Last week Cait and I headed off to Munich. For years, Cait had been wanting to visit the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein and so, preferring to give gifts of memories rather than things, we decided that there was no better way to mark her 18th.
A 2.45am alarm was set so we could make our early Monday morning flight from Gatwick. That part of the trip wasn’t too impressive but at least it meant that with a landing time of approximately 9am we would have the whole day to explore. Our flight back wasn’t until 9pm on the Thursday, so we would have almost four days to pack in as much as we could. And we did!
The flight over was fine but after a long time waiting at passport control at Munich Airport we found ourselves being somewhere near the front of the queue to somehow being shunted to the back. A highlight was witnessing a classic ‘Do you know who I am? I’m a Professor of Cardiology!’ meltdown from someone whose passport was not being accepted by the ePassport machine, which was clearly ignorant as to his redeemed importance over the rest of the non-professorial folk who had also flown in on the same Easyjet flight. We did have a giggle when the Professor of Cardiology shouted to German customs police: ‘I thought German machines were supposed to be efficient?!’
The customs policeman, who managed to use the Professor’s passport in the machine easily, replied drolly: ‘These aren’t German.’
Of course, the professor was allowed ahead of us mere proles.
I had booked us to stay at Hotel Dolomit, a two star hotel in Munich’s city centre. Just 200 yards away from Munich’s main station, the Hauptbahnhof, it was a wonderfully convenient location to have as a base. When booking hotels I usually check the prices on Booking.com and then compare them to the hotel’s website directly. Usually, one or the other will have an offer going whereby you can grab a pretty great deal. In this case I managed to get a splendid bargain, booking three nights in a double economy room with en-suite for just €108.
I was a little worried about it as it had some pretty mean reviews over on TripAdvisor, but Cait and I were extremely pleased with the hotel and the service. We arrived much earlier than the stated 2pm check-in and asked Renee at the front desk whether there was any chance of booking in early. He checked to see whether any rooms were ready and, sure enough there were, so we could dump our luggage and head off. Economy rooms are based on the fifth and sixth floors, not a problem as there are two lifts although one of them only goes up as far as the fifth floor. There are no tea-making facilities but if you ask very nicely at reception they will arrange for house-keeping to bring you a kettle. There is a Euroshop directly opposite where you can purchase a mug and there’s a Lidl just a two-minute walk around the corner, as well as an Aldi a little further along too. Wi-fi is also available at an additional cost of around €3 a day but if you book directly through the hotel’s own website you can get it for free.
The hotel was extremely clean and even though the room wasn’t too large, it was big enough. The bed was comfortable and the sheets and towels were clean and fresh. Despite it only being a 2 star hotel it has a note on the bathroom mirror offering you a whole range of complementary toiletries or slippers if you’ve forgotten anything. The bathroom itself was really quite compact but this wasn’t a huge issue at all for us, although might be a bit of a squeeze getting dried and changed after a shower if you are on the larger side. As the hotel is in the heart of Munich traffic noise is to be expected so we didn’t expect otherwise (and found the negative TripAdvisor reviews on this frustrating. If you want tranquility, don’t stay in a city!). The only thing we did find inconvenient was the building work going on next door. The keen labourers seemed eager to get going by 6am and were in full force by 7, so any lie-ins were out of the question – not that we had time for them anyway. After all, we had a city to explore in just four days!
Rather than booking a taxi to take us from the airport to the hotel we decided to use the trains instead. With the station such a short walk away from the hotel and a choice of two lines, the S1 or S8, taking you directly from Flughafen München (Munich Airport) to Hauptbahnhof, it worked out the far cheaper option. The Munich U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (train) network map is below. You can click on it to make it bigger. There are other maps available for tram and bus transport lines.
