Monks, Autobahns & Silly Shmucks

Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Friday, October 23, 2009

After our hurried glimpse of Salzburg, we resumed our journey to Munich and were thrilled to be staying at the pickup/drop off hostel, so no need for walkies with packs. Such a relief and a luxury! We had a quiet relaxing day as Dani was getting sick, the smoke of Vienna still stuck in her clothes. Ended off with a relaxing game of scrabble, the board was in German, and we had a few random letter tiles of German vowels, that we discarded as we don't know how to use them, or what they sound like! We both got awesome scores, could be because we forgot the rules and made up a few of our own! Funsies!

Our walking tour the next day kicked off with a giant black guy as our guide, named 'Ozzie', turns out he's a mix of Dominican Republic, Portuguese and German. Interesting mix and his German aunt still knits his socks every year! It was interesting, considering it was free, he was a bit of a nuff nuff, constantly telling us how he was giving us more value than a paid tour, reminding us of the savings he was showing us and providing, and generally making us feel like we were at school, with regular pop quizzes along the way, demanding dates and figures for answers... Our group was small and at one stage there seemed to be a potential altercation in the makes, when he requested we all answer a question together, and one guy refused... Ozzie's response was to say "I hate guys like this..." in front of everyone. Was a tad awkward as you can imagine, but the guy loosened up, and Ozzie remained a prick...

Having said that, he was very knowledgeable and we did learn some cool stuff. For example Munich comes from the word for 'monks' and is pronounced "Munchen" in german. The story of Oktoberfest was kind of cool - the German king, Ludwig the 1st married a princess from France, called Therese and their wedding was such a celebration of two cultures meeting, and occurred in October, so he named this beautiful garden area after her, 'Theresienwiese' and since their wedding in 1810, every October, people have gathered in her gardens to celebrate and drink beer. Unfortunately he stuffed it all up, as he slept with one of the university student/dancer who studied in Munich, who later moved to the USA to escape the scandal, and changed her name to Lola Montez...yes that famous scandal!!!!

We visited the infamous 'Church of Our Lady', not completely churched out yet... where an interesting story was told; basically the architect of the church was struggling to come up with funds to complete the building, and he was approached by the Devil, who made a deal, where he would complete the building of the Church, if the designer could build it without any windows or natural light. If not, the Devil would have his soul....mwhahahahah.

The deal was made at the front of the Church, and the architect cleverly designed the building with windows hidden behind large pillars, which you cannot see if you stand at the front entry of the Church. The story goes, that when the Devil came back after the Church was completed, he saw the windows and gleefully demanded the architect's soul as he thought he had won. The architect cleverly took him back to the entry spot and explained that from this position, the windows could not be seen and that they were already there when the deal had been made, that the devil could not see them. Apparently the Devil was so angry at having been tricked that he stamped his foot, leaving a permanent mark in the marble floor, which is still visible today (see photo). We love these stories... doesn't matter if they're bullshit, it makes the places live and more memorable.

We also visited the famous Neo-Gothic Town Hall, which has the mechanical clock, complete with a Glockenspiel tower - like in Prague, on the hour, it plays a little scenario, although this one is a lot better and more detailed! It begins with King Ludwig and his French wife, watching a jousting match between a Bavarian fighter and a French fighter (have a guess who wins!), followed by a dance of the coopers (guys who made beer barrels) to show that the Black Plague had ended (when the plague occurred, people stayed in their houses to avoid catching the disease, and the way that they found out it was over, was when the barrel makers danced the traditional Bavarian dance in the streets, happy that they could resume their huh!).

We sampled freshly made Gummi bear lollies (sweets for the non Aussies) from a pharmacy and saw an interesting sign, for dog parking, apparently dogs are allowed everywhere in Munich, which we had seen, stores, restuarants etc, except they are not allowed in pharmacies, hence the dog parking sign outside the pharmacy. Also an interesting note, Munich dog owners pay for dog ownership taxes according to the aggressiveness of the dog breed, with some paying as much as 800euro a year!

