No, unlike most travelers who want to see iconic German towns, we were not going to Bavaria, München (Munich) and Nuremberg to be exact, for the Bavarian Alps, famous castles, biergartens, wursts of all flavors and dirndl.As most tourism to Bavaria reaches peak hysteria in September and October for – yes, you guessed it – Oktoberfest, my Company was headed there in August for the Prometheus Conference. Now this isn’t some Greek mythology fan-club but an open sourced monitoring conference (if you’ve lost me here, don’t worry…just continue on). So the top technical brains from all over the world communed here to Germany’s industrial capital in peak heat wave weather to share knowledge and, of course, drink themselves into semi-oblivion on watered down German beers (which they make up for in size of beer).I was on a separate mission. I was going to visit one of my best friends, C–, in Nuremberg and finally meet one of my cousins from China, Y–, who is now currently living in München. Of course, I’d try to squeeze in as many more southern German experiences as I could as I figured Lorrach was only one small slice of southern Germany.
Bavaria is often the image tourists think of when they imagine “traditional” Germany, and incidentally, it is more conservative than the country’s liberal, northern capital, Berlin. While Berlin is an international city rich with its own history and culture, bustling today with flavors from around the world and perfectly spoken English, it isn’t exactly what you’d imagine when you think of this:
(Okay you can find this but it’s not what I’d immediately go for in Berlin. There’s schawarma after all.)
Or this and this:
So if you decide to come to Germany, my suggestion is to make a trip to Berlin for some Turkish-gone-German food and unreal coffee (it’s just too cool) and then head south to Bavaria so you can experience the full range of Germany’s culture and history.
Nuremberg, Bavaria’s second largest city behind Munich, was one of the medieval centers of the German Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact, this image of “traditional Germany” would be exploited by the Nazis and one of the reasons why Nuremberg was used in their propaganda rallies in the 1920s, 1930s and onwards through the war. Even at the end of the war, the city was one of the last strongholds of the German resistance and heavily bombed in the winter and spring of 1945. So much so that most of what you’d see in Nuremberg today is a complete rebuild of the city after the Allied bombing.
After a lovely run in 38 C temperature around Nuremberg’s walls, I cleaned up and went straight to the Dokumentationszentrum in southern Nuremberg. I’m glad the Berlin Museum of Terror prepared me for this because it was by far one of the most well-crafted and terrifying historic museums I have been to.
The storyline of the exhibit focuses around the economic, global and cultural forces that led to the Nazi’s rise and continued propaganda in Germany prior to and during the second world war. It also details Nuremberg’s involvement in the Nazi rallies and during the trials after the war. I spent hours in the museum, listening to the translated narratives on my headset. The installations are graphic, the lighting of the rooms dark and eery, and the preservation of the documents that shed light on the stories are painstakingly and magnificently preserved.
In the end of it all, you can experience first hand what it was like to step out into the rally grounds, high above and lifted on a metal terrace. It is only then that the full megalomania, frenzy of desperation and whirlwind of the times becomes less of a story of the past and a fear for the future’s reality.
After coming back to the town center, I needed some therapeutic sushi to recover and unwind from the day’s history overload and the recurring question of, “Why are so many political leaders or people who want to be political leaders sociopathic meglomanics?!”
Unfortunately, I only spent what amounted to two nights and 1 full, rainy day in Munich. After the blistering pace of tourism in Nuremberg and Berlin, I wanted nothing more than to hide indoors and read. Perhaps unfairly for this reason and because we were in Munich for a tech conference, Munich reminded me a bit of midtown New York – busy with work, young professionals oozing out of every block, and a lot of nice places for shopping.
Luckily, we had some good advice from friends who had grown up in Bavaria for expedited touring. If you wander into the town center, take the route from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz, the heart of old city Munich. You’ll come across church towers and cobble-stoned streets with the Rathhaus-Glockenspiel (busy with tourists but worth a view) chiming at 11am and 5pm an old story with 43 bells and 32 life sized figurines. You can also wander to the Englischer Garten and stroll along the river if the weather is nice (I skipped out and wandered to the closest pho restaurant instead, of which there are many delicious ones in Munich for some odd reason).
Munich is also where you’ll find the large open gardens filled with tables and a platz on every street corner where you can see women and men serving beers dressed in dirndl and lederhosen. The sheer size of these biergartens are impressive, and I can only imagine what they’ll be like during peak season for Oktoberfest.
Food & Drink
If you’re in Bavaria, you’ll need to have some traditional pork knuckle, dumpling to mop up the gravy and some sauerkraut to cleanse the palate and go with the liter of pilsner.
Biergartens that are must visits if you’re touring Munich for some classic Bavarian food and drink are (note, these have been vetted by our German friends with high tastes): Augustina Biergarten (near the main train station) and Augustina Bierhalle at Karlplatz with main food recommendations of the roast pork, suckling pig or pork knuckles. At night, you can also notice teenagers drinking on the bridge at the train station since drinking in public is completely legal in Germany, a novelty my fellow Americans usually get excited about.
You can also find incredibly tasty Asian food, including this Sichuan place linked below. Given the rainy weather, I was thrilled to have pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and some spicy, mouth numbing Sichuan hot pot. Chois Hot Pot and Lounge has been confirmed by my Chinese family living in Munich (and of course enthusiastically tested by my Company and me) to be the best Sichuan restaurant in Munich.