Penultimate Packing in Munich

sehnsucht n. The inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what.

For once in the past few weeks, I did not have a single problem getting into Munich.  Maybe that’s because it was only a single one and a half hour bus ride from Salzburg to the city and my hostel was only a single tram ride from there that required little to no navigation.  All in all, it was the simplest stint of travel I’ve had in a while.  That had to bode well for Munich, right?

The hostel I was staying in was not so much a hostel as a weird hostel/camping ground hybrid.  The Tent, as it was called, was aptly named considering it was essentially just one giant tent with somewhere around 100 bunk beds in it, along with a couple other smaller tents filled with people sleeping on the ground, and a big camping space where you could pitch a tent.  I didn’t really know what to expect of the place.  From my perspective, it could either be a really unique and cool experience, or one straight out of hell.  Only time would tell.  But so far, everything seemed pretty cool.  Along with the all the accommodation space, the hostel was also equipped with surprising nice bathroom facilities, a complete kitchen with a large basket of free food for me to raid, a really nice lounge cabin with a piano an front porch, and it’s own little biergarten, or beer garden (because the two are so different), which are extremely important features of Munich.

The only downside of the hostel was that the wifi was absolute shit.  After waiting for almost four hours, my computer still would not get online despite the fact that it said it was connected.  Now, I like to pretend that I’m not technologically dependent, but when you run a blog, you find that no matter how much you hate it, not having internet is actually a tragic thing.  Luckily, I found a tech savvy friend at the hostel, a German guy actually looking to live in Munich who was studying computer science.  He managed to hack my computer onto the wifi by manually setting its IP address.  It seemed simple enough in concept and it work, even better, but I hoped it wouldn’t affect me getting on any future wifi networks.  I had an idea of how I would turn the settings back but me and computers go together like oil and water so you just never know.  I would cross that bridge when I came to it though.  For now, my computer was online and that was what matters.  Living in the present and all that.  I feel like a lot of travelers actually judge me for carrying my computer with me, which became apparent to me when one slightly annoying guy from Bulgaria came up to me a few days later and said, “You’re always on that thing.  Be social!” I actually got a bit mad and snapped at him that I was actually doing my job.  Even though I don’t get paid for this, as far as I’m concerned, this is a job to me and I take it very seriously.  Most people back off pretty quickly when I tell them I’m a travel writer but I also don’t think anyone really has any idea how much time each of these blog posts takes to write.  Every single one of these posts takes me at least three hours to write, and that’s not including going through and editing the photos that accompany them.

Now that I was online, the hostel experience got better and better.  First, while I was cooking myself a massive curry dinner that I planned to feed myself with for the next four nights, a live band began playing some really awesome acoustic covers complete with amazing harmonies.  Well after I had finished eating, I sat there and listened to them while working on my blog.  Around 10pm, I noticed someone tampering around the bonfire pit in the center of the hostel grounds and soon enough, a fire roared to life, attracting a large crowd of people carrying bottles of beer and conversation.  I’m sure this comes as a shock to no one but I love campfires.  Some of my fondest memories reside around the campfire pits of Monocreek and Reservoir Lake.  Even at my house back in Montana, we have two campfire pits on the property, and there is nothing my mother and I enjoy more than sitting beside them on warm summer nights, drinking margaritas and making s’mores.  That is honestly probably the number one thing I miss about not being in Montana this summer and thus I was so happy to be able to sit around the campfire here, even if I was missing the marshmallows. Add that to my list of American foods I miss.

I was surprised to find how well I slept in the massive bunkroom.  Statistically, there had to have been a great number of snorers in there, but I never heard one all night.  I guess the room itself was big enough that it wasn’t too much of an issue.  The morning, however, got noisy.  Around 7:30am, a large group of people began getting up and rustling around, packing up their things, and getting ready to head out.  Once I’m awake, I’m usually not able to go back to sleep very easily and thus when they all got up, so did I.  But I didn’t terribly mind, in truth.  I’ve always been a morning person and even if it was slightly earlier than what I like to define as an ideal morning, it would get me up and moving so I could make the most of my day.  After breakfast, during which I also found getting up early was a bonus because it let me do my business in the kitchen before everyone was trying to cram their way in there onto the limited number of propane burners, I headed off into the city.