Ozzie took us for lunch at the famous 'Viktualienmarkt' - a farmer's food etc market, and it was very interesting, full of everything from fresh fish and meat, to cheese, a deli with olives and pickles to die for and lots and lots of beer. Ozzie took us to a local butcher/deli in the market, where we purchased a bratwurst in a roll, smothered with yummy mustard, and Lewey partook of a special breakfast brew beer (which they actually drink in the morning....), even Dee tried it and decided it wasn't too bad as beers go.

Also saw the building that during WW2 was the parliament house, which is now student union building for uni students, interestingly, it has been deliberately left unfinished after it sustained damage during the war, as a reminder and a warning for things not to get out of hand again.

Our tour included a visit to the famous 'Hofbrauhaus', the oldest beer garden/hall in Munich, dating back to 1589!!! It is also the location of Hitler's famous event, the 'Beer Hall Putsch' - in which he led a group of Nazi brown shirts into a town meeting with Communists and others, into a revolt stating that Germany was in the grip of a National overhaul by the Nazis (when in fact, it was only his small group of followers... right at the beginning of things, 1923, long before the war). He threatened the town leaders into following him, or he would kill them and himself. He had to leave for an apparent emergency (still under debate) leaving an alcoholic fascist follower in charge... in a beer hall, full of beer! Needless to say, many leaders managed to escape and when Hitler returned, the town was surrounded by German (non Nazi) police and this lead to the Nazis marching through the town, trying to gather followers, which was successful, until they met with the police. In the clash, both Nazis and German police were killed. However Hitler ordered that only a memorial of the Nazis who died be put up, and during Nazi occupation, people were enforced by law to do the official Nazi salute when passing by this plaque. Those who refused to do so on principle, would use a different route to get to the main street and avoid passing the plaque and therefore avoid having to do the official salute. Apparently they would have plain-clothed SS waiting in this alley and if they noticed 'regulars' going down, these people would be noted and eventually sent off to concentration camps. Post WW2, the Nazi plaque was taken down, and there is now a memorial of a gold line running through the cobblestones on the road of this alley, honouring those who refused to salute the Nazi memorial - who died for their principles.

We later ended up having a beer (Lewey, not Dee) and a giant pretzel at the Hofbrahaus, apparently they have a band there in the evening who sing traditional Bavarian songs including one that goes "I'm freezing, I'm freezing, I'm freezing....", but sadly we didn't get there in the nighttime. There are many beer houses and beer gardens in Munich, quite a few with their own distinctive brew.

It was interesting to learn about Munich's history... apparently it is a very Catholic orientated city, with more than 70% of the population avid followers, hence everything is closed on Sunday... Apparently even before WW2, Bavaria (Munich) wanted to separate from the rest of Germany and become a separate entity. Even today, there is much tension between Germany and Munich, and we saw many differences between here and Berlin... much of the Nazi history is covered up and there seems to be a big push to wash over it and pretend it never happened, ie. the airstrip where the massacre during the Munich Olympics occurred (the Israeli team were killed) is now a Coco Cola factory. Also there were only a few memorials, which are small and in German, located on the ground, out of sight, you have to know what you're looking for, versus Berlin, where there were memorials everywhere... However they are very anti-Nazi, and it is illegal to do a Nazi salute, or to have a swastika anywhere.

After our walk through Munich, we grabbed some impromptu dinner at the main train station which was opposite the hostel. It was amazing! Food courts better than Chadstone shopping centre with other shops and everything! One eatery in particular took our fancy, a seafood restaurant (no schnitzel this time), where we negotiated a serve of fresh fried fish and delish potato salad to share. We saw the locals dining out on prawns and crabfish freshly cooked with various pasta salads, right before our eyes on a giant flat grill. Our mouths watering, we decided to venture out and sample some of this food, choosing the prawns ('scampi' in German, how cute!!) and peri peri flavoured pasta mix, served freshly cooked with two hunks of baguette. It was soo good, we went back again later in the week for seconds.

