As in any good German adventure, we rolled up to Munich on the Autobahn in our slick black Skoda. Getting tickets for the train in Germany is surprisingly cost-effective, if you can buy in advance. Otherwise, the cost of a one day car rental between Berlin and Germany saved us about 40 Euro, even with fuel.
We were greeted at Eva’s Uncle’s home with the news that today, September 19th, was in fact the first day of Oktoberfest, that tricky anachronistically-named festival! So away we went to the tents. But over the next ten days, despite the lure of clinking steins and slurred AC/DC hits, we managed to see quite a bit of what Bavaria has to offer.
Munich, Bavaria’s capitol city, is always flush with tourists. Despite its notoriety for beer, the city has much more to do with Arts and the outdoors than with drunken debauchery. Over 15 museums grace the city, many within walking distance to one another. The massive Englischer Garten stretches from the city center all the way to Munich’s Northeastern city limits.
One of the largest parks in the world it is host to beer gardens, a Japanese teahouse, pagodas, a lake, surfers, sheep, streams and even nude sunbathers. Entry is free, and since it crosses most of the city — it’s easy to tuck away for a short stroll no matter where in town you are.
Though Munich has a very thorough and efficient transit system, the best way to see the city is by bike. Bike lanes are deriguer in town as many residents pedal their commute. The city is relatively small, and you won’t have to sweat too much to make it to even some further landmarks.
Though it is hotly contested as one of the best places to live in Germany, Munich, as well as the whole of Bavaria, is quite conservative. Tradition reigns supreme, and the best place to immerse yourself in history is Stachus, the city center, made up of the Marienplatz, Karlsplatz and Odeonsplatz.
Further afield Munich’s Olympiapark, home of the Munich Olympics, remains a must-see. At once the site of the 1972 Munich Massacre as well as an achievement of modern architecture, the Park continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events.
The BMW headquarters, BMW Welt, are just across the road. Entry is free to the museum and all sorts of nicely presented information about BMW technology, cars and motorcycles. You can also sign up for a tour of the plant, which we believe is also free, but must be done in advance.
And if that wasn’t enough, Munich even has it’s own castle — the Schloss Nymphenburg. Once the summer home of Bavarian rulers, Nymphenburg is now open to the public. The beautiful gardens and grounds are free to wander, and several restaurants sell treats you can enjoy in the same place as some poshy princess once did. If you have the time, the Gallery of Beauties is worth seeing. King Ludwig I seems to have gotten around quite a bit, and the hall features over 30 portraits of his favorite lovely lady friends.
Schloss Nymphenburg, click for wiki‘s great photos
So while we were in Munich seeing all this great stuff, Eva’s uncle Rys worked overtime to make sure we were happy, full, and totally familiarized with as much of Bavaria as possible. Though he was the only family member we
visited in Germany, he did the work of at least 3 families in looking after us.
Rys is an architect, and naturally his interests follow suit. Twice we packed up for the day to tour the Bavarian countryside and visit several of the Baroque and Rococo churches which highlight the region.
One of our first stops was the Benedictine Abbey of Andechs. A large functioning monastery near the Ammersee, in the middle of Upper Bavaria’s Five-Lakes Region, Andechs has for long been a destination for pilgrims. Today it remains fully independent and sustainable. The Church itself is a shock of flamboyant color and Baroque style.
Worshipers offer the Abbey thanks for acts of mercy through donated artworks depicting the events which befell them. Besides being saved from disease, thanks are offered for such things as passing exams and surviving car crashes.
And it’s pretty clear why the Abbey is also a pilgrimage site… People come here for the beer! With proof of brewing dating back to the Middle Ages, the Benedictine Monks at Andechs have been cultivating the art for hundreds of years. Today Andechs beer is available at grocery stores in Germany, but the best is clearly at the source — at a long communal table alongside a giant roasted pork knuckle. The tavern, Bräustüberl, is older than the church, so you’re still sightseeing all throughout lunch.
Take a look at the menu, Andechs is as affordable as it is delicious
Fortified and fed we went for yet another pilgrimage site, Wieskirche. The Wies Church is one of the only true Rococo churches in Bavaria. Unlike others, it was build Rococo from the ground up, while others have started with Romanesque architecture which was converted to Baroque and Rococo as the church attempted to lure followers.
The church is beautiful, but it’s setting even more so. Rolling green hills, sunshine, distant mountains and happy Bavarian cows.
Pilgrimages to Wieskirche started after worshipers saw tears on a statue of Jesus. Today the church is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and all pilgrims are rewarded with some traditional German sweets.
On our next outing we were bound for the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Neuschwanstein’s image has graced millions of postcards and calendars, and is one of the most recognizable sites in Bavaria.
Though it may look romantic and magical, the Castle itself is actually quite modern. Built to the demands of the eccentric Ludwig II, the final neo-Romanesque design was completed in the very late 19th century. Regarded by most as a fanciful flight of kitsch, Ludwig II drew upon the Middle Ages and “the musical mythology” of Wagner for inspiration for his palace.
It’s quite easy to say that Ludwig II was crazy, and there have been many questions regarding clinical insanity. He sequestered himself in the palace, and spent hundred of thousands from the kingdom’s coffers. He is said to have had trouble finding a partner to share his time in the Castle, and never raised any heirs. When his construction debts reached 14 million Marks, the people began to get restless. The government officially decided to depose him, yet he mysteriously died the next day. Ludwig II was Bavaria’s last ruler, and his death in 1886 left the Castle to the public. Today the exterior and grounds can be visited for free, while tours which view the garish interiors will come at a price.
The contrast between Bavaria and our other German stop, Berlin, are mind boggling! But it would be hard to pick only one place to see. As with Poland, the time we spent in Munich made us wish we lived just a little closer to this side of the family. Eva really enjoyed talking to someone who works in a field closer to her own. Rys was a great source of inspiration, and we know we’d have a close relationship were the distances not so vast.
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