Saturday, August 20, 2011

Munich is Awesome And That's All There Is To It.

When we woke up after the last night of PartySan it was still raining. The tent was soaking wet and dripping through in places, and we had to get to Munich. I hit the snooze button for an hour while we waited for the rain to ease and luckily it eventually did. We packed up the bike in record time and were on the road by 7.30am.

I really wanted to get to Dachau, the first Concentration Camp built in Germany during the war. The weather was overcast and cool for most of the ride there, until about half an hour before we arrived when the clouds disappeared and Summer arrived. The sun shone through and the weather warmed and I rode with my face to the sky (the benefit of riding pillion) basking in sunshine, our first real sunshine for weeks.

The only thing is, as the weather got warmer it didn’t really stop getting warmer and so when we got to Dachau it was absolutely roasting. We took off most of our gear but this just mean we had to carry it – two helmets, two jackets, Courtney’s riding pants (I kept mine on) and our valuables bag. It would have been easier if we had been able to navigate the memorial grounds. We followed a few people with audio guides in the direction we thought we wanted to go but after seeing the SS guard houses and the foundations of an SS Office building we passed a kindergarten and realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore. There were still  parts of the wider camp area you could see in that direction but the walk between them was long, the spaces in between used for other, modern means and our gear was very hot and very heavy.

Funnily enough it was when we walked back from this area that Courts found the barracks and the entrance gate and a whole lot more interesting stuff not far from where we had started but in the opposite direction. By this time we were seriously struggling with the heat, especially me with armoured pants still on, so we had a quick look and then decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and headed back to the bike. It’s a shame because I had really wanted to go to Dachau and I thought I would get a better understanding of what happened. I expected the eerie feeling I experienced visiting Ground Zero in New York City, the same feeling I’ve heard lots of people describe in similar situations, but I felt nothing and really got little from it except what I read on the tourist signs. I can say I went though, and I’m glad I did.

Courts was very skeptical of the campground, which was thankfully only 20 minutes away by this time. It’s called The Tent and that is essentially what it is – one huge tent where you can elect to either put down your own mattress on the floor or pay a bit extra for a bunk bed. We were booked in to sleep on the floor because we were intending on leaving early the next day anyway but with Courts being worried about our stuff getting stolen (although it did turn out there were lockers) and a sopping wet tent in our bag, we decided to put our own tent up in the field next to the shared tent. We figured it would dry out and provide a bit more security for our stuff.

With the tent up and almost dry within minutes, we stopped by reception to get a tram ticket and a map of the city. The guys there were awesome - as the entire campsite turned out to be actually – and pointed out the best things to see with our limited time and the best ways to get there. The tram was easy to catch even if we did end up going the long way about finding a tram stop, and we were away.

Once again Germany’s road works companies were out in full force so it took a bit of roundabout navigation to find our way but it wasn’t long before we were on one of the main shopping drags in town. The street was wide and open only to foot traffic, and despite the fact the shops were all closed (it was Sunday evening) there was still a lot of people around. We stumbled upon awesome architecture the whole way and then eventually found Marinplatz. The square is home to the old town hall which is probably the coolest building I’ve ever seen. There are so many intricate details, so many different statues, monsters and gargoyles (which aren’t gargoyles Monty tells me but I forget the name) and even a dragon climbing up one corner. Some of the statues move three times a day which we unfortunately missed out on but the whole building was just crazy awesome.

After the compulsory Hard Rock CafĂ© stop we walked through some of the narrower old town streets until they opened up and unveiled the Residenz palace. It wasn’t the most impressive buildings we’ve seen but either way I rubbed three of the four Lions outside for good luck (rubbing all four is greedy and gives you bad luck apparently but as you’ll read the damn things didn’t work anyway) and we continued on our way.

Not far from the palace is the bottom of the English Garden, a huge central city park that hugs the river. It’s so big that in the northern, more wild end of the park live actual real life Sheppards. We weren’t interested in them though because there was far more interesting sights to see. Although we never saw any nudists (apparently they’re common) we did find the surfers. Right in the middle of the city, below a bridge at the edge of the park, is a man made standing wave. Queues of insane surfers in thick wetsuits jump off the sides of the river to brave the concrete edges, alpine waters and huge numbers of spectators. It’s really cool, not least of all because they are literally at the very edge of the park, surfing in the shadow of big city buildings.

The English Garden was to become Courtney’s second favourite place on Earth (after Wacken) when we found the Beer Garden the camp guys had recommended to us. There are a few in the gardens but the Chinese Tower beer garden is one of the biggest and most well known in the city. Under a 5 story Chinese tower, which had a traditional German band playing halfway up, tables stretch as far as you can see. Every single table is full of people with massive litre steins of beer and huge piles of food.

There are a few food areas but they all sell the same things – sausages, schnitzel, every variation of pork you can think of and lots of potatoes. I had schnitzel and herbed fried potatoes and Courts had potatoes and pork knuckle. We shared a giant pretzel and this amazing dip made of butter, soft cheeses and onions. I tried the apfelwein (Apple Wine) after Courts chose it by mistake and he of course had a huge jug of beer. We sat at a table with a friendly German guy and devoured as much as we could.

10 minutes into dinner it started spitting but we happily continued eating under the shade of a massive tree. It was about two thirds through dinner that it started bucketing down and while the tables around us emptied and every sheltered spot overflowed with patrons we ate on like troopers. Eventually, in a sundress that seemed like a good idea 3 hours and 28 degrees earlier, I had to take shelter with everyone else, or at least try. Courts soldiered on, blinded to the bulk of the weather by the ecstasy of finding such a place on Earth.

When we left an hour or so later, the rain had eased and we were able to walk to the tram comfortably. We could have happily spent a week in Munich and I think it’s the first place we’ve been to that I’d consider living in, other than maybe London, or Beauvoir if I was older. Even without time on our side, the city was easy to see in one evening. I think it took us a couple of hours to see all the main sights that had been recommended to us, plus a couple of hours at the beer garden getting to know the ‘real’ Munich. Well worth it, even with the rain.