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Travel Stories: Munich

Posted by in Travel Journals


(I traveled to Munich in the Winter of 2014, this is what I saw.)

12:12PM MCO 12/13

Passport out, random kitsch stuffed in carry on, no checked bags (this is key), and of course TSA Pre.

The effective traveler is the prepared traveler, especially when you are very, very late.

I was very, very late.

Fortunately, I was also prepared.

My lateness, which is rare since I became too old to revel in the two concourse sprint, is especially conspicuous today because my final destination is Munich, a place that abhors tardiness to such a degree that the shuttle service I pre-ordered to take me to my hotel sent me an URGENT (their emphasis, not mine) message requesting my flight details 10 days ahead of time.

In either case I managed to make it through security in 15 minutes flat, which has to be some kind of record in the usually disastrous Orlando airport.

12:30PM Runway 12/13

As I stepped onto a plane bound to Boston, a kindly flight attendant with silver hair and smart, square glasses told me, “watch your head oh tall one.” I have decided to take this as my guiding metaphor for this trip.

Oh yea, remember that “prepared traveler” thing from 15 minutes ago? It only works if you also check your boarding pass. As I was typing this in my otherwise empty row, I was greeted by an eight year old wizard, who informed me — alongside his mom — that I might have misread my paperwork.

Leave it to a wizard to upstage me when I’m trying to look cool.

1:07PM 30,000 feet up 12/13

One of the relatively few disadvantages of being tall is that large, titanium air boxes — along with some countries (looking at you Japan) — are not built to suit your needs.

This is especially notable when the person in seat in front of you decides to be the only person in the cabin to test out the recline feature on his seat.

There is a novelty postcard in here somewhere.

3:54PM BOS 12/13

Stepped off of the plane.

Read my email.

Discovered that some undisclosed mechanical difficulty has lead to my shuttle in Munich being cancelled.

Ironies stacked on top of ironies.

On the plus side, Logan has a Fudruckers, which pretty much makes up for anything.

5:05 PM Delta Lounge, BOS 12/13

I have a rather complex relationship with airport lounges. For many, a Delta Lounge is a place to go for the spectacularly easy and cheap access to an open bar.

While this is lovely, as a non-drinker, I think that people focus just a tiny bit too heavily on this, and miss the true glory of the lounge experience — where else in the entire airport are you going to find a completely empty, practically unused bathroom? When you’re on a 16 hour trip, this alone is a luxury well worth the $29.

They also have “free” food. Everyone loves free food.

6:41 PM Runway, BOS 12/14

Second leg of the trip is about to begin, sometime tomorrow morning I’ll be in Amsterdam. For now, I find myself sitting in the middle of the center row trying to learn a few words of Dutch from the safety video and wondering whether the power outlets at my feet actually work.

7:39PM Runway 12/14

Our plane was too heavy to take off, which is a surprisingly long ordeal.

10:14PM Over the Atlantic 12/14

People on planes are at least 15% more interesting than people not on planes.

It might be the oxygen deprivation, or the fact that when trapped next to a perfect stranger for eight hours, the only options you have are to be interesting or to be silent.

Tonight, I am sitting next to a MIT Finance guy named Julien, who just so happens to be writing an admissions essay for a second degree in Technology Policy.

Besides telling me about a half dozen utterly unpronounceable German places I am now incredibly excited to visit, we managed a conversation the swung between nationalism and technology, politics and Wurst.

Why? Because that’s the sort of thing you get up to when lost in the black.

8:27 AM (Subjective) Schipol Airport, Netherlands 12/14

Unconsciousness is the new consciousness.

9:01 AM (Subjective) Schipol Airport, NL 12/14

It’s warmer than I thought it would be. It’s warmer but that is more likely the result of the crush of people stacked on top of each other in the tiny, glass gate we have been herded in.

Schipol is a lovely, simple airport and more importantly still, it is unselfconsciously English, which while not surprising is a welcome discovery as my brain works to compensate for the time zone.

Fun fact: MIT makes it’s business students get business cards.

Funner fact: It should be taken as read that if you try to take a photo anywhere near a security checkpoint in Schipol, one or more polite gentlemen will appear out of nowhere to inquiry about your hobby.

9:28 AM (Subjective) Runway, Schipol 12/14

The woman next to me has a partially faded henna tattoo covering the better part of her right hand, which stands in stark contrast to just about everything else about her.

It’s spectacular, like finding an orchid in the ocean.

