Right in the heart of Germany, 500 kilometres from the nearest bit of coast (two countries away in Venice), is an unlikely surfers paradise, but that’s Munich.
Capital of Bavaria, and the most easterly point of our journey, it was only a two hour hop north from Walchensee, a tiny move by our measurements, and I’ll admit it was nice to be the first on camp and not the last for once. The campsite was our first surprise; leaving the autobahn we drove our way through a very suburban suburb only to go under the railway, around a corner, past a cornfield and find a tiny lake, tucked away in the trees, and our campsite next to it. And when a thunderstorm rolled overhead mere minutes after we’d finished putting up the tent using all the tent pegs and guy lines, just because we could, we felt right at home.
The train into the centre of Munich took around half an hour from a station five minutes from where we were camping, and just about made Pip’s day. It’s not a particularly beautiful train ride, but it does deliver you right to the centre of Munich without spotting any spoilers out of the window, and when we climbed up the escalator and arrived into the centre of the Marienplatz into glorious sunshine it was perfect.
Marienplatz is the site of the New Town Hall (a mere 108 years old) whose Rathaus-Glockenspiel chimes an entire 15 minute tune on 45 bells complete with 32 life size wooden figures along the lines of the largest cuckoo clock you’ve ever seen. It is incredible, just when you think it’s finished, another bit starts moving and the bells start up again and to be honest, it knocks Big Ben into a cocked hat. The girls were transfixed; they’d been hankering after a cuckoo clock since the Black Forest, or at the very least one of those thermometers with the little man and woman that go in and out if it’s going to rain, and this was more than they could ever have imagined. And as for little Pip Squeak, perched up on my back in the sling, he started clapping and loved it too much to stop, much to the amusement of a little old Greek lady who came over to tell us how much she’d loved watching him watching the clock. It took us a little while to find a common-ish language and I’m not sure whether she’d lost her husband or her child but she’d been sad and he had cheered her up, and for that I will always be thankful.
Munich is exactly how you think a southern German city should look; little short cut alleys, big wide streets with tall tiled buildings on either side and while a lot of the buildings are really from the 50’s, it was no surprise to learn that they were all reconstructed in exactly the same pattern as their predecessors, including the Frauenkirche, the Munich Cathedral whose towers were sadly shrouded in tarpaulin as part of a renovation project, but whose cool interior was a welcome break from the sunshine, and whose windows were quietly stunning.
If you wanted anything made of wood, there was a shop for it, a beautiful candle shop next to the cathedral that was hard to resist, and a tiny little shop tucked into the middle of one of the main roads that simply sold wool felt. I’m guessing perhaps it plays an important part in German national dress but they had every colour under the rainbow and some, and it’s a miracle I escaped unburdened by a beautiful snippet. And speaking of national dress, the first night at camp we headed out to the supermarket and found that half of Munich was all dressed up in dirndls and lederhosen and heading for the train. I am still secretly quite gutted that the English don’t have a national dress; I can remember reading a book when I was little with pictures of the little scottish and irish girls in kilts and little Welsh girls in stovepipe hats and wondering where mine was. Surely we could have had something, although as I’d draw the line at a morris dancer perhaps it’s for the best.
The Germans have got one of the prettiest options, at least for the girls, and while Kitty, Elma and I window shopped and debated patterns and colours, I suspect John and Pip were rather glad to have escaped Lederhosen, especially the calf warmers, which look like nothing so much as the top of socks where the moths have got to the bottom. I’m sure there’s a terribly practical purpose to the bare feel, warm calves thing, but it’s possibly not strictly necessary in central Munich.
But back to that surfing. Heading away from the city centre to the north we arrived at the English Gardens, which make Hyde Park look like a village green in comparison. The gardens are enormous, stretching all the way up to the edge of the city and you could spend an entire day there without ever exploring it all. We were headed for the all important play park, when we spotted a crowd of people standing on the banks of the Eisbach, the little artificial stream running through the gardens. It’s very pretty, and very fast flowing as water is pumped up and into the stream to keep it moving, and just as the stream enters the gardens, the pumping mechanism makes an artificial wave.
It’s just big enough for one person to surf it for a few seconds until they either fall off (most of them) or jump off to let someone else have a go. The water carried the dumped surfer a little way down stream and it’s only chest deep so they hop out and head up the bank to have another go. No one stays up for more than a few seconds but it looked like so much fun and was completely mesmerising to watch.
If you’re ever in Munich I’d put it on a must-see list, but it’s only the tiniest part of the gardens as a whole. We found the playground, and a spot for our picnic, and then meandered back along the riverbank, around the parliament, and back into town to hunt a lion.
Of the non moving variety; the Munich lions guard the Residenz and it’s considered a good luck charm to give them a quick pat as you walk past. In fact we only noticed them because people were walking down the street and reaching out to touch them almost without thinking about it, and certainly without slowing down, and we headed over to investigate. Technically these are no longer the 400 year old originals because they were getting rubbed out, but by the look of the muzzle, the luck seemed to have stayed with them.
A good omen from a lovely city, and somewhere I’m sure we will be visiting again.
If you’d like to read some of our other postcards home from this year’s adventures check out: