Two of the main reasons we moved to Munich were 1) all of the fun things you can do in the city and surrounding lakes and mountains, and 2) all of the time off that people get to do them.
In two months we’ve already enjoyed four of the 13 public holidays, over Easter, May Day and Ascension Day, also Torsten’s birthday. There are another two holidays in June, and then Germans start using their six weeks of vacation.
And every week, you get a weekend. We’ve used them pretty well so far.
The first weekend after we moved in was the three-day May Day weekend. On Saturday, we took the tram to the opening of the Auer Maidult, one of three “dult” festivals on the grounds of Maria Hilf church, across the Isar River in the Au neighborhood.
There were old-fashioned carnival rides for kids with painted backdrops of gnomes and trolls, and chalet-style food stands selling cinnamon roasted almonds, Nutella crepes and cheese noodles topped with crunchy fried onions.
And there were rows of vendors selling colorful pottery, antiques, toys, spices and especially housewares; we bought some blue utensils to match our blue kitchen.
We took another tram across town to the Oktoberfest grounds, where Frühlingsfest was in its second week. It was just a carnival and reminded us of the Minnesota State Fair’s Midway — complete with Giant Slide — except the young folks were wearing lederhosen and dirndls.
On Sunday morning, we took the S-bahn to Starnberger See, a lake southwest of Munich that’s famous for its wealthy residents, including the king of Thailand, and for being the site of “Mad” King Ludwig’s mysterious death by drowning. It was a warm, sunny morning, and we could see snow-capped Alps to the south — Torsten was thrilled by his first sighting since we arrived.
We were tempted to jump onto an excursion boat that was just leaving, but our destination was the Maisinger Schlucht, a wooded ravine along a stream, and we took a roundabout path down the lake, into the woods, through the hamlet of Possenhofen and into farm fields before we finally arrived at the shady nature preserve, which was filled with young families out for a Sunday hike.
Back in Starnberg, we treated ourselves to Indian food on the patio of the Marahaja, then went down to the lake, which had become packed with day-trippers. The train home was packed, too — with one passenger toting alpine skis and still wearing ski boots, fresh from the mountains.
The next day was May Day, a public holiday that’s also the German Labor Day. We went downtown to the Viktualienmarkt, an open-air food market, to see the decorated, 100-foot Maibaum go up, but the crane seemed to be having trouble with it. So we killed some time among the tulips in Gartnerplatz and watched a Labor Day parade march by, with signs demanding “Good Pay for Good Work!” The Socialists, Communists, civil servants and even the police union were represented.
In the Marienplatz, a band called Skolka was playing, fronted by an energetic young woman who bounced around the stage and called out to the crowd between songs. Behind the band, a city sign read “We are many. We are one.” We checked back to see if the Maibaum was up, but the crowd was still waiting patiently.
The next weekend, Torsten’s parents visited. We knew we might only have one day of good weather, so we took them right into Nymphenburg Park, where Hannelore bought us all tickets to go into the four little palaces scattered around the wooded park: the 1739 Amalienburg, built for the Elector’s wife with a hall of mirrors and nooks for her hunting dogs; the 1722 Badenburg, with a basement swimming pool and banquet hall; the 1719 Pagodenburg, to which the nobles could retire for tea after playing croquet; and the 1728 Magdalenklause, a hermit’s lodge built as a ruin, with a wood-paneled chapel and a cavelike grotto studded with seashells.
We’d seen these in the park, but we’d never bothered to go in. We were glad we did. One of these days, we should go tour the big palace, too.
It was drizzling on Sunday, but Hannelore wanted to go to the English Garden, so we went to the Eisbachwelle and watched surfers take turns riding the wave of an artificial stream.
From there, we walked to the Pinokotek der Moderne, which charges only a Euro on Sundays. We all liked it a lot; it had some high-concept contemporary art, but also rooms full of 20th century German Expressionists and intriguing art from the last decade. Beth’s favorite was a large table on which 500 tiny silver sculptures were scattered — created by Japanese steel workers who were given a chocolate bar and told to eat the chocolate and then make something with the wrapper.
In the evening, we used a Groupon to go to the French restaurant La Brasserie, at the end of our block, for a four-course dinner. The food was great, but four courses may have been gilding the lily.
The next Saturday, Beth took the tram down to the Müllersches Volksbad, an ornate indoor swimming hall on the river, to meet a Street Art city walking tour — in German. She thought it would be great comprehension practice, and it was, but the street art was a little disappointing, nothing like Berlin or Melbourne. The best site turned out to be not far from our old haunts in Isarvorstadt, on a wall outside the Viehhof in the old slaughterhouse quarter.
On Sunday, we took our new bikes and joined another Social Cycling meet-up ride, this time north from the nearby Pasing train hub, past the picturesque Schloss Blutenburg on a green strip along the Würm River. Outside Dachau, we stopped at a new memorial to 4,000 Soviet soldiers executed at a training site near the infamous concentration camp.
Our lunch stop was in town, up cobblestone streets to a traditional restaurant. This time, Beth didn’t think twice about getting a beer. But not long afterward, after one too many wrong turns, she dropped out and took the train home — she’d gone for a long run the day before, and her legs just didn’t have enough juice. Torsten dropped out later, arriving home just before the skies opened up and pelted hail.
The next Saturday, Beth took the bus to the Pflanzen-Kölle garden center, coming home with shade plants for our patio, and then we rode our bikes to Schwabing, the university district, for the Streetlife Festival.
It felt a lot like Grand Old Days in St. Paul, except that, although lots of people were walking around with glass mugs of beer, nobody was loud or drunk. We picked up some handy bike-route maps from the local bike club and watched a fun “fashion” show of used clothes from Diakonia, the local Goodwill.
On Sunday, we finally made it to the mountains! Beth has been following the Toytown forum for expats and scored the last two spots on a hiking trip to Wendelstein, a mountain not far from the Austrian border.
It was a beautiful day, and the train was packed with other hikers, many in groups like ours, which included four Americans (including Torsten), an Estonian, an Aussie, an Indian, a Serb and our organizer, who had a British accent but, to our surprise, turned out to be born and raised in Munich.
Our knees weren’t prepared for the steep ascent or the pace; we barely had time to take in the sweeping views. There was a stone chapel and a restaurant at the top, where we dug into plates of schweinebraten, dumplings, sauerkraut and, for Torsten, a fat slice of cheesecake. Beth, of course, had a beer.
We had even less time for views on the way down, since we were watching our feet amid loose rock. It was a six-hour, three-ibuprofen hike with 1,060 meters (3,478 feet) of elevation change; next time, we’ll probably go on our own and take our time.