If you visit Munich from a bigger city, you can’t help falling in love with its old-school Bavarian charm. But have you ever forked out almost €5 for a dry panino?
The Bavarian capital provides the perfect counterpoint to its cooler big brother, Berlin. Where the capital is a rough, nervous work in progress, Munich is calm and self-assured, if a little dull.
And where Berlin can be overwhelmingly large and self-absorbed, Munich is a province town that still hasn’t realized it’s one of the central cities in Europe.
Train drivers talk to you while they drive
Thanks to international behemoths like BMW and Siemens being headquartered here, Munich is the richest city in Germany. The glitzy modernity of its architecture, and the well-manicured commuters make quite the contrast to Berlin’s grubby terraces and Swiss cheese punks.
But the city’s charm comes from how old-fashioned it still is in so many ways. On the U-Bahn line I’ve been taking into the city centre, the driver still talks to you as he drives.
Some of them are gruff and monotone, others will amiably remind you to jump on before the doors close. Each will tirelessly tell you what connections you can get at each station and they’ll give you the lowdown on why they’ve stopped in the tunnel.
Of course, automated announcements give you most of this info too, but it’s just not nearly as personable.
Classical music blares out in stations
Munich also prides itself on being a city of impeccable taste. It has some of the best art collections in Germany, as well as some its most famous theatres.
And this obsession with high culture even stretches to the U-Bahn.
I walked into the Giselastraße underground station at around 9pm on Monday evening to the sound of classical music wafting down the platform. It wasn’t a busker, it was coming through speakers, which is apparently normal here.
On the other hand I still haven’t seen any buskers on the trains, nor beggars. One gets the feeling such things wouldn’t be tolerated in this conservative city.
People bump into each other everywhere
It may be Germany’s third largest city, with a population of 1.5 million people, but Munich often feels like a small town.
On nights out with friends, they seem to happen upon at least one person they know in a random bar. In the climbing hall I’ve been going to, everyone knows everyone else. And in stations you need to side step friends who bumped into each other at the train door.
On Sunday there isn’t a living soul on the street. Not one
The parochialism can be fun and picturesque, at other times it is plain eerie. Walk through town on a Sunday and you start to wonder whether you’re in one of those dreams in which you’re the only person left on Earth.
While Berlin is also quiet early on a Sunday morning, by midday the first party-goers have strayed out to find a greasy hangover cure. But even by the late afternoon, there is no one on the streets in Munich.
I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of where they have all gone. I can only assume an archaic Bavarian law has assigned them all to a day of prayer and meditation.
Or perhaps they’re all in some secret beer cellar they don’t tell the rest of us about.
If you haven’t done your shopping before 8pm, you’re screwed
There are other things that take time to get used to as well. The village-style opening times for one. For those used to having supermarkets open until midnight, and Spätis (mini-markets) that never close, getting used to this one can take some time.
People seem incredibly considerate
Maybe it’s just that Berliners aren’t the smiliest bunch in the world, and certainly don’t go in for polite chit-chat. But the people of Munich are not only good-mannered, they’re surprisingly friendly too.
Eating at the bar the other day, every person who came up and ordered a drink next to me wished me a Malzeit before starting a conversation about the strange north German dish I had ordered.
And when I was cycling along the city’s (wonderful) cycle paths and came across road maintenance, I was surprised to see everyone getting off their bikes when they had to move onto the pavement.
Sit at the wrong table and you’re in trouble
But Munichers aren’t always so polite. If you sit at the Stammtisch (regular’s table) on your first time in a beer hall, expect a few choice words.
When I sat down to a beer with a friend at a large round table in one of the city’s oldest beer halls, it didn’t take long for the old man across from us to get very loud.
Struggling to decipher his thick Bavarian accent, we assumed he’d just had a bad day. Only when the waiter came over did we realize our faux pas.
Cycle for five minutes and you’re in another world
If you’re lucky enough to be staying in Schwabing or Maxvorstadt, you’re not only bang in the middle of the city, you are apparently also on the edge of the countryside too.
When I took a bike and entered the English garden near Münchener Freiheit, I turned left and didn’t see another sign of city life for the next hour – only trees, grass and the pristine Isar river.
The bakeries take you hostage…
Okay, so living in the Neukölln neighbourhood of Berlin, I’m not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to good baking. There are a couple of nice Turkish places in the vicinity whose stand-out quality is their price.
Walk outside your door in Munich at 10am and the smell of oven-fresh bread wafting down the street will hook you by the nose and pull you across the street. Whether it’s multiple types of Semmeln (bread buns), pumpkin bread or my personal favourite, walnut bread, Bavarian baking is a meal of its own.
…but after Berlin a lot of things feel like a rip-off
On the other hand, never in Berlin have I paid €5 for a mediocre panino and a croissant, or €20 for some heated up frozen vegetables and dry pork cutlets.
If you live in the German capital, you certainly can’t complain at the amazing variety of restaurants, or the innovation of the cooking – and the vast majority of it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Despite the international flavour of its inhabitants, Munich doesn’t seem to have a great variety of cuisine – and often what you get simply isn’t worth the money you’re doling out for it.