Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Yes, spring is coming so let’s get out there and see the snow one last time!

The opportunity to catch up with good friends and former business colleagues meant that Margo and I made a quick dash to Munich, Germany, where we tackled a little bit of business and we had the whole of Munich to explore. My first trip to Munich was back in early December, 1981, and as best as I can recall, it has been a place I have returned to every couple of years.

There was a time when I worked for Nixdorf Computers during the period where they manufactured their own IBM Plug Compatible Mainframes (PCMs) and this endeavor just happened to be centered in Munich. The division was called Compatible Information Systems (CIS) as I recall, although locale Nixdorf folks were often heard explaining that CIS stood for Compatible Information (to) Siemens. On arrival into Munich’s old airport, I was often greeted with snow and this was pretty much the case this time, too – snow fell a couple of times while we walked the city.  

It is hard not to be impressed with the old town of Munich. That so much exists today is a testament to the enthusiasm of the townsfolks who spent decades restoring the town to its former glory. And it is still ongoing, especially among the many cathedrals and churches that define many of the city squares. In the picture above you can see the old Town Hall – this building, so we were told, was first mentioned in dispatches back in 1310. The tall white spire adjacent to the high pitched roof of the hall was part of the very first Munich city wall and now serves as a spire that provides another element to the city’s unique vista.

The church atop this post is of the Frauenkirche that continues to serve as the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. No matter the weather – and it was windy the day we headed for this church – there is always a full house and while there is many panels of the stained glass windows missing, it’s still an awe inspiring site. But then again, it’s only one of many churches to take in while strolling down the pedestrian-only plazas that penetrate the city.

Perhaps the church with the most stunning interior was the Theatine Church of St. Cajetan – a church I regularly passed when I was working for Nixdorf out of offices a little further up the road on Leopoldstraße. However, it was until a recent trip to Munich that I actually took the steps to walk inside this amazing structure. It’s overall style is hard to communicate as it is in measure part Baroque style with an amazing façade in the Rococo style even as the towers, added much later in its history, along with the yellow coloring gave it a Mediterranean appearance and a statement that was to influence a lot of Bavaria’s love of Baroque architecture. As for the result, the stucco interior is unlike anything I have ever seen and I couldn’t help but take additional photos of this church every time I entered!

For many readers Munich, and it’s naming conventions, can be a little confusing at times as the Old Town Hall looks a lot newer than the New Town Hall. Over the centuries the Old Town Hall has been updated many times with “alterations of the façade (during the Renaissance),” so we read, and the adoption of more of a Baroque style, “the building was restored in neo-gothic style 1861-1864. In 1874 the municipality moved to the New Town Hall.” Nevertheless, it’s always a great place to visit and as you can tell, on the day we spent time in and around the Old Town Hall, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

The main square of the old town of Munich where you will find the Old Town Hall is Marienplatz. A major tourist attraction, but at this time of year it was more a gathering place for one or another political party arguing local issues as an election was coming. However, it’s hard to ignore the major building running the length of the square – the New Town Hall built in the late nineteenth century – and now cleaned and restored to all its former glory. It includes hundreds of offices but most importantly, you can ride an elevator to the top and step out onto an open air walkway that provides awesome views of all of Munich.

Spring hadn’t quite made it to Bavaria and yet, on the one very sunny day we experienced, there was a sense that spring was definitely on its way. You could see an almost velvet-like touch of green appearing on trees and there were even a couple of brave yellow-festooned trees making an early splash. However, checking out the architecture was only one attraction we enjoyed during the weekend we had to explore Munich – it was the beer and pork knuckles and yes, Bavaria style pork schnitzels that were the main attraction.

In the basement of the New Town Hall and taking up nearly all of the space, is a large rabbit-warren like restaurant called Ratskeller. As Margo began to read the menu there was going to be no question about us taking the steps that led to the Ratskeller. As we had already planned an evening out with former Nixdorf colleagues where pork knuckles and schnitzel were on the menu, we only sampled the soups – real Hungarian Goulash – and it was good!