We decided to take a day tour to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle - which inspired Walt Disney for the official Disney castle logo... you know the one, its on before a Disney movie starts, with Tinkerbell flying around and the 'when you wish upon a star' theme playing. Anywho, our tour group was nice and small, only 6 people and the lovely Bavarian tour guide, Pete. There was us, 2 guys from Aus, one from Japan and John from California (incidentally, we now have a contact in LA). In our little mini-bus, he drove us early in the morning, through Munich and a small town called 'Rottenbuch' (we think), located along a driving path through Bavaria called the 'Romantic Road', which was lovely for Dani to experience, with a bus load full of guys. This small town has one of the oldest monasteries in Germany (its world heritage listed...), which dates back to 1073 (!!!) and the Rococo interior design dates back to the 1700's. The historical background was also evident on a number of small inns and houses in the village which had paintings on the walls.

After our quick Church visit, we were off to the site of the Castle, the views from the car were phenomenal, snow on the mountains and green hilltops. However this was only a small taste of things to come... We parked at the bottom of the mountain of which the castle is located, at this point Pete gave us 2 options, to climb the mountain via a gorge and waterfall, which involved a small hike (his words, not ours...) or to go the tourist route and walk up the main path. As you can imagine, we were all loured by the thought of nature, and chose the hike. Unfortunately we only had an hour to complete the hike, as our tour in the castle, was pre-booked and we couldn't miss it. This meant the leisurely hike we had imagined, quickly became a grueling trek complete with ice-covered steel steps and much climbing. The high altitude was hectic on the lungs and Dani (who had been lying in bed, unwell and coughing, only a few days earlier) wished she had brought her asthma pump, struggling slightly with the climb. Lewey was slightly concerned as she looked as if she was going to pass out at one point, but hey that's the fun right?!! With all our moaning aside, the views were stunning and totally worth the pain, seeing snow covered ground next to a flowing waterfall, with autumn trees completing the picture was magnificent to say the least!

Reaching the castle, both a little relieved, we embarked on the tour inside, (our first actual tour inside one of these giant beauties) and it was well worth it! The world famous castle was built by King Ludwig 2nd, who was criticized by the Bavarian public, and later removed from power, for spending the nation's cash on pretty castles. They were so concerned about his extravagant spending, that they accused him of being insane, and shipped him off to a different location and stripped him of his throne. Two days later, he was found dead, floating in a river, along with his psychiatrist. To make it even more mysterious, the coroner apparently forgot to mention in his report, two bullet holes in his chest, and the two "drownings" were considered suicides.... Ironically, just after his mysterious death, they opened the castle to the public and began making lots of money from these castles.

We learnt that the King was a friend and main patron of the composer, Richard Wagner, and as a tribute to his operatic works, Ludwig decorated all of the castle rooms with scenes from various operas, ie Tristian and Isodole. These paintings were most elaborate and very beautiful, our sweet Bavarian young female guide gave us lots of info. Ludwig was also a big fan of swans and had one room completely dedicated to them, with over 100 displayed in various means. The throne room, which sadly was never used for this purpose, as the king died before the castle was completed, interestingly had Byzantine inspired decor complete with a giant golden chandelier which was made to resemble a crown. The King's bedroom had glorious wooden sculptures - his bed canopy took carvers many years to complete and was very detailed. The bathroom was quite advanced for its time, with a flush on the toilet and a tap with running water direct from the spring in the basin. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos, as the flash damages the original paintwork, so we only have our memories as records of the magnificent castle insides.

Once the tour was done, we quickly ran down the mountain pass, dodging horses & carriages, cars and many tourists to reach the maypole in time for a much needed lunch as Dani's tummy had been grumbling for a while already! Pete took us to a small village called "Fussen" for lunch in a quaint and traditional restaurant, the town reminded us of Cesky Krumlov and we had Czech Republic pangs. The boys all ordered the farmer's special which basically had every food that the Germanic people make, including liver balls. Yeuuch. Lewey and Dani decided to go a more conservative route, with roast Schwein and grilled turkey (Dani's loving the damn turkey!) which were absolutely delish... Lewey devoured his beer and Dani tucked into her drink of 'apflschaft' which is like sparkling apple juice, but even nicer!

