July 13, 2010, Kings Center Hotel, Munich — From Rothenburg, we changed trains three times. Our last one was the ICE from Nurnburg to Munich (München). It doesn’t feel fast. It’s smooth and quiet, but I have to revise my thought that the ICE is no faster than our Amtrack. I asked a steward how fast we were going.
“Two hundred fifty kilometers per hour,” he replied in English. I did the math — 156 miles per hour! Was there a problem with translation?
“Excuse me,” I asked a moment later, “did you way zwei hundert fünfzig?”
“Yes,” he smiled.
Five minutes later he walked by again and said simply, “three hundred” — 188 mph!
We arrived in Munich in no time.
After another shower and nap at our hotel, we walked through the swanky pedestrian mall from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz.
There we joined a thousand other tourists and ogled the multi-story Glockenspiel — a renowned Bavarian attraction. Several times a day the bells of the clock chime and mechanical figures emerge — first trumpeters, then a blue and white Bavarian knight unseats the red and white knight of Lothringen. Then on the story below, dancers celebrate the victory. This all takes place above the entrance to the New Town Hall — “Neuerathaus” in German.
I can’t resist laughing at the inevitable comparison of a German “Rathaus” (city hall) to “rat house” in English. “Haus” in German means “house,” of course. But “Rat” means “advice” or “counsel.” So, in Germany, do they have rats in the “Rathaus”? Probably no more than we do at our City Hall.
Then we began to really enjoy Bavarian culture by visiting Biergartens — no need for translation here, I hope.
We enjoyed a “halb” (half- liter) of beer at Alter Botanishergarten, then we walked to a biergarten on Arnulfstrasse run by the Augustiner brewery. This biergarten is lined on two sides by a variety of food stands. Some small ones concentrate on one or two items — fish or Kuchen, for instance. A big operation had four or five varieties of Würst (sausage), other entrees, plus salads, several types of sauerkraut and potatoes. In the middle acre or two were tables with chairs and tables with benches.
I asked a waitress for a little cultural guidance. She explained that when you sit in chairs, you get served by someone like her. If you sit at a bench, it’s self-service and you share your table with whoever sits down with you. You can bring your own food to the benches, but you can’t bring your own beer; you have to buy Augustiner.
We sat down next to Kilian and Heike, and soon we were talking like old friends. They used to operate a biergarten in a nearby town. Kilian thought it was a good business even though it was only open part of the year. The trick, he said, is to serve good food at the benches so you have lots of people and don’t have to hire a lot of help.
Business everywhere is the same: Offer a good product and take in more than you spend.
July 14, 2010, Munich — Today we took the Circle Tour operated by Yellow Cab (I presume this is the same company that franchises taxis in the U.S..) The idea is, you buy a ticket for a day. You go around the city and you get on or off when you want to see more of one of the sights.
We went around the heart of Munich once to get oriented and then stopped for lunch at the famous Hofbräuhaus. Again, we sat at the benches. The meal was unremarkable, but we met another Australian couple. They rented a motorhome in Paris in May and had driven to Munich via Italy, Romania and Austria. Usually they stayed in little towns they found by just looking at the map.
The circle tour sounds like a good idea, but the stops are not evenly spaced. It drove us by the Deutchesmuseum, but it was a long walk from the nearest stop. We arrived only two hours before closing. This is a great museum devoted to the Industrial Revolution and German engineering. When we emerged at 5 p.m., the circle tour had stopped so we walked a couple of miles back to the hotel.
July 15, 2010, Munich — Today we toured the concentration camp at Dachau. It was horrifying and very sad.
It was full of school kids. Christi heard that touring a concentration camp is a required activity for German students. It is not apparent that they relate seriously to the mistakes of their grandparents, but it is remarkable that Germany is so committed to not sweeping the Nazi era under the rug.
For lunch we drowned our sobriety at — can you guess? — another biergarten! This one is in a park called the English Garden. Afterwards we walked along a shaded path next to a little stream — a creation of the park’s architect. It was running very fast. Teenagers in swimsuits were jumping in and being whisked away at an alarming rate. There were no lifeguards! And not a plaintiff’s lawyer in sight.
A side benefit of socialized medicine?
July 16, 2010, Frankfurt — We were here at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) just 12 days ago. Sadly, the trip is drawing to a close.
We agree with everyone else, however, that downtown Frankfurt has much less charm than Munich. For dinner, we walked across the Main river to the Sachsenhausen district and found a little restaurant and biergarten called Fichtekränzi. We sat at benches and met quite a few Germans. We stayed ’til 9 o’clock talking about politics and differences in our countries. It was another great evening and again this restaurant was recommended in the Steves’ book.
We also followed his advice and scurried home before dark. Frankfurt has very liberal laws on drug use and prostitution.
“Rick Steves’ is great,” Christi said afterwards. He had steered us right at every turn.
I’ll close by shamelessly plugging two News-Sentinel advertisers.
We used the AAA travel office in Stockton to book our airline tickets. I later set up automatic notifications of low fairs at a couple of websites but never spotted a meaningful savings.
For the rest of our trip we turned to veteran travel agent Robert Litts at L&L Travel. He hooked us up with tickets to the night night watchman’s tour and Christmas Museum in Rothenburg, a driver to take us to Dachau near Munich and all the hotels.
Bacharach and Cochem are out of the way. Many Germans we met had not even heard of them. Rick Steves recommended Weinhotelblüchertal in Cochem and Frommer’s guide recommended the Alte Thorschänke, in Cochem. Robert made all these arrangements with assured good grace and efficiency.
Every place we went we had friendly encounters with the German people. They love traveling at home and were the overwhelming majority of the tourists. In villages, not everyone speaks English. Still they tried and we scraped by thanks to a couple dozen nights on the computer with the Rocket German program.
We really hope to make another trip to Germany and it will be great if Airman Rob can come next time.