Beer halls at night, roasted pork in all its forms by afternoon… Wrapped in winter coats and heavy shoes, it was fun to just pop into anything that caught our fancy and there were so many choices. We tried four different local brewery restaurants – Munich’s famous Hofbräuhaus, the Spatenhaus an der Oper, a restaurant run by yet another of Munich’s six major breweries, Spaten, as well as Löwenbräu (of course) and Augustiner which wasn’t hard to miss as it was directly opposite our hotel. Of the six breweries, Augustiner is the oldest and we dined in its onsite restaurant and enjoyed a late lunch – schnitzel again along with pork shoulder … 

We had hoped to make it out to the BMW museum but with the weather misbehaving as it was, we left this to the next time we visit Munich, but even so, there were days where we walked seven miles and in this respect, it reminded us of our most recent time spent in Sydney where walking seven miles became a normal routines. However, we sure did miss Sydney’s warmer weather. On the other hand, Sydney is no Munich and with as many memories as we have of Munich and its surrounds, it is always going to be tempting to think about returning to the city given any opportunity to do so – and of course, the next time it will have to be when the sun shines a little more brightly!

It wasn’t all beer and pork knuckles, mind you. As we strolled the city lanes and thoroughfares, there was also a little bit of Vienna coming through. Coffee shops and an abundance of places serving up chocolate treats meant every now and then stopping in to sample the wares. Well, perhaps not quite like Vienna, but there is something familiar about the cities that stretch between Munich and Vienna that we like a lot. Anyhow, there is nothing to apologize for when chocolate is involved!

It wasn’t all fun and games either as we did manage to catch up on business as we had planned, although even then it proved every bit as enjoyable as every other event we were caught up in – yes, it ended with a great dinner over beer and pork once again. The reference to Nixdorf and to Leopoldstraße reminded me of an exciting period in my business life where catching a flight from Sydney to Munich became almost routine. It was back in the fun days of the 1980s and it cemented in place my fondness for the city. As much as I try to avoid flying, now that Denver has direct flights to Frankfurt and seasonally to Munich as well, there is every chance we will be returning to Munich sometime in our future. Ah those chocolate treats in Munich – that’s enough to have us checking flight schedules once again!

It would be remiss of me not to mention how we managed the transfer between Frankfurt and Munich. On arrival in Fankfurt we checked into the relatively new airport Hilton Hotel. Its location cannot be beat as it sits atop a major rail transfer hub. Checking out of the Hilton meant taking a lift down to the lowest platforms where Germany’s Inter City Express (ICE) trains could speed you away to any destination in Germany you could think of and even further.

Purchasing tickets in first class meant we had table service and yes, free chocolates, and it was certainly a relaxing way to travel. And it was so quiet on these trains; unbelievable! Obviously the early morning departure left some of us wanting a little more time to catch up on our jet lag …  

However, once aboard and seated by the windows in an area where few other travelers were seated, allowed us to see a little more of Germany than on previous trips. We have flown to Munich many times and even driven a car to Munich but this is definitely the best way to travel if you have the time – and the time passes rather quickly on the high-speed ICE trains. A couple of stops and before we knew it, we were stepping onto the platform in Munich.

Perhaps best of all? A great way to put the flight of the previous day well and truly behind us and while the route we travelled to Munich took us through Stuttgart, the return trip pretty much paralleled Germany’s famous Romantic Highway (albeit just a little to the east of that road) as we passed IngolStadt and Nuremburg before intersecting it at Würzburg. Now traversing the Romantic Road may just do the trick and become the driving influence that sees us return to Germany. Who knows, you may very well read about it in an post in the near future, but until then, having unpacked and sorted through our collection of beer hall coasters, we have a lot to look back on – oh, we so love to travel!