07/21/2016 - 07/25/2016
My first experience with Munich was back in 1994. I'd met a number of German medical students during a brief neurology externship in London, and decided to visit a few of them on a three week rail tour of Germany. I stayed in my friend's apartment in Munich's Olympic Village and we rode bikes to the Englischer Garten where we did a tour of the beer gardens, consuming a one liter mass bier in each and hopping back on our bikes. After the third or fourth I became separated from my friend and found myself unable to keep the bike straight on the path. I wobbled along at a snail's pace and ultimately fell over completely to the side. I staggered to a bench and put my head down in my hands until it stopped swimming. When I finally raised my head and opened my eyes, all the people near me were naked. I'd never hallucinated after excessive beer consumption before, so I soon realized that I'd stumbled into a nudist area. It was the culmination of a very disorienting morning, and essentially my only solid memory of Munich. More than twenty years later, I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the city in a more sophisticated way.
After our usual overnight flight to Europe, we started out by picking up our rental car and our local SIM. I had thought I was renting another minivan, and got a shock when our car turned out to be a two row SUV. There were two flip up seats in the trunk but that wouldn't leave enough space for the bags. I was getting ready to go ballistic when I realized that the rear seat was probably wide enough to accommodate all three car seats. We set them all up and amazingly they fit. We had plenty of room in the trunk for our bags as well, especially since we'd brought two individual strollers instead of the gondola. After the stress of navigating the giant Iceberg around France in the spring, the SUV was a welcome change. The only drawback was that now the kids were close enough to touch and annoy each other.
We had a pleasant surprise with the Vodafone SIM as well. Whereas just a few months ago I'd had to buy separate SIMs in each European country, there was now a data plan that covered pretty much the whole EU. That would save me a lot of time and hassle considering that we would be crossing six countries during the trip. Next stop was our Airbnb, which was perfectly adequate except for being a fourth floor walk-up. I find those staircases a lot less objectionable when I'm making a reservation than when I actually have to climb them.
Since we only had three days in Munich and we wanted to get aligned with the time change, we proceeded directly to our highest priority destination, the Viktualienmarkt. This is the most central market in Munich, with a reputation for offering the best quality produce and gourmet specialties. We also quickly found that it was quite expensive, and there were clearly more tourists around than Münchners. We bought a good amount of fruit for the apartment and ate in the small beer garden, where the entertainment was provided by the waiters angrily shooing away people who tried to sit at their tables with food purchased from other vendors.
We spent another couple of hours walking around the central Marienplatz area, home to the impressive Gothic Neues Rathaus (new town hall) and the formidable Frauenkirche.
We toughed it out as long as we could but by seven we could barely keep our eyes open and headed back to the apartment. On the way back, we were overtaken by a seemly endless series of police cars and ambulances with lights and sirens flashing but I barely gave it any thought except to wonder if there had been some kind of major auto accident. We ate some of the fruit we had bought and crashed.
I woke in the middle of the night and reached for my phone to check the time. It was three in the morning. I opened Facebook to see if Mei Ling had posted any pictures and saw that she had, and then a lot of messages under her pictures asking her if she was safe. What? Next stop was CNN, where I learned that multiple people had been killed in what appeared to be a terrorist attack in Munich and that more terrorists were reportedly roaming the streets. Everyone in the city was being advised to shelter indoors. I processed this for a few minutes and realized that there was nothing we could do that night to make ourselves any safer. If there was still some kind of active terrorist situation going on in the morning, I'd have to consider packing everybody up and driving to another city. I made a quick post to let everyone know we were OK and went back to sleep.
By the morning it was already apparent that what had taken place was actually an American-style mass murder by a disgruntled teenager rather than a terrorist attack, and there was no longer any active threat. No less horrific for the families of the children who had been killed and injured, but a relief for Munich and for us. We proceeded with our planned walking tour of Munich as though nothing had happened. Our first stop was the Elisabethmarkt in the bohemian neighborhood of Schwabing, north of the center. This was a quieter market than Viktualienmarkt with a more local vibe, but still with an excellent selection of produce and numerous small artisanal food shops.
Lunch next to the market was the classic combination of weisswurst, currywurst, and draft beer. From there we walked down Leopoldstrasse, the main drag of Schwabing, to the center. We encountered what appeared to be some kind of street festival in the process of being either set up or disassembled. I asked some of the folks involved if there would be a festival that weekend and they shook their heads. We learned that the previous night's events had resulted in the abrupt cancellation of all ongoing festivals in the city for the weekend. I felt somewhat guilty about being disappointed by this, considering several children had lost their lives. After walking around the cluster of palaces and museums in the center known as the Residenz, we walked through the beautiful green Hofgarten to the southern entrance of the Englischgarten. We watched the surfers try to tame the waves at the famous Eisbachwelle for a while, and then headed north. We soon encountered the nudist section of the park, much to Mei Ling's amusement. I suggested the whole family strip down and pose for a photograph from behind, but Mei Ling vetoed that idea.
We stopped at the Chinese tower beer garden for more beer and sausages, along with delicious grilled vegetables. It was good to see that there were hundreds of people enjoying the weekend in the beer garden despite the previous night's tragedy.
On our last full day in Munich, we walked around the gardens of the Nymphenburg Palace for a couple of hours. The grounds of the 17th century Baroque palace are very expansive and contain a complicated network of canals and beautiful lakes.
We spent the rest of the day at the nearby Hirschgarten, which had the best beer garden yet and tons of stuff for the kids to do. There was a splash park, playgrounds, a deer feeding station, and a small fair with plenty of rides. The highlight of the beer garden was Steckerlfisch, delicious and savory mackerel that were barbecued on a spit. We ate lunch, entertained the kids for a few hours, and then ate dinner at the same spot before heading home for another early night.