I am sorry to say I can’t take credit for this post title; John made it up.
(Germany Trip Part 5 of 5)
I think I’ll just pick up where I left off…
Füssen and Neuschwanstein
The next morning, we saw a beautiful sunrise over the Alps from the Füssen hostel. After a quick breakfast, we set out for a morning stroll and then took a bus to see the castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886 — that’s his life span, not his reign) spent some of his childhood in the former, and built the latter as a Wagnerian fantasy world in 1869. We decided only to tour Neuschwanstein. Although the tour of the castle interior is only 30 minutes, it takes time to walk up to the castle and once you’re up there you might as well see all there is to see.
I was so proud. At the castle ticket booth, we conducted almost the entire transaction in German, except for one stumbling block — when the lady asked us what language we wanted our tour to be in. Instead of taking a romantic carriage ride or the practical shuttle, we walked up the steep path to the castle. The sign says something about it being a really long walk, but we got up there quite quickly. While waiting in the courtyard to enter the castle, I happened to look across the gorge and see a tiny bridge, Marienbrücke.
We toured Neuschwanstein with a class of American high school kids. They asked some good questions (Did Ludwig have any pets? Why did he build a fake grotto?), but I learned from the answers the guide gave and concluded that poor Ludwig was a lost soul. His castle, though, is marvelous (take an online tour here). I was dying to sing in the Singer’s Hall and that bed of his — ah! He should have been a theater designer, like the opera scene painter designer who contributed to the designs of Neuschwanstein.
When we exited the castle we headed to Marienbrücke. The bridge wouldn’t be so scary if the dang thing didn’t shake when people walk across it. Anyway, unlike the other tourists we decided to keep on walking once we had crossed it. Hiking to the top of the mountain on the other side was something I’d read about in the Rick Steve’s guide book and since he didn’t say how long it took to get to the top, my brain just made up something. Both John and I were in for a shock when we realized that it wasn’t just a quick 15 minute climb. We kept on going and going, trying to focus only on our feet and not our growling stomachs. Eventually we make it close enough to the top for a glorious view (but still not the view you see in all the pictures! They must use helicopters.) And now we can say we climbed an Alp.
View from Marienbrücke
View after our climb
We managed to scramble back down more quickly than we walked up and bought a pretzel at the first stand we found. Sated, we walked all the way down, checked out the peaceful Alpsee, and then took the bus back to Füssen. We decided that we would take an afternoon train to Munich and spent a few hours exploring the rest of Füssen. As with most places, once you go outside the few square blocks that comprise the town center, you find a completely different atmosphere. I really liked Füssen after I got to see its eerily green river, monastery, and cemetery.
We had a direct, easy ride from Füssen to the Munich Hauptbahnhof. I have never seen such a big transportation hub in my life. John describes it as being as large as NYC’s Grand Central Station and DC’s Union Station combined, with a subterranean Mall of America. I bow down to the organization and coordination of the German public transportation systems. They do things Americans can only dream of and it is a scandalous shame.
We spent 3 nights and 2 1/2 days in Munich. It was the perfect amount of time, if I may say so, and we loved our hotel: Derag Hotel Karl Theodor. I never would have found it or the discounted price without Expedia. Our room was like a small one-bedroom apartment. I think we both enjoyed staying in a residential district (Gern) because of the homey feeling and easy access to a grocery store. I honestly thought I could live there. From Gern we could walk south to lots of shops and restaurants near the Roskreuzplatz U-bahn station or take the long walk west to Nymphenburg, which we did the morning of our first full day.
To complete our Ludwig-themed tour, we went to Nymphenburg Palace in the morning to see the swans and the room where Ludwig was born. I could understand why Ludwig wanted something different from Nymphenburg. I’m a mere peasant, but even I felt smothered by all the gold and the endless (though astounding) carriages and acres of land out behind the palace. I loved the radiant Great Hall and the portraits in King Ludwig I’s (Ludwig II’s grandfather) “Gallery of Beauties.” I liked that the portraits reflected women of a variety of social classes and reflected their personalities (whether accurately or not I don’t know). Of course, I highly recommend the Marstallmuseum and the Porcelain museum. We also enjoyed the two pavilions that we visited: Amalienburg and Badenburg.
