Bavaria to Berlin: Part 1

Red eyes, stiff backs, and a longing desire to find the closest horizontal surface.

This had become a common theme for us each time we rode an overnight Flixbus, and Munich was no different.

We arrived in Germany in the heart of Bavaria, Krystal sleeping for a few hours on the bus and me sleepless with a head that felt like it was underwater. When we arrived it was 10 AM and we weren’t able to check into our hostel until 2 PM, so the horizontal surface and deep coma-like nap would have to wait.

Luckily for us, our hostel was only a 10 minute walk from the bus station, so we were able to drop off our bags and look for a spot to eat.

By sheer dumb luck, we had a traditional beer hall right across the street called Hofbräuhaus. It was incredibly important that we ate and soon, it had been approximately 16 hours since our last meal, and for any readers that know Krystal, she becomes quite hangry (hungry+angry) when she hasn’t eaten for a prolonged period of time.

This beer hall was outstanding! We had some traditional Bavarian food like sausage, potato salad, and pretzels. It was still a little too early in the day for us to try their famous German beers, but that came later.

Now that we were fed, we contemplated going on a walking tour but my body just wasn’t ready for it.

Instead we went back to the hostel, found a “common room” (more like a wide open reception area where dozens of people could see you) and I found that deep coma-nap on a couch, it wasn’t a long one but it was enough for me to make it through the rest of the day and onto our tour.

The introduction to our tour was unlike any other, the guide asked each participant where they were from and made a stereotypical joke about each of us.

Canadians, eh? Sorry aboot that!

He then went on to explain that no matter where we were from, our countries had all committed some terrible crimes in the past, the only difference between our country and his, is that most people don’t flock to our countries to do tours to learn about our horrific pasts.

He said this to remind us to be humble, understanding and respectful of all the things we were about to learn.

We got a taste of the first and second world wars, the short explanation of Hitler’s uprising and we saw memorials to different victims from the wars.

Where we met for our tour: The New Town Hall in Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Sounds pretty grim, huh?

Thankfully, these weren’t the only topics covered, we also got to learn about all of the delicious Bavarian foods, the history of Oktoberfest, and we also learned about German beers and the German Beer Purity Law.

For anyone unfamiliar with the German Beer Purity Law, it came into effect in 1516 and it used to state that if you wanted to label a beverage as a "beer" it could only have three ingredients: water, hops and barley.

Thankfully, this law was adapted in recent years to include yeast once the monks realized that it was yeast and not just prayer that turned the sugar in beer into alcohol. Because of this law, Munich doesn’t really have a Craft Beer scene, instead they have around 7 kinds of beer that do amazingly well.

After our walking tour, and hearing about all these amazing beers we went to try one of the oldest breweries in Munich, Augustiner-Bräu. They're known for donating 51% of their profits to children's charities too, so when you have one you can say "it's for the kids"!

They’ve been making beer for the last 690 years, and I know what you are thinking, yes we did try all the different kinds of beer during our time there.

They were all outstanding (of course)!

An Augustiner Weissbier (wheat beer)

Unfortunately, Augustiner is only sold in Bavaria so if you want to try it you’ll have to get your butt to Munich. This pretty much wrapped up our first day in this wonderful city, so we went back to our hostel and passed out for the night.

Our next day started a little slower, if there’s one thing we’ve learned during our time abroad it is that you don’t need to rush everywhere all the time, if you do you’ll always be exhausted. So we slept in, got breakfast and went out to do a Third Reich tour in the afternoon.

The Third Reich tour explained the rise and fall of Hitler and the army that he commanded in World War II (WWII). This was probably one of the most informative tours I’ve ever done, it was amazing but it also made me upset with our school system in Canada.

Through all of high school, all I ever remember learning about WWII was:

  • “Hey, did you know Hitler wanted to be an artist?”

  • The only reason Hitler wanted this war was because he was anti-Semitic and Germany was poor

  • Anyone who wasn’t an Allie was inherently evil

Now, I’m not sure if that says more about the educational system or my concentration level as a teenager, but either way I was super impressed with how our tour guide explained the complexity of WWII and how it was essentially twenty-five years in the making.

