Wednesday 19th September 2012, Munich
As you see, we are now safely installed in Munich where we arrived yesterday afternoon. Our hostess, Charlotte, is away sailing in Turkey and will not return until after we have departed for Romania. However, we were delighted to overlap yesterday with her sister Margret from Berchtesgarten in the very south of Bavaria near the Austrian border. It has gone down in history as Hitler’s hideaway. The “Eagle’s Nest” overlooks the town from high above the lake. (We have reported on this area previously). Margret has been visiting Munich and keeping the plants watered while Charlotte is away. That role she has just passed on to us as she returned home this morning.
Yesterday was unbelievably hot and close. Just the sort of weather in fact for Ian to drag me up to a Calvary and chapel overlooking the town of Bad Tölz. Believe me, each station of the cross was exhausting and we didn’t even have crosses to bear! At the top stands the little chapel of St. Leonard erected by carpenters from Tölz in thanks for surviving the massacre of Mordweihnacht at Christmas 1705 when troops of the emperor Josef I slaughtered captive insurgents. Hot and sticky as we were it was a wonderfully cool place to rest after our climb, the naively simple baroque altar contrasting with the bare white walls and rough wooden pews. In moderation Baroque does have a certain charm.
Also at the start of the eighteenth century the Church of the Holy Cross was built nearby and this too was well worth the climb. Though more elaborate than the chapel it was restrained by Bavarian standards and strangely, built in three sections one behind the other. First was the main church and altar, behind it a wooden chapel with three staircases leading to another, more simple altar. The middle staircase was only to be climbed on your knees - we went up the side ones. Behind this altar we found the tomb of the church’s founder, the local salt official Friedrich Nockher.
From the Calvary there were excellent views over the town and the fast flowing mountain river Isar, with the foothills of the Alps beyond.
Bad Tölz is a spa town on a river rather than beside a lake. It is in two very different parts on either side of the river Isar. We parked in the more modern spa area with its early 20th century gardens, fountains and hotels. Ian was disappointed to find the spa buildings were closed and deserted. He’d been looking forward to a huge apple strudel with whipped cream. Experience on our travels has shown that spas frequented by Germans are always the best places for food. After wallowing in mud, being pulverised by a masseur and drinking gallons of vile tasting iodine water German curists always need something large and creamy to recover. All we can assume is that they have all forsaken Bad Tölz for the cheaper but equally physically masochistic and digestively satisfying spas of Hungary.
We braved the heat and glare of the sun to cross the bridge to the old town. This is picture postcard perfect, its cobbled Marktstrasse rising straight up from the river between huge residential houses and civic buildings dating from the 15th century, but largely renovated in about 1905 by the Munich architect Gabriel von Seidl, with their steeply pitched overhanging roofs and paint-framed windows. The facades of most are painted with baroque style frescoes depicting religious scenes but some carry messages about man’s mortality or just a blessing on the occupants of the houses. Ian referred to them as the story books of the street.
The ground floors of most of the houses serve as shops and restaurants. Near the top is the old town hall, built in 1476 with its onion-domed spire.
After a picnic lunch beneath the shade of the trees along the river bank, exhausted by the ridiculous heat, we returned to Modestine and made our way to Munich. Charlotte’s sister had just settled herself with coffee and plum tart with cream on the terrace when we arrived. Generously she shared her cake with Ian, understanding completely how distressed he must have been to find the health spa devoid of cakes – as well as a dearth of spa water and customers! Ian and Margret had met once, very many years ago in south London when she came over as a schoolgirl to visit Charlotte who spent five years living in Lewisham, working and learning English. Charlotte also discovered Gilbert and Sullivan operettas whilst in England and performed with several mutual friends at Lewisham Town Hall in the late 1960s. She still hums extracts from Ruddigore and Yeoman of the Guard as she potters in her kitchen preparing hearty Bavarian suppers for her English visitors.
