Munich – Prost! (Cheers)
(For more pictures from Munich, scroll through the slideshow at the bottom of this post)
It took me a day (plus a stein or two) to warm up to Munich. After breathing in the fresh air of Austria’s alps for three days, it was disappointing to walk out of the Munich train station and find myself in a smelly, flat city. I wanted to hop the next train back to Austria, but I was booked in Munich for five nights, more time than I had allotted for any other city. On top of that, I was developing a case of end-of-trip blues. Munich was my last major stop. I had to find a way to make the most of it.
So I did what all good tourists do in Munich. I went to the beer hall. In my defense, I went on a historical walking tour, met a crowd of fellow backpackers, and then went to the beer hall.
Mini history lesson on Munich
- Munich, or Munchen, translates to “by the monks” in old German
- When the city was taken over by the Swedish army in the 1600s, it didn’t have enough gold to purchase its freedom. Instead, officials paid the Swedish army in beer
- Modern day Oktoberfest began in the 1800s, as a celebration of prince Ludwig’s marriage to princess Theresa (Ironically, Ludwig was the guy no one liked because he taxed beer to build opera houses)
Our eight person beer hall crew (three Australians, two Canadians, an American, a Colombian and a girl from Taiwan) toured four different beer halls, including the famous Hofbrauhaus. Hofbrauhaus is a magical place where even locals wear lederhosen, waiters cart four steins of beer in each hand, and visitors belt German drinking songs and “prost!” (cheers) with complete strangers.
At this point in my trip I had seen my share of old town squares and Gothic architecture, so after visiting Munich’s main sites such as Marienplatz, St. Peter’s Church and the English Garden, I spent my remaining time day-tripping to the Bavarian alps. My first day-trip was a no-brainer. I had been planning on visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in the outlying town of Fussen since I first decided to backpack Europe.
Ludwig II built Neuschwanstein in the 1800s but didn’t finish the inside of the castle before he died. The outside is impressive enough. Neuschwanstein was the inspiration behind the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. Basically, it’s the ultimate princess castle. After seeing pictures of it on the Internet for so long, it was pretty spectacular to gaze up at its turrets in person.
I was really torn about what to do on my last day in Munich. I almost stayed in the city and went to the BMW museum, but I knew it was my last chance to see the alps. So following a suggestion on my hostel map, I hopped a train to the unpronounceable town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, alp central and site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.
Day-tripping to Bavaria is worth it just for the train rides. You basically spend an hour and a half with your face stuck up against the window, rolling through tiny German towns with wooden cottages and cows grazing out front. And then out of nowhere, the alps pop up in the background. The view is stunning.
The big attraction in Garmisch Partenkirchen is the Zugspite. At 2962 metres, it’s Germany’s highest mountain. I wasn’t quite equipped to scale it in my suede boots and pea coat, so I opted for the more touristy hike to the Partnach gorge, followed by a climb up the smaller Eckbauer mountain.
Hiking in Bavaria actually reminds me of hiking New Brunswick’s Fundy Trail. Except the hills are mountains and the water is aqua green because it’s rushing down stream from a glacier. So basically, it’s like the Fundy Trail on steroids. I definitely made the right decision to spend my last day in Munich in the alps. Cities are great, but I could stare at the snow-capped peaks of the alps forever.
HOFBRAUHAUS: The best way to experience Oktoberfest culture outside of Oktoberfest. Beer is served by the litre. You’ll never want to leave.
THE BAVARIAN ALPS: Only one or two hours from Munich by train, depending on where you go. You can buy a Bavarian ticket for 22 euros that gets you unlimited travel in the region (including local buses) after 9am.
NEXT STOP: Frankfurt, Germany