Our World Munich rides the crest of a wave

Photo of Ray Jordan

You expect lederhosen and lager in Munich. But surfing, in the middle of the 850-year-old Bavarian capital, is a surprise.

Yet you’ll find surfers on the continuous wave which rolls each day through a narrow channel on the Eisbach which runs through Munich.

Locals initially tried to keep it secret, and in fact surfing the wave was illegal but tolerated until 2010, but now this side arm of the Isar river has become mighty crowded with locals and visitors alike.

It’s easy to find at one of the entrances to Munich’s biggest park, the Englischer Garten, but if you have trouble, look for anyone carrying a surfboard along one of Munich’s streets.

Mick Fanning described it as a difficult wave so it’s not for novices and you must wait for your turn of about 30 seconds before giving someone else a go.

One young lady tried for an hour to stand for more than a second, yet each time she tumbled back and disappeared downstream, only to queue again to have another go. She may well still be there.

The Englisher Garten is also popular with nudists. It’s mainly a summer thing for obvious reasons and seems confined to older, obese men.

The local lager is legendary and much loved by the fiercely parochial Bavarians.

Oktoberfest attracts about six million visitors but if you’re not a beer lover then avoid Munich at festival time as room prices are obscene.

The other attraction which can fail to live up to the hype is the famous Hofbrauhaus. OK pop in and have a look, but really, there are better ways to spend time than eating stodgy food with beer.

Munich has plenty to offer, from restored buildings that the Allies didn’t flatten in WWII and historical landmarks, to great shopping and good wine bars.

Not far from the Hofbrauhaus is Grapes, a neat little wine bar offering excellent food and a good range of wines. It’s on Ledererstrasse.

Marienplatz is the hub of Munich but if department-store shopping doesn’t grab you, head to the Maximilianstrasse. Most of the shops down this deluxe shopping street have guards and you won’t find prices on any of the items — if you have to ask you shouldn’t be there.

All the great names are on this thoroughfare, including Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Hugo Boss, Gucci, Gianfranco Ferre and many galleries and luxury boutiques which have taken over the traditional shopping.

If you want to take in the arts then the magnificent National Theatre with its performances by the Munich Ballet might be worth booking. The theatre holds more than 2000 people and performances are sold out, so book well ahead. You might even see West Australian ballerina Kyla Moore, who has been part of this famous and prestigious company for the past seven years.

Getting around Munich is relatively easy because the church spires around the older city especially are still easily visible as reference points, thanks to a local law which decrees that no building can be taller than 99m.

The main square of Marienplatz is a good starting point for tours, sightseeing, cafes and bars.

Here you will find the New Town Hall. Bit tricky this, because the building looks a lot older than it is. It was completed at the beginning of the 20th century when Neo-Gothic architecture was in vogue. The striking building features one of Munich’s most famous attractions, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a moving display honouring the coopers (barrel makers) who died in the plague. This daily cuckoo-clock ritual is on at 11am, noon and 5pm.

The Old Town Hall, which dates from the 14th century, is on the edge of Marienplatz. During World War II the building was damaged and the spire was rebuilt with the statues of Ludwig the Bavarian and Henry the Lion, and gable design preserved.

The significance of the Old Town Hall is that its Grand Hall was where the nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivered a speech on November 9, 1938, that was the prelude for Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when he gave an order to destroy Jewish-owned businesses and attack and kill Jews. The rest is history.

Not far from Marienplatz is the Church of Our Lady, better known as the Frauenkirche. It’s an imposing landmark long considered a symbol of Munich. You can’t miss its twin towers with the distinctive top inspired by the architecture of Jerusalem. Although it was damaged during the War, the towers were never touched as the Allies used them to line up their bombing runs.

The sobering thing is that of the estimated three million bombs dropped on Munich, 1000 are believed to remain. Tread carefully.

If time is against you, a guided walking tour is an excellent way to have a look around Munich. We did two, the general historic tour around the old city and the nazi tour, which takes in some of the most significant locations associated with Hitler’s rise to power. I tried not to mention the war, but I think I got away with it. Not that it matters because Germans are very open and honest about it.

Sandeman’s offer free tours which can be booked online by downloading the app or through the website and have excellent guides in all the main languages. You basically tip them at the end and €15-20 ($23-$30) per person is about the going rate. A trip to Dachau concentration camp 16km from Munich is also worth booking.

There’s much to like about Munich, but Bavarian food is not one of them. If you must, then perhaps the Spelz Wirtshaft, established in 1264, in an alley off Marienplatz is worth a look. It’s traditional, inexpensive and friendly. But you will need to book.


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