Which reminds me, Lesley and David, former owners of Modestine’s late lamented Romahome paramour Erik, are also friends of Charlotte and, like us, call here whenever their camping or motor-biking travels bring them to this part of Europe. This morning we heard from Lesley that they have at last found a replacement for Erik – another, identical but younger Romahome to be called Erik Eriksson – what else? Modestine is delighted and cannot wait to go off travelling somewhere with him very soon.
As we sat on the shady terrace over coffee with Margret, allowing my nerves to recover from the trauma of finding our way through the outskirts of Munich, Uschi from down the road came to say hello and give us a couple of bottles of Paulaner beer produced for this year’s Oktoberfest which will be starting on Saturday. We have never met Uschi before but have been made to feel very welcome here. The lady in the paper shop across the way was guarding the key for us to collect when we arrived, the next door neighbour came to chat about his recent holiday in Kent and the Vietnamese schoolgirl living on the other side came to say hello and practice her English with me. So we are now thrown into a happy world of ready-made German friends prepared to help us while Charlotte is away! Lucky or what!
This morning the heat of yesterday had been replaced this morning with a damp and chilly drizzle. After a long and chatty breakfast with Margret, where she told us much about the German monarchy and aristocracy during the 20th century as well as a lot we never knew about our own royal family, she left to collect a young man from the airport. As a small child he had lived with his parents in Berchtesgarten as refugees from Kosovo. It was five years before the family returned to Kosovo during which time he became fluent in German. There are 17 members of his extended family and only two have found employment back in Kosovo. The father earns just 400 euros a month. So this young man is delighted to have been offered a three months contract to work with Macdonald’s in Germany. He is returning with Margret to Berchtesgarten for a couple of days to see anyone there who remembers him and will start his new job in Nuremburg next week. Life is obviously still very tough on the streets of Kosovo. Margret showed us photos she took on a recent visit to see the family. It reminded us strongly of the desolation surrounding bombed out properties we saw when we visited Bosnia in 2007. The Serbs have much to answer for.
It has been wonderful to sleep in a real bed again and enjoy hot showers in a spotless bathroom we don’t have to share with an entire campsite of strangers – however friendly. Clean from head to toe we loaded the washing machine and settled to catch up on emails. Around lunchtime we walked across the remains of the former Munich airport to explore the local shopping mall and find something for lunch. It rained steadily so our jumpers, rain jackets and umbrellas have at last seen real action! The house seemed strangely quiet when we returned. We’ve never been here without Charlotte before – or indeed her husband Hans who has sadly died since our last visit here.
Thursday 20th September 2012, Munich
After a late start we took the S-Bahn train into Munich. At the station we decided to buy a three-day travel card that also offered a discount into museums and places of interest. As the stations are all automated there is never anyone to ask for help, so we just had to pay our 30 euros for the ticket and hope the offer included some of the museums we wished to see. The station ticket machine would not accept our credit card and at first even refused our euro notes. Our ticket, when we got it, was a scrappy piece of paper devoid of information. It turned out, when we tried to use it to get into the Neue Pinakothek, that the discounts exclude state museums or anything we are remotely interested in and offer on average only a euro or so discount and not the 50% advertised. We are very cross and disappointed.
As we exited the station onto the Marienplatz we came face to face with the huge and elaborate city hall with its tower and carillon. We arrived on the hour. The square was full and cameras were clicking as various automated figures twirled and spun around below the clock face. A hundred years ago this may have been exciting but today it was rather lame and the music of the carillon slow and tedious.
We struggled through the crowds to the open air food market with its stalls of vegetables, breads, fruit, seafood, cakes, sweets and biscuits. Here too were crowds communally devouring baked sausages, raw herring and Leberkäse along with tall glasses of Munich beer.
Munich is not an easy city to stroll through. Everything is on such a huge scale. Palaces, monuments, public buildings, churches and parks line the wide, straight roads that intersect the city centre. The traffic is heavy, the streets crowded and cyclists ride rapidly through the crowds waiting at street corners to cross the roads.
