Monday, 15 August 2016
"Teutonic Chronicles" 5: München and Tegernsee (again), Salzburg, Schloss Neuschwanstein
Leaving Heidelberg behind me, my next destination was once more Bavaria's charming capital - this time not as tourist, but as - well - inhabitant. I'm here in Munich until August the 26th (around four weeks), taking part in another Goethe-Institute course and generally enjoying weather that is probably better than at home. One particular highlight to this course is the afternoon classes, which leaves the mornings free for exploring the city - as are the evenings and weekends. The GI (as they are affectionately known) also put on a good leisure programme of which, as you'll read, I've made good use.
Munich is a wonderful city to live in. I could definitely live here full-time, I think. The centre is actually quite small and enclosed, and most attractions or tourist spots in the middle can be reached by foot in 20-30 mins; if not, the underground system is clean, modern, spacious and efficient (and inexplicably boasts TVs which pour book reviews, film trailers, inspirational quotes, weather, news and random facts into your brain as you commute; a bit like those old "Poetry on the Tube" things in London but far livelier). It is a very elegant city, one which displays its relative wealth fairly openly; not ostentatiously, as one single person devoid of taste might do, but in an elegant melange of classical, baroque and medieval buildings. The twin onion domes of the Frauenkirche - Munich's Catholic cathedral, dedicated to Mary - are particularly dominant in the skyline, as is the towering, craggy Rathaus. But in truth there are such delightful churches, palaces, gardens and theatres on most corners in the Old Town; the Englischer Garten seems to go on and on and one can forget that one is in a city at all. My parents and brother came to stay for four nights in the middle of August and they were soon singing Munich's praises too; we had a wonderful stay, as I got to show them some of the highlights (including a second trip to that gorgeous Alpine lake, Tegernsee - with probably even better weather than last time, and a particularly enjoyable wander through the woods on one of the mountainsides). I think they left satisfied that I'm in one of Europe's nicest cities and that by now I'm used to the place enough that I won't get hopelessly lost and spend the night in a police station or something.
I've also - inevitably - learned quite a bit about Bavarian cuisine, one of the most popular aspects of wisdom I imparted to my family when they came to visit. The Hofbräuhaus quickly became a firm favourite of mine, with its almost-geared-towards-tourists "classic Bavarian beer hall" feel. Beer comes in a Maß or 1-litre mug, which is a test of your wrist muscles if ever there was one. Sausages are prominent, though as varied as the beer - and usually accompanied by sauerkraut and mustard. Potato salad, dumplings and bread of various kinds (often salty but sometimes spiced) also feature regularly, as does Spätzle - a sort of egg-noodle thing that sits alongside meat and sauce. A vast, cavernous upper room is the particular highlight, with a painted ceiling of various Bavarian symbols and coats of arms, lined by traditional flags and with a raised stage as the centre-point, on which a traditional band plays loud brass music while patrons eat. Sometimes the music is accompanied by dancing (rather good) or the cracking of a whip (extraordinary). There's also a great exhibition about the history of the Hofbräuhaus, which has stood in the same spot since 1589 (though was not open to the public all that time; for a while, it was only the king and company who could savour its beers).
But enough about food! Sometimes I do actually get out and about - such as the time the GI took a trip of students to Salzburg, Mozart's old haunt. It's not a huge city but it has an interesting history and a number of stunning buildings. I didn't get the chance to visit the Festung which towers over the city but got the chance to enjoy a classic Austrian Schnitzel (damn I'm not supposed to be talking about food), an Eisschokolade (damnit), and buy a few Mozart-Kugeln for the family (oh for goodness' sake). Of course the city is pretty Mozart-obsessed, with street musicians on most corners, huge and regular concerts, statues and shrines to him in the form of his Geburtshaus, and tinny music-boxes echoing with his tunes in every tourist-y shop. Oh, and one more thing: whoever decided to launch a shop that entirely sold merchandise with the slogan "NO KANGAROOS IN AUSTRIA" was a genius. (Though, having said that...)
The final GI trip to mention here was a visit to Schloss Neuschwanstein in the very south of Bavaria - practically on the border with Austria. It's a bit of a trek, but the castle really is phenomenal when you finally arrive there; a more Disneyish castle you couldn't possibly ask for (and, indeed, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was memorably filmed here). Neuschwanstein was the dream of one King Ludwig II - the 'Mad King' to those who knew him well - and this guy really didn't pull any punches when it came to his requests. Built in 1869, the entire thing is patterned on medieval castles of the 14th and 15th centuries, with towering turrets and a frankly astonishing throne room and a plethora of chandeliers, some of which held more than 100 candles. Ludwig's love of Wagner's operas and the background of German mythology at which such stories gestured led to him commissioning various paintings of medieval German characters from epics like Parzival and the Nibelungenlied - both of which I've been studying at Oxford, so that was quite interesting. There's also a rather stunning white bridge crossing a sort of mini-gorge behind the castle, which was apparently some kind of wedding present from Ludwig to Queen Marie. The views from the castle, though, are really what draws the tourists here: one looks out from this mad king's private study, or bedroom, and sees a vast expanse of snow-topped mountains - the Alps - nestled around a sun-kissed lake. It's absolutely breathtaking.
On which note - as I hardly think I can top it - I'll round this one off. Enjoy the view.