Munich. München. A great city to have a long lay over.
No-one likes long lay-overs. Airports are generally just that, airports, and a having to hang around for hours waiting for a connecting flight is generally no fun.
Munich can be fun. Munich has year after year won many awards for being the best airport in Europe.
I flew in from Chicago. A long trans Atlantic flight with United Airlines, which was pleasant. They pull the blinds down and switch off the lights as you in fly eastwards, more or less fooling you into thinking that you’re flying during the night; you’re really flying into a new time zone, and your body on arrival, sort of agrees that you flew through the night.
Munich – arrivals is fast, the Bavarians are pleasant and efficient, and you get through customs and arrivals quickly. If you have the right documents to leave the airport and enter Germany proper, head for the exit. Clear passport control, and enter the world where ‘Gruss Gott’ is the local greeting.
Many years ago, I went to Germany on tourism marketing trip, and I asked a German friend to help me with some basic German before I left. Her answer was basically a snort of derision. ‘’Why bother?’ She of north Germany said, and continued with great exaggeration: ‘they don’t even speak proper German in Bavaria, it’s some weird language’. Oh. So much for my attempt at learning German. Off I had gone to Bavaria, with only a few words of German. I learnt to say Gruss Gott, and a few other words, but never quite got it right for biscuits to go with my coffee. My order went something like ”ein café mit küshe/ keks / küken” (All similarly pronounced, this means: coffee with kitchen/ biscuit/ chicken), which always resulted in raised eyebrows from the waiter.
Munich airport is huge, there is everything, including a cycling park, complete with ramps and jumps.
The only complaint; the Bureaux de Change weren’t open, and the lady at information said they were hardly ever there. Oh well, too bad, there’d be lots in town. I found the baggage storage office. It’s called Left Baggage, which I suppose it is when you leave the office. Pay when you collect please. So, with just my handbag over my shoulder, I went and bought a train ticket to Munich City at the ticket machine. Nice and easy, even I could get that right, and I went down to the platform to catch a train. Direction: München Hauptbahnhof.
I would get off at Marienplatz, the town center. The train ride was lovely, a relaxing 30 minutes or so. The train swished past farm lands, country houses, a village named Englsshalking with cute architecture, green fields with horses and cattle and a field with deer running across it too!
I got off at Marienplatz, wearing a silly smile as I got to the top of the steps into the sunshine. It had been many years since I had been there, and it was wonderfully unchanged. I had timed it perfectly, the Rathaus – Glockenspiel, the iconic musical carillon consisting of 43 bells started a few minutes later. In summer these chimes play three times a day, and the 32 figures spin, commemorating the 1568 marriage of Wilhelm V to Renata of Lothringen. Knights joust at the Royal wedding on one level, and at a lower one, figures do the Schäfflertanz, a dance from 1517, that commemorates the end of the plaque. I oohed and aahed with the rest of the tourists and children.
I played the happy tourist, taking in the buildings; the Rathaus is actually new, rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The original (Alte) Rathaus, next to it, now houses a toy museum in its Gothic Tower. A climb up the circular stairs is just what is needed to get the blood flowing after a long flight. The toys, some dating back to the 1700’s, are fascinating. Barbies and Kens from the 1970’s are also on display.
Below is the Alte Rathaus, now a Toy Museum, and some of the displays. The Teddy Bear could be a cousin to my Bamse, which I still have.
The summer sun was hot, and I was glad I had brought my hat. I filled up my water bottle at the drinking fountain near the Alte Rathaus. Munich has a total of natural 180 drinking fountains spread around the city. Information is scant about these fountains, but I like to think that that the nearby Peterskirche (Church of Peter), followed the age-old formula of building a Christian Church on top of an ancient Pagan site, which was traditionally near a spring.
The Fish Fountain, in front of the Rathaus was my next stop, to admire the statuary, and its history. First built in 1318 to supply water to the citizens, it has been renovated several times after being damaged. It is topped with a bronze fish which commemorates the original fish market which was near there. Since 1884, water from the Mangfall Valley, 40 kilometers away, has been piped into the fountain. One of the latest renovations added a ground basin, for Munich’s dogs to drink out of.
Tourists from all corners of the world mingled with locals. A flower seller happily posed with an admiring tourist. Cafes served beer from the local breweries, local dishes, and lots of ice cream was sold too. I wandered down streets branching out from the square, at one stage arriving at one of the ancient city gates, Sendinger Tor. A busker was playing under the tower. I wondered how many minstrels have played near those gates over the centuries.
