For some time now I’ve been planning a weekend trip to Munich. Finally, I decided to go there at the end of July in 2016, before my summer holiday at the seacoast. I’m lucky that Munich is only 5h away from Prague and the return journey bus ticket cost less than 50€. I also have a family 30 minutes from Munich, in a town called Fürstenfeldbruck. The last time I visited them, I was 10 or 11 and the only thing that I remember is playing Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation with my brother and cousin while it was snowing outside. It was time for a new visit.
I went to Munich with my friend, who was traveling from Zagreb with Blabla car, the fastest and the best way to travel, considering a large number of Croatian “gastarbeiters” who live in Munich. We agreed to meet in front of the Munich Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).
I arrived a few hours earlier and had some time to explore the city on my own. I sat on S-Bahn and drove myself to Marienplatz, the city’s main square. Marienplatz got its name after the Mariensäule (Mary’s Column), erected in 1638, as a sign of gratitude for the end of the Swedish occupation after the Thirty Years’ War. Mary is also a patron saint of the whole region of Bavaria, whose capital is Munich.
The Neo-Gothic building that dominates the square is the New City Hall (Neues Rathaus) from the 19th century with the famous clock Glockenspiel, something like Prague’s Astronomical Clock. The Glockenspiel is a tourist attraction with figurines that are moving every day at 11, 12 and 17h, telling two stories from the 16th century. The first story is about the wedding of local Bavarian Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine. In honor of the happy couple, the clock shows the battle between blue and white Bavarian army and red and white soldiers of Lorraine in real size. Who wins? Find out for yourself while watching the Glockenspiel spectacle.
The other part of the clock tells a sadder story about the plague that hit Munich in 1517. On the streets of the city, coopers started appearing dancing their dance, Schäfflertanz. The dance helped to bring the vitality to the sick and the folk, who was fearing this deadly disease. The coopers became the symbol of loyalty to the Duke and Bavarian government in the most difficult moments, and their dance is performed every 7 years in Munich. The Glockenspiel show lasts for 12 minutes and ends with a rooster crowing.
Today, the Neues Rathaus is home to the Mayor’s office, City Council and the city administration, as well as many shops, restaurants, and other offices.
Marienplatz is still the heart of the city, full of energy and life, various events, pleasant chatting from cafés, shops and restaurants in the small alleys and passageways and unpleasant poking from tourist from all over the world. I find it especially interesting how all the noise and chaos stops as soon as you get to the back side of the New City Hall. There you’ll find a large grassland where everybody is sitting together and relaxing: businessmen in their suits eating a sandwich or drinking coffee to go from Starbucks, while browsing today’s newspaper, Romani people enjoying a picnic with their numerous families, hipsters, and sportsmen resting next to their bikes with a book in their hands, etc. I joined them and sat for a while in a typical tourist way – with a bottle of water and a map in my hand.
From Marienplatz to Hauptbahnhof
Wondering the streets, I found myself in front of Frauenkirche, the Late-Gothic Munich Cathedral from the 15th century. Its two towers, almost 100 m high, rise over the city’s panorama. One of the two towers was, unfortunately, under the reconstruction, during my visit, and it still is today.
It was time to go towards the Hauptbahnhof, this time by foot. Walking the pedestrian Neuhauser street, I passed another pearl of Munich’s architecture, the Jesuit church of St. Michael, the largest Renaissance church outside of Italy. I passed many shops selling dirndl dresses, typical Bavarian dresses, which are, next to the men’s lederhosen, a must-wear at the world-famous Oktoberfest.
The Neuhauser street ends with the former city gate Karlstor. Karlstor was the western entrance to Munich, one of the three preserved Medieval entrances and one of the two gates that we saw (later, we passed the Isartor, the eastern gate). When you pass Karlstor gate, you’ll find yourself on a spacious square Karlsplatz with a beautiful fountain, where young couples stand holding hands and friends chat while drinking a coffee or a beer.
