It was Easter a few weeks ago, and as usual The Belated Birthday Girl and I went away for it. Actually, it was two holidays in one: four nights in Munich, followed by one of those epic train journeys we frequently do, followed by five nights in Rome. Quite a lot was achieved in those ten days, which is why you're going to be seeing four separate bits of writing related to the trip.
The first two are already out there, and have been published on MostlyFilm. The first one is called A Grand Tour, and describes the film studio tours at Bavaria Filmstadt in Munich and Cinecittà in Rome. The second piece is the inevitable Monoglot Movie Club feature that usually comes out of any foreign travel I do: entitled Another Grand Tour, it looks at the two darkish comedy films we watched while on holiday, one in each city.
This third piece – the one you’re reading now – is the backup material for those two MostlyFilm articles, to basically draw your attention to them. It’s also where I’ll be covering all the non-film aspects of the Munich half of our journey. Nothing about Rome here, though: that’ll be in a fourth separate article, coming soon. See if you can guess why it might be separate.
Because we have a fairly relaxed schedule, we take the long way round from London to Munich. Eurostar to Paris, lunch at Terminus Nord (which turns out to be the most massively overpriced meal of the whole ten days), and then a six hour TGV ride to Munich. Unfortunately, we miss one tiny detail during our planning: England are playing France in the Six Nations that evening at the Stade de France. The Eurostar ends up rammed with rugby fans, as does every bar within walking distance of Gare du Nord, as they start tanking up for a match that isn’t due to start for another eight hours. But they're a perfectly friendly bunch, there's not a single sign of trouble, and we make it into Munich pretty much bang on time.
Our hotel is… well, that's a tricky one. When we booked it, it was called Hotel Herzog, and the website says the same thing. But when you get there, the sign refers to it as Hotel Gio, and you’ll have to squint quite hard at the front windows before you spot the Herzog name. Whatever you call it, it’s actually pretty great. For a cheapish city hotel the rooms are all rather swish, recently done up in a Mediterranean colour palette with gigantic black and white photos of Italian street scenes. Plus, as more and more hotels put wimpy notes up in the bathrooms about the ecological benefits of re-using towels, Herzog puts its money where its mouth is: tell them you don’t want your room cleaned, and they’ll give you €5 a night to spend in their bar.
Herzog is just two minutes walk away from Goetheplatz subway station, connecting you to anywhere you want to be in the city. The best transport deal you’re likely to get if you’re doing a jaunt like ours is the three-day group pass, which covers all public transport in the central area for up to five people, all for a total of €28.20. We use ours largely on the subway, but it also covers the buses and the trams – the latter are the only way to get to Bavaria Filmstadt, so it’s handy that they’re included too.
Inevitably, there’s a lot of eating and drinking involved on the trip. Let’s start at the logical beginning, i.e. breakfast. We eschew the continental at our hotel so that we can explore other diverse options. For example, our Sunday brunch needs to be a bit fancy as we're meeting up with Miki, a previously-mentioned Japanese friend of The BBG who moved to Munich a few months ago. We end up having a full-sized blowout at Café am Beethovenplatz, which is attached to the Hotel Mariandl. Their breakfast/brunch menu is startlingly comprehensive, with each of the combinations named after a composer – amusingly, the gigantic breakfast with multiple courses that would normally be labelled as ‘American’ is called the Gershwin here.
Weekday breakfasts can be a little more restrained, although it does depend on your definition of ‘restrained’. After all, the traditional pre-noon meal of the Munich resident is beer and weisswurst (boiled white sausages) accompanied by a pretzel. We end up trying this at Schneider Brauhaus – well, I say we, obviously The BBG makes do with mixed veg on toast – and it works just fine. We lose our nerve at the point of ordering and just have the non-alcoholic beer over breakfast, but we're the only people in the room doing that (they colour-code the glasses by beer type). If you’d rather have a more conventional café-style meal, then Café Weiner Platz has a large selection of pre-fabricated breakfasts to choose from, and serves them literally all day.
When it comes to dinner, most of the time we end up in places whose primary focus is on beer, and non-alcoholic is no longer an option. Lindwurmstüberl is a low-key diner just down the road from the Herzog hotel that does late food with rather fine Augustiner beers on the side: if you want to get those beers closer to source, then Augustiner Keller is a huge traditional beer hall that does solid meals along with their full range of brews, including the splendid 7.5% ABV Maximator that they brew specifically for Lent. (It’s a long story.) Near to the Filmtheater Sendlinger Tor where we saw Der Geilste Tag, there’s s'Wirtshaus am Sendlinger Tor: it feels like it might be some sort of tourist trap (the loop of city highlights playing on the TV screens might be a clue), but does decent meals and is one of the best places for guzzling one of those photogenic litre steins of beer. All of these restaurants are more accommodating to non-meat eaters than you'd stereotypically expect from Germany, with lots of vegetable options available. There's even the odd specialist joint like Prinz Myshkin, a terrific vegetarian place that offers dishes like tofu stroganoff and zucchini gratin along with your usual local brews.