We learned about the deceit, the political turmoil, and the few choices many victims had (the choices were “do what we say, OR you and your whole family will die”).

We visited many historical sites such as:

  • The Beerhall where the National Socialist party formed (pictured below)

  • Offices where the party had their headquarters

  • The Square of Victims

  • The sites where some heroes of the German resistance movement took their stands

Beer Hall where Hilter made his first famous speeches

I could go on about this for hours, but then this post would turn into a novel, so in short if you ever want to discuss this topic more I’m all ears, and I highly recommend the Third Reich Tour that Sandeman runs.

After walking in silence for around thirty minutes, to digest all of the information we had just learned, Krystal and I found a nice small local restaurant to try some schnitzel and have a beer.

That is one important characteristic I think we’ve prioritized and mostly mastered since we’ve been travelling, when you are with someone essentially 24/7 and you are constantly learning new things, sometimes very heavy things, it’s important to give someone cognitive distance until they’ve had a chance to digest their feelings and are comfortable enough to discuss them, otherwise they could feel annoyed and pestered having to talk before they are ready.

So once we settled down for some schnitzel we talked for hours about the feelings that the victims must have gone through, the information we’d never heard before, and the hate and destruction we couldn’t even begin to understand. This was the beginning of endless conversations we’ve had trying to better understand the complex histories of all of the countries we’ve visited.

This brings us to some lighter history: on our third day in Munich we did a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle.

The castle is located above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. It’s a little picturesque village with a few shops and restaurants and gorgeous hiking trails.

Standing at the base of the castle

A fun factoid is the Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration for the famous Disney Castle. It was commissioned by the Ludwig the II, sometimes referred to as the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King. If you want one heck of a history, look this guy up. He essentially wanted to live the life of every fairy tale he heard as a child, and used his immense fortune to build these crazy luxurious castles.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at money management and he essentially bankrupt his family and destroyed the country’s economy, and mysteriously died after his cabinet disposed him from his rule.

View from just below the castle grounds

We enjoyed the architecture of the castle from the outside, but opted to explore the nearby trails instead of heading inside.

As you can see from the pictures, the nature surrounding Neuschwanstein Castle is stunning. We hiked up some hills to get to a viewpoint that was otherwise shutdown due to construction on a bridge, and afterwards we decided to do a lap of the lake.

The first half of the hike was outstanding and it felt very relieving to be outside of a city and in nature. Then we got to a directional sign halfway around, an arrow that pointed forward read “45 minutes to town” as did the sign that pointed back the way we came, not a big deal right?

45 more minutes of hiking sounds fantastic, except for the fact that our bus was supposed to leave in 30 minutes.

Time to RUN!

So our nice walk around the lake turned into a power walk, and left us drenched in sweat but we made it back to the bus with 2 minutes to spare! It was a tiring yet rewarding day, and I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Our last day in Munich involved a beer tour, we went around and learned more about some of the traditional beer houses in Munich, got further details on Oktoberfest and of course tried many delicious beers.

Two of the more interesting facts about Oktoberfest; it essentially started because Ludwig the I (Grandfather to the Fairy Tale King) had a kick ass wedding with horse races and other events, and everyone enjoyed themselves so much that they wanted to have a big party like the wedding every they did, and still do today.

The other fun fact about Oktoberfest is that only the most traditional breweries are allowed to provide beer for the event. One of the breweries we visited during our beer tour was labelled “too young” for the event, they’re only 300 years old... rookies.

To properly cheers a weissbier, you must clink the bottom of your glass and make eye contact

The next morning we packed up our bags and made the short walk to the train station and headed off to our next stop Vienna, Austria.

Now I know this post is titled “Bavaria to Berlin” but there were a few countries we visited in between.

However, we're going to press pause on those posts for a bit to keep up with the German theme and talk about our time in Berlin next.

Check back for next week’s post for Part 2 where we’ll also break down our lessons learned, our costs incurred, and our recommendations for spending time in Germany.

Auf weidersehen and PROST! (Until we meet again and CHEERS!)

- Greg

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