One big downside to Munich is that their public transportation system is fairly expensive.  A tram ride from my hostel into the city cost 2.70€.  That may not seem like much, but considering I would then need to pay that again to go home, it would add up pretty quickly over the next four days.  I could always risk not paying for the tram as I had done in Prague, but I wasn’t sure how strict Germany was about that.  Prague didn’t seem to care in the least, but then when I went into Austria I was warned on how strict they were.  Munich I had no idea.  That 70€fine for not buying a 2.70€ ticket was a pretty steep price to pay.  I decided not to risk it quite yet and rather opted for walking into the city.  Google maps said it was only about 7km, which wasn’t all that bad.

Or at least it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t gotten lost (surprise!).  Somewhere along the odd backstreets on the outskirts of Munich, I turned off prematurely and ended up on a compete different road.  I finally stopped to ask a woman for directions into the center and she looked at me like I was crazy for wanting to walk there. “You can’t walk.  It takes two hours.  Just take the S train.  There a station two blocks up that way.”  Lady, the whole goal is to not take transportation.  I thanked her for her useless information and continued walking anyway, eventually righting myself and getting on the proper street.  About an hour later, I found out her “two hours to city center” had been a gross over exaggeration.  As I strolled along the streets finally within the confines of my center city map, I felt extremely happy in my navigating abilities.  I may get lost a lot, but I always manage to find my way in the end, which is really what matters.

I discovered that the area of central Munich I had ended up in was very close to an used English bookstore marked on the map.  Being a lover of bookstores, I definitely wanted to check it out and thus strolled into The Munich Reader, ready to be surrounded by the pleasant aroma and aesthetic of used books.  As I was browsing the shelves, I was jotting down named of books that looked interesting to me, as I always do in bookshops, to add to my constantly growing list of books to get in the future.  While I was doing this, the guy from the checkout desk approached me and asked, “May I ask what you are doing?” I didn’t really know what he meant, so I kind of looked around dumbly until he continued, “Because it looks like you’re writing down books here that you’re going to go buy elsewhere later.  We get a lot of people who do that.  We’re not a library and we feel like it’s unfair to us if people do that.” I had no idea what to say to that.  I had of things I wanted to say that including: 1) So you honestly don’t allow people to write down books they like?  Do you expect me to buy every single book I find interesting right now in this moment?  Because that on the whole sounds like you’re discouraging reading in general in favor of money, which I believe makes you unfit to run a used bookstore, sir. 2) I’m a backpacker and I honestly have no room to carry my stuff.  3) It’s a free country and if I want to write down the name of fucking book I’m going to do it you money-hungry ass. 

Alas, I said none of these things and instead said, “That wasn’t my intention.  I’m just looking around for ideas to do my senior thesis on and I’m jotting down potential candidates so if you have a problem with that I’ll just leave.”  He started stammering, “We just want to make sure you actually have the intention of buying something.  I mean, obviously you’re not obligated to.”  Really?  Because you kind of just made it seem like I was.  Funnily enough, I had actually intended on buying something.  I was almost 100% positive I wanted to do my thesis on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and despite the fact that I own both an autographed paperback of the book and the kindle edition of it already, I was going to pay a pretty steep price (in regards to used books) for a copy I found there so that I could start rereading it and marking it all up.  Now that he had been so completely tactless, however, I mentally said “fuck it” and ordered a copy on Amazon later that day.  And that, my friends, is why customer service is so important.

Still stewing from the agitation of the book store, I walked into city center browsing through various churches on my way, until I reached the Marianaplatz town square, the location of the tow hall and its great ornate glockenspiel clock.  Just nearby was the Rathausgalerie, a free gallery that acts as the host of temporary modern art exhibitions.  Normally I’m not a fan of modern art, but sometimes it can be interesting and since this museum was free, I figured why not.  The exhibition currently on display was one called IDOL, containing a collection of works by German and Austrian women artists that demonstrated “positions in contemporary art in dialogue with prehistoric idol figurines.  The comparison and contrast between the two offers a different point of departure from which feminine viewpoints and alternative forms of female identity can be explored.”  Some of the pieces were downright weird and confusing, like two colored chairs, each with a pair of headphones on them with different German words being played through each ear.  Granted I don’t speak German but I have no idea what the message of that piece could have been.  Another piece was a giant sundry pile of dismembered doll parts that occasionally made noises straight out of a horror film.  It was unnerving to say the least, but I must admit the thought behind it was quite cool.  According to the summary, “Dolls are generally considered to be particularly cute toys for little girls.  Seen en masse and in fragmented form this emotional cliché is overturned.”

