Walking the Streets of Munich Again

Munich store

After spending six months living as an expat in Munich in 2013 I had come to know and love the city. It’s a great place to visit, but an even better place to live (except for the weather….).

leaves on building in Munich
Fall in Munich.

On my first afternoon back in town I wandered the streets of the Haidhausen district. The day was brisk but with a sturdy leather jacket on I was warm enough as I window-shopped. I stopped for a latté (yes, I drink coffee now, blame it on the last Christmas present I gave to my wife – an espresso machine) and sat outside to watch the Saturday shoppers get their purchases in before the stores closed on Sunday.

“You know, I don’t believe I want to live in a country where you have to stay open on Sunday to do business. You shouldn’t have to work on Sunday.” (See That Thing You Do, you’ll be glad you did).

The Germans keep the tradition of Sunday closures going. I think it’s a good thing.

Haidhausen cafe
A cafe in Haidhausen.

Despite it being November, the sun peaked out from the clouds for an extended stretch of time. Between the sunshine and the coffee I got so warm I had to take my jacket off. Everyone else walked by bundled up in boots, heavy coats, scarves and hats. Bavarians seem to do that whenever the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or the calendar says it’s no longer summer.

Sufficiently jazzed on caffeine, I walked over to the Ostbahnhof (east train station) and caught the U-bahn (subway) to the city center. On the way I dutifully stopped and waited (as I learned to do in Berlin) at all of the “don’t walk” pedestrian lights, even if there were no cars in sight. Because that’s also what you do when you’re in Munich.

Munich street scene.
A typical Munich street scene.

At Marienplatz (the main square in Munich), I spied the glockenspiel on the Rathaus (city hall), but the figurines were still and silent at this time of day. Since Oktoberfest was over, there were very few tourists in the square. Instead, local residents were crowding into the smaller shops and big department stores to start their Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, the big, outdoor Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt) was not yet open. The Christkindlmarkt is a big street market associated with the four weeks of Advent. It started in Munich in 1310. I’m sure they sold different stuff back then. Or maybe not…

Munich store
Christmas decorations on a department store

I missed my chance to drink glühwein again (first tasted in Seefeld, Austria, but that’s ok. Drinking hot wine while outside in winter in a cold climate is not my favorite pastime anyway.

Seeking some fortification after surviving on airplane food for the previous day, I went into the Augustiner Restaurant, a Munich landmark that is the prototype of the Bavarian beer garden. The monks started brewing beer here as early as 1328. I ordered a half liter of hefeweizen (wheat beer) and peered at the menu, trying to decide which kind of sausage I should have.

Deciding I had had enough sausage during my expat stay, I opted for the weinerschnitzel instead.  You can’t go wrong when ordering a good schnitzel when in Bavaria.

Aaahhhh… Schnitzel, hot fries, and a wheat beer in a Bavarian beer hall.  Seeing the men in their beer-drinking outfits of lederhosen (leather pants) and feathered caps, the women in their dirndls (dresses) with low cut blouses, and waitresses carrying giant pretzels in one hand while hoisting multiple one liter beer steins (“ein mass”) in the other, brings on a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia in me. And I’m not even German.

I think I need to return to Munich once a year for the rest of my life.

toilet sign
German humor! Extremely long compound words!
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Lost in Munich after an Ein Masse

Crossing Munich by car to find the hotel was a little tricky.  Lisa drove, and I navigated.  The traffic was thick, and the roads were complicated, but we made it to the right street, only to find that it was a one-way road, and we couldn’t turn it.  So around we went until we could get there from here.  Good to park the car for three days and not try to go around the city by car.  The subway system is excellent, so that is the way to go.

After a nap and some rest, we went by U-bahn to Marienplatz.  This is the main square; the heart of the city.  It is a huge pedestrian zone, many of the streets nearby were filled with tens of thousands of people.  The area has many department stores, specialty shops, and cafes intermixed with old churches and government buildings.  One store was a high end delicatessen; we walked through even though it was packed with people, to see the fancy cakes and desserts, chocolates, breads, and other foods for sale.  We wandered around this area for a long time, going in and out of stores.  Eventually we made our way to the world famous Hofbrauhaus.

Hofbrauhaus

 The Hofbrauhaus is a large beer hall and restaurant.  It has been open at this location for hundreds of years.  The patrons sit at large rough wooden tables on big benches.  There is a polka band playing and it is filled with hundreds of people.  The place is LOUD!  The signature drink here is a big glass mug that holds one liter of beer.  In a room on the second floor, some locals have their own beer mugs stored for them on shelves for when they are thirsty.  I had a traditional meal of sausages and potatoes, it was ok, but what the tourists come here for is the atmosphere.  There was plenty of it.  It was a fun place.

One liter beer mugs!

 When we walked to the subway stop from the hotel, I asked everyone to look around and remember how we got there.  Sure, they said…. When we got back to our subway stop, we happened to exit via a different stairway.  We arrived at street level in a dark place that look unfamiliar.  Unfortunately, I had not brought the right map with me, the one that had a very detailed view of the roads of this part of the city.  We guessed as to which way to go.

 And guessed wrong!  We proceeded to wander in the dark, going in circles for blocks on end, as I said to my party: “I think it is this way…”  I would have hailed a taxi, but couldn’t find one. Because the subway system is so good, I don’t think there are as many taxis as in other big cities.  We were tired and our feet hurt. 

 We came around one corner to see thousands of in-line skaters roll by.  It must has been some kind of fund raiser or rally.  Five to ten thousand young people rolled by in a buzz of excitement.  At one point, we found a map in a pizza parlor, and finally figured out where we were and which way to go.  Eventually we ended up back to where we had started our night’s excursion, the doorway of the Hotel Uhland, a tourist class hotel not far from the site of the Oktoberfest grounds.  Time to rest our aching feet….