9:33 AM (Subjective) Runway 12/14

“This is a non-smoking flight, which means you’re not allowed to smoke at any time.”

“When leaving the airplane, high heeled shoes must be removed.”

A couple of gems from the KLM safety video.

I might be slightly delirious.

10:32 AM (Subjective) 336 MPH 12/14

From the sky, Bavaria is an emerald set in blue.

11:22AM (Subjective) S8 12/14

I’m on a train.

I’m not really sure I have a ticket for this train.

What I do have is a piece of paper with a number of German words circled by the nice women at the DB Bahn desk, and I seem to recall paying about 10 Euro 50 for this paper, but beyond that I have very little certainty.

In related news, the nice British women I mistook for some kind of official train person, who is in reality a tourist not unlike myself, is at least partially convinced I’m in the right place, which is something.

If all goes according to plan, I have about 5 stops and a bus between me and my hotel.

11:35 AM (Subjective) S8 12/14

The Bavarian country side is gorgeous and green and full of light.

In front of me is a man in a fantastic hat, having a series of what sounds to be fantastic conversations on his phone — switching fluidly between Spanish and German as he goes.

12:06 PM (Subjective) Englachalking 12/14

The good news is I made it to where I am supposed to pick up the bus. The bad news is that I have less than half a clue where that bus is.

I seem to have been deposited in a pleasant residential area. Everything cast in browns and pale yellow.

For now, I’m walking.

12:45 PM (Subjective) Sheraton Arrabellapark 12/14

Munich is lovely and quiet and charming and pretty flatly brilliant in ever way.

Next time I walk it I hope to not be carrying 20 pounds of kit.

In any case, I have arrived.

Now to very temporarily pass out.

1:19 PM (Subjective) Sheraton 12/14

A bottle of sparking water without a bottle opener, a room full of outlets where only two actually draw power. Thus far, the Sheraton is a puzzle to be solved.

2:55 PM (subjective) Richard Strauss 12/4

Bikes and dogs, dogs and bikes, Munich is a sleepy city, balanced between old world charm and the opening signs of new world construction.

All that being said, Munich’s Metro is kicking my butt. It’s painfully simple, don’t get me wrong, but knowing no German means I’m purchasing tickets at random and hoping not to be arrested.

From what I can gather, 6 euros 30 will get you a day pass for all trains going towards Feldmoching in the North, Aubing in the West, Haar in the East and Hollriegelskreuth in the South. Just under 9 Euros will get you just about anywhere else.

How these tickets work, only time will tell.

3:35 PM (Subjective) Lehel 12/14

The theme of this journal is my infinite capacity for error. I mentioned that Munich was sleepy, well, then I stepped off of the train and was struck full force with Christmas and trees and throngs of people. Here, Munich is quite spectacularly awake.

3:47 PM (Subjective) Andescher am Dom 12/14


Andescher am Dom is delicious.

Oddly, instead of coffee, tea or a mint, they offer after meal cigarettes (unless my translation is very confused).

Considering Europe’s casual relationship with the world’s favorite carcinogen, I’m surprised this isn’t more common.

4:27 PM (Subjective) Weinstrabe 12/14

I step outside again and everything changes. Again.

Now hairy beasts and horned creatures roam the streets. Kettles rattle and drums beat.

The avenues are filled with devil masks.

Devil masks and stalls selling wurst and sweets and a universe of tiny baubles.

There are children everywhere, laughter and smiling.

There’s contradiction here, glorious contradiction beautifully rendered onto the Bavarian landscape.

I think I’ve found the Christmas Market.

6:02 PM (Subjective) Kardinal-Faulhaber Str 12/14

Wandering the streets of Munich.

Cue Accordion music.

No, really.

6:26 PM (Subjective) U3 Platform 12/14

I finally learned how to use the subway tickets, apparently there is a small, unguarded stamp machine before walking onto the platform. You just push your ticket in and get a stamp.

Who checks the stamp? No one! But it seems to be the thing to do.

7:25AM (Subjective) Sheraton 12/15

Munich is like living inside of a Christmas card, complete with all the joy, warmth and mild inconvenience that being confined within a 3 by 6 sheet of heavy card stock entails.

It’s one of the most unrepentantly charming cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. It’s also a city that gives you bottles without bottle openers, and train kiosks with just enough English to make you feel like they shouldn’t be totally inscrutable.

Munich is a host so ready to think the best of its guest, that sometimes it fails to account for the fact that most of its guests will be blithering idiots.

