Munich/München is definitely the city on our trip I wish we’d had more time in just to wander. We only had one full day to explore the city, so we took a recommendation from my parents and did a bike tour with this company, who I can highly recommend. Our tour guide ended up being a guy who had been brought up (by his German parents) in Kerikeri, of all places, and moved back to Munich as an adult. Since moving to the US, I can usually count the number of other New Zealanders I talk to on the fingers of one hand in any six-month period, so it was nice to hear a familiar accent again.
The whole tour consisted of English-speaking tourists, which was a nice change for a few hours. I had tackled Germany with three phrasebooks, the ability to say hello and count to ten, and a reasonably good ear for languages. I quickly discovered that this mostly lead to people assuming I spoke German and asking me complicated questions, at which point we reverted to English (except for a couple of times when some mutual patience was required.) By this point, though, I could make my way through a basic food-buying transaction without totally embarrassing myself. Michael, on the other hand, had never been to a non-English-speaking country and turned out to have no ear for languages whatsoever, which was both bemusing and a little bit entertaining, because we were only in Germany in the first place on the grounds that the fact I spoke semi-decent French would constitute an unfair advantage in France.
The bike tour, after giving us some dire warnings about people who’d scratched the paint on Audis and ended up paying thousands of Euros – apparently it’s not uncommon for people to assume that the ability to ride a bike on a public street is not a prerequisite for a bike tour – took us around all the highlights of Munich. We saw the surfers on the artificial wave in the Isen River, a variety of large and old buildings, and of course the Biergarten in the English Gardens, which has a large pagoda-like structure called the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) which conceals an orchestra on the second floor (no, really) and provide shade for the drinking of beer and eating of food, mostly large amounts of protein. Beer is sold here by the “mass”, i.e., litre glass. I carefully ascertained the amount of fluid I’d already lost that day (it was 34°C, did I mention?), my tolerance for alcohol, and the story about the Audi, and had a Radler (half-beer, half-lemonade). The food was half a chicken, which was exactly the sort of thing you want when dining somewhere that sells beer by the litre. (Given that our tour group largely consisted of people on OE, I was impressed at the riding skills displayed after this stop, i.e., no-one fell off their bike at all.)
Our second day in Munich was spent on a day-trip to the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenshwangau, near the Austrian border.
We diligently followed the internet’s advice to pre-reserve our ticket, and if you’re planning on going to these castles, do this. For one thing, it will save you a one to two hour-long wait in line, outside. For another, it’s pretty satisfying to walk straight past the one to two-hour long line and pick up your tickets.
The castles themselves are very pretty – Hohenschwangau is almost home-like, for a castle, built as a country retreat. Swans, a symbol of the family that built it, are a prominent theme.
Neuschwanstein – which is one and a half kilometres up a hill, I think on the grounds that you should be made to work for the view – is basically Hohenschwangau 2: Bigger And Swannier. It was built by the “Mad King” Ludwig II of Bavaria and only inhabited by him for six months before he mysteriously died (the possible madness and definite spending all of Bavaria’s money on castles with swan chandeliers may have confributed to the mysterious death thing). It was opened as a tourist attraction almost immediately – this was the late 19th century, tourism was a thing. It was a fairytale castle, literally, that never functioned as a castle…just as a tourist attraction for people seeking fairytales. But it’s still a genuine historical castle. It’s gloriously metatextual, if a castle can be metatextual.
Next time, Switzerland: fewer castles, more mountains, and hilariously overpriced Big Macs.