From there I wandered past Augustiner Keller, the oldest biergarten in Munich, and from the looks of it, the most expensive.  7.90€ for a beer? Ha! No thanks.  Besides, I was already shattered at that point.  The prospect of retracing the journey I had made earlier that morning seemed unappealing at best.  I was standing right next to the No. 17 tram line.  It was practically calling to me and when the tram pulled up to the stop, I impulsively jumped on.  For the next twelve stops, I was glancing so nervously up and down the train that I’m sure I looked about as suspicious as the cat that ate the canary but the Botanischer Garten stop came soon enough and I was free and clear.  How long, I wondered, could my luck hold out on me?  Knowing my life, not long enough. 

That night at the hostel, I played three on three volleyball on the hostel’s sand courts for a while with a group of guys who clearly had absolutely no idea how to actually play the game, despite all their talk.  I was incredibly frustrated at the fact that we could hardly get more than two volleys in.  I wanted to actually play with someone who knew what they were doing.  If nothing else, the game became good serving practice for me as I could serve over and over again without them being able to return it.  I eventually even started working on my jump serve, to a surprising amount of success considering that was something I never really mastered in high school.  Afterwards, I sat around talking to a pair of American girls traveling for a couple weeks and sipping at a bottle of wine I had bought for less than 2€ while in town. I know, I know, it’s Germany, I should have been drinking beer.  Where did I think I was, France?  But the bottle of wine literally cost me less than a single beer at the hostel would have so…. I was going to go for that. 

The next day was, if possible, even hotter than the previous one, and as I let the heat of the day creep in by taking my sweet time in the morning, I found myself not really motivated to do much of anything.  I could always sit around the hostel.  I deserved a rest day.  But no, I would save that for later and knowing I would feel guilty if I did nothing all day, I set out into the city.  Again, I didn’t want to pay for transportation and I also didn’t want to push my luck riding for free, so I walked yet again.  This time, however, I only went as far as Olympic Park, the site of the 1972 Summer Olympic games.  This particular Olympic year became iconic when on September 5th, eight Palestinians broke into the Olympic Village and took eleven athletes from the Israeli team hostage.  The negotiations that followed were tough.  The terrorists demanded for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, a demand that could simply not be allowed.  Instead, they demanded to be flown out together with the hostages.  When the terrorists and hostages were brought by helicopter to a military airbase where a planned rescue mission failed, all eleven athletes, one policeman, and five of the terrorist died.  The competition was called to a halt and a memorial service was held in the stadium on September 6.  From there, the International Olympic Committee needed to decide how to proceed, though they eventually decided on the continuation of the competitions in order to not allow the concept of the Olympic Games, geared toward international understanding and cooperation, to be placed under the mercy of terrorism.  As IOC President Avery Brundage said, “The Games must go on”.

Because of the history of this particular stadium, I decided to buy a pretty cheap ticket to go inside and actually walk around the area itself.  The main arena is essentially a large open pit stadium, encircled with lime green seating, and half roofed by a white spikey cover.  To say it was aesthetically gaudy would be an understatement, but Munich as a whole didn’t seem too keen on the idea of subtlety in general so I couldn’t say I was surprised.  The stadium was definitely eye catching to say the least.

After making a full circle around the top tier of the seating area, I left the stadium and took the U-Bahn metro over to the English Garden.  If you ask anyone what a good thing to do in Munich is, 95% of the time they’ll answer with, “Go to the English Garden.”  The other 5% of the time, they’ll answer with, “Drink beer,” but that’s just kind of a given.  The English Garden is a massive park on the east side of center Munich, larger in area than even Central Park.  It is absolutely massive.  In several hours, I managed to make a loop around just the southern half of it, and that’s not even considering the larger, less populated northern section.  The English Garden is unique in other ways as well.  For one, a nice stream runs directly through it that, on hot days, is lined for several kilometers with people of all shapes and sizes seeking relief from the heat.  The current of this stream is surprisingly strong and thus it is the perfect area to jump it and let the current take you away.  You get out whenever you want, go back, and do it all again.  I unfortunately could not fully enjoy this experience due to the fact that I had my laptop in my bag with me (I didn’t quite trust leaving it at the hostel without a lock for the locker since there was little security there).  Because of this bag, I could only jump in and float for as long as I could still see my bag sitting unattended on the bank.  It was still fun and refreshing nevertheless.

