August 1 – 3, 2014
It was Swiss National Day (August 1st) and Dan and I were ready to get out of town. It wasn’t anything against being in Basel during the festivities and fireworks, but we wanted to use the three day weekend to explore some place else. We decided on München, as it was a place we wanted to visit and could easily be reached by motorcycle.
Switzerland had been experiencing a remarkably wet and cool summer so it was a pleasant surprise that Friday morning was dry and, well, dry. It was still cool, but I’d rather ride in cool weather than hot weather. Our route wasn’t well thought out but we meandered out way east, staying north along the Rhine until we got past Zurich (neither of us like to ride through Zurich – the traffic is usually horrible).
Even so, the backroads weren’t always empty
Germany is well-known for its solar power generation and riding through the countryside you can see why. Every village has its share of roof-top solar panels, something that isn’t welcome in the traditional Swiss villages I’m used to seeing. I’m torn between keeping the historic look of the rural villages as compared to the fantastic use of roof space for clean energy production.
München was much further east than I thought and in trying to avoid the traffic hub of Schaffhausen, we ended up falling further south and past Winterthur and then St Gallen. We were on the motorway, which is something that we were trying to avoid, but that’s the way it turned out. We didn’t want to get into the city too late in the day so we just zipped along the southern shore of the Bodensee and crossed the great expanse of agricultural land of Germany.
Near St Gallen
The weather was dry, but not necessarily clear
American Steel, across the pond
Dan passes a BMW with sidecar
Riding on the Autobahn isn’t always a thrilling experience…
It was about six hours after we left Basel when we pulled into München and found our room for the night. I had reserved a room at Pension Isabella, a small older establishment well north of the touristy center of town. This mean lower prices and, even better, a quiet neighborhood.
Bikes parked for the weekend
We unloaded the bikes, greeted the hostess of the Pension and prepared to walk the streets of München. We started with the U-Bahn and headed south into the old city. The weather was fantastic and the crowds were out in force. We made our way to Marienplatz, a place that looked to be close to the center of activities. Unfortunately we didn’t have a good map of the city (or any map at all, for that matter) so it was up to us to blindly wander the streets and hope that we found something interesting. We were successful, but I think that is only because München has so much to offer. Dan and I commented a couple of times how much we missed the large city tourist maps frequently posted on city corners in other places we had visited. We found no such maps in München and it was disappointing.
New Town Hall, Marienplatz
While Marienplatz was beautiful to look at, the crowds weren’t. We quickly headed down a quiet side street and literally lost ourselves on the streets of München. A few blocks later and we found an old city gate. I’m not sure which one, but we passed under its arch and into the old town. There were more people here, walking down the streets and sitting at bustling outdoor cafes. I was tempted by some ice cream, but the long line kept us walking. We took some random turns and soon found ourselves at “Viktualienmarkt”, a vast area with market stalls and small shops. Most of what we saw were butcher shops and vegetable tables but soon I found a pastry shop on a corner.
After a quick treat we continued our walk, heading around in circles while we sorted out where we were. We found some green space along Maximilianplatz but it wasn’t much, so we circled around and found the Alter Botanischer Garten, a lovely oasis of greenery surrounded by the busy city. A brass band was playing by the Park Cafe and we took a seat on one of the park benches to both enjoy the setting and to rest my feet.
Bayerisches Staatsministerium der Justiz
By now it was time to head back to our room and find something for dinner. We went to the nearest station and decided that instead of going underground, we’d take a tram so as to enjoy the scenery on our way. Murphy’s Law kicked in, as that was the one tram line that was closed for repairs. Not to leave us stranded, the MVV had made alternative arrangements for a bus, so we found our way to the stop and enjoyed the sights along the way to the hotel.
Not to expend much more energy, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant across the street from our room, the Scheidegger Restaurant. Much to our dismay, the outdoor tables were all full, and I had concerns about sitting downwind from any smokers. As we stood there debating what we should do, a man at a nearby table invited us to join him. We agreed and sat down, enjoying his (and his infant’s) company as we introduced ourselves to each other. Chris (our table host) expressed surprise, as it wasn’t typical for tourists to come to this are of the city, let alone this restaurant. He was kind enough to give some local recommendations for other places to eat while we were visiting. Chris’ wife eventually joined us for a little bit before their child got cranky and they all headed home. A little while later, just as we were finishing our own meals, an older couple stood near us looking for an open table. We offered them the now-vacant seats, which they gratefully accepted.
