Friday night we took the train up to Munich, realizing upon our arrival that we'd barely eaten anything all day. And what better way to rest your weary feet and fill your empty stomach than to visit the world's most famous beer garden, the Hofbräuhaus? The visitor is greeted with a mural above the entrance to the beer hall proclaiming, "Durst ist schlimmer als Heimweh"--Thirst is worse than homesickness. Taking these words to heart, we elbowed through the crowd, managing to find an elusive couple of free seats at a long table and ordered sausage and beer from our lederhosen-clad server as the oompah band tooted out a tune in the corner. Soon our beers arrived in the classic Munich Maß, or one-liter beer stein. (This is actually the equivalent of only 2 German beers, but it looks much more impressive in a Maß.) Having this stereotypical yet necessary visit to the Hofbräuhaus out of the way, we were free to eat wherever we liked for the rest of the trip.
Saturday was an unusual combination of attractions, which sound bizarre when simpy listed off: the Potato Museum, followed by the Dachau concentratin camp, and finally an evening of swing dancing. I'd come across the Potato Museum as I was searching for tourist attractions in Munich; having been there briefly 5 years before, I had left with the impression that Munich was a mediocre city with no particular draw. Curious, and wanting to give Munich another chance, I found a list of classic and not-so-classic tourist attractions, including the Potato Museum. And it was free admission. Having visited the Coffee Museum last year in Zurich, I was all about the small and random museums--it had given a great historical, cultural, and artistic overview of coffee, and at the end we got all the free coffee we could drink. (N.b.: Not to be abused. Man, that was a jittery afternoon!) Would the Potato Museum give us all-you-can-eat potatoes?? Fortunately my friend was up for a little starchy adventure, and we made our way over to the world-famous Potato Museum. But wait--how can the Potato Museum be world famous, you ask...well, it was conveniently located in the same building as the Guatemalan Consulate. Need I say more?... Much like the coffee museum, we learned about the history of potatoes over the world, their uses, and their influence in diets the world over. But alas, no potato tastings!
About a half an hour outside of Munich is the Dachau concentration camp, located in the town of the same name. Dachau bears the distinction of being the only concentration camp in operation for all 12 years of the Third Reich, a model and a training ground for all others to come. It was primarily a work camp, as opposed to the extermination camps of Eastern Europe, but an estimated 25,000 prisoners are believed to have died within its walls. Our tour was informative and sensitive, and although it makes for a downer of an afternoon, I feel that a visit to a concentration camp is a must if you are in the area and have never visited one before--to honor the memory of those who suffered and learn from the past.
After Dachau we grabbed a beer--probably one of the best things you can do to detox from an afternoon like that--and then went out later that evening to see the Roaring Zucchinis, a swing band playing in a local jazz bar. It was the first time I'd been swing dancing in over a year, and it felt GOOD. I was glad to have my dance partner back, and glad that it all came rushing back quite easily. The highlight of the evening was when an 80-year-old German man--and incredible dancer who was dancing the fast songs I didn't even want to try--leaned in and said to me (in English), "You dance quite nice, baby!"
Sunday was our last day in Munich, and we decided to take a 3-hour walking tour of the downtown area with Free Tours, which is exactly what it sounds like: free tours! (They've got a series of city tours set up in quite a few major European cities, and now I am a total fan.) Our Aussie guide, overzealously dressed in lederhosen he'd spent too much on for Oktoberfest one year and then never wore again until he realized it'd be perfect for the tourists, gave amusing and comprehensive explainations of the city's history and sights--and by the time the tour was over, I was completely sold on Munich. Wondering how I escaped from Munich 5 years ago with no impressions at all, whether good or bad, I now had such an appreciation for the city and regretted I didn't have more time to spend there before going home!
Leaving Munich for Graz on Sunday afternoon, I reflected on the weekend well-spent. It was just the right amount of time with just the right--and delightfully varied--amount of activities...the perfect mini-break.
Two more spots to tick off my list.