“Here, have this, I don’t need it any more,” said the Chinese-looking man in broken German. He pressed a card for the Munich metro into our hands. “It’s for up to four people.” With that, he was gone.
As we stood next to the metro ticket machines at Munich’s largest railway station, the encounter set the tone for two impressions I got of the city. One, that it was a hugely cosmopolitan place. Much more so than Graz, the only city of any size we’d been in for over a week. Two, that it was a lovely and friendly city.
I’m a big believer in first impressions when it comes to travel. Not to say one glance is enough. But certainly a few hours in which to explore different parts, eat a meal or two and orientate yourself around the most obvious landmarks is plenty time to come up with some early impressions. And Munich had passed the test.
Our journey home from Austria was a long one. It was by rail, naturally, and had required some considerable planning. Long story short, our best route was the overnight train from Munich to Paris, with the Eurostar and then sleeper to Inverness to finish. The sleeper from Munich not due to depart until after 10pm, I had a friend there to look up, and neither of us had been there before, so it made sense to get an early train from Austria and give ourselves an afternoon and evening in Munich.
It’s a great advantage to travelling by sleeper that you can give yourself a full day in a city before leaving it. Moreover, as you have a whole day following for onward journeys, you can leave plenty time in the morning before any onward travel to either explore your new destination or be a buffer against any delays you might experience on your sleeper.
We knew little about Munich before our arrival – home to a couple of well-known football teams, the capital of Bavaria, home of Oktoberfest and one of Germany’s most important cities. But thanks to our friend we were able to get some pointers for the afternoon before meeting up with her in the evening.
Munich had a lot of things to appeal. The architecture, for a start, was gorgeous, with beautiful big squares and tall, grand, ornate buildings, including one or two stunning churches that we peeked into. It was an easy city to just wander round, people-watch and take photos, with a bustling but not stressful air to the crowds, even in this, the height of the summer tourist season.
The metro system was easy to navigate (and of course free, thanks to our Chinese friend earlier). There were plenty cafes, pubs and shops to check out. And throughout the city were a number of lovely parks, including the gigantic and beautiful English Garden. Though of that, we saw barely a wee corner – and even then most of that was spent in a cafe drinking weissbier and reminiscing about our fantastic journey that was now drawing to a close.
In the evening, where better to round off our time than a beer garden? The place we went to was, I am sure, quite typical of the city – a big tree-lined garden where accordionists played for the crowds, tables outside the hall itself, and then the typically Germanic interior.
We sat outside, taking in the twin pillars of Germany’s contribution to civilisation – beer and sausages – while our friend told us more about her perspectives on the city. The one thing the city is famous for, Oktoberfest, had a terrible reputation among locals, we learned. I was not in the least bit surprised.
Overpriced, overcrowded and overcommercialised, Oktoberfest had represented a great aspect of Germany but been ruined. Few locals ever managed to book tables unless they were lucky enough to be in a corporate party, and everything I’ve heard of Oktoberfest makes me think it’s one of the worst things you could do in Germany.
There are plenty other places in the country and plenty other dates in the calendar in which you can easily enjoy the best of German pub life without resorting to a bastardised version of it.
After a couple of beers and some fantastic food, it was time to head back to the station and pick up our bags from left luggage. It was dark, we were tired, and we had a train to catch. The night train to Paris…