There are plenty of places where you can try the Munich beer: the only one I'd suggest you avoid is the most famous one, the Hofbrauhaus. It’s a gigantic hangar full of drunk shouty people, and almost totally devoid of atmosphere – plus, the staff get really shirty when they realise you’ve just popped in for a half-litre of beer and you’re not planning to spend anything on food. To be honest, for pit stops during the day, you’re better off skipping beer and calling into one of the numerous caffs for coffee and a bun, whether it’s a chain café like Kreutzkamm, an independent one like Café Max Weber Platz, or something attached to an arty or historical venue like Villa Stuck.
Which gets us onto the arty and historical things you can do in Munich. But before I get into that, a quick rant inspired by the existence of In Munchen magazine, a widely available listings freesheet. Our time in Munich ends up being too short to really use the magazine for anything, but it's an impressively detailed publication: it has full listings for an entire fortnight's worth of the arts, plus reviews and features, and has just enough advertising to keep it financed without making it totally unreadable. If Time Out London, working under similar constraints, can’t be bothered producing a magazine to this degree of competence, why don't they just give up now and pass on the job to someone who can?
Anyway, let’s look at the things you can do for no money at all, or in one case a small fee. At some point you’ll probably end up standing in the main square of Marienplatz looking up at the town hall, and the best time to do that is around noon when the automated clock does its thing. There are many churches in the city that are worth exploring, although here's a useful tip: doing that on a big religious day like Palm Sunday, as we did, may not be such a good idea. Asamkirche has a spectacular interior which is kept behind gates most of the day: the Frauenkirche is undergoing heavy renovation and largely closed off to tourists. Peterskirche, on the other hand, has everything a tourist could possibly want from a church: lots of side chapels with fascinating relics on display, a positively cubist depiction of the Passion as the altar backdrop, and – for a couple of euro more – the option to walk up several hundred steps and enjoy the view from the top of its tower. Finally in terms of freebies, the Viktualienmarkt is open six days a week and has a huge collection of food and drink items for you to gawp at, and possibly even buy.
On the subject of views, a less exhausting – but more expensive – way of getting an elevated look at the city is from the Olympic Tower in the park constructed for the 1972 Olympics. It only takes a few minutes in a lift, and you get to see the city with various degrees of obstructions in front of you, plus – if you get bored – there’s a tiny rock museum in there too. Be warned that the revolving restaurant in the complex is an expensive affair, and likely to be closed if some bigwig decides they want a private party, so plan to eat elsewhere.
For historical artefacts in a historic location, the place to go is the Residenz Museum. It's ridiculously huge, but just follow the museum route from the leaflet and surrender to all the magnificence on display. The jaw-dropping scale of the Antiquarium is a highlight: while if you're a British visitor, be prepared to feel a bit awkward when you reach the sets of royal apartments that have all been rebuilt since the 1940s for some unspoken reason or other. The aforementioned Villa Stuck is also a fine-looking Art Nouveau building, although The BBG and I disagree over whether it’s a good idea to slap modern art installations inside some of the rooms, to recreate the shock of the new that this décor had originally. (I say yes, she says no. But when we get shooed away from some of those installations for not entirely obvious reasons, I start to side with her.)
For science and technology, the Deutsches Museum can’t be beat, even though it’s yet another Munich landmark undergoing major refurbishment. Like the Residenz it’s a massive affair, so pick the sections you want to visit with care, factoring in the time you'll spend in the world’s slowest lifts as you travel between floors. For us, the highlight is the cryptography exhibit in the computing section: because nearly two and a half years after seeing the Enigma machine in Bletchley Park, we finally get to meet its evil counterpart from the German side. It’s presented here with a full text backboard describing its history, where the final paragraph – the one which points out it was eventually cracked by Turing and co – is hilariously hidden behind the machine itself. Yeah, like that wasn't deliberate.
So, that’s Munich. Its airport may have been responsible for the destruction of my football team back in 1958, but that's probably all the more reason to have got the train there. And inevitably we get the train out again - a two-leg, eleven-hour journey via Bologna to our ultimate destination of Rome. I'll tell you more about that soon. It may involve beer.