In the end of February I visited Germany for an educational trip. I actually organized the trip and led the group of 20 people myself as part of my job, so in advance I expected nothing more than stress, stress, stress! But I wasn’t quite right about it.
The thing is, see, I actually visited Bavaria. I have heard many times that Bavaria is not like the rest of Germany, but I didn’t know in what way. This was my first visit to Germany, but because of my studies and background the German culture is one that I know quite well.
The thing that strikes about Bavaria is the relaxed attitude towards everything in life. The chill-out culture is not only in the blood of the locals – it’s in the air! Even as a Southern European I can’t help but wonder at the three-hour lunches, the pleasure of living your life fully, the confidence that things are gonna turn out right even if you don’t do anything about it… I didn’t see even one person as sharp as a clock (which is the stereotype of a Germany), but I found many extremely happy, smiling and friendly ones.
Prior to the trip I made millions of plans about what I want to see and experience, but as I already mentioned, the Bavarian attitude is in the air, so once I breathed it in, it seemed that time stopped and all the worries disappeared – I was just enjoying the “here and now”.
The first two days we spent in Munich. The hotel we had was Gasthof zur Post in Pasing. The location was very convenient – not far from downtown, with very good transport connections, a lot of pedestrian areas around and a huge new shopping center that I didn’t have time to visit. I don’t know how this happens to me, but for a second trip in a row I skip the shopping and really regret it!
The hotel was nothing special, but it covered our basic needs. I only hated that my room was furnished and decorated completely in yellow, the only color I can’t stand. There were two very positive things about the hotel though: the breakfast was really delicious, and the restaurant worked as a gathering point for the group in the evening, when no one had the power to search for a pub elsewhere.
About Munich I had quite high expectations, since once I even made plans to go study and live there. The city didn’t meet them, but, I should admit, the timing was terrible. Munich wasn’t at its best after the long winter and before the first kiss of spring. All the fountains were covered and one could only imagine what beauty is hidden behind the wooden cast. Even the glorious park of Castle Nymphenburg was merging with the grayish horizon.
The reason we had to visit so off-season, was that we had to be at F.RE.E Munich travel fair, which is being organized at that time.
Downtown Munich had some more color to offer, but mainly because a week from then was the culmination of the famous Fasching carnival at Fat Thursday.
During the guided bus tour we took I was overwhelmed with sights and can’t remember any of them. The only thing I certainly remember from the tour was the name of a local brewery – Augustiner, which, although one of many in Munich, is favored both by locals and tourists.
The minute I crossed Karlstor gate I knew there was too much of sights and shopping opportunities for one to explore in two free-time afternoons. So I decided to chill out and rather take an Augustiner. Dark one, please!
The only sight I couldn’t ignore was Neues Rathaus (the new city hall) at Marienplatz. I loved its architecture and all the little details that you can’t actually find in Scandinavian design. It was amazing how the building looked totally different by the change of light (cloudy, sunny, dark). I had to take a picture of it from every angle.
Roadtrip through Bavaria
Time seemed to have stopped but that was only an illusion, so the days in Munich seemed to have gone before they even began. We headed to Passau, a pocket-size town on the border with Austria, where the three rivers Inn, Ilz and Danube meet. Since the journey only takes about two hours (if you don’t get stuck in one of the famous traffic jams), we had time to make a few pit stops.
The first one was the small town of Altötting. We were so much behind of schedule that we only had 15 minutes to jump out of the bus, go see the famous pilgrim chapel at the central square, take a few shots of the group and run back to the bus.
I am not catholic, but I can say – the Chapel of Grace (Gnadenkapelle) was surrounded by very special energy. The walls of the porch were covered with stories and pictures of the wonders asked and received. It all started when a local boy that drowned in the river nearby was “revived by Virgin Mary” when his grieving mother prayed for it in the chapel. I believe in all the kinds of supernatural stuff, so I had the idea to go inside and actually ask for something meaningful myself