After exploring the area of the Ducal residences we found ourselves at the state archives and state library. These are massive - indeed the library, with its 20,000 books printed before 1501, holds 60% of the world’s known incunabula ! We were rather disappointed that, despite the richness of the collections there were no current exhibitions and the staff of the rare books section had all gone off somewhere for the day on a jolly, shutting the reading room door behind them as they went! We did chance upon an exhibition in the music section on the 75th anniversary of the first performance of Karl Orff’s Carmina burana. Both his original score and the medieval manuscript that inspired the songs are in the library’s collections.
At least the building has an excellent and cheap restaurant in a quieter setting than elsewhere on the streets where people were sat in the glare of the sun to eat. (It’s gone hot and sunny again.)
We walked through the English Garden where young people were sunbathing on the grass beside the fast-flowing river. A couple of young men were wandering around stark naked but everyone, including us, was pretending not to have noticed. I’ve already described Munich previously. Suffice to say we’ve had a pleasant day but also an exhausting one, At the old botanical gardens near the Hauptbahnhof we sank on to a terrace and ordered chilled beers from a waiter in white socks and Lederhosen. It was a pleasant if pricey way to end the day.
The Munich Oktoberfest opens on Saturday. Having already visited we will probably give it a miss this time. Charlotte’s neighbour Uschi called round this evening to ask what we’ve been doing and stayed to chat. She’s off in to town tomorrow to buy a new Dirndl for the Fest. She says everyone will be wearing traditional costume for the next fortnight at least. She already has a nice silk one but every year it gets sicked over so she wants a cotton one that she can wash easily when it gets mucky in the beer tents at the fair! From what we’ve seen today many people are already dressing up. Rarely, indeed never, have we seen so many pink-kneed businessmen wearing feathers in their caps and leather patches on the elbows of their green jackets. Nor indeed does Ian often have the opportunity to ogle at close range the décolleté of so many flaxen haired Brunhildes, as during today’s rush hour on the S-Bahn! I must remember to ask Charlotte whether she has a Dirndl when we all get back from our travels, it would be fun to try one on.
Friday 21st September 2012, Munich
Today we were up and away and by 10am were at the doors of the Deutsche Museum. This museum covers the history of technology, with particular reference to Germany’s achievements. The museum is massive and attempts to cover every aspect of engineering and technology. It was originally established by Otto von Miller – whom we encountered recently at Kochelsee with his hydro-electric dam.
For five hours we explored four floors of countless galleries and by the time we left, footsore and exhausted, we’d hardly touched on the phenomenal amount of material on display. Coverage included motor engineering, combustion engines, catalytic convertors, cars, planes, trains, machine tools, precision tools, turbines, generators, electricity, conductors, mining, mineralogy, petroleum, telecommunications, computer and laser technologies, marine engineering, metallurgy and metal casting, ceramics and their application to modern technology, brick and tile manufacture, paper production, printing and book production, cartography and surveying, glass manufacture from Roman times to Pilkington’s float glass and more More MORE! We could spend weeks there and all the time we were learning something new. Brilliant! Oh yes, and captions were in English as well as German. Our only criticism is that the captions were rather out of date and information has not always been updated to reflect recent advances. The computer technology section for example had nothing on laptops and smart phones and the telecommunications section concentrated more on early radios and televisions than on dvds or flat-screen technology.
We each wandered off to explore different things and it was gone 3pm before we met up again and realised we’d been on our feet all day and hadn’t had lunch! We’d planned on two museums today, having no idea just how good we’d find the Deutsche Museum. Instead we staggered wearily back to the station and took the train out to Theresienwiese. This is where the Munich Oktoberfest is due to open tomorrow and Uschi had suggested we should take a look round today before the arrival of the crowds, the beer, the sausages and the ice creams.
We visited the Oktoberfest when we were here in 2005. Once is quite enough! It’s really a chance to get drunk out of your skull with the assistance of the Bavarian brewing industry. Today when we arrived there were already a large number of people wearing traditional costume as they wandered around. No food or drink whatsoever was being served and stall holders were frantically getting prepared for the opening ceremony tomorrow morning. It looks as if it will be an all night job.
