Thankfully, day seven started a little later, so I was able to get a bit more sleep than the last few nights. After breakfast, we headed to the Augsburg Hauptbahnhof in order to catch our train to Munich. When looking at the list of incoming trains, I noticed that about half of them were running late. Most Americans think of the German train system as very precise and punctual, but in reality, there are cracks forming in Deutsche Bahn’s operations. Many Germans are very upset with how the train system is operating, and the German government is seriously looking into overhauling Deutsche Bahn’s operations. I find it interesting that the our perception is actually quite different than the reality, and I wonder how the German government’s efforts will fare in improving the train system.
The train ride was uneventful, and once in Munich, we headed towards the city center, Marienplatz. It immediately became apparent that this city is much bigger, and somewhat more touristy, than Augsburg and some of the other smaller cities. Even so, the Rathaus on Marienplatz was very beautiful, and the Glockenspiel was neat too. One noteworthy thing I saw on Marienplatz was a tent for a far-left, possibly Communist political party. Dr. Geßler noted yesterday that German politics was moving to the extremes in both directions, and it was interesting to see evidence of this in real life.
Once in Marienplatz, we began our walking tour of the city. Early on, the guide discussed the decision to rebuild the city as it was after its destruction in World War Two. I think that this was the right decision, because it gives the city a character that modern cities, like the ones in the US, simply do not have. All around, one is surrounded by German history and tradition. The market is kept traditional, the buildings are historical, and people wearing the classic Lederhosen and Dirndl abound. You could feel the German culture in the city, and that simply would not be possible if it had been built in a modern style.
Upon the conclusion of the tour, we had about four hours of free time in the city. I went with Maxi, a German student accompanying us, and some Americans to the Hofbräuhaus, because Anna, another German student who lives in Munich, said that we had to go there for the experience. Unfortunately, as a result of its fame, it is pretty touristy and expensive, but we all thought that the food was very good. I had Schweinshaxe, a traditional Bavarian pork dish, and it was excellent. Interestingly, Anna told me that it is acceptable to just eat the dish with your hands, so it was a messy meal, in contrast with most German meals, where a fork and knife are used to avoid a mess, such as at the pizza place earlier in the trip. As we paid, a cultural difference that I was unaware of before popped up. In the US, we usually pay and then leave some sort of tip after, but in Germany, you apparently just do some do some rounding while paying if you want to tip, such as saying, “Make it 17” if your meal cost 15 Euros. We Americans did it our way, confusing our waiter a little bit, but it was not a problem in the end.
We split up after lunch, with Maxi taking a couple of us to the Eisbach to watch the surfers. I thought it was really cool that one can surf in the middle of a huge city, and the English garden in general gives Munich some beautiful and much-needed green space. We also walked along Maximilianstraße and saw some incredibly expensive cars and stores. This is the most overt evidence I have seen of the wealth of southern Germany, and I did not see anything like this in Berlin when I was there three years ago. After the Eisbach and Maximilianstraße, we headed up the 300 or so steps of the tower of St. Peter’s Church to see the city from above. The view was pretty amazing, as you could see virtually the whole city as well as the Alps in the distance. I noticed how sprawling Munich is compared to most other German cities. This stems from the unwritten law that no building should be higher than the towers of the cathedral, which are 100 meters tall, so the city has had to grow out rather than up. Despite the limitations of this unwritten law, I think that it preserves the city’s historical character and thus should stay in place.
After some unsuccessful souvenir shopping, we headed back to Marienplatz to reunite before dinner. Interestingly, we saw further evidence of the polarized political climate in Germany. A group of protestors, shielded by an immense number of policemen, were demonstrating against abortion, and a crowd outside the police wall jeered at them. The heightened police presence is an obvious indicator of the volatile nature of German politics right now, since they must have been expecting violence to break out. This, while quite similar to what goes on in the US, is not what I expected in Germany, and Maxi mentioned that he had not seen anything on this scale before in terms of the police presence. It is definitely a worrying sign for Germany.
For dinner, we had burgers and fries at Hans im Glück, a German burger chain. It was good, but I would rather eat food that I cannot get in the US. The restaurant, like the Riegele WirtsHaus from earlier in the trip, sported tree trunks as decorations, which gave the interior a unique ambiance and continued to show the German green thumb. Following dinner, we went back to the train station and caught our ride back to Augsburg, ending a fun but tiring day. Overall, I really liked Munich, largely because it is steeped in German culture, which I really love. There is still much to see and do there, so I can see myself potentially returning on the free day. I expect that tomorrow will be a heavy day at Dachau, but I feel ready for it, and I am interested to see this dark part of German history with my own eyes.