We spent the first three nights of our European Christmas Adventure in the wonderful city of Munich this last December and loved every minute of it. Our hotel, the Novotel Munich City Centre was about a 15 minute walk from the city centre which made it easy to get to all the sights. We had chosen this city for it’s fine selection of Christmas markets and it turned out that there was almost too much choice for a single visit.
We had explored the main, traditional market on the central square on our first day in Munich, so for our second day we decided to check out the “medieval” market on a square about ten minutes walk further north. Like many European cities, Munich has a network of pedestrian shopping streets which makes it easy and pleasant to get around on foot. We strolled along a street of designer clothing shops and fancy boutiques before arriving at a small Christmas tree market spread out over a large square. It turns out that this was where Hitler had made a major address to the city and during the Nazi years everyone passing through the square was required to give a Nazi salute. A plaque marks a back alley behind the square which many people used as an alternate route to avoid this requirement.
Just around the corner from here was the medieval market, which ended up being one of our favourites of the entire trip. It had mainly handmade items including candles, carved ornaments, replica weapons and armour, felt and knitted goods, leather items, etc. The vendors were mostly in costumes and the stalls had a sort of rough hewn look to them. There may have been a touch of “Ye Olde” sort of kitschiness to it, but overall the theming was a lot of fun and no one was taking themselves too seriously.
By far our favourite thing about this market, though, was the entertainment. There was a small stage near the entrance and it seemed like there was nearly constant entertainment going on. The first group was a trio of theatrical circus type performers who juggled and did acrobatics while interacting with the crowds. Even without understanding a word of German we enjoyed the show. Later on we watched a play of some sort involving a king, a princess, a court jester and a knight. In between there were ladies walking around on stilts and sprinkling glitter snow on peoples heads, a man with a horse’s head and medieval robes playing a mandolin while strolling around the market and some young women with tame falcons that the kids enjoyed seeing.
And the best part was it was all free. The entire surrealist performance art show meets Renaissance Fair spectacle was completely free to enter. We ended up getting a full morning of entertainment for the cost of the mulled wine and crepes that we purchased. Not a bad deal at all.
For the afternoon we decided to take a break from the markets and check out one of the main sights in Munich, the former palace of the Hapsburg emperors, called the Residenz. This enormous palace is right in the centre of Munich and even though we skipped the Treasury and Royal Theatre, it felt a bit overwhelming. In my memory, the first few rooms were the most impressive parts of the palace, but I’m not sure if that’s because they really were or because I was a bit too tired to notice the last rooms after walking through several kilometres of gilded chambers to get there. Still, it was a pretty impressive residence and gave a good idea of the wealth and power of the original inhabitants.
After about an hour and a half of viewing the glittery excess of the Hapsburgs we decided the kids were pretty much done with sightseeing and we decided to grab a late lunch. We had enjoyed our quick stop at Munich’s largest beerhall the day before, but it had just opened and was pretty quiet then. Well, at 2pm on a Saturday, the Haufbrauhaus was anything but quiet! A band was playing oom pah songs, every table was packed with locals and tourists and servers were squeezing around the aisles with trays of sausages and giant steins of beer. At first I worried about finding a table for four but a group left as we walked by and we were able to snag the end of a long table right along the centre aisle.
We found ourselves sharing a table with two friendly South Korean men who where living in Strasbourg and studying French for the year. They were a little disappointed to find out that like most Canadians, we don’t speak any French, but their English was pretty good and we were able to communicate. Somehow, the waiters were able to make their way through the crowds to us and we enjoyed some hearty German food and alarmingly large beers and ended up staying a while to enjoy the music and the fun.
By the time we left it was late afternoon, so we headed back to the main market to make a few purchases. We had decided to let the kids have five Euros for each destination to pick their own souvenirs and it was a bit of a challenge to keep them from wanting to buy the first thing they saw. We tried to make a note of their favourites and we were able to retrace our steps and find what they wanted; a Santa nutcracker for our son and a hand made glass penguin for our daughter.
After finishing our shopping we wandered south for a ways, arriving at a church we wanted to see just as it closed for a private concert and finding yet another market along the banks of the river. From there it was back to the hotel with a quick stop for pizza on the way.
And that was our two wonderful, if slightly jet lagged, days in Munich. It was a wonderful city for our first stop and it’s especially charming at Christmas. And if the palaces, markets and other sights don’t make you happy, there’s always the one litre beers!