Despite what one might think, writing about the city in which you live in is ten times harder than writing about the cities you visit for a day or three. When you visit a place for a short period of time, you can easily summarize the highlights of the trip and the impressions it left you with in one or two pages. After all, you have limited amount of information to share and you speak from perspective of an outsider. However describing the place where you spent two whole years is entirely different matter. Should one focus on top five (ten) must see (must do) things or instead provide insight to little-known places off-the-beaten track? What if you make wrong assumptions when describing the people and the culture, and thus earn a disgruntled comment from local readers who think “you should’ve known better after living here for so long”?
These are the thoughts that crossed my mind when I sat down to write an article about my favorite city, Munich (or München in German). Munich has not only become my home for the past couple of years and one I will keep coming back to, both in my thoughts and on my holidays, but it also gave me a wide range of experiences that I will never forget. Despite the fear of portraying Munich in a way that may not be representative of how locals or visitors think of it, not writing about it at all would be worse and even unfair because it deserves more attention than any of the other places I have written about it so far. The way I chose to go about it is to write about things and places that I appreciated so much during my stay here and that I believe made the experience of living here unforgettable.
Long walks in city’s numerous streets, gardens, and parks
Even if you are alone and you don’t have a single friend in Munich, it’s hard to feel lonely, especially on a sunny spring or summer day. I moved there in the middle of July, when daylight stretched beyond 9pm and people could be seen everywhere outside – drinking at beergardens and cafes, carrying groceries and bread from small shops and bakeries, eating ice cream, sunbathing on patches of grass, walking or cycling with dogs and kids. After vast, sidewalk-deprived and steamy Dallas, the city’s lifestyle centered around walking or cycling was like a breath of fresh air, so much in fact, that it made me never want to be indoors again (that is until autumn rains arrived). Despite not being a particularly large city (population 1.6 million with area approximately 120 sq. miles), Munich offers an abundance of options for casual strolls, be it along chestnut-lined boulevards or along the river, Isar, which runs through the city center.
My favorite routes?
1) Walk from Deutsches Museum in the direction of Marienplatz, arriving to Odeonsplatz, walk through Hofgarten and loose yourself in the English Garden, finally surfacing in the University area for the Ballabeni ice cream (Theresienstraße 46);
2) Head south along the Isar starting at Maximilianeum plaza, staying close to the river (east bank), passing Museum Island, admiring beautiful churches along the way, watch people jogging or sunbathing, and just relaxing. When you get tired of walking, cross one of the bridges and stop for a coffee and a pastry at Café Trachtenvogl (Reichenbachstraße 47).
Living in harmony with nature
Munich is one the very few cities I visited (Vienna is another example) that are remarkably clean and where you are surrounded by nature no matter where you go. Every neighborhood has at a minimum a park or an alley with hundred-year-old chestnut trees that bloom in beautiful pink hue in spring (see photo earlier in the post). The water in Isar is so incredibly clear and free of trash that its hard to believe its even possible to have a city river that clean. At any time of year, people stop by to watch a flock of ducks and swans swimming peacefully along its shores, undisturbed by human residents. It’s also not unusual to spot a large flock of geese and even sheep roaming around English Garden, who live in harmony with local cyclists and runners. As you may have already guessed, there are endless opportunities for outdoor sports and other activities to stay in shape including running, cycling, and even surfing (!). There is a little spot on the southern end of English Garden next to Haus der Kunst where artificial stream has been setup as a wave and experienced locals show off their surfing skills.
Food for mind and spirit
Munich, being the capital of predominately Roman Catholic Bavaria, has no shortage of churches and cathedrals. No matter which part of the city you venture into, you are likely to encounter at least few churches in two kilometer radius and hear bells announcing every quarter on the hour. Most churches have rich history and unique architecture, and regardless of your religious beliefs, take the opportunity to step inside and admire decorations and paintings. Thanks to the city administration, which now prohibits construction of buildings higher than 99 meters, the city’s skyline is shaped predominately by various bell towers and often can be seen from many spots.
For museum fans, there is is also plenty of food for mind, starting with enormous Deutsches Museum that offers everything from boats and airplanes to mining and engines (allow anywhere between four to six hours for a visit). Another ‘must see’ museum on any visitor’s list is BMW museum however I personally enjoyed more visiting the trio of Pinakotheken galleries (old, new and modern) as well as museums with classical Greek and Roman art collections at Königsplatz. Every autumn, every museum in Munich opens doors for one night in what is known as the Long Night of the Museums, where one ticket gets you inside 75 galleries, museums, and institutions. In addition, many museums have reduced fee (1 euro) on Sundays so everyone has a chance to visit.
Castles, kings, fairy tales
It’s impossible to spend one day in Munich and not notice streets and squares named after former royals or come across one of their residences. Although many European countries including England and Holland can boast having a living royal family, the tales of dead Bavarian kings are told up to this day and continue to live in the architecture they left behind. Every visitor quickly learns about Ludwig II, often called der Märchenkönig (the fairy tale king), who is famous for constructing three beautiful castles in southern Bavaria (Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee) and who mysteriously died at relatively young age. Although seeing these landmarks requires a trip outside of Munich, there is still a large royal footprint within city limits. One example is Nymphenburg Palace which used to serve as summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria and is now open to visitors. My favorite part of the palace is the enormous garden behind it where one can escape in solitude for hours, passing several creeks, lakes, and pavilions. Don’t forget a blanket and snacks for a picnic. Another great spot to visit nearby is the Botanical Garden which, thanks to Glasshouse Complex, always has something to offer even in coldest months.
Traditions and celebrations
Only in Munich (and all Bavaria), I have seen people wearing the traditional clothes (“Tracht”) on city streets, trams and subways, as if it is the most normal thing to wear. The number of people in these outfits (“lederhosen” for men and “dirndl” for women) spikes up in September when Oktoberfest is in full action and tourists flood the shops in search of cheap tracht, attempting to disguise as locals. Despite not being a fan of drinking liters of beer in overcrowded loud tents, I can’t help but appreciate the feeling of excitement that fills the city each year in anticipation of Oktoberfest parade and the celebration that follows. I also admire locals for their hospitality as they watch crowds of drunk tourists roam around the city center, searching for more beer and leaving trash on previously clean streets. Although Oktoberfest is the largest event of the year, there is also plenty of small festivals that take place throughout the year in Munich and in nearby towns. Typically, these smaller gatherings are a lot more family-friendly and have warmer atmosphere that demonstrates the core of Bavarian hospitality and pride in their traditions.
Of course there are many things left unwritten including food, beer, Christmas markets, shopping and must-see tourists places, but it’s impossible to describe everything in one post. After all, my objective was to share things that mattered to me and the rest you can find on other sites. Although not described above, what mattered the most during my stay in Munich were the people I met and the experiences we shared together because every city can only be as special as the people that you meet there.