Turns out I like Germany after all, in Munich
“Put your hand up, put your damn hands up!
Tonight is my life, because tonight I’m a sinner!
Keep your hands up, keep your damn hands up!
Tonight is my life, it’s an assault on my liver!”
As these remarkably honest lyrics shouted into the perfect warm June air above chattering trestle tables of university students and studiers-abroad, I thought to myself “Maybe I like Germany after all.”
Years ago my first big trip, solo backpacking across Europe, began in Frankfurt. I remember rushing currents of people with purpose, reminding me that I had none (amazing how challenging it is to be unemployed) and a jet-lagged nausea at not knowing what to do with myself. I stayed three days, which was two too many, then a fourth, because the guy who sold me my train ticket didn’t tell me it left from one of the many other friggin train station. “I’m American! I’m amazed you have ONE giant station. I’m not prepared for redundancies!”
Months later, I arrived in Berlin with a dirty sweatshirt and two pairs of jeans to find a city devoted to ice. That first night was seventeen degrees below zero, Celsius, my lament updated, “I’m Californian! I’m not prepared for Hoth!” Years after that Germany was the place where Belgians went to buy diapers. Apparently they’re much cheaper over there. Who knew?
So when this tour guide job took me to Munich, I anticipated a good chance to focus on the work, less distracted by the place than I’d been in the beauty of Switzerland or at the tables of France. But München had surprises for me.
Like the Marienplatz, with its jovial Germans and Neo-Gothic New Town Hall that looked like the sort of place some serious medieval shit went down, despite being a mere century old. And the Viktualienmarkt where stalls sold cheese, wine, and produce in EU splendor. And the Frauenkirche, consecrated in 1494, one of the few genuinely old buildings in Munich. Why so few old buildings in a city with such an ancient feel? Munich was largely leveled by the end of World War II, but the American bombers had used the church’s spires to navigate their bombing runs, so left them pristine among the rubble. After the war, the broken cities faced the question: “Do we rebuild as it was? Or take this opportunity to modernize?”
Frankfurt chose to modernize, and is now another stack of right angles and capitalist fortresses, the town where I was bored and desperate. Munich went the other way, rebuilding their heritage instead of replacing it, and preserving substantial portions of urban land for green spaces. There I marveled at spires and statues, fountains and pedestrian thoroughfares, but it was one of those green spaces that really made me love Munich. Appropriate, since from 2006 the city’s motto has been “München mag dich” (“Munich loves you”).
The English Gardens are 910 acres (larger than NYC’s Central Park) of urban parkland where on a sunny Thursday evening, hundred of Munichites were lounging on towels and grass, listening to and making music, eating-drinking-laughing with friends. It was marvelous. And, being Bavaria, there were not one, but three beer gardens in the park.
My mentor/friend and I bicycled through the park and took two of the 7,000 seats in the Chinese Tower beer garden. We didn’t think our trays of giant beers, saucy bratwurst, potatoes, green salad, giant pretzel, and kaiserschmarrn (shredded sweet pancakes with powdered sugar and sweet apple sauce on the side) were that unusual, but the German couple next to us ogled and asked in beautiful Bavarian accents “Really? You are going to eat all of zis?”
Yes, yes we did. Then rode back, pausing to watch the surfers. Because yes, there are surfers in the park in landlocked Bavaria. It’s München, baby! Then we browsed the streets of the World’s Most Livable City according to Monocle in 2013, and when we heard music thumping out of another beer-gardeny spot on the university campus, why not?
Perfect temperature, belly full of good food, historical and contemporary vibrancy, and friendship everywhere, Munich was a pretty nice place to be. The assault on my liver was just bonus.