The first time I went to Munich was during Oktoberfest, 2012. We were hoping for a fun weekend of German beer (wine for me), food and fun times together. What ended up happening was an overnight hospital visit for my husband, and then my brother and I literally had to sneak him out of said hospital. Crazy stuff. I know what you’re thinking – too much beer? Nope. My husband’s malady was wholly unrelated to alcohol consumption. Needless to say, it wasn’t the weekend we had planned. We needed a do-over. So for Thanksgiving we took advantage of the long weekend and hopped on a train to Munich. There were 3 things we wanted to do this time – the Christmas markets, Dachau, and a walking tour.
We arrived in Munich in the late afternoon, and after a short nap we realized we were starving. One thing (and the main thing, as far as I’m concerned) that German Christmas markets are good for is food. I mean, they’ve got it down. There is almost always meat roasting on a stick, which is my husband’s favorite thing. There is also always some form of pizza, which is my favorite thing. So we hopped on the Metro and made our way to the market at Marienplatz, which is an impressive sight. We came up the escalator from the underground and found ourselves amidst rows and rows of lighted wooden booths selling handcrafted gifts and smells of the artisanal food cooking along the way. Right as we started walking, the snow started coming down in giant, soft flakes. It kind of felt like a movie, it was all so very enchanting.
We found grilled salmon, cooking on a plank over a flaming pit. Once the husband saw it he had to try it, so we ordered a salmon sandwich (kind of like a lobster roll) and a baked potato with sour cream and dill. They had what looked like actual russet potatoes! The only ones I can find in my area are way too small, so I was overjoyed at the sight of a real potato, and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t try the salmon but my husband reported that it was delicious. But we weren’t done – we also tried a thick version of flammkuchen, a European cousin to the pizza. Usually the crust is as thin as a cracker, but this time it was a thick, wheat crust instead, and it was topped with traditional flammkuchen toppings of crème fraiche, bacon and onions. I could have eaten 5 of them, it was so, so good! Crunchy on the bottom, chewy on top…yum! And of course, dessert consisted of a Nutella-filled crepe, which hit the spot.
But there’s something else German Christmas markets have, which you cannot miss if you go to one. It’s called Glühwein, which is basically mulled wine with spices. When you’re freezing, as one often is in Germany in the winter, they keep you going. But in Bavaria they have another version of Glühwein, called Feuerzangenbowle, a.k.a. Fire Punch. Oh my goodness, it’s amazing! Basically, it’s mulled wine with melted sugar that has been soaked in rum. The reason they call it Fire Punch is because the sugar is suspended over the punch bowl, drenched in rum, and then lit on fire. As the sugar melts it drips down into the mulled wine. It’s quite a show, and if you ever see it you should try it. Below you can see pictures of the booth where we tried it, and also a recipe video I found on Youtube. It makes me laugh at 2:08 when he warns you not to make it in your punch bowl. “It will explode on you.” So serious!
The following day we made our way via train out to Dachau, which was a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation and is now open as a memorial. I’d never been to one before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, I’ve seen pictures, read the stories, etc. and it always makes me feel deeply saddened. It was such a dark time in history, yet I think it is also important to remember it in honor of the victims and survivors. I wanted to visit at least one former camp during our time in Europe, and this was a good opportunity. Being there the day after Thanksgiving put things into perspective. I was especially thankful for the many freedoms I have now that others had so abruptly taken away from them.
Once we arrived at Dachau we signed up for an English guided tour, which only cost €3 per person. It lasted about 2 ½ hours and took us through all of the camp. Our guide, Steve, was very knowledgeable. We learned a great deal about what daily life at Dachau was like for the thousands of prisoners there. For me, being in the rooms and walking the grounds where so many people had suffered made their stories more real to me. Nothing I could write here on this blog could begin to capture the experiences of the prisoners, so I won’t even try. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to read a book, search online, visit a memorial – there have been many survivors who have been gracious enough to share their memories in their own words.
The most sinister of all buildings was this one below, which housed a crematorium and a gas chamber. Rumor has it that this particular gas chamber was never used, but rumor also has it that it was used a few times. Nobody really knows. It was designed so people thought they were walking into a shower room. What a twisted deception.
I also thought it was weird that people have houses that back right up to the gate of the camp next to what was once the prison. It would be a little strange to peer out my bedroom window onto a concentration camp. I don’t think the houses were there while the camp was operating, but still.
Back in Munich that evening we went to Haxnbauer and had the roasted pork knuckle, potato salad and cucumber salad for dinner. Best potato salad. Of my life. Mom, forgive me, but I think you’d understand if you tried it. Dessert was apple fritters, soaked in rum and then lit on fire. I think in Bavaria food consists of roasted meat and fiery things.
On our final day we took a Third Reich walking tour through the streets of Munich. Since Munich is where Hitler’s rise to power began, there was a lot to see. It was interesting, but included a lot of ugly Nazi architecture. Everything was boxy and intimidating. I highly recommend walking tours in big cities. Sure, you can get on the big bus that takes you around, but there’s just something so intimate about putting your feet on the ground and feeling a city. You get to look up and be surprised sometimes, make eye contact with locals, and hear the sounds of the street musicians…it gives you a good idea of what life there might be like. Lots of times they are free, and you just tip the tour guide what you think his or her time was worth. On this particular tour there was a fee, but it was a specialized one so we didn’t mind paying. If you google “Free Walking Tour (name of city)” you can usually find them easily.
For dinner that evening we went to the Augustiner beer hall, and it was awesome. We were accompanied by an Aussie whom we had met on the walking tour, and we all enjoyed an evening of warm and filling food after being outside all day. (And beer and wine, of course.) I ordered the special, which was veal meatballs, spaetzle and salad and it did not disappoint. We didn’t take pictures, but let’s be honest, veal meatballs just don’t look that great on a plate anyway. Trust me, if you go to Augustiner and they have them on the menu, order them.
This trip to Munich was a resounding success, so much better than our last one! I’m really glad we got a chance to do it over.