I also learned at this park that people in Munich have little or no sense of decency.  Amid the masses of people laying out in the sun, it was not uncommon to see people completely nude, mostly men, letting everything they own just hang out in the sun for everyone and their mother to see.  Coming from America where me even taking off my top in public could risk an arrest for indecent exposure (because, you know, sexism), this was incredibly strange to me.  There are actually nudist areas of this park, some of them directly on opposite banks of the stream from family areas, which makes absolutely no sense but that’s Munich for you.  At one point, I actually walked by a public fountain in the middle of the city and had to do a double take because I could have sworn there was a fat man sitting on its edge, naked.  Turns out, he did have a speedo on, but still.  Now I have no issues with nudity in the least.  You want to be naked? All the power to you.  Yet I must draw the line as public urination because I cannot tell you how many times I would walk along the sidewalk in Munich to look over at the tree line next to me and see guy with his dick hanging out directly toward me.  At least put a little more effort in to finding a remote place to go.

The English Garden is also unique in the fact that is has a place where you can go surfing, right in the park.  At the place where the water flows into the stream, the combination of the curvature of a cement block below the water and the strong pressure of the water itself makes for a constant wave that surfers line up and jump on the wave, seeing how long they can stand up before being washed down the stream and being replaced by the next surfer in line.  It’s a fascinating thing to watch and if I had even an inkling how to surf, I would have been right out there doing it with them.  But I think we all know that if I had tried, I probably would have missed the board all together and ended up just crashing into the cement below the water.  It would have been entertaining for everyone watching if nothing else.

As I was leaving the park to take the U-Bahn back toward the hostel, I couldn’t help but notice how dry everything in Munich was.  Rather than being a lush green color, the grass was a dry and brittle brown.  In the heat, that wasn’t surprising but it was also apparent that city maintenance didn’t even try to keep the area watered.  The ex-greenhouse worker in me was going nuts, wanting to dump jugs of water on every flagging plant I saw. Except petunias, because I hate them.

The following day, I decided to suppress my frugal tendencies and just buy an all day public transit pass.  While I could have probably gotten away with not buying tickets, as many other backpackers I had talked to had done, I didn’t really feel like feeling looking up and down the trains for plain clothes officers all day.  It was simply a stress I didn’t need and the price of 8.30€ wasn’t actually all that bad.  Especially considering my plans for the day involved places at pretty considerable distances from center Munich itself.  My first and biggest destination for the day was Dachau Concentration Camp, but I’m actually going to skip over that for now.  As you might imagine, Dachau was quite an experience and I believe that is deserves its own post.  It’s simply not something I feel comfortable lumping in with talk of beers and bonfires.  So stay tuned for another post to follow about that.

I left Dachau around noon feeling a bit emotionally exhausted but there was still so much I wanted to do with the day and since I had the transportation pass, I was going to make the most of it.  The rest of my day consisted of a long and tedious string of complicated transportation methods, most of which I will spare you the monotonous details.  To give you an idea of how I had to travel, from Dachau, I took a but back the S-Bahn station where I took the S2 line back to the bus stop I had originally taken a bus to from my hostel and from there I took the bus father out to Schloss Blutenburg, a gothic castle that served as ruler house until Nymphenburg Palace replaced it and German leaders lost interest in it, form which I took the bus back to the S-Bahn station, rode the train to a different S-Bahn stop to change lines and so on and so forth.  It was a lot of detailed bits of tedious travel and a lot of waiting in stations, during which time I managed to reach the entirety of The Things They Carried, a reread which only confirmed that I will indeed be focusing on that novel for my English thesis.

After Blutenburg, I went out to Starnberg Lake, just outside Munich, more specifically the Schloss Possenhofen portion of the lake, which once served as the home castle of Sissi, later the empress Elizabeth of Austria.  This castle sits almost directly on the shores of the lake where there is a small grassy beach area for people to swim.   I joined for a while before getting out and eventually planting myself in the shallow waters along shore like a child and reading in the sun.  While I didn’t end up staying too long, it was a nice break to my day before I headed back into Munich to see just a couple more things.  The train ride was enough to lull me to sleep and I realized how utterly tired I was.  But it was only 6pm!  I had to make use of my transportation pass.  I rode the train all the way into the far side of center Munich where I got off near the Deutsches Museum, which is the world’s largest museum of science and technical masterpieces.  This thing is seriously massive and has just about everything from full size airplanes to electricity demonstrations.  I did not, unfortunately, get to go inside, as I arrived just as it was closing down, but that was probably for the best.  With its size, I could have probably spent a full day in there and I just didn’t have that much time left in my day.  Instead, I went down the river where, again, tons of people were stretched out swimming in the water.  Urban swimming was definitely a big thing here in Munich, but with a city river as remarkably clean as the Isar, I guess you would be a fool not to take advantage of it.  From there, I decided I had made the most of my day and hopped on a tram back to the hostel where I once again spent the evening sitting by the fire and chatting with a fellow American.

