Munich Up Close – Tips from a Local

Deal Expert, Berlin
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Join us live from this year’s 184th Oktoberfest via Facebook Live on September 17 at 1 p.m. ET/7 p.m. local time in Munich.  RSVP here.

Today, I’m a Berliner by choice, but I spent the first 30 years of my life in Munich. I still travel to my old home often, but as time goes on I feel increasingly more like a tourist there — a tourist who knows his way around, that is. As such, I’d like to offer you some tips for a trip to Munich.

Weisswurst for breakfast

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Bavarian cuisine is hearty and heavy no matter what time of the day it is. The classic Bavarian breakfast consists of a hot bowl of steaming veal-and-pork sausages with sweet mustard, a crisp pretzel and a glass of cool wheat beer — a staple of Bavarian cuisine that also appears to be independent of the time of day. Traditionally, this meal is eaten before noon — the sausage is made fresh daily and without preservatives, so before refrigeration technology appeared, these sausages would go bad before nightfall. Today, eating weisswurst after noon is simply considered a faux pas. You can find the tastiest weisswurst at an old-fashioned restaurant called Gaststätte Großmarkthalle. The quaint tables, wood-paneled walls, and local regulars playing card games create an authentic Bavarian atmosphere in this Munich institution.

Munich’s gates

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If you approach Munich’s city center from the southwest, you will encounter the Sendlinger Gate. This gate, along with several of Munich’s other surviving city gates, served as an entrance into the walled city in the Middle Ages. The city wall no longer exists, so the Sendlinger Tor stands alone; however, its massive, ivy-covered brick walls give you a sense of the awesome structure that once existed. Isartor, on the other hand, stands in the middle a traffic island in the midst of the urban bustle on the Altstadtring. The juxtaposition of old and new Munich causes the gate to look a little out of place. In comparison, the Karlstor has been sandwiched between buildings since its integration into the rounded Karlsplatz at the end of the 19th century. Munich natives refer to this battlement-topped gate as “Stachus” in honor of a tavern that stood there over 250 years ago.

Snack time at the Viktualienmarkt

The Viktualienmarkt is the culinary heart of Munich, where you can find top quality meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, baked goods and herbs. Situated in the middle of the square, just steps from the tall maypole, is a cozy beer garden — the perfect place for a little break from a tour of the city. Whether you’re looking for traditional bratwurst or a trendy superfood snack, you will be able to find something to satisfy any craving at the surrounding food stands. Once you pick a snack, find a spot along the old-fashioned wooden benches to eat it. Unlike most American bars, it is perfectly acceptable to bring outside food into a Munich beer garden. That is, as long as you buy your drinks there.

Around the Odeonsplatz

At the Odeonsplatz, Munich lives up to its reputation as Germany’s capital of chic. In this central square, you will find ladies with broad hats, gentlemen with handkerchiefs in their suit jackets and Maseratis in the window display next to a caviar bar. Surrounded by the majestic backdrop of the Theatine Church, the Field Marshals’ Hall and rows of shops in the classicist style, Odeonsplatz is a playground for Munich’s well-to-do (and those who wish they were). Everything is high-class — even the business names on the store facades are etched in a gleaming gold. You can find the Travelzoo logo there, too: The deal experts in our Munich office work among truly illustrious neighbors. The best place to watch the colorful goings-on at the Odeonsplatz and Ludwigstrasse is from the terrace of a bar called Schumann’s. Owned by legendary bartender and model Charles Schumann, Schumann’s is a fashionable place to meet for a business lunch or to drink an aperitif while the sun sets.

Student life in the Maxvorstadt

A 10-minute walk along the magnificent Ludwigstraße from the Odeonsplatz will lead you to the Ludwig-Maximilian University. This school has produced some great alumni, including Hans and Sophie Scholl, of whom Munich residents are justifiably proud. The Scholls organized the resistance against Nazism, and eventually their bravery cost them their lives. Copies of the fliers they wrote to convince young people to rebel against the dictatorship have been immortalized in the square in front of the university building. When you are ready to leave the university, be sure to exit the main hall at the back. There, you will find countless restaurants and bars on Amalienstraße, Türkenstraße and Schellingstraße.

Englischer Garten: The early bird gets the worm

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The English Garden (aka Munich’s green lung) is one of the largest city parks in the world. Though incredibly beautiful, the English Garden is not as peaceful as you might think. On sunny days, half the city flocks to this green space to enjoy the weather. If you want to experience the true magic of the park, you should walk through it at sunrise, when squirrels are scurrying over the meadows and swans are gliding gently through the morning fog on the Kleinhesseloher See. If you walk along the Eisbach stream, you will eventually stumble upon a seemingly enchanted tea house. At dawn, for one weekend each month in the period from April to October, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony takes place is the tea house. If you continue along the stream, you will find yourself in a very different setting where the Eisbach’s waters roar and surfers in neoprene suits ride simulated waves.

Through the eyes of Bavaria

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For two weeks every year on the Theresienwiese, everything revolves around beer. If you’ve only visited Munich at Oktoberfest, you may have wondered what happens around here the rest of the year. The answer: not much. There is the occasional flea market or festival, but for most days of the year this place is just a big blank space in the cityscape. Watching over this blank space is Bavaria, a colossal bronze statue of a woman lifting a laurel wreath heavenwards. She personifies the state of Bavaria. In the Hall of Fame that sits below her feet, you will find busts of influential people from the region. Some of these busts include the poet Bertolt Brecht, the resistance fighter Stauffenberg and the painter Albrecht Dürer. If you are not claustrophobic and can handle climbing up a lot of steps, you should spend €3 to climb to Bavaria’s head to see a great view of the Munich skyline.

Royal splendor in Munich’s palaces

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The former splendor of the Wittelsbach dynasty can still be seen throughout Munich. One of the greatest legacies of the ruling family includes their palaces. The Residenz palace between Odeonsplatz, the Nationaltheater and the Staatskanzlei underwent many expansions during its long history and today combines stylistic elements from the Baroque to the Renaissance periods. For me, the highlight is not the palace itself, but rather its court garden, or Hofgarten. The star-shaped paths and geometrically pruned hedges and trees create a tremendous landscape. The park’s well-maintained benches offer you the perfect opportunity to take a moment and escape the city’s hustle and bustle. Nymphenburg palace in the west of the city is substantially larger than the Residenz. This “Bavarian Versailles” shows clear similarities to the architecture of French Baroque palaces. The palace park is also impressive — on the 444-acre expanse, you can experience the art of gardening in a spectacular way. Travelzoo Tip: In the glass-fronted Palmenhaus, you can enjoy coffee or a snack among tropical plants.

Have a beer before you say goodbye

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Six breweries are based in Munich: Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu and Augustiner. The last one is the oldest and enjoys cult status at all levels of Munich society. These companies, which have a sizable impact on Munich’s economy, have never relocated to the cheaper surrounding areas, and for an obvious reason — only breweries located in Munich can serve their beer at Oktoberfest. With about 2 million gallons of beer consumed there every year, it is a pretty lucrative business. Since you can drink more when you’re eating well, the breweries operate several taverns in their historical company headquarters. The world-renowned Hofbräuhaus is one. Along with fresh draft beer, you can order classic Bavarian foods like schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) or brathendl (roast chicken). The Augustiner taverns in Munich’s west end are really old-fashioned. Before your trip to Munich is over, you can have a last serving of delicious Bavarian specialties here. Tip: The portions are big, so do your best to leave some room for dessert. You won’t get a better blueberry pancake anywhere than the one they serve here.

Join us live from Munich’s Oktoberfest via Facebook on September 17, 2017 1pm ET.

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