the automaker, located at their headquarters. BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, or Bavarian Motor Works. Munich is the capital city of the Federal State of Bavaria, located in Southeastern Germany.
Bavaria in general is where the American image of Germany comes from. After WWII, and during the Cold War, Bavaria was part of the American Occupied Zone so there were many American troops stationed there. (Soviet controlled “East” Germany was really only Northeast Germany, Bavaria was part of “West” Germany even though it’s in the Southeastern part of the country.) American soldiers brought home images of beer, pretzels, and lederhosen, which are all Bavarian. Bavaria is a conservative and tradition minded region in general. It remained Catholic during the Protestant Reformation which swept most of the rest of Germany, and was rewarded by the Popes with lots of money for fancy churches because it was the front lines in the war with Protestantism.
After Munich, I decided I wanted to visit the countryside to get more of a slice of traditional Germany. I shifted my schedule around a little bit and booked three nights in a town called Füssen. Füssen is in the very south of the country near the border with Austria and the beginning of the Alps. Many tourists come here to visit two castles of the Bavarian Kings – Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.
These two castles, but Neuschwanstein in particular, are said to have inspired Walt Disney. They sit in the hills right near the border and were the homes of the kings. (Though King Ludwig II died before Neuschwanstein was finished and apparently tourists were going through it a few years later.)
I spent three days in that area hiking, biking (rentals available everywhere and there are tons of paths), and touring the castles. The interiors of the castles were very similar to many castles I’ve visited in Europe. The exteriors were reallly the best part.
The area was incredibly beautiful with lakes, hills, mountains, and thick woods. Yesterday I took another bikeride on a route recommended by the hostel staff. This route took me through a few small villages and farming towns and it was great to see that side of the country. Houses are generally all brown and white, kept immaculately, and they have lots of flowers hanging from all the windows. There were lots of cows roaming the fields and they all wear bells, so the sound of the bells was the background to my ride.
There are tons more pictures from my bikerides – just look at July 3-5 on Flickr.
I also walked on a hiking trail across the German and Austrian border which was quite cool for a geography nerd like me. Remember, most of Europe nowadays has open internal borders. Here’s the marker –
Today I checked out and I am on a long train ride to Prague in the Czech Republic.