There is a desk at the airport from which to get your tickets. I wasn’t too sure what would work out best for us and the lady at the desk was very helpful. I explained that we needed to get back to the airport on Thursday and wanted to be able to get to anywhere we wanted during our stay there. She recommended the Munich City Tour Card ( or München CityTourCard ) which would not only allow us to go anywhere on the map using any of the transport services, but also offers discounts for a great selection of places. The München CityTourCard is available for solo travellers or you can get the Partnerkarte where groups of up to five travellers can travel together on one ticket. We opted for the latter which cost €72.90 – not bad for unlimited travel for two people for four days. Not bad at all. You can find out more about how to save money on travel in Munich with the München CityTourCard here. You can also purchase the München CityTourCard online here.
I have to admit, travelling in Munich is far, far preferable to travelling in London. It’s cleaner, more efficient, far less crowded and quite fantastic all-round. Everything is so easy to navigate. I am not usually a great lover of public transport in general but travelling in Munich was so simple and such a pleasure. Even the subways connecting each side of a busy pavement are nothing but swish. I mean, this puts Strood subway to utter shame…
With our luggage safely in our hotel room and a ticket to anywhere, it was time to explore. It’s pretty amazing how much you can squeeze into just four days so if itchy feet are making you uncomfortable (and you aren’t suffering a fungal infection), but time is limited, Munich is a wonderful option for a fun-filled city break. Here is what we managed to pack in during our short time there:
The Marienplatz could be reached either by a short, two-stop U- or S-Bahn journey to Marienplatz station or an easy 20 minute walk from our hotel. Alternatively, bus or tram routes 52, 131 and 152 will take you there.
Marienplatz has been Munich’s main square since 1158, and has traditionally been the scene of many festivals and ceremonies over the years. The New Town Hall – the Neues Rathaus – built between 1867 and 1909 stands at the North side of the square and caused quite some controversy due to its neo-Gothic style.
Every day crowds gather to hear the Marienplatz Glockenspiel which, I have to say, is rather overstated and we both felt quite disappointed with, leaving after a few minutes. The glockenspiel houses 43 bells and has a total of 32 figures on two display, each depicting its own story. The upper half of the display tells the story of the wedding of Duke Wilhelm V. This chap is particularly important to Munich, being the founder of the Hofbrauhaus, the Royal Brewery, which stated which ingredients were needed for the perfect beer. These original recipes are still used today and anything other is considered to make an inferior beer.
I had expected the figures in the display to move or do something at least but disappointingly, there was nothing but some rather strained dinging and donging of the glock. If you do want to experience it for yourself the Marienplatz Glockenspiel chimes at 11am daily, with an extra lacklustre performance at midday and 5pm respectively during the summer months. If you travel to Munich and miss it, don’t feel too bad about it. You won’t have missed much. If you’re about though, it’s worth hanging about just to experience the feeling of anticipation giving way to disenchantment.
Opposite the Rathaus stands the Mariensäule, the Marian Column erected in 1638 in order to celebrate Bavaria’s victory over Swedish troops after the Thirty Years’ War. The Mariensäule stands at the centre of the city and is the point from which all distances in Munich are measured.
Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau, the first concentration camp, is definitely not the easiest place to visit at all. Despite the horrific atrocities that happened so recently, I think it’s vitally important that we do not ignore or forget what happened. I can’t quite describe how I felt, with waves of horror, anger, sadness and disbelief washing over me throughout the several hours we spent there.
To visit Dachau Concentration Camp by train take the S2 S-Bahn to Dachau. You can then hop on the 726 bus to KZ-Gedenkstatte or it’s a 40 minute walk away. There is no entry fee to pay but hiring an audio guide is approximately €3.50, and a little cheaper for students. You will need to have some kind of photographic ID before you can hire one so make sure you take a driver’s licence, passport or European Identity card with you. There are guided tours in English at 1.30pm on Tuesdays through to Fridays, and 12pm and 1.30pm at the weekends in summer. During winter, tours are available on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1.30pm. There is also a 22 minute documentary shown in English at 10am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm, with the German speaking broadcast shown at 9.30am, 11am, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. More information can be found on the website here.
Our visit to Dachau Concentration Camp will be covered in more detail in a separate post shortly.
