Rain was falling softly along the Danube, covering the town of Passau in a misty haze. It was the first time in almost a week that the sun wasn’t ablaze overhead, and although it’s rare to wish for rain when traveling, we were hoping the showers would help fill up the river’s precariously low water levels.
Herb and I were heading out on an all-day tour to Munich, a two-hour drive near Germany’s southern border in the state of Bavaria. I’m not sure if it was the gloomy weather or the long distance, but the original twenty-six who had signed on for the tour had become a group of merely ten. The plan was a visit to one of Munich’s renowned art museums, followed by a traditional Bavarian lunch and free time in the city center.
As we approached the Museum Quarter, we passed a Doric-columned city gate called Propylaea and the grand Siegestor “Victory Gate” topped with a statue of Bavaria and four lions.
Munich’s Museum Quarter, known as the Kunstareal, is is a mix of beautiful old brick buildings and sleek modern architecture. Three “Pinakotheken” galleries – Alte, Moderne and Neue – and several other museums make up the district. The Neue Pinakothek, which we were touring, features 18th and 19th century European art and an extensive Impressionist collection.
I wish I could say that it was a great tour, but in truth, it was a bit – for lack of a better word – unusual. Our museum docent didn’t seem too fond of Americans. In fact, I would go so far to say that she seemed to prefer art to people. She clearly loved her work, but lacked a respect for our time frame, going into esoteric details about the paintings and wandering off on strange tangents. At one point, she put her face next to a man in our group and asked him how he felt when she “invaded his space.” Our tour guide politely told her that we needed to move on.
Our next stop was the destination for the rest of our day in Munich: Marienplatz, the glorious old town center square and unquestionably the heart of this city. Our lunch reservations were waiting at an 18th century restaurant called Ratskeller München. Housed under the city’s New Town Hall, with its beamed ceilings and stone staircases it was a place that instantly felt like what I imagined Bavaria would look like.
Before going off on our own, our group walked around Marienplatz, taking in the festive midday atmosphere. The skies had cleared, making the morning rain in Passau a distant memory. We walked past the stunning Gothic New Town Hall and the newer-looking Old Town Hall. Our guide took us through the infamous Hofbräuhaus beer hall and garden. Oktoberfest would be starting in a week, and it was easy to understand why Marienplatz would be the place to be.
With a couple of hours to explore on our own, Herb and I headed to the Viktualienmarkt, Munich’s oldest farmers’ market. More than one hundred stalls and shops sell everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and crafts. A beer garden with wooden picnic tables and red and blue umbrellas surrounds the market, and a blue and white striped maypole stands in the center. I hadn’t thought about a maypole since my elementary school days, but in Bavaria, it’s a tradition that seems to be going strong.
The Best View in Town
It was late afternoon when we impulsively decided to climb St. Peter’s Church Tower. We came close to going for a coffee instead, but the sky was wonderfully clear, and walking up 300 steps didn’t sound too trying at the end of a long day. I must admit the thought of a lovely cappuccino kept dancing in my mind as I trudged up that circular staircase, counting steps to myself as I went. But when I reached the top, I knew we’d made the right decision.
From this vantage point, Munich stretches out far beyond the old city center, its red, gray and green roofs stacked neatly and almost geometrically. New Town Hall is an extraordinary sight across from the tower, in all its Gothic splendor. And with a zoom lens, it’s a real treat to get a detailed look at the colorful glockenspiel figures.
We walked back through Marienplatz to our group’s meeting spot in front of the National Theater. It had been one of those brimming-to-the-top travel days where the morning seems like it happened long ago. It’s a challenge to take in a city in only one day, but for some reason this brief stay in Munich felt surprisingly fulfilling.
I’ll never know what happened to the sixteen people who decided not to join the tour. But I do know that they missed out on a wonderful day. For me, the thought that I may never have another chance to return somewhere always keeps me going. Even when it may be more appealing to stay inside on a misty moody morning.