On my last full day in Munich, I literally did nothing, and I was entirely unapologetic about it.  I had kept myself quite busy and walked a lot of miles in the last couple days.  I deserved a day to sit and just relax.  Plus the hostel was such a cool environment that I felt as though just focusing on that experience was a part of my Munich adventure in and of itself.  For the earlier part of the day, I sat around drinking coffee, playing on the hostel guitar, and avoiding a group of three creepy Moroccan guys who were following me around.  It literally got to the point where they would ask where I was going if I decided to move.  “I’m going to toilet,” I told them rudely at one point.  “Well you come back!” they said too eagerly for my comfort, and I made sure never to come back.  It of course did not help that one of them had come and sat next to meafew nights ago by the fire and, without so much as an introduction, turned to me and said, “You’re beautiful.” Umm…. Okay, and you’re forward.  I don’t often feel unsafe because of my female solo status when I travel, but this was now the fourth instance of my travels in which Moroccan men have taken a bit too much interest in me and acted just a bit too forwardly for my liking.  It’s probably just a cultural different, but because I’m a solo traveler, there are certain precautions I need to take, even if they are unfair, and I decided it was best to just avoid them as best I could.

It became significantly easier when Marcus, a Canadian from Alberta I had met a couple nights ago while sitting around the fire, decided to come and sit beside me.  Marcus and I ended up talking for the rest of the night.  Because Montana shares a border with Alberta, our lifestyles were similar and for the first time, I found someone who understood almost exactly the type of lifestyle I grew up with and the type of lifestyle I love to this day.  It was nostalgic talking to him, and hearing him talk about his love for Alberta and living on a farm with his grandpa, I began missing Montana, and my grandpa for that matter, something fierce.  It’s not often that I meet people to whom I can talk about what bait is best for fishing and favorite Roger Miller songs.  We actually talked about country and folk music for a good two hours, spanning everything in the genre from Marty Robbins all the way up to Brad Paisley.  My love for country music is a rare and isolating thing and I relish in the rare occasions in which I can share it with someone who feels the same.  At one point, when we got on the subject of John Denver, Marcus looked at me and said, “He’s such a weird guy. He looks like a combination between Bill Gates and John Lennon and dresses like Jimmy Buffet and yet he’s still a great musician.”  I laughed because it was absolutely spot on.  Through all this talk, we sat around eating pasta on the porch while it down-poured outside, played hearts after we were joined by some other friends, and later crowded around the fire to warm the chill of the storm from our bones.  The only disruption in the amazingly relaxing night was when I got in a bit of a feminist fight with a horribly misogynistic ass of an Irishman, but I won’t go there.

When 1am rolled around and they put the fire out, I was ready to go bed, having an early morning the next day.  Marcus, however, along with another British guy whose name I can’t actually remember, begged me to stay up with them for a bit.  “You can always sleep on the train tomorrow!  And you may never see us ever again.” Suckered by the guilt trip, I ended up sitting with the two of them beneath a tree in the camping ground of the hostel, staring up at the stars as the hostel ground grew quieter and quieter.  Finally, I told them I absolutely had to be getting to bed, and after a bit of dawdling and debating, finally pulled myself away from my wonderfully funny new friends, hoping I might meet Marcus again in Alberta one day.

The next morning was just as miserable as I predicted it would be but I was at least glad that I had put my foot down and gone to bed to get as much sleep as I did.  The sky was grey with the threat of rain, which honestly didn’t break my heart because it meant I wouldn’t have to be lugging my pack around in extreme heat.  I actually threw on my Anne’s jumper for the first time in a few weeks, finished packing up my stuff among the largely sleeping tent, and headed off by 8am.  As I passed under the banner of the Tent on the my way, I noticed for the first time this side of it read, “May the force be with you,” and as this was my last big day of travel for this trip, I couldn’t help but feel like I would need it.