We all slept rather brokenly that night, with 14 of us all in one room, it was the biggest dormitory that we had shared so far on the trip.
We had quick showers, accompanied by the hotel-provided shower gel ‘Tricky Ricky’, and a quick continental breakfast in the hotel.
We had decided that in order to see the most of Munich during our brief 2 day stay, the best way would be to attempt one of the recently created ‘free walking tours’. So after being met by our New Zealand guide, Chris, in the hotel reception, we followed him to Marineplatz- in the centre of Munich.
As soon as we arrived in the centre, we realised what a mistake it was that we had all decided to dress in dark colours that morning- the sun beat down un-mercilessly on our still relatively pale skin!
We waited in the centre, in front of the Munich town hall, where we eagerly anticipated the chiming of the famous glockenspiel clock. Having heard it chime and watched the wooden figures dance around, we were informed that the glockenspiel is in fact the second most disappointing tourist attraction in Europe!
Following the anti-climatic start, we were divided into groups and the 4 of us merged with a group led by Irish guide Keith. We really could not have asked for a better guide, as his enthusiasm and excitement regarding the history of Munich was infectious, and made us fall in love with the city.
Of the many stories we were told, one that will stick with me is the story of the Devil’s Church. It was rumoured that the devil commissioned an architect to build the church in his name, due to its dark interior when the devil visited, only to discover that in daylight, the few windows of the church allow a surprising amount of light to enter. Angry at this, the devil allegedly left his wrath encompassing the church, and to this day there is always a gentle breeze surrounding the church, known by the locals as ‘the devil’s breath.’ Scientists have investigated the building and the surrounding area in which the church is situated, and even on a clear, still, sunny day, the light breeze which equates as the devil’s breath remains present. Scientists are apparently baffled by this, as there is no scientific evidence to suggest why there should be a breeze in only this spot! Furthermore, just inside the church, there is a footprint in the floor, said to be ‘the devil’s footprint.’
During our tour, we were permitted a 20 minute break, in which the 4 of us had to sample the delights of what Bavaria had to offer in the way of ice cream- we were not disappointed!
Feeling slightly adventurous, I opted for the nutella flavour, only to then snap my spoon on a frozen piece of chocolate!
After our brief rest, we went into the famous HB beerhall, and were informed of the history of beer drinking in Munich. Originally, the only way to relieve oneself from the multitude of beer that had been consumed, was to urinate in the street outside the beer hall, and if that wasn’t bad enough, men wearing lederhosen were then permitted to urinate inside the hall, where they merely had to open the flap at the front and relieve themselves where they sat! Quite obviously this then started to create hygiene and smell problems for all the drinkers inside the beer hall, and eventually, channels were dug under all of the long wooden tables, in order to assist removal of waste … though I am sure this invention did nothing to help the smell! Initially, it was only men that were allowed to consume alcohol in the beer hall, whilst women served the drinks, however over time this inevitably changed.
Unsurprisingly, however, with the standard beer being a litre in size, the need for some people to be sick after a long afternoon in the beer hall would become necessary, and therefore the ‘vomitorium’ was introduced to the male toilets. This steel bowl is actually built at the correct height for good posture whilst needing to vomit! Unfortunately, this device only exists in the male toilets, and therefore should a woman need to use it, a male attendant will escort her to the male toilets, and insist that any man using the urinals at the time, stop what he is doing, and turn to face away whilst the woman may vomit as she pleases!
On a more serious note, Keith our guide also informed us of some of the darker moments of Bavarian history, such as krystallnacht, which was central to Munich, as well as some stories of the Dachau Concentration Camp, which is situated not far from the city. We were informed that this camp was the first of its kind, and also one of the most brutal. During the Nazi occupation, the 12,000 Jews living in Bavaria were reduced to a mere 80. These statistics, needless to say, shocked me, and are something that will never leave me.
On a lighter topic, Keith also explained to us the Bavarian tradition of Maypoles. Unlike in England where they are associated with dancing at springtime, the Bavarian maypoles are simply enormous, taller than most buildings and beautifully decorated. The Bavarian tradition is to steal another town’s maypole, and in order for that town to receive their maypole back, they must throw any party that the stealing town desires! We were told that once, the Munich airport rang the police to inform them that their maypole had been stolen during the night, only to receive laughter on the other end of the phone, and it came to light that the police had actually stolen the airport’s maypole!
Continuing the balance of Munich’s dark history with its more playful present, Keith also showed us the site of Hitler’s Third Reich march through Munich, including a plaque which remains there to this day, which was originally placed in order that you should stop, and salute Hitler in front of it. We were also quickly told that should any of us find it funny to perform a Hitler salute, were would immediately be arrested or fined on the spot.
We also learnt about Ocktoberfest, where a week long drinking binge of hundreds of thousands of people normally concludes in lost children, lost passports, and in particular both the English and Australian embassies having to travel to Munich in order to ensure safe passage home for the hundreds of thousands of hungover British and Australian tourists!
After concluding our tour and having further fuelled our appreciation of Munich, we ate lunch and wandered around, absorbing the scenery. I wandered off from the others for a while for some thinking time, and found a couple of violinists busking on the street and was awestruck by their skill and dexterity. For me, my few minutes watching them just further heightened the beauty of the city.
That night, we once again frequented the amazing beer hall, where Lexi and I decided that we were brave enough to attempt the standard one litre beer, instead of the rather pathetic looking, in comparison, English pint that we’d had the night before! Sadly to say, we were both defeated and failed to finish our enormous litres of beer!