Winter in Munich is not like winter in Minnesota.
Most of the time, you can barely tell the seasons have changed. People still use bikes to get around, grocers still put bins of fruit and flowers outside their shops, and there are still sidewalk tables outside cafes that a few people use.
In Nymphenburg Park, pink-and-white snowball viburnum began to bloom in late November. In the window boxes, there are still a few pansies, and tattered buds on rose bushes. Either they’re tougher than Minnesota flowers, or we haven’t had a hard freeze.
There was a cold snap at the end of November, but it coincided with the opening of the open-air Christmas markets. That’s prime time to be outside, so people were out sipping mugs of hot Glühwein with their friends and eating sausages, potato pancakes and hot roasted chestnuts outside the food stands.
Beth and Madeleine got their first eyeful of alpine wonderland when they took the train to Mittenwald, where it had snowed the day before.
Mittenwald lies in a bowl surrounded by mountains, and it was drop-dead gorgeous. The hiking paths already had been shoveled, and Madeleine took photos like crazy, from the ridge above town, the shores of Lautersee and everywhere else, exclaiming the whole time that she could barely stand so much beauty.
Torsten got his first taste of snow when he traveled to Tux, Austria, with the Munich Cross-Country Skiers meet-up group, and the next Sunday we both traveled with the group – via train, bus and jeep with chain tires – to the mountains above Reit im Winkl near the Austrian border. The Sunday after that, we skied from Bayrischzell, an easy 1 1/2-hour train ride from Munich.
The scenery at all three places was glorious, mostly in open valleys next to the picturesque alpine villages, with just a few stretches of trail through snow-flocked woods. Temperatures were way warmer than Minnesota, and not really a good fit for our waxable skis, but we had a great time.
That’s partly because it’s fun to ski with a group, and because skiing in Europe is a little more luxurious than it is in the north woods – you can take the train to the trails and there’s no need to pack a bag lunch, because you’ll be probably be eating roast pork and dumplings served on china with a glass of cold beer. And before you go home, you generally stop in a cafe for hot chocolate and a slice of cake.
In mid-December, temperatures got even warmer, up to 50. In Nymphenburg Park, people were basking in the sun on benches. On New Year’s Eve, we had to take off our jackets on a hike to the peak of Breitenstein Mountain, near Bayrischzell. From the top, we had a fantastic view of next-door Wendelstein and, in the distance, Munich.
Our first ski trip of 2018 was to Seefeld, just across the border from Mittenwald (now with only traces of snow). Seefeld will host the 2019 Nordic World Championships and is a cute little resort town, with lots of hotels, an ice-skating rink and a thermal spa.
Torsten brought his skate skis and did okay, though he took a bad fall on the ice. But the icy snow ate the wax right off Beth’s skis, making it hard for her to get much traction on the hilly course.
It turns out that, in central Europe, few skiers use waxable skis anymore – “climate change,” said Jörg at Sport Schuster, which we visited the next week to look at skin skis, which have a mohair panel in the kick zone instead of wax. Beth didn’t want to spend $400 on yet another pair of skis, but she needed new boots anyway and finally caved.
Although we would like more snow and slightly colder temperatures, we’re not missing the -20 temperatures in Minnesota. Beth likes being able to ride her bike to the gym. And right away, she was able to start using her yearly pass to Munich’s Stattreisen walking tours, which Torsten gave her for Christmas. They’re in German (therefore, great practice) and held year-round, in dozens of locations and on dozens of themes, all super-interesting.
On the first Saturday in January, we both joined a 2.5-hour tour of the neighboring Laim neighborhood, where we learned the hard way that you still get cold if you’re mostly standing around. The next Sunday, Beth bundled up and joined a tour of neighboring Neuhausen.
Now we’re waiting for the Nymphenburg Park canals to freeze – the swans are happy, though – so we can go ice-skating and maybe even learn to curl. We also wouldn’t mind some snow that sticks around for more than a few hours.
But so far, there’s nothing in sight. In fact, little pots of crocuses, hyacinths and primrose have appeared outside the food markets. We wonder what will get here first – winter or spring?