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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Claustrophobic in Vienna

After breakfast we attempted to navigate the public transport system of Vienna.  Since we were staying on the outskirts of the city, we had to make our way to the city center.  We rode a bus, then a tram (streetcar), and finally another tram that went around the “inner ring” of the old town.  Our first stop was the Hofburg, the winter residence of the Emperor of Austria.  We bought tickets for the Imperial Apartments, which was a combined ticket with the Sisi Museum and the Silver Treasury.  The layout of the tour caused us to visit the Silver Treasury first.  This consisted of hundreds of silver and gold plates, candlesticks, and other assorted royal stuff.  Not very interesting.  Next was a sequence of rooms with displays telling about the life of Empress Elizabeth (“Sisi”).  She was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph in the mid to late 1800s.  She died tragically in 1898, assassinated by an anarchist.  Her claim to fame seems to be her beauty and her 21 inch waist, which she kept into her 50s.

Unfortunately, this part of the tour was very crowded.  We got stuck behind a large tour group from Poland.  They would stop in a room and the tour guide starting explaining things.  Meanwhile, all of the tourists behind this group kept filling in the space behind them.  It was a classic traffic situation.  I started to understand the feeling of claustrophobia.  It was very hot and stuffy in these small, maze-like museum rooms, with so many people that you couldn’t move.

I was glad to get out of there and into the Imperial Apartments.  The crowd was more dispersed there.  We saw the desk where the Emperor worked on bureaucratic paperwork for 14 hours a day.  He was a dull workaholic.  Overall, I would have rather seen the Treasury, where the crowns and jewels were displayed, but after this tour we had seen enough of palaces.

Next, we walked through the park to the Vienna Opera House.  We waited for an English language tour starting at 2pm.  This was an excellent and informative tour.  The guide told us all about how productions are staged.  We sat in the best seats of the house, the ones used by the Prime Minister of Austria for special performances.  Since it was August, there were no performances scheduled (the season of 300 performances runs from September to June), so we got to go backstage.  The stage was enormous.  In fact, there are three stages:  1) the main stage, which usually hosts the first act; 2) a side stage for the second act; and 3) a back stage, for the third act.  The stages were on hydraulics, so they could be switched in as little as 40 seconds.

The good seats at the Vienna Opera House

There are up to 55 different operas being performed, with some having as little as three or four performances.    All of the sets are stored offsite at a nearby warehouse, and trucked in each day by the crew.  Sometimes they would have a rehearsal for one opera with one set in the afternoon, and a performance for another opera with a different set in the evening.  The schedule and all logistics are set up more than one year in advance.  The star performers are paid as much as 20,000 euros per performance!

After the tour we wandered down the Karnterstrasse, the main pedestrian shopping street.  It was a Sunday, so all the shops were closed.  There was a large crowd of people at the main square, near the St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  A group of street performers were doing a hip hop dance routine for tips.  One guy did a hand stand on one hand and was hopping around.

Vienna architecture

We walked next to the Rathaus (town hall) park, where there was a large video screen and hundreds of chairs set up.  During each night of the summer concert films are played on the big screen.  Nearby was about 20 food stalls.  We weren’t hungry yet, but Allison wanted to find an Internet café.  We asked one guy for directions.  He told us to walk to the corner, take a left, and then walk “about three minutes/blocks/hundreds of meters.”  We weren’t sure.

After walking for blocks and not finding it, we stopped and asked a group of guys playing a game on the sidewalk.  They told us it was the other direction, back the way we had come. So we walked back.  And couldn’t find it.  Next, we went into the McDonalds we found there and asked.  This time, a guy gave us directions and a specific address.  It was the way we walked at first, but we hadn’t walked far enough.  So back we went.

We walked and walked and walked.  We were tired.  We found the address.  It was not an Internet café.  A few doors down was a computer store, but since it was Sunday, it was closed.  We gave up, but luckily we were able to ride the tram back to the Rathaus Park.

One of the food stalls featured Mexican food, which struck me as something I would not have expected to find in Vienna.  We took a chance on that, and it wasn’t very good, but it filled us up for the ride back to the hotel.

And now, time for another brief aside about beds here…

Why is it that there is a thick quilt on each bed, but no sheet or blanket?  With a thick quilt you have a choice: either use it and get too hot, or not use it and have nothing and get cold.

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