To be perfectly honest, Germany wasn’t really a country that interested us. It was just an obstacle in between Eastern Europe and the more desirable countries lying along the western coast… And a rather large obstacle at that. Covering more than 137,846 square miles (357,021 km²), Germany is massive. As we traveled through Russia and Eastern Europe, travelers we met along the way raved about Germany. “Really???” we would ask. But they convinced us, and we changed our original plans to take the quickest route through Germany and decided instead to spend a little more than three weeks making our way around the country.
We spent our first night in Munich in a gorgeous apartment of a Couchsurfing host and woke up the next morning to breakfast on her balcony including her homemade hummus and jam. We made plans to meet up later that night and made our way to our Airbnb apartment. As we walked through the city with our big packs, I started to notice the German smile. The response to every brief moment of eye contact resulted in a smile. Not one of those grim New York smiles where only your lips twitch slightly as you eye the stranger suspiciously, but a full-on, warm, eye-twinkling one. I like you already, Munich.
We dropped off our bags at the apartment and went out to the farmer’s market we had passed through on the way there. It was in a small square, where vendors were selling their products from their trucks. We’ve been noticing that European fruit and produce look and taste better than in the U.S., and the stuff at the market looked divine. To make things even sweeter, most of the things there were organic (or “bio”, as they call it here), although we’ve been eating non-organic for the most part since the E.U. has higher food safety regulations than the U.S. (pesticide use and genetically-modified food bans to name just two). We bought lovely food and had a light lunch in preparation for the biergarten dinner we had planned that night.
“Please don’t go there.” was our CS host’s response to us saying we wanted to go to Hofbrauhaus, Munich’s big, famous and extremely touristy beer hall. She promised to take us somewhere very local instead, so we met her back at her apartment that night. There, we met her friend from Vienna and watched a foccacia going into the oven. Our host explained to us that a real biergarten has to allow people to bring their own food. The only thing you can’t bring is, of course, alcohol.
With freshly-baked tomato garlic foccacia in tow, we slowly walked past a field where naked-looking, freshly-shorn sheep were grazing and into the woodsy Englischer Garten (English Garden) where locals were playing fetch with their dogs in the little lakes dotting the garden, and groups of smiling people were biking around. We crossed a bridge at one point, where people were wading in the crystal-clear, calf-deep water.
I was busy talking to the Viennese girl about wolves and the history of human socialization so I wasn’t paying attention when we arrived the biergarten. The garden opened up onto a small gazebo where a live band was playing American classics from the 70s and 80s (awesome). They were playing “Sweet Home Alabama” for about forty Germans who were dancing their butts off.
I turned my head from the band to find a clearing in the trees, where about half of Munich was squeezed into rows upon rows of picnic tables. Our host had explained to us that she loved this particular biergarten because people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds rubbed elbows with each other. And this place pretty much forces you to do just that because everyone has to share tables.
We got our food (pork knuckle and potato dumplings) and beers (a dunkel weisse) and marveled at people tossing back their 1L steins and watched the older clientele rocking out to AC/DC and songs like “The Twist” (I’m not kidding).
When the two men sitting at the next table took out two little red paper lanterns, lit them and hung them on the bucket on their table, we got to talking about how gays and lesbians are treated in Germany. Our host shrugged and told us that no one cares if you are openly gay, and that if she can hold her boyfriend’s hand out in public, why shouldn’t queer people be allowed to do the same? N and I knew that Germany was a very LGBT-friendly country, but we didn’t realize just how much until we spent some time here (more on that in a separate post).
As we got up to leave, the band started to play the Village People’s “YMCA”, probably the gayest song known to man, next to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. The four of us danced our way through the happily drunk crowd and into the darkness of the English Gardens, where we promptly got lost. For the most part, the sandy paths in the park are flanked on both sides by thick, tall trees that completely obscure any light from the moon. To make matters worse, they don’t believe in lighting the garden.
But we were in the middle of Munich, and we couldn’t be safer. We giggled our way down the curvy and light-colored gravel paths, barely being able to make it out against the darker trees. We freaked ourselves out with the hooting of owls flying overhead, and saw the occasional light moving slowly in the distance from a lone biker making his/her way to god-knows-where in the total darkness of the park. Our host eventually got us back on the right path and we were back in civilization.
We had a couple more days in Munich where we visited an art museum and explored the city, but nothing compared to our first day there with our CS host (further proof to us that CS is awesome). Overall, Munich is a lovely city. At the risk of a sharp rebuke or at the very least a smoldering stare from a German from outside of Munich, I can say Munich is a city I can imagine myself living in one day. I honestly never thought I would ever say this about Germany, but it is a fantastic country and gets even better with each passing day.
For more photos of our time in Munich, check out our Flickr album.