In a moment of inspiration we took a tram to the city center and walked from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz. With my usual perfect timing, we entered Marienplatz at 11:50AM. We listened to the Lyon soccer fans sing their song and then the animated clock of the Neues Rathaus began it’s little dance. By that time, we were both hungry so we headed to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch. I loved this outdoor market. John got weisswurst there twice (not in the same day, but two days in a row).
We looked at the shops around the market, including a small place dedicated to antique beer steins, and inevitably wandered our way to Hofbräuhaus. I’ll admit even I was disappointed not to see more junge fraus serving beer, but the live oom-pa band made up for it. John downed a liter dunkel and I enjoyed my half-liter radler. I guess the Hofbräuhaus always feels festive, but it was particularly lively in preparation for the Lyon-Munich football match that night.
In the afternoon, we walked to the Residenz and quickly looked around the courtyards, more so in search of a WC, not out of any historical or aesthetic interest. After a stop in a coffeehouse and a brief rest in the Hofgarten, we headed back to the hotel.
In the evening, we went to the Sendlinger Tor area, checked out the unbelievable Asamkirche, and ate at Prinz Myshkin, an exquisite, hip vegetarian restaurant. We were impressed by the fast service, but eventually realized it was because all the tables were reserved and they were hurrying to get us out of there. The evening took a dark turn at this point. John said, “Let’s get dessert somewhere else,” but after we walked about 2.5 km and across the Isar River, we came to the sober realization that all the little bakeries were closed. Lesson: Get your sweeties early.
The only things open before 10AM are churches. So we visited the magnificent Frauenkirche, with its high vaulted ceilings and gorgeous stained glass. We spent the rest of the morning at the Alte Pinakotheke. We had fun noting the popular themes to depict (Judith and Lucretia were big hits). I have to say, though, that Albrecht Durer’s depiction of Lucretia’s suicide has ruined his art for me. I recovered later in the glory of the Rubens room. I don’t think John or I had seen any of his paintings before and we both liked our first El Greco.
From the museum we walked through the bopping university district, bought sandwiches, and ate them by a fountain along with pizza eating students. I hadn’t had enough sun or lounging about so we ambled over to the Englischer Garten, which I adored. The weather was mild; I was surprised to find that one woman thought it warm enough for nude sunbathing.
Now refreshed we walked to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Although no one spoke English and there were no interpretative materials in English (and not even a map in any language!), I still loved this museum. (English speakers should definitely check out the museum website beforehand.) They had a truly fantastic and expansive collection of religious sculpture, furniture, pottery, armor, clothing, etc. If it isn’t already apparent, I love seeing objects people used in their homes, and I love sculpture, especially made from wood; this museum had plenty of both.
Exhausted by all the depictions of baby Jesus and the ornate Baroque boxes, we headed back to the Englischer Garten in search of the fabled beer garden. On our way we watched surfers riding the ways of the fast moving stream that goes through the park. I can see why the beer garden in the English Garden is so popular. It’s serene and not only can you drink beer, you can also eat ice cream, order food, and people watch.
Although we had probably done enough walking by this point, we carried on to Leopold Strasse in the Schwabing district. It was fun walking around here. We stopped for another beer and then, in an act of rebellion, ate dinner at Don Luca and had magnificent enchiladas and half priced margaritas!
Our train back to Frankfurt left at 3:00PM, so we spent the morning walking around the central city again. We had a snack near the Isartor Gate and ate lunch at the Viktualienmarkt again. Unfortunately the rococo Cuvilliés-Theater didn’t open until the afternoon, so instead we climbed the tower of Sankt Peter. With a little time left, we sat by a fountain and relaxed for a bit.
On the train I read David Lodge’s The British Museum Is Falling Down, which I highly recommend.
We got to Frankfurt around dinner time. It was good to see our friends again. We walked with them to a local beer garden where I had kirsch beer and we all shared flammkuchen and handkäse mit muszik (a sour cheese with onions).
I guess this is the end of my Germany recollections. People keep asking me what my favorite place was and I think I have an answer now: the English Garden. I loved how huge and open the park was and it wasn’t just the space, it was also the atmosphere, the people (like the surfers), the dogs, and all the beer and ice cream.
Someday I hope to visit Germany again, but to see different parts, particularly Berlin, Dresden, and cities along the Danube, like Nuremberg. I would love to see more of the very old Jewish cemeteries. I hear the oldest is in Worms. Also, it is too bad that I didn’t make it to Mainz, where I was hoping to see the Gutenberg Museum and the Museum of Ancient Seafaring. Ah well. I’m just insatiable.