Being hungry, I walked slowly back to Marienplatz, popping into assorted shops along the way, very happy to buy my favourite cosmetics which are not available in South Africa. The assistant and I did the Gruss Gott thing, and I surprised myself, by answering her queries in German, the big surprise was that she understood me and didn’t swap to English, until I got stuck.
The Golden statue of Mary on top of her 12 meter column was ahead of me, and I ‘joined‘ a tour group who were listening to their tour guide’s story. I don’t know his name, but he was hilarious, his history lesson included ungrateful Swedes, whose invasion of Munich wasn’t successful, and how they may have expressed their sentiments in very colourful language, and what they may have thought of the statue.
This statue of Mary was created in the 1500’s, and has gone up and down over the centuries when safe keeping was needed. She is surrounded by four putti (I didn’t know what that was either – a putto is type of cherub), each depicted fighting a different type of evil. I was surprised to see monks in the cassocks of age old Catholic Orders from a city monastery; I had thought that all monks wore trousers and shirts nowadays.
As in most European squares, an obligatory human statue was there, hoping to make some money. He was good, but could not resist children being in awe of him, and would come to life and talk to the kids. It was the sweetest thing to watch, and I hope his beautiful smile put many euros in his hat.
Lunch. There are lots restaurants around the square. I chose the Café Am Marienplatz Zum Ewigen Licht, because…… because it looked like my sort of place. It turned out to be pretty ancient. It has been business since 1857, minus a short closure. The staff uniform hasn’t changed either; the waitresses are dressed in traditional Bavarian pale blue skirts and low cut white shirts, and the waiters are dressed in lederhosen. It is the same restaurant where the traditional Weisswürst (White Sausage) of Munich was created. Not being a sausage fan, I opted for their delicious Viener Schnitzel, complimented with ein apfelsaft. If you are a review reader – ignore the bad comments, and enjoy a meal in this historic restaurant.
After lunch, I again strolled around, this time around the back of the Rathaus, to the Frauenkirche, home of the legend of the Devil’s footprint and the tomb of Ludwig lV. History is everywhere, but the possibility of the Devil’s Footprint being a tourist trap is very real, but who doesn’t love a mystery? Supposedly the architect of the Cathedral needed money to build the church. He made a pact with the Devil, who in exchange for supplying the money, would get a lightless church, where dark deeds could be practiced. When the cathedral was completed, and the Devil inspected it, he found that the architect had tricked him, and stamped his foot in annoyance. The Devil’s footprint (or is it a hoax maker’s footprint?), is there in a tile to this day.
Then it was time to head back to the airport. Another relaxing train trip, and soon I was in the Left Baggage Office paying Euro 11.00 to the gentleman for services rendered. That was another pleasant surprise; I had paid three times that at Milan’s airport a few months earlier. The Left Baggage office, like the rest of Munich Airport, is well thought out and has the traveler’s comfort in mind; it has tables and space for you to repack your bags, should you need to get your Munich purchases safely put away.
After going through security, I found my gate, which was in another building of Terminal 2’s main building. Getting there required a bus ride. It is advisable to find your gate well in time – if you do have to get to a gate in another building, you could be creating unnecessary stress and unexpected runs for yourself, if you haven’t gotten there early.
Munich in the height of summer is hot, and walking around made one hotter. I now had another eight-hour flight ahead of me, and the thought of a shower was delicious. Munich airport again got 5 stars from me. Munich Airport has Showers. With a capital S. Yes, many airports have showers: you know the variety: shower stalls, small, utilitarian places, where your clothes get wet, and you bang your arms on the walls of the tiny space as you try to dry yourself with your tiny thin travel towel.
Munich Airport has showers close to the gates, which is so convenient. Next to the doors (two were marked with male figures, two were marked with female figures), there is a pay point. Insert your credit card, enter your details, and the door unlocks. Voila! You enter a bathroom that would do a five star hotel proud. Complete with a pile of freshly laundered thick and fluffy white towels in the dressing area, a hairdryer, a basin with huge mirrors, and a loo in the central area. The shower area on the far side, is many square meters in size, and has two showerheads, and lovely shower gel is also supplied. It was luxurious, and your payment gives you an hour to enjoy the facility. Freshening up in an airport takes on a whole new meaning here.
Refreshed, ready for dinner and a movie, I boarded the SAA flight home, and arrived back in Johannesburg the next morning. I have always enjoyed flying SAA, and have never had a bad experience, contrary to what many people write in their reviews. Recently the company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I sincerely hope that with whatever changes are made to SAA, that they retain the great service that I have always experienced.