The Olympiapark was built for the summer Olympics in 1972 on the grounds which are also home to the Olympiaturm, the television tower built in 1965. The reinforced concrete tower is said to be the tallest in Europe at 290 metres (950 feet) high. It is open daily from 9 until midnight for a trip to the top, giving you supposedly breathtaking panoramic views across Bavaria, taking your eye as far as the Alps. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to fulfil our plans to return and take a trip up the tower, as well as to visit Sea World and the BMW Museum next door.
Quick tip: If you purchase a ticket for Sea World you will receive a discount on going up the tower. Well worth doing it to save a few euro if you plan on doing the two anyway.
The Olympiapark is just a short walk from the Olympiazentrum U-Bahn and buses 173, 177, 178 and trams 20 and 21 will also take you there. There is so much to do, you could very well spend a day or two in this area. Find out more at www.olympiapark-muenchen.de.
We stopped at the little village of Oberammergau on our way to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. As well as the beautifully painted houses, the frescos known locally as Lüftlmalerei which were originally introduced as an indication of class; the more money you had, the more beautiful the fresco on your home would be.
Oberammergau is also the home to the famous Passion Play. During the 1630’s, the area, like so many others, was suffering terribly from the bubonic plague. Desperate for an end to their suffering, the town promised God that if he were to stop the plague they would perform the Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ every 10 years in thanks and gratitude. Their calls were answered and nobody else suffered and so, as promised, the first play was performed in 1634. The stage for that performance was a temporary structure created above the graves of plague victims. Since then, the tradition has continued. Of performing that play, that is. Not of performing it on a mass grave. Oberammergau now has its own Passion Play theatre for that.
Only locals from Oberammergau are able to perform in the play. Out of a population of approximately 5,000, around half audition for a part each year. Requirements to fulfil a role are that you must have been born in Oberammergau and long hair and beards are a must. Baldies need not apply – you just won’t get the part!
So after years of wanting to visit, Caitlin finally made it to Neuschwanstein. What a way to spend your 18th birthday, eh? It really is as beautiful as you would imagine and with such a sad story behind it, we felt a mixture of emotions visiting it. A post on this is coming up soon but definitely a recommendation from us. Do note that you can’t just turn up and purchase a ticket to enter. Entry is only available as part of a guided tour which can be booked from 9am until 6pm from April to September, and 10am until 3pm from October to March. Visit www.neuschwanstein.de for more information on visiting Neuschwanstein Castle.
The same King Ludwig II’s story, a very different kind of castle. It didn’t take long to visit but I’d have loved more time to see the glorious gardens surrounding it. I’ll be including more about this in the post with Neuschwanstein but for more information on the guided palace tours which take place daily from 9am to 6pm between the months of April to September, and 10am until 4pm from October to March, visit www.linderhof.de.
Spielzeugmuseum – The Toy Museum
Back at the Marienplatz in the Old Town Hall is the Speilzeugmuseum – the toy museum of Munich. With toys, planes, doll’s houses, teddy bears and all sorts of toys from days gone by, this is four floors packed with memories and history of playtimes from years gone by. At just €4 an adult and €1 for children, it’s a lovely little place to spend some time.
We jumped on the train straight after Dachau and headed to Ammersee Lake in order to process what we had seen and have a little down-time, and it was perfect. Take the S-Bahn to Herrsching, the end of the S8 line, and take a right turn. A short walk brings you to the lake and, if you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll get a (very) elderly gentleman in a wheelchair and wearing lederhosen calling out a welcome ‘Ciao, Bella!’ as you pass. Yes, it did make my day. I’ll take the attention anywhere I can nowdays quite gladly. I pointed out to Cait how I still had ‘it’. Cait laughed. A lot.
At 47 square kilometres, this is no small lake. In fact, it’s the sixth largest in Germany. You can take a paddle boat trip from the pier here including one on Bavaria’s oldest paddle steamer. Unfortunately, we had just missed a sailing and it was getting too late in the day to hang around. I think Cait was a little concerned she might have a repeat of the seasickness she experienced in Iceland, so I don’t think she was too disappointed to have missed that opportunity. Nevertheless, it’s something I would definitely love to do next time I visit. And there will be a next time.