This is in stark opposition to a place like Tokyo, that assumes that each and every one of its guests are clueless and accommodates them accordingly.

Now, to make my way to Central Station. Today I’m leaving Munich for Nuremburg.

P.S. They really, really love their dogs here.

7:50 am (Subjective) Arabellapark 12/15

Drip, drop, drip.

It’s not supposed to rain today, but that doesn’t mean it can’t try.

8:52 am (Subjective) Train to Nuremberg 12/15

My luck remains unbroken, there are usually 20 people on this tour, today there are four.

I’ve finally solved the mystery of the Munich Metro.

According to Jason, the tour guide, the reason the subway system is so confusing is because it’s managed on a spot check system. There are not turnstiles, there is hardly any oversight at all. Dated or single trip tickets should be stamped, but almost no one does.

9:06 AM (Subjective) Train to Nuremberg 12/15

Somehow Munich manages to make even the graffiti look orderly.

10:00 AM (Subjective) Train 2 to Nuremberg 12/15

This train is filled to capacity with children, school groups headed to the Nuremberg Christmas market.

It’s as loud as I’ve ever seen Bavaria. Teenagers translate with a pretty high degree of fidelity everywhere.

P.S. A much, much smarter version of me would have brought an umbrella. It’s not supposed to rain, but based on the drizzle, any rain that does happen will be freezing.

11:07 AM (Subjective) Nuremberg 12/15

I slept my way into Nuremberg.

11:35 AM (Subjective) Nuremberg 12/15

A scattering of things I learned about Nuremberg:

1. Sandstone great for building, bad for growing food. Granaries help.

2. Much of Nuremberg was destroyed during the war, apparently wood burns which didn’t bode well for the city.

3. Albrecht Dorer is from Nuremberg, and Hegel lived here.

4. (One) difference between Nuremberg and Munich is that the former accepted the Reformation.

5. There are lots of are dialects, some within 15 minutes of each other.

6. 1/5th of the world’s pencils… Nuremberg.

7. Adidas and Puma…Nuremberg.

8. Accordions and dogs! Nuremberg has dog assisted Accordion music, With a costumes to tie it all together.

9. Nuremberg’s clock will put your clock to shame, and teach you the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

10. 200 years of poverty preserved Nuremberg, while Berlin and Munich modernized.

11. Siemens is the biggest employer, go figure.

12. German towns are known for their small manufacturers, “every” town has a little cottage industry located in its outskirts.

1:52 PM (Subjective) Posthorn 12/15

I had the best lunch with an older German women and her friend from New England.

After talking about in laws, traveling alone, and international dietary habits, I learned a few things about German culture:

1. Having your hands in your lap when you eat is impolite, resting your wrist on the table is peachy.

2. There is a big difference between German and American sauerkraut (American kraut is way more sour)

3. The American instinct to ask “how are you?” can be read as impolite. In Germany and in Europe more generally, you only ask if you *really* want to know.

4. Finally, “sine bitte” is how you ask for a check.

As a bonus, bitte in German is roughly equivalent to Prego in Italian.

3:00 PM (Subjective) Nazi Rally Grounds 12/15

The Nazi Rally grounds are quite simply the most bizarre architectural feat I’ve ever witnessed. Designed more as a film set than as a practical space, the rally grounds modified, borrowed, and built over everything in it’s path to give the German people (and international audience) the illusion that the Reich had magically recreated all of the glories of western civilization in one, grand swoop.

They were building a Congress hall in the style of a Coliseum, except bigger, much bigger.

The area was abandoned completely at the beginning of the war, and now only it’s bleached bones stand as a reminder.

7:08 PM (Subjective) Central Station 12/15

Dogs, right?

7:24 PM (Subjective) Central Station 12/15

Sometimes bathrooms are a much more elaborate affair than you expect them to be, and you spend 20 minutes walking around a train station looking for one.

At least during these times Belgian Waffles often become available, so starvation isn’t typically an issue.

7:46 PM (Subjective) train to Arabellapark 12/15

You have a black leather jacket, partially shaved head and a devil may care attitude. You’re sitting on the U4 line heading towards Arabellapark and looking lovingly at an equally leather clad gentlemen with a near identical haircut, who just so happens to be talking to a lovely lady and eating a slice of pizza (pepperoni).

My question is, when is the next time you buy pizza?

It took me just under an hour to find a bathroom and eat food in Central. There is a massive bathroom and about 50 food stands there. Odds are better than average that I need sleep.