If you turn right from Karlsplatz, you’ll get to Munich Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), but I still had some time left, so I turned left in search for a hotel (we didn’t have anything booked yet). I was surprised because I found myself at an oriental bazaar. A neighborhood was full of Turkish shops selling all kinds of products, stores with mobile phones and electronic devices, kebab shops, Arabic characters everywhere, and, of course, Muslims on every step. I entered in one of the stores, where I bought water, Coca-Cola and some Turkish sweets.
It was the meeting time at Hauptbahnhof. I waited in front of the station, drinking my Monster, along with the local homeless people and drunks, when a guy came to me, just like in the song of Bosnian band: “…kraj Bahnhofa takve mogu naći…” (“…I can find those kinds of girls besides Bahnhof…”). He started talking in German. “Sorry, I don’t speak German.” It didn’t stop him: “Where are you from?” Eventually, we found out that the guy is Bosnian, he lives in Nuremberg and he likes me, so he’ll come to Prague for a coffee. Yea, sure. But now, he’ll be so kind as to walk me to my friend so that I don’t have to wait alone. You can imagine my friend’s face when he saw an unknown person next to me. “Who’s this?” Not a clue…
We went for a walk through the city (we left the Bosnian guy at the Station), passed the Marienplatz and turned right next to the Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus) from the 13th century with the panoramic view of the square from its tower. Soon we were at Viktualienmarkt, the most popular Munich’s market from the beginning of the 19th century. During the Second World War, Viktualienmarkt was almost demolished, but it survived only thanks to the popularity amongst the people of Munich.
Viktualienmarkt is still my favorite place in the city and it offers a large choice of fresh fruits and vegetables from German farms or imported exotic papayas, passion fruits, etc. Here you can buy freshly squeezed juices for 2€, different types of cheese, meat and the traditional Bavarian food like Schweinshaxn (roasted pork knuckle accompanied by sauerkraut and potatoes) or Speck. You also have to try the famous Bavarian beer (Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, etc.). When you’re ordering a beer, keep in mind the difference between Helles (blond Bavarian lager), Dunkel (dark beer) and Weiss (wheat beer).
Finally, we chose the accommodation – a sweet little pension Seibel (Reichenbachstrasse 8) near Viktualienmarkt. We started our evening with a beer at the market’s beer garden and finished it in the popular Munich restaurant Hofbräuhaus (Platz 9) with traditional live music performed by men in lederhosen. Great night!
The English Garden
The next day we asked our receptionist from Bosnia (of course) to recommend us places to visit. He sent us to Englischer Garten. We walked along the Isar river, a pretty cold Alpine river, which didn’t stop me to have a swim. The riverbank was full of people swimming, sunbathing, grilling and having fun. A guy on the small “island” was even practicing hula hoop. Isar riverbank is a great place to escape from the city crowds and refresh yourself on the hot summer day. We reached the Englischer Garten, that was not as close as we thought without a bicycle, a common mean of transport along the Isar river. The popular summer sport at the beginning of the park is surfing on Eisbach (literally small icy stream), a tributary of Isar with strong river currents. To make the sport more practical, it’s allowed to enter the metro stations around Eisbach only in bathing suits and flip-flops!
Englischer Garten is one of the largest parks in the world. With its 375 ha, it’s even larger than the London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park! Its construction started in 1789 according to the plans of the architect Briton Benjamin Thompson. The park was built in the style of the English country park, thus the name. During the years the park was upgraded and expanded and today through the Englischer Garten flow four rivers and streams: Isar, Eisbach, Köglmühlbach and Schwabinger Bach with over 100 bridges and 78 km of the pathway.
Unfortunately, we had time only to pass the small part of the park from the Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm), 25 m high Chinese pagoda, and the nearby pavilion Monopteros to the restaurant and beer garden Seehaus next to the Kleinhesseloher See lake, where we had lunch. You can also rent a small paddle boat (every day between 9-21h) and enjoy a romantic ride on the lake. Other attractions in Englischer Garten are Japanese Teahouse (Japanisches Teehaus) from 1972, where the Japanese “tea ceremonies” are still held today, the Classicist Rumfordhaus and numerous beer gardens.