From within the many beer tents came the sound of oompah bands tuning up and running through their music ready for the off. Brötchen were being belegt by the thousand and the air was already pervaded by the smell of roasting pork – not good when we’d eaten nothing all day and there was nothing yet for sale.
It was here, overlooking the Oktoberfest site, that we discovered the massive bronze statue of Bavaria, depicted as a beautiful Mädchen. She was cast on the orders of King Ludwig I from guns captured from the Turks at the battle of Navarino in 1827. She is 18 metres high and weighs 72 tons. She is the largest hollow bronze casting in the world! She was cast at the royal bronze foundry in Munich by the father of Otto von Miller (founder of the Deutsches Museum) and a second copy of her hand was produced especially for the museum at the request of his son.
Enough is enough. Hungry, thirsty and weary with our brains suffering from information overload, we found the nearest U-Bahn station and headed back to Trudering. Last time we were here Hans had taken us all to a nearby beer and sausage house. We headed straight there this evening and within minutes we were settled at a wooden table with a candle flickering, served with beers and big pretzels while we waited for our meal to cook. The menu was in dialect and when Ian asked for one in German he was indignantly informed by our waiter in Lederhosen that it was German! We eventually worked out what we wanted and were served with huge slabs of pork with crackling in a sweet gravy served with Bavarian potato dumplings (rather glutinous and sticky, about the size of a cricket ball and covered in parsley) accompanied by pickled cabbage with bacon and caraway seeds. It was delicious but such a feast after nothing all day was too much, even for Ian, and most of the uneaten dumpling might usefully be recycled as wallpaper paste.
After that we hobbled home, threw off our shoes and fell asleep watching TV which every evening, no matter which year we come, seems to be showing films of nubile women and husky bare-chested young men climbing sheer cliff faces in the Alps or tightrope walking across ravines. There are always splendid views from a helicopter down over green lakes nestling between jagged peaks.
Time now for bed. There’s at least one museum and the parade of Dirndls through the centre of Munich to contend with tomorrow, to say nothing of packing for our departure early Sunday morning.
Sunday 23rd September 2012, Mamia, near Constanta on the Black Sea
Last night there was too much last minute sorting out for our flight today to conclude our three days around Munich.
It was raining for much of yesterday. Not very auspicious for the opening parade of the Oktoberfest. The train into the city was crowded with young people, and some not so young, wearing their Bavarian costumes – peak caps with feathers, braided jackets with lots of badges, white socks, leather trousers and frequently blue or red check shirts. Some carried clarinets or brass instruments. Women wore their regulation Dirndls in all sorts of colours and fabrics covered by a contrasting apron.
In the centre of Munich the streets were closed to traffic and the pavements packed as everyone jostled, umbrellas waving, to see the noisy ceremony of the beer companies’ horses pulling their drays to the fairground. We arrived in time to catch a glimpse of one of the final drays crowded with passengers sheltering under brollies while a band played as it walked just ahead of them and mounted police followed behind. No matter what the weather, nothing was going to dampen this annual event of excessive drinking and partying.
By way of contrast we spent the rest of the day in the Neue Pinakothek which contains a highly impressive collection of paintings, bronzes and marble statues from the 19th and 20th centuries. Of special importance is the collection of impressionist paintings including Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, Paul Sérusier, Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. There were several works by Auguste Rodin displayed within these same galleries. Elsewhere there were works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Pierre Bonnard, Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann.
There were works by British artists including John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs and William Turner while French works included Gustave Corbet, Eugene Delacroix and Jean Francois Millet.
Many of the galleries were dedicated to German artists since 1800 including landscape painters, German painters in Rome and Greece, works commissioned by King Ludwig I and works of German realism.
There were also numerous works by Angelica Kauffmann.
It was still raining as we left the museum and returned home to prepare for our flight to Romania.
Munich Oktoberfest 2005
For all our earlier blogs about Munich and its setting see our general index under