Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trip Report: Germany 2010

As a continuation of our Austrian Christmas Market tour in November, Jonathan and I spent two full days in Southern Germany. This area is traditionally referred to as Bavaria and it’s exactly what most Americans envision as the essence of Germany and what’s typically replicated in the German themed sections of American amusement parks.

We took the train in from Salzburg, arriving into Munich in the late morning. I had attempted to orchestrate everything in order that we might arrive in time onto Marienplatz (or Mary’s Plaza) to watch the famous Glockenspiel (town clock) perform at noon. The train schedules don’t simply bend to my wishes, so this meant most of the orchestrating involved hurrying ourselves along to quickly get to the town square (with our luggage still in tow) to watch the clock before transferring to our hotel for check-in. It was worth it. The clock performance recounts a famous wedding feast (coincidentally the history behind Octoberfest) and provides a dizzying array of movements. Really fantastic!

The movement starts at about a minute in

I really appreciate the efficient and orderly train operations in Germany. Everything runs on time and people are generally cordial.  It was easy to make our way around town and our hotel was not far from one of the major stations. We stayed at the Hilton Munich City. It’s a fine Hilton property and made for a pleasant stay. Mostly business travelers, the hotel is quiet and features an elite lounge.

After a leisurely check-in we wandered back downtown to explore the sites. We made a stop at the highly acclaimed Die Munchner Suppenkuche (Schafflerstrasse 7) for an affordable soup lunch.  Jonathan lucked out with a tasty selection while mine (some sort of hot dog soup) proved disappointing.

We took to the streets again and traipsed across MarienPlatz (very beautifully decorated for Christmas), visiting New Town Hall,  Old Town Hall, St. Michael's, Frauenkirche, and St Peter's.  St. Peter’s was the most rewarding stop as we were able to climb to the very top of the bell tower for a spectacular view of the city. Overall I found the city to be lovely, but not quite as endearing as Vienna or Salzburg.

 

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Town Hall with Clock Tower

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Pig parts! uh, mmmmm?

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Beautiful cathedral interior of Saint Michael’s

 

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View of Munich from the top of St Peter’s

 

Dinner was at Hofbrauhaus (Sausage city!) and while I can’t remember exactly what I ate I do remember I wasn’t too fond of it. It was probably about then that I reconfirmed my prejudice against German Cuisine. Beer and sausage overload! One day into it and I was already wishing for something better (maybe a nice Italian entree or something Thai and spicy). The good news is that if you *do* happen to enjoy German food and beer (you freak you) Hofbrauhaus has opened up several locations in the United States and serves much the same authentic menu as they do in Munich.

 

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Hofbrauhaus

Our second day in Germany was spent on a Castles of Bavaria tour hosted by Viator (http://www.viator.com/tours/Munich/Royal-Castles-of-Neuschwanstein-and-Linderhof-Day-Tour-from-Munich/d487-285016). Hands down one of THE best tours I’ve ever booked. Nine tenths of its awesomeness was attributable to our tour guide Ursula. Her German accent was thick and her expressions and mannerisms were unforgettable. Over and over again she would play this verbal game which never failed to elicited uncontrollable giggling on my end:

1. Share an interesting bit of trivia relevant to whatever we were looking at

2. Ask in a heavily accented tone, “Can you imagine?” (pronounced KHAN U EMAAAAADGE-GIN)

3. Pause

4. Announce, “Yah, yah, you can imagine!” (pronounced YUH YUH U KHAN EMAAAAADGE-GIN)

Oh I just loved Ursula! There was also her classic line, “Velcome to our Vinter Vonderland and thank you for wisiting”.  WISITING!!! Is it in poor taste to poke fun at the German accent? It’s just so adorable…

The first stop on our tour  was Linderhof castle, which was built by the very famous Mad King Ludwig II. 

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Jenni adorns Linderhof

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Swan Lake at Linderhof

 

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If the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe were recast in Germany with Jenni in the lead…

I really feel for the poor chap Ludwig II. He was very excited to be king and wanted to be a *real* king of the old order with power and dominion. Alas, he was born much to late in Germany’s evolution for such things and was reduced constitutionally to being a mere figurehead (such as Queen Elizabeth is in England today). So he consoled himself by building castles throughout the countryside where he would escape and  fully immerse himself in his pretend kingdom where all subjects worshipped him and did as they were told. Linderhof was one of the first castles he built and it was pretty modest so the taxpayers didn’t really bat an eye.

The same could not be said for his next building project: Castle Neuschwanstein. This grand and glorious castle (just up the hill from his parents country castle) was the castle to end all castles. He fancied he’d build himself a castle in medieval style (probably because that was a time when subjects dutifully respected their king or perhaps because it appealed to his alpha-male decorating sense) and he spent his way through a good portion of the national treasury before the impoverished taxpayers had enough and called shenanigans. The castle was never finished, King Ludwig II came to a premature end and within a year the political leadership had turned the castle into a tourist attraction. It was *this* castle, by the way, that Walt Disney held in his mind’s eye when designing the Disney Princess Castle. Can you see the resemblance in the photos below? With the snow falling softly around it, it was truly an amazing site to behold. So beautiful!

 

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Sideview of Neuschwanstein

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Rearview of Neuschwanstein

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Snowy Frontview of Neuschwanstein

 

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Ludwig II’s boyhood home- his parents’ castle just across the hill

 

In between our castle stops we made a quick detour into Oberammergau, a small community famous for its woodcarvings. A nice stop but a bit of a tourist trap.

 

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In Oberammergau some houses depict fairy tales

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Woodcarvings

 

Other highlights of the tour included having to pull off the side of the road in a heavy snowstorm so that the bus driver could attach chains to the tires in order to make it up a steep hill (winter driving in southern Germany is not for the timid!) and my hot dog lunch fiasco. Let me tell you the crazy scam these Germans have got going on with their hot dogs!  In the first place, they treat you like a pariah if you ask for ketchup on your hot dog. I’m not referring to fancy sausages here; I specifically mean what they call frankfurters and what we call HOT DOGS. In the second place, it’s not customary for them to serve these hot dogs with hot dog buns. GAH! There I am sitting down eagerly awaiting my lunch and I am presented with a bunless, ketchupless hot dog.

KHAN U EMAAAAADGE-GIN?

*pause*

YUH YUH U KHAN EMAAAAADGE-GIN!

Anyway, after the castle tour concluded we were dropped off in downtown Munich in the evening and spent an hour wandering through the Christmas Market on Marienplatz (fantastic!) before we found ourselves in desperate need of dinner. I didn’t know what I wanted except I knew I didn’t want German food. I was sausaged out! We were lucky enough to find a cozy Italian Osteria right near Marienplatz where the waiters spoke Italian and the food was amazing. Germany is now the only country I’ve visited where I’ve broken my rule about sticking to authentic local cuisine.

 

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Scenes from Marienplatz Christmas Market

 

In summary:

German culture A+

German sightseeing A+

German Christmas spirit (they practically invented it): A++

German cuisine F-

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