9:21 am ( Subjective) Sheraton 12/16

This morning Munich is cast in gray.

If the forecast is to be believed, there is a 30% chance of rain throughout most of the day.

This seems appropriate considering that in about an hour I’m stepping on a train to Dachau, the concentration camp that took the lives of scores of people not one century ago.

10:07 AM (Subjective) Radius Tours 12/16

There are quite a few more people here today than the double handful that showed up at the height of the Nuremberg trip, 32 (or is it 35? There is some kind of discrepancy that they’ve decided to ignore). The mood is surprisingly jovial, like we were all heading off to a West End show rather than, well, a concentration camp.

There are pockets of sobriety, but they are, by far, the exception.

Which leads me to wonder, exactly what prompts you to take an afternoon out of your vacation to visit a concentration camp? My initial theory, it’s the same reason you visit the Eiffel Tower or a particularly large ball of twine, some things need to be seen to be believed.

10:20 AM (Subjective) Train 21 12/16

Our guide today has the world’s greatest (English) accent and solid comic timing besides, “I’m going to carry this banana here so you can see where I am, and then once I’m on the train, I’m going to eat it!”

“I need a runner to come with me to help [stop the bus so we can get on], any runners out there?” A moment passes, ” What’s your name?”


“Thanks for volunteering so readily Dylan.”

10:51 AM (Subjective) Bus to Dachau 12/16

Dachau is surrounded by a strikingly normal looking residential district. I’m not sure why I expected something different, but I certainly did expect something different.

11:01 AM (Subjective) Dachau 12/16

The greatest tour guide skill is the ability to take a good head count.

11:55 PM (Subjective) Dachau Gas Chamber 12/16

Prisoners were hanged in front of the furnaces where they would be burned.

The Nazis never could seem to do anything by half measures…

1:20 PM (Subjective) Dachau Prison 12/16

Human beings have a near infinite capacity to do violence to one another.

I walk through a prison within a prison, treading on ghosts. I’m cold in my scarf and jacket and gloves. It’s impossible to imagine being here in less than a t-shirt starving, beaten, sometimes forced to stand for days or weeks at a time.

2:30 PM (Subjective) Train To Munich 12/16

What makes you visit a concentration camp? I still don’t know.

4:45 PM (Subjective) Pinakothek Der Moderne 12/16

Herre is “Men” in German.

Things you learn from almost embarrassing bathroom moments.

Also, Munich museums are enormous and they don’t like you bringing in umbrellas. Fortunately there are lockers available for two Euros. Euros you will get back upon gathering your stuff. A useful incentive for the casually forgetful.

1:33am (Subjective) Sheraton 12/17

For reason that are not entirely clear to me, I decided that the best way to to ensure I get to the airport on time is to stay up all night watching Bob Ross on mute while listening to an audiobook on George Lucas.

6:21am (Subjective) Sheraton 12/17

Jazzercize followed by a historical biopic that opens on a herd of sheep, Alpha, you never disappoint.

8:50 am (Subjective) Munich Airport 12/17

If nothing else, the fact that I made it here on time proves unequivocally that I managed to master the trains of Munich!

There is, however, quite a bit else. When I first arrived in Munich I thought it was just a charming city with slightly wonky public transit ticketing. Now I see it’s a city that balances layers of history alongside the unrepentantly modern.

Nuremberg and Dachau only served to put a finer point on this, showing two very different lenses that Germany can be viewed through — the golden age of late medieval power and the depths of 20th century human deprivation.

While not nearly as strange as some other places I’ve visited, it doesn’t seem to want to be. Instead, it embraces simplicity, practicality and comfort and invites us to ride a bike, enjoy some wurst, and maybe bring along a dog for good measure.

9:03 AM (Subjective) Munich Airport 12/17

About 20 minutes ago I was waved into the fast track lane along with a half dozen other passengers by a staff member of the major US airline I find myself on today. It made sense, the line to customs was enormous, and the flight to Atlanta was about to board.

Apparently, the customs agent didn’t see it that way, and what followed was a first for me — a shouting match between the German police and the airlines staff.

Ultimately we were all (grudgingly) let through, and the officer (grudgingly) washed his hands of the entire situation.

Yet another victory for expediency over security.

9:37 AM (Subjective) Runway 12/17

People in my section seem 10-15% more stressed out than seems reasonable based on the fact that our flight has, thus far, gone off without a hitch.