Despite Europe and Germany being fully open to tourism again there are still some oddities here and there. While I didn’t need to show my vaccine card even once, all flights arriving in and departing from Germany had mask requirements- no big deal but odd when arriving in the airport to find no masks were required, additionally odd because masks were not required on any other form of transportation in Germany including cabs, trains, or light rail, but whatever weird vestiges of the pandemic remain I was just glad to be traveling internationally.
Our first evening was spent exploring the Marienplatz square, checking out the Rathaus Glockenspiel, and enjoying the beer house culture at the Hofbrauhaus. On the eve of Oktoberfest, the brass band was blasting at the world’s most famous tavern, the pretzels were warm, and there were beer lovers from all over the world. When we first found seating in the behemoth beer hall we sat next to two folks in Munich on business from London, he was originally from Hong Kong, she was from the UK. After they left, a group of Italian men sat down only one of whom spoke much English, and on our other side a group of German locals so between my very poor Italian, my very poor German, and Google translate we all shared stories and laughs, and of course a few beers. After departing from our new international friends, we headed over to the Unterfahrt jazz club, an underground club hosting both local and international musicians for over 40years. The club is everything you want a jazz club in Munich to be; dark, authentic, great for both listening and people watching. We were able to see a fantastic group from the Munich Music Academy, the Amelie Scheffels Quartet. After the jazz we were on the hunt for some late-night food, having missed the kitchen at Unterfahrt and not wanting to overindulge too early on at Hofbrauhaus. The closest place we could find with a kitchen still open happened to be a Greek restaurant. I’m not sure if we happened to walk into several bachelorette parties or if this place is consistently raucous but upon entering and asking for a table the host lifted up my cousin and carried her to a table before dancing away to go dance on another guest’s chair. The food was solid, the atmosphere was insane, all in all our first night in Munich was jam packed and eclectic.
Poor weather followed us most of our trip and our full day in Munich was no exception, while Oktoberfest was an absolute blast and something I’m thrilled I was able to experience in person, the rain put a bit of a damper on the day. The first Saturday of Oktoberfest, and every weekend of the festival are reputably crowded, but with rain, outdoor seating was limited so trying to get a beer at the world’s largest beer festival became a challenge. While you can reserve space at many of the 17 large beer tents (I use the word tent very lightly as these are huge full buildings), and 21 smaller tents, we thought just being two people we wouldn’t need to reserve a space. We wandered through about 6 tents before the rain broke enough that workers began squeegee-ing off the tables and benches in the beer gardens. Despite our inability to get a beer quickly (you need to be sitting at a table, there is no bar to saunter up to and just order for yourself) the wandering through the tents was fun, all of them featured live brass bands and people just genuinely enjoying themselves. Oktoberfest is certainly NOT for the claustrophobic though, at least not inside where people were shoulder to shoulder both at tables and in the narrow walkways between them. The midway was filled with carnival rides, games, fair foods, more beer, a brass parade (during a briefly sunny interlude), horses, and tons of people in traditional lederhosen and dirndls. For now, I’ll call it a once in a lifetime experience- until I go back that is.
We left Sunday morning from the Munich central train station for Berlin. After a few hours of reading and napping on the train we arrived , checked into our hotel and headed out to grab a bite. Our hotel was walking distance from Checkpoint Charlie and as it had begun raining again we found the nearest Irish pub to grab a quick burger and beer while making a plan for the rest of the day. We opted to grab hop-on hop-off bus tickets as it was preferable to walking in the rain and we could choose to get off and wander anytime the weather cleared up. Idid a poor job of packing for the rain, luckily my cousin not only managed to get an umbrella in her carry-on suitcase but 2 rain jackets. The bus brought us past all the tourist hot spots and we jumped out at the Brandenburg Gate (Tor), rode past the Musichall where an orchestra was playing a live show outside under a tent, and of course swung back to Checkpoint Charlie where we took typical tourist photos and I took about a hundred photos of graffiti reading “Fuck Putin.” At night we headed up to the Berlin TV tower and took in a 360 view of the city just after golden hour. Our original plan was to grab a drink at the observation deck bar while enjoying the views but there was very limited seating at the bar and after glancing at the menu, seeing the people waiting for drinks, and noting the (typically) expensive bar prices at a tourist spot, we opted to take photos, read about what was around us and then head down into the neighborhood in search of dinner and drinks. Being on and off of Wi-Fi in a strange city is always difficult, I should opt for a hotspot but I never think of it, and so finding directions to the restaurant we were hoping for…didn’t entirely work out. I navigated us past the street we were looking for and it had begun raining again, so we found ourselves in front of the river and a statue of St George and the dragon, luckily…a tavern, aptly named ‘Georgebraeu.’ We enjoyed typical Bavarian fare, large portions of Schnitzel, brats, braised pork knuckle and of course more beer. Unfortunately, we had prepared ourselves for strudel, after a long day of travel and walking in the rain but the kitchen closed before we had the opportunity to order dessert! Alas, we made up for it with crepes the following day. While it wasn’t the tavern we were looking for, it was a very happy accident and one of the best meals of the trip especially since it was a little further outside the main tourist areas and seemed to have more local flair.
We had pool reservations at the Oderberger hotel for 8pm, so we headed toward- what was very clearly the hip district that the hotel resides in and enjoyed amazing ramen at Hako Ramen. The neighborhood was filled with young people on bikes, bars and clubs, and similar restaurants featuring global cuisine and happy hours. The pool in the Oderberger was absolutely stunning but the water was MUCH colder than we anticipated so we swam a few laps and then relaxed in the sauna before venturing back out to get drinks at a local lounge where the bartender was so gracious when we offered another guest a seat that he gave us free shots of Berlin made schnapps and free waters to take home with us. Our walk back to the train then featured a jackal, yes, a jackal ran right across our paths, at first neither of us were sure of the animal we encountered and then I said "jackal?" before quickly taking it back because I momentarily thought a jackal was a bird…. Once we got on Wi-Fi back at the hotel we confirmed- a jackal was NOT a bird and it was exactly what had crossed our paths, and a weird way to end the night in a delightfully weird city.
Enjoy photos and stay tuned for part 2 of the trip: Krakow,the salt mines, and Auschwitz.