Tierpark Hellabrunn Zoo
I am quite undecided when it comes to zoos in general and think that whilst there are quite a few places which give them a bad name (I’m not too impressed at all with London Zoo, I have to admit), there are some which are quite outstanding. Tierpark Hellabrunn is most certainly the latter.
It was created in 1911 and was the first ‘geo-zoo’ in the world. This means that rather than being housed wherever they fit, the zoo is designed to allow the animals to live according to their geographic distribution. By following the signs around the zoo, you will travel around the world, experiencing different habitats and the creatures within them. Each animal has an extremely generous area to call home, all absolutely spotless and they look extremely well cared for and healthy. The entire park was pristine and clean and even the food and drink stalls were not extortionately priced, unlike here in the UK where attractions do love to hit your pocket hard, I find.
As is usual in Germany and unlike the greedy UK, the entry fees are fantastic. Cait and I paid €15 each for entry and children aged 4 to 14-years-old are only charged €6 each. Small families, stated as 1 adult and all his or her own children living at the same address, are charged just €19 entry, whilst ‘large families’, that is both parents plus all their children living at the same address can visit for just €33.
The only thing I would point out is that credit cards aren’t allowed and it does state this on the board at the entrance, but what it doesn’t state is that Visa debit cards aren’t accepted either. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t matter how many times you say, ‘But it’s a debit card!’, they will not accept it. There is a cashpoint machine by the entrance that you can use but to be safe, make sure you take cash.
The Tierpark Hellabrunn Zoo is open daily from 9am until 5pm during the months of October to March, and 9am until 6pm from April to September. You can take the U-Bahn to Thalkirchen and from there it’s a ten minute walk.
Karlsplatz (The Stachus)
Karlsplatz was the large square originally named after the Elector of Bavaria, Charles Theodore, but due to his unpopularity is rarely used by that name by the locals now, with them referring to it as the Stachus instead. A large fountain in front of the Justizpalast, the Palace of Justice, is a refreshing point for kids on a hot day whereas the walk to Marienplatz will take you through a vast selection of shops.
The Karlstor used to be one of the four outer gates which gave entrance into the city through its fortified walls. It originally had three towers but the one in the centre, which was the tallest, was destroyed in 1857 when the gunpower that was being stored within it exploded. The towers either side were later renovated by Italian architect Domenico Zanetti in 1861.
The Viktualienmarkt developed from a humble farmer’s market to a huge food and drinks centre in the middle of Munich, packed with over 140 stalls and shops selling every food and drink you can imagine. And plenty of beer, of course! There are loads of food stalls but no fast food chains here – they’re banned. Just local, authentic stuff here, and, in order to favour local merchants, the city laws offer them lower taxes to trade there. If you are in Marienplatz do take a short stroll along – it definitely is the better of the two squares in my opinion. The Viktualienmarkt is open from 7.30am until 6pm during weekdays and 7.30am until 1pm on Saturdays.
The Viktualienmarkt Maibaum, or maypole, stands tall and proud in the centre. Painted in blue and white, the colours of Bavaria, it is decorated with pictures throughout, including one depicting Oktoberfest, market traders and saints, and the ‘Reinheitsgebot’, the German Beer Purity Law of April 1516, itself. The six kegs you see on the maypole stand for each of the big six breweries of Munich.
The Viktualienmarkt Biergarten is definitely a hub where people meet, eat and of course, drink beer. Seating approximately 800 people overall, it is not a small space within the Viktualienmarkt at all. The cobblestone area is divided into two, a self-serviced part seating 600 and a serviced part seating 200. Guests are welcome to bring along their own food brought from any of the surrounding stalls, where they enjoy a refreshing pint or two from each of the big six breweries that the beergarden serves. Each week a different beer from one brewery is served from the taps. Open from 9am until 10pm daily, it’s usually packed so be prepared to share a table and get to know locals and tourists alike.
However, Cait decided to have her first beer in a fab little Italian restaurant called Gecco, where the waiter was wondefully friendly and funny and serenaded her with his own Happy Birthday chorus and a cheerful ‘Thank-you-very-grazie!’ on our departure.