Archive for September, 2015

Sunday in Munich

September 23, 2015 - 4:37 am 1 Comment

I booked a 10.5 hour tour that would take me on a day trip from Munich to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, two of the three castles built by Ludwig the second of Bavaria (Fairytale King), not to be confused with the Mad Prince who was his brother Otto. To set the context, after ascending the throne at the age of 18 under a constitutional monarchy structure, he blew through the entire family fortune accumulated after many centuries from building these three elaborate castles. With no concern for cost and an eye for expensive details, often styled after Wagnerian operas, you can imagine how grand these are!

In 1886 at the age of 41, he was dethroned by a council under the claim of insanity with the support of his extended family. Given low finances, he borrowed from Prussia, the country’s sworn enemy, and indiscriminately took credit to support his frippery. Despite this, he was still a fairly popular king since he hired a lot of construction labor which was a more stable livelihood compared to farming, and evidently in Germany, kings could not draw funds from the tax base but rather had to spend their own resources – hence, a private form of economic stimulus. Post his relocation, he was found drowned with his doctor in a shallow lake despite being a strong swimmer…clearly a clear conspiracy theory link to murder. Anyway, a fascinating life story of a seemingly delusional, grandiloquent person. He wanted to destroy his three castles upon his death (Ludwig was notoriously reclusive which seems horrifically ironic considering the grandiose receiving rooms and great halls), but his family opened up the castles for tourism instead, which made back their entire fortune and some.

I awoke early and made my way to the central bus station to find the tour operator. Rather than recount all the details, I’ll list some of my reflections:

  • Linderhof: Crazy rococo style – the tour guide equated this castle to a “condo”. I thought she was joking but indeed, the actual castle was modest in size although extremely grotesquely styled. Imagine gilded 24 carat styling in classic baroque decorative panelings everywhere, elaborate chandeliers, ivory carvings, paintings/mirrors crammed on the walls, expensive textiles and furnishings – a compact, even more intense Versailles stuffed into a small space. Ludwig greatly admired Louis XIV for being an absolute king (in contrast to his constrained power), so this homage in the form of a castle recreated the opulence and self-import in every detail. It almost felt as if the air from the room was being drained away given the intensity of the gilded embellishments. In contrast, the outside garden was very beautiful and pleasant – Ludwig II built a full facade just to hide the pump for the certain fountain! Linderhof was a definite “experience”

  • Oberammergau – In between the two castles, the tour group made a pit stop in a traditional village where I got to try a delicious schneeballen (baked cookie ball coated in chocolate and orange liqueur), browsed traditional handicraft stores that sold hand-made cuckoo clocks and local crafts, and explored the Passion Theater (the town had pledged to put on a passion play every 10 years if spared from the black plague, which they subsequently have carried out other than one hiatus during WW2)

  • Neuschwanstein – this is the famous castle that was Disney’s inspiration for the Cinderella castle. Sitting on top of a cliff, it’s really a breath-taking sight. I had to walk >30 minutes up a steep hill just to get to the tour gate. Ludwig II built this castle as a homage to the absolute monarchs of the Medieval times (but with all modern conveniences of the time and his fanciful eye for embellishment along the general theme), so the style was drastically different than Linderhof but with substantially more open space and consequently, grandeur. This castle is really impressive – perhaps the most elaborate I have ever seen even after visiting quite a few when I lived in the UK and traveled throughout Europe

  • One of the most pleasant aspects of the tour was the drive through the mountains and valleys – the scenery is bucolic and just breath-takingly refreshful with the quaint wooden houses with the beautiful frescos, green farming plots, and gorgeous natural scenery. I’m so glad to have taken the bus tour since it would have been near impossible to get to these castles – it took two hours to get to Neuschwanstein upon some seemingly remote mountain roads!

Upon arriving back in Munich, I had dinner at this local German gastropub. The food was truly fantastic despite being very heavy! I ate Wienerschnitzel (fried breaded veal pounded flat), spaetzle, oxtail ragout, traditional flat bread with sour cream + onion, and then chocolate cake. Yes, maybe I over-did it but I’m so eager to try everything! The food here is very heavy though – I had to drag myself back to the hotel. What a great weekend!


A Saturday in Munich

September 23, 2015 - 3:13 am 1 Comment

My first day in Munich was really great – since I only have a weekend to explore, I was intent on maximizing my day! After the flight, I went to the hotel, quickly settled in, and then took off to the city center. The hotel is somewhat far away and the German train system is extremely confusing, but alas, a nice bystander helped me out and the train speed itself was very impressive. Since it’s Oktoberfest here, the streets teem with people everywhere, many of them dressed in the tracht – suede mid-calf pants with straps for men and elaborate corset-like A-line peasant dresses for women.

So despite a red-eye flight (with limited sleep), this is what I did:

  1. Went to the Viktualienmarkt where I had a tasty cured meat sandwich on bread that seemed to be a cross between pretzel and croissant – alas, if only I had the stomach to try out all the interesting little stalls! There are all these tasty looking desserts with long names I can’t pronounce

  2. Saw the Munich Residenz which is one of the most famous historical palaces/government buildings. There are ~300 public rooms so it was so much to see

  3. Went to Muncher Hofbrauhaus, the place recommended by Grace’s friend. It was as crazy experience! Every person there drank enormous 1 liter beers, and every 5-10 minutes, a band would play German music. The beer hall was gigantic – a labyrinth of tables! I ate sausages with sweet mustard – bratwurst and then a Bavarian variant (mild white sausage that comes in water)

  4. Browsed the Munich City Museum. The first two floors were most of your normal expected historical items (EX: statue of Duke Henry the Lion who founded Munich)…but the third floor went bonkers with psychotic puppets. Another wing was dedicated to National Socialism (Nazism) since it originated in Munich

  5. Ate dinner at Kochspielhaus, a place recommended in the NYT – by then, I was on the verge of collapse given general exhaustion

  6. Most importantly, I walked around the city historical center and the small garden areas. It’s really fun!

A few observations:

  • Germany is affordable – the food and admission prices are very reasonable

  • Core Munich is very small but there is a sprawling suburbia around it given central planning policy on housing stock

  • It’s very helpful to know at least some German words to get around…I don’t seem to have the memory to be able to remember words properly since many are so complex and tough to pronounce

  • The Germans are extra sensitive about the history of Nazism – the topic is treated with directness (unlike the Japanese…)

  • A large part of the city got destroyed in WW2 so most of the artifacts/edifices have been heavily reconstructed. Nevertheless, Munich is still beautiful and feels very historic