We took another walk, this time just around the neighborhood, and enjoyed the large clean buildings and quiet streets before packing it in for the day. We had a big day ahead of us.
That’s a long time to run a brewery
Today was museum day! We visited the boulangerie that Chris recommended to us the night before on the way towards the U-Bahn, enjoying fresh pain au chocolate and apricot croissants as we walked down the street. However, when we reached Leopoldstraße we were so impressed with how it looked that we shunned the U-Bahn and decided to walk towards the downtown area. Leopoldstraße was broad and lined with tall trees that overarched the road below. A bicycle lane, sidewalk, planters and open terraces all competed for the space in between the road and the well-kept buildings.
The recommended boulangerie
Bikes of all sizes
München has many bicycle lanes and they are well used. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t familiar with the placement of the lanes. The city put the bike lanes between the streets and the sidewalks, but they are built more so as an extension of the sidewalk. Therefore it was quite easy (too easy) to wander over into the bike lane and not even realize it until you hear an urgent bell from behind. This layout also made for awkward corners, as it wasn’t always clear where one should stand while waiting for the light yet be still out of the way of passing bicyclists. Fortunately we survived without incident.
We walked in the shade of the trees as we headed further south, passing U-Bahn stops as we enjoyed the scenery. The Siegestor (Victory Gate) came into view, easily rivaling the Arc d ’Triumph as it sat in the middle of the road. Beyond the monument there were no more trees – only long buildings that crushed the sidewalk/bike lane against the curb. We popped into the Bavarian State Library but there was controlled access to go beyond the lobby and we had to turn around without our curiosity being satisfied.
Once again we wished that we had a map. We knew that the Isar River ran in a roughly south/southwest course along the city and our current destination, the Deutsches Museum, was on an island in the river, so we kept walking south. The lack of shade and the heat radiating from the stone buildings was getting uncomfortable so I was only too glad to see the line of trees that marked the edge of the river. The water was fast and muddy and the amount of graffiti that was underwater showed just how much higher than usual the river was running.
We crossed the river on one of the many bridges that spanned it and thankfully found a sign that indicated which direction to go to reach the Deutsches Museum – and less than a kilometer away! By now I had become painfully aware of just what a poor selection my new “walking in big cities” footwear was. I had bought shoes just for the purpose of what I was doing today and I hadn’t lasted more than three hours before the blisters started and the bottoms of my feet ached. It was going to be a long day.
One more bridge to take to the Deutsches Museum and we walked through the passage to a paved courtyard. Almost no one was in line and we were inside the building in just a matter of minutes. And what a building it was! The structure itself wasn’t anything special, but the displays were really well done. Each room was set up with a specific theme and, being the Deutsches Museum, it featured German companies, inventions and processes. Massive engines were there for the touching, detailed dioramas gave a good idea of what some of the implements looked like when in use and the sheer number of items on display was almost overwhelming. So much machinery – no wonder Germany is known for their fine engines; they’ve been making them for a long time.
Room after room, each filled with its own subject matter. Dozens of detailed boat models stood under glass right alongside full-scale boats. An entire U-Boat was sliced open to show how the rooms connected, one after another, even showing the toilet with its wood grain seat. There were full-size airplanes as well as sections of an Airbus and Boeing for a sense of scale. In another room there were working waterwheels and ancient cast furnaces. Electrical transformers filled another room, while oil and gas production displays were in another. Nothing of mechanical importance was left out.
Working water wheel
Diorama of grinding wheel
We had reached our saturation point. Neither of us wanted to see anything else. Even now what we were looking at was seen through glazed eyes. We retreated out of the museum and back into the sunshine. It was lunch time. Even without a map, we knew that if we headed north we would approach the city center and therefore food. The walk was a little (lot?) longer than my pained feet wanted but we eventually found a restaurant with shaded outdoor seating. The menu offered burgers and since I’m not one to turn down beef, my choice was simple. The meal was tasty and I enjoyed watching the numerous people walk by as we enjoyed the light breeze.
Lunch at Hans im Glück
Want more? Click here for Part II