Numerous Bier Gartens for which Munich, the city of breweries, is famous, are the hosts to much fun, music, revelry, and celebration in the month of October each year for Octoberfest. Thousands of tourists discover the famous Hofbrau each night and enjoy the local Bavarian musicians in typical folklore dress, while toasting with giant mugs of the smooth brew, or enjoying a very good and inexpensive meal of German fare. But the preference of locals and the more typical Bier Garten is at The English Garden Park, which is like a picnic ground. As soon as the winter’s snow melts 5,000 or more people gather at picnic tables after work each evening, (often bringing their own table cloths, utensils and food,) to order a draft and visit with families and friends while children play beneath in the chestnut grove.
In fact, these large trees play a significant role in the history of the Bier Gartens. In times before refrigeration it was easy to serve cold beer in winter. However, to solve the problem of keeping it cool in summer, one brewer dug a cellar and planted a grove of chestnut trees over it to keep the ground and the beer cool in warm periods. Soon many people came for the cold draft in hot weather, and they brought their families and food to enjoy beneath the trees. The wise brewer added a few rough-hewn tables to accommodate his patrons, and the first bier garten was created. Others soon wanted to compete and followed suit. Restaurantiers were angry because it was destroying their business, so the city passed a law that bier gartens could not serve food. Then restaurants started opening their own bier gartens with trees around their restaurants, and the law was changed so that fair competition could thrive. Now restaurants serve beer in their own gardens, and in authentic bier gartens you can bring your own food, or order theirs.
Because of the cold climate of the Alps, vineyards are almost impossible, so wine was not an easy commodity. But grain grows plentifully, as does hops, so beer was a natural. Monks in the abbey nearby were the first to brew and sell beer to the weary travelers. In Munich, which has been the capital of Bavaria for centuries, small breweries have been plentiful ever since.
Order your salty pretzels, created to make you thirsty and in need of refills, scrape off the salt as the locals do, and enjoy life. If it is time for a bite, try the delicious white Munchen sausages, which are a bland mixture of veal and parsley and onions. These are served in hot water. The way to eat this local staple is to remove them from the water, cut them in half each way, and scrape the meat from the sausage covering. Then dip it into the spicy-sweet, brown mustard and enjoy this local speciality as a delicious accompaniment to the beer. You’ll want some of the thick, dark bread and sauerkraut to make your meal completely authentic and quite delicious.
If you’re both brave and curious you can meander over to a more private section of the English Garden and shed your clothes and join the nude sunbathers, or sneak some photos!
Beer gardens are natural gathering places for conviviality with friends, or a place to conduct good business. Children are allowed as the beer-drinking laws here are not so strict. Most children taste diluted beer from an early age, so that going wildly drunk as a rite of passage into adulthood is not as likely an occurrence. In fact, Munich is one of the safest cities in the world and among the lowest in alcohol/drug problems. So in the month of October head here for Octoberfest, for lots of fun, music, entertainment, and lots of beer.
Although many tourists come to Munich on tourbuses for an overnight, this is a fascinating city you’ll want to visit for as long as possible. The pedestrian center is within the Medieval City Wall, of which three original gates still remain. It bustles with shoppers, tourists, and business people. The Zentrum is centered by the City Hall, which looks like a cathedral with its ornate stone spires and pink geraniums. It was built by expert stone masons in 1903 and features the famous Glockinspiel, whose metal figures put on a 15-minute show each day at 11, 12, and 17 o’clock. Hundreds of tourists gather on the beautiful cobbled square in front of the impressive fountain, whose statuary shows valiant medieval knights conquering evil. With cameras poised the crowd awaits this exciting, timely event, which turns out to be rather anti-climactic.
After you see the glockenspiel you must ascend into the tower for a wonderful overview of the vast city and for photographs. If you are energetic you can climb the long, long staircase of the 352 year-old City Hall (which appears to be the new one), but most people prefer to pay 2 EU and go by elevator to the towers of this 1903 City Hall. It’s fun to see the orange rooftops, important buildings, and Platz’s from a pigeon’s point of view. In Munich no building was allowed to be higher than the church steeples, so today there are no high-rises except far outside the historic center (Zentrum). Immediately below you is the Raskellar, a typical restaurant whose food in any German city is always good and authentic. We found the German food delicious and quite reasonably priced by comparison to other Western cities. In all the restaurants portions are huge, and waiters are happy to interpret the menu for you and to divide meals between two people.
All the modern shopping you could want and many souvenir shops are within an easy walk from Zentrum. The whole area is a series of aisles composing the Market, which is the daily gathering place for everyone. Little kiosks, which are butcher, baker, or other speciality shops, have delicious foods you can eat there standing up, or to take away. These Market kiosks provide the freshest but not the cheapest way to eat. Shoppers from other European countries come here for the much better prices you’ll find in stores. Small speciality shops are open 9-6, and some close from 13-15p.m., as do many museums. Malls and larger stores are open 10A.M.to 19 or 20 PM. There is always some kind of entertainer in the town center singing, playing instruments, mimes, etc. for your camera to capture. Restaurants are plentiful and most offer dining inside, or out for half the year. By this time of walking or taking the subway you are ready for a rest. We recommend lunch at Spatenhaus, a lovely restaurant across from Ander Oper, the beautiful opera house. Nearby you’ll also enjoy seeing and purchasing the famous Porzellan Nymphenburg, the exquisite porcelain made here. Ask your waiter to direct you to the shop.
If you have several days in Munich, there are many sights to visit: monuments, museums, galleries, and grand municipal buildings. Just outside the Ring is an unbelievably enormous palace, Schloss Nyphenburg, built in mid-1600’s and added to as the many royal families lived there through nearly five centuries. These are all worth a tour.
Munich has long been a cultural center, and its art museums are superior. Smartly located all in the same square, these Pinkotheka are in three buildings separated according to periods of art history. In the Alte Pinkotheka are the old masters, many of which were hidden within the salt mines around Salzburg to preserve them during World War II. This museum has the largest collection of Rubens in the world. Next is the Neue Pinkotheka in which you’ll find a marvelous collection of Impressionists and other 19th century and early 20th century art. Der Moderne Pinakothek, was opened in 2001 and is a treasure. The building, itself a work of modern art, has a central, three story, circular atrium rising to a huge skylight of concentric circles. All the walls in the museum are stark white, which reflect the light and compliment all the art. The ground floor has several display levels for changing shows within the galleries.The one we saw was about Lambergheni car designs. Each of the staircases in the museum creates an optical illusion and is poised like a giant painting of gray stone, also displaying unique sculptures. The upper floors feature permanent collectons by the great modern artists of the 20th century: Picasso, Braque, Kandensky, Warhol, Klee, Dali, Ernst, Magrite, and many more. The collection is fantastic and well- displayed. It is a very impressive museum and a must if you appreciate modern art.