The first thing that struck me in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, was how insanely crowded it was. The second – that the locals were wearing Tyrolean hats, unironically.
We all know what a traditional/stereotypical German get-up looks like, right? Lederhosen and all? And I’m going to guess that most of us associate it with Oktoberfest, Sound of Music, and cliché comedy sketches about Germans. I, for one, never would have guessed that those outfits are ever worn on a regular basis in modern times In Real Life.
Well, apparently this is EXACTLY what Bavarians wear on regular basis, in real life, because these traditional get-ups are an inextricable part of Bavarian identity.
The main thing that you need to know about Bavarians, is that they are Bavarians first, Germans second. They see it as a matter on local pride; many other Germans take it as a sign of snootiness (ah, those comments made by my own German in Rothenburb make a lot more sense now).
Bavaria is sometimes referred to as “Germany’s Texas.” Some of the reasons for such a strong regional identity: Bavaria is the largest state in Germany, making up nearly one fifth of the country; it was its own kingdom until 1918 (FUN FACT: in 1919, it became Bavarian Soviet Republic for about a month); it is (slight) majority-Catholic in a (slight) majority-Protestant country; it has distinct Alpine landscape; it is the most economically prosperous region of Germany and there’s been talk from local politicians about how Bavaria doesn’t need Germany but Germany needs Bavaria, which isn’t so distinct from the attitudes of many Texans and Catalonians, for that matter, and yes, there are even some secessionist elements in Bavaria’s political make-up.
On a more tangible, observable level, the Bavarian culture in Munich manifests itself in biergartens (beer gardens – a Munich invention), Weisswurst (white sausage) with beer for breakfast, the onion domes of its churches (between that and the whole Soviet Republic business I feel like there’s some latent kinship between Bavaria and Russia), and yes, the traditional costume, called Tracht – Lederhosen for men and Dirndl for women. As the 5 pm bell chimes on a Friday, signifying the end of a work week, Münchner put on their Lederhosen and Dirndl like it’s no big deal, and head out to the beer gardens all over town.
I didn’t have my own Dirndl (though man, was I tempted to buy one – they are SO pretty!) but that didn’t stop me from hitting up three beer gardens on the same day.
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This was my second trip to Munich, and having taken in the main sights on my first go-around a few years ago, I was ready to spend this visit chilling out and making like a local – with the help of lovely Allane from Packing My Suitcase, who is a Brazilian expat living in Munich.
Here are my assorted impressions of Bavaria’s capital on a mid-summer weekend:
- Falling in love with Munich six years ago was what put Germany on the map for me, as far as travel destinations go. On my return, the city was just as lively and beautiful as I remembered.
- It is so, so crowded during the holiday season (I am afraid to think of what it’s like during Oktoberfest). The buildings of Marienplatz, Munich’s stunning medieval central square, are barely visible through the hordes of tourists, souvenir stalls, dozens of café umbrellas, sound stage installations and tour buses passing right through. The beer garden in the main market square barely had a few free inches, let alone seats.
- Munich is expensive! I didn’t really get a sense for the prices the last time – I didn’t have a lot of time after all that sightseeing in-between connecting flights – but this time around, from restaurants to hotels to souvenirs, I had quite a sticker shock, especially after Frankfurt and its muh more affordable surroundings.
- Munich is delicious. On my first evening I opted out of going to a restaurant for dinner, instead buying several sausages, cheeses and pretzels at a high-end deli, to indulge in as many #sanctions-forbidden delicacies as possible. But the rest of the time I did eat out and it was consistently good, and even the traditional cuisine was diverse and surprising (Bavarian chanterelle ravioli, anyone?). And I bought a honey-almond pastry from the same bakery in Marienplatz as I did six years ago – aww, nostalgia! And yes, it was as good as I remembered all those years.
- Munich bike culture could rival Amsterdam’s. If it wasn’t for Allane, I probably would have gotten killed a few times over. I am much more comfortable with 2 types of roads: one for pedestrians, one for cars, and the two should never meet. Bikes are for country roads. Unfortunately for me, Moscow has gotten on the bike-wagon as of late.
- I loved the Englischer Garten – or the English Garden, Munich’s largest public park. I generally love hanging out at parks, whether in Moscow or anywhere I travel, but I don’t think all parks are created equal. Luckily, Englischer Garten was right up my alley – a bit wild, lively but not overcrowded (phew!), with a varied landscape, streams and lakes, many different nooks and crannies to explore, and a sprawling beer garden (with the famous pagoda with a live orchestra!) in the middle.
- The biggest surprise of the English Garden was Eisbach (Ice Brook) surfing area with SUPER HOT SURFERS. I’m an East Coast girl, so surfer dudes have never been my thing, but OMFG HOT GERMAN SURFERS!!! I don’t think I could have been creepier, snapping up more than 50 photos of those studs, but thankfully I wasn’t the only one. But hot, fit dudes aside – surfing in the middle of Munich? How cool is that!
Special hospitality thanks to Allane, who indulged my every Munich whim and who, in a perfect bit of timing, just published a perfect 24-hour guide to Munich.