There’s nothing like summer in Munich — somewhat due to the heat and partly to humidity, but mostly to the Bavarian charm of one of Europe’s great cities and the rest to the laid back, almost Mediterranean atmosphere that has led some to jokingly dub it Italy’s northernmost city. Personally, I think it’s the ice cream and bicycles.
We arrived in Germany for a whirlwind weekend at the beginning of June. Having just arrived from Scotland, we were not dressed for the sweltering weather. Luckily, Germans don’t mess around when it comes to ice cream. Ice cream is to Munich what Starbucks is to Seattle.
My wife had a German exchange student in high school who now lives in the city and he was able to score us a guestroom at a university dormitory located in the central Maxvorstadt district. He and his girlfriend were also kind enough to show us around the city and get us (a little bit) off the beaten path.
In many ways, Munich is two cities occupying the same place. It is a city firmly rooted in its past, first as a 12th century monastery and village and later as the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It is also a city moving unrelentingly toward the future as a center of arts and industry in Europe (Munich is the home of BMW, a plethora of universities, and several world-class museums).
Indeed, Munich has a long history of reinventing itself with the times. Apud Munichen (literally “near the monks”) was originally founded by Henry the Lion as a way to take advantage of the lucrative medieval salt trade. In the early-19th century, it restyled itself as an imperial showcase and embarked on a massive construction boom. After WWI, Munich became a hotbed for communism and provided the backdrop for the growth of the nascent Nazi Party. Following heavy bombing in WWII, Munich rebuilt the historic city center and became a destination for refugees and immigrants in post-war Europe.
Today, 38% of the population is foreign-born, making Munich a cosmopolitan crossroads of cultures from around the world. We were able to find pretty good Korean food in addition to Bavarian classics like Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) and Klos (potato dumplings). We even found an American store in Rotkreuzplatz (which, as expected, sold primarily barbecue sauce and scented candles). True to their city’s international identity, the residents of Munich are generally bilingual (or trilingual or quadrilingual), which made practicing our German difficult, as even a second’s hesitation signals to everyone that they should seamlessly switch to speaking English.
Our tour of Munich took us to Nymphenburg, one of the continent’s largest royal residences, which features both a stunning baroque palace and 490-acres of forests and lakes which are now open to the public. We also spent a warm afternoon wandering through the Englischer Garten, Munich’s version of Central Park (albeit larger), where we enjoyed the truly bizarre sight of people surfing a river in the middle of a city park.
We finished our trip to Munich with a walk around the site of the 1972 Summer Olympics, where we enjoyed part of a free outdoor concert and then watched the sun set over the Olympic Stadium. In total, we were in Munich for just two-and-a-half days. We will certainly be back for more ice cream in this wonderful city of contradictions.
- Where: Munich, Germany
- How to Get There: Easily accessible by S-Bahn from Franz Josef Strauss International Airport in about 40 minutes. Germany’s public transportation system is so good, it’s practically science fiction.
- Where to Get an Offbeat Scoop: Der Verrückte Eismacher (the Crazy Ice Maker)
- What to Drink: Skip the masses of tourists at the Hofbräuhaus and head to the Wirtshaus Görreshof for an Augustiner Helles or Hefeweizen
- Where to See Urban River Surfing: Englischer Garten
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and photographer in Tacoma, WA. This is the second in a three-part travel series about a recent trip he and his wife took to Europe. Next up: Dachau. Previously: The Isle of Iona