Suppose you’re a enthusiastic surfer, but in your home is severely landlocked in the middle of Europe. What do you do? Take up paddle boarding and imagine a wave? Tell your buddies you’ve had a serious surfing session when behind the scenes the only thing you’ve surfed is the web?
If you live anywhere near Munich, Germany you have another option, and you don’t even need to leave the city. If you’re experienced surfer and you don’t mind cold water, take your board over to the Eisbach river in the English Garden park, get in line, and at the opportune moment jump in and have at the standing wave. If you’re not experienced? It’s a great spot to fall on your face and drown. In fact, surfing there was illegal up until 2010, and still is for inexperienced surfers. For those folks the nearest ocean is only 200 miles (320 kilometers) away, although I haven’t heard exciting things about the surfing in Venice.
Of course, before this trip I hadn’t heard exciting things about the surfing in Munich either. This aquatic oddity was just one of the things we encountered while touring the city.
We’d started the day doing a coach tour of the city, which is a tour company’s method of showing the highlights of a place when there isn’t enough time to do it properly. It also gives the guide an opportunity to show off their knowledge of local arcania, which admittedly is usually impressive. If I remembered a quarter of the info they spew off the top of their heads I’d consider myself lucky.
While Oktoberfest was an obvious topic during this drive around, it was another topic that got my eyebrows shooting skyward in surprize. We’d already learned earlier in the trip that Germany was predominantly Catholic in the South, and Lutheran in the North. The surprising factoid was this: if you want one of these churches to give sacraments, confession, burials, and the like, you have to register as a member of that church with the government and your employer, and the government automatically “tithes” your paycheck and passes that money on to the church. The tithe amounts to about 8 or 9% of your taxes; if you owed 10,000 Euros in taxes to the state, your tax bill might be 10,800.
We did have one nice stop on the morning drive about, at the summer palace for the family of King Ludwig.
For some reason, I’m reminded of the quote from Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I; “It’s good to be the king.”
Munich is also home to one of the kings of industry, BMW. This was more interesting from an architectural perspective than a Bimmer perspective – their headquarters tower is designed in the shape of four pistons, grouped together, with an adjacent museum shaped like a cylinder head.
Also nearby was the venue for the ’72 Olympics, and a really big white guy…
The Walking Man is not only tall (56 feet or 17 metres) he needs to go on a diet, as he weighs in at 35,000 pounds.
There were more places, more descriptions, more history, more information overload. But the drive came to an end, and we were dropped off near the Marienplatz with the afternoon free.
The Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) is a central square in the heart of Munich. On the North side, the New City Hall dominates the square, but its civil prominence is not what people flock to the square to see, and political oratory was not what they were there to hear. The draw for the crowds was the Glockenspiel, with its chimes and animated characters. Think of it as a big, elaborate, cuckoo clock.
Here’s the details, as described by Wikipedia:
Every day at 11 a.m. (as well as 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer) it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century for the amusement of mass crowds of tourists and locals. It consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria and Lothringen. The Bavarian knight wins every time, of course.
This is then followed by the bottom half and second story: Schäfflertanz (the coopers’ dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to “bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.”
The whole show lasts somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes long depending on which tune it plays that day. At the end of the show, a very small golden rooster at the top of the Glockenspiel chirps quietly three times, marking the end of the spectacle.
After the cock crowed three times, we went to church. The Frauenkirche is only a couple blocks away from the Marienplatz, and due to its size it’s hard to miss. It reportedly can hold up to 20,000 parishioners.
Another oddity is an apparent footprint in the floor tile near the entrance. There are a few legends about how this came to be, but I’m partial to this one…
In order to help finance construction of the cathedral, the builder made a deal with the devil: the devil would provide the cash, but the church could not contain windows, keeping the parishioners in the dark. The builder was tricky though; he positioned columns in the church to hide the windows he included so they couldn’t be seen from the foyer, where the deal was consummated. At that point the builder revealed his trick, and the devil, being unable to enter the church proper to wreak destruction as it had already been consecrated, could only stomp his foot in anger, leaving his footprint. In the years since, reconstruction has occurred in the cathedral and windows are now visible from the foyer, but at the time of construction the devil got his due.
After all this, we decided to look for the park and spend some time with nature.
After wandering in the park for a while, we came upon the surfers that started off this story. While even these guys were prone to do face plants after a time, it was clear that they weren’t beginners. Just getting started looked akin to jumping on a treadmill going full speed. We enjoyed this unusual spectacle for a half hour or so, then headed back to our hotel.
That evening, we gathered one last time with our tour group for a farewell dinner. Alas, Father Time’s hourglass for our European trip was running out. We couldn’t even party too hard, we had to leave for the airport at 3 AM the next morning
That final day was a suitable end for our trip. We saw cathedrals and kings, crowds and nature, the commonplace and oddities. And from one traveler to another, what more can you ask for?