Our hunger sated, we explored more of the town with Pete, looking at the old architecture in awe. Our next stop was a beautiful river, and after a little pleading, he agreed to take us to the Austrian border for a photo. Thinking our glimpse of Austria was finished for the day, Pete surprised us by driving us through the Austrian Alps, on route back to Munich. The brief view we had seen on route to Salzburg were nothing in comparison to what we were about to encounter. The photos speak for themselves!

As we drove through the Alps, everything was covered in snow, and we even made a stop at a little playground area next to a gorgeous and perfectly still lake, where we all had a snowball fight (Dani discovered she needs to improve her snowball-making technique, and that she makes a very easy target!) and Dani got to play on the snow-covered swings! This was our first proper taste of serious snow and we look forward to more encounters with both fun and trepidation... that ice is slippery!

Our final stop was to a world heritage listed church, which was again another amazing sight. In the same small village as the church, we picked up some flavoured liqueur, specially recommended by Pete! One of the boys, Dave, picked up a Bavarian hat to please his German girlfriend, who we later found out was moving back to Germany, sad as they had been dating 4 years - he had a lot of thinking to do. When we later asked him to be our German translator, he informed us that after 4 years, he actually only knew one sentence, which translated as "come into my bedroom"... most amusing! Dave had also picked up a mix pack of the liqueurs (we bought one small bottle) and kindly opened them on the bus for us all to try on the ride home. Needless to say, we were all very jolly by the time we arrived back, with our faces sore from laughing! We discovered that in Munich the prostitutes have cars which they park, and lure customers inside, by putting a red light inside the car... we're waiting for Amsterdam to do the same with bikes.... heheh

One of the highlights of the long drive home (which soon became very short) was a trip on the famed 'autobahn', German super highway, where there is no speed limit, but a minimum speed limit. If you go under 60 km/hr, you get fined! During our adventure on this autobahn, our little minibus reached speeds of 170 km/hr and we covered 60 kilometres in approx 20 minutes - we should totally have these back home! It was awesome, it appeared as though the car was standing still, as Mercs and BMWs continually flew past us, the cars would have easily been exceeding 200km plus! Pete was telling us the fastest he's ever gone on the autobahn was 250km/hr... not on a tour of course!

Having enjoyed ourselves thoroughly we decided to all go out for dinner that night and meet Pete at his local pub, which he was nice enough to invite us to, to watch a soccer match between Bordeaux and Bayern Munich FC (guess who we had to support!! - Pete is a mad soccer fan!). Dinner was fun, John from USA had brought along some friends and we had a really fun time, we now have a contact in LA, and he has sweetly offered to take us around "Cali" and accompany us to a college footy game - should be interesting...

While we were at the pub, Dani decided to take the opportunity to pick Pete's brain regarding a German word that had confused her. Everywhere we had gone, particularly shopping centres, we had seen the word 'schmuck', which in Yiddish means 'penis/dickhead/idiot', and of course we were wondering what it meant in German, as we assumed the meaning could not be the same. Dani asked Pete what 'schmuck' meant and he looked at her in confusion, and asked her to spell it as obviously her pronunciation was wrong. When she spelt it, and explained what it we thought it meant, he burst out laughing and eventually explained through his giggles, that it means "jewelery", which come to think of it makes sense, as all of the shops sporting this name were jewelery stores. We had a good giggle with Pete still trying to compose himself! This was the end to a very fun day, full of laughs and beautiful scenery!

Pete also taught us that in Germany, when you clink glasses when making a toast, you say 'proost' and make sure that you look into the eyes of the person whose glass you are clinking, as apparently it is all about trust. Dave explained when he met his Bavarian girlfriend's family earlier in the month, that he did not know of this eye contact rule, and that her uncle still thinks he's dodgy! Apparently there is also the punishment for disobeying this rule, of 7 years of bad sex....

With that, we finished our look at Munich, and readied ourselves for the 13 hour-slog-busride to Paris. Better be worth it!
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