When we were returning to the city, around Odeonsplatz were stands with various beers – a beer fest was in motion. It started raining so we had to hide in the nearest café, today’s Tambosi bar. During our visit, the bar looked like a bit kitschy Vienna’s palace, had Balkan owners, friendly waiters, and reasonable prices, but it changed owners and name 4 months after that.
During the Olympia Mall Shootings, 2016
The rain stopped, so we had to get our luggage from the pension and go to my family in Fürstenfeldbruck. When we came out of the café, the security workers started to gather around Odeonsplatz and enclose it. First, they closed one side of the square, then the second one, then the third… Soon, the armed policemen joined them. Confused people (including us) didn’t know what’s happening and they started to ask security workers. They just smiled not giving us the answer. We exited the square from the only possible side and found ourselves on the completely vast streets. An older guy on a bike passed by, so we stopped him and asked what was going on. He answered in perfect English: “Several people are shooting around the town.” WHAT????!!! I froze. I felt a cold sweat run through my body. Somehow I managed to ask the guy what would he recommend us, where to go and hide. “Go to the English Garden.” And hide where – into the bushes?! “Or you can go here nearby to a nice café with live music and a big terrace.” Sorry?! It seemed that he wasn’t concerned about the fact that somebody IS SHOOTING around the town.
I started panicking. I didn’t know where to go. The pension was too far. We stayed off the main roads and went into a local bar in a smaller alley. I ordered a beer (which didn’t calm me at all) and stared at the breaking news on the bar’s TV for the next two hours. Nobody could explain to us what is going on exactly and the TV was showing the words: tot, der Tote, der Mörder, etc. With our bad German, from the news we found out that there are three shooters out there, then two, one, then again three, that the police are looking for them and they advise us to stay at home. I DON’T HAVE A HOME, I’M A TOURIST!! Later we found out that people used social networks to offer their homes for a night to the people far from their own home. My friend tried to comfort me, but other customers also seemed scared and worried. We got anxious every time we heard the police sirens near the bar. People from home (my parents, boyfriend, friends) started calling me and texting me to see if I’m ok. I got a call from mom’s cousin in Fürstenfeldbruck, that the roads and train stations were closed, nobody could get in or out of Munich. We were stuck, great.
Two hours later, we came out of the bar and carefully started walking towards our pension. On our way, we passed completely empty streets with only a few police cars patrolling around. The only people on the streets were the ones in suits exiting the theater confused and quickly checking the news on their phones to find out what’s happening in the city. In front of our pension, there were at least 3 police cars patrolling. I was scared. We entered the pension to find out that it’s overbooked for the night. What now?? I think the receptionist (this time a German guy) saw the fear in my eyes and decided to put us in a room together with a Chinese family who lives outside of Munich, but, like many others, they were stuck in the city. Lying in my bad, I could hardly fall asleep, listening to the buzzing of police helicopters until 3 a. m….
The next day we read on the Internet that nobody was shooting around the town, that there weren’t three attackers, but just one, who was shooting in the shopping center Olympia. He was an 18 years old boy of German-Iranian origin. He killed 9 people, wounded 15 of them and he killed himself in the end. I feel sorry for the victims of this inexplicable and unnecessary act and their families. While we were in the city center panicking (because we didn’t know what was happening), I cannot even imagine what was going on and how did the people feel inside Olympia shopping mall. On that day, 22nd of July of 2016, we could have been in Olympia as well. The summer Tollwood festival, an environmental Munich’s festival, took place at the Olympia park and I wanted to see it. If we would go there, we’d definitely stop at the Olympia shopping center to buy a bottle of wine for my family. Luckily, my friend preferred to stay in the city center and explore it a little bit more, so we didn’t do any of it.
The next day they canceled Tollwood, as well as all the other festivals in Germany, for safety reasons. We went to the Munich’s Zoo, which seemed (to me) the safest place in the city, and later to Fürstenfeldbruck, where we enjoyed the family and festive atmosphere (the people from Bruck didn’t mind the prohibition and they held a nice small festival in the city center).
On the 25 of July, we went home through Munich, where the flowers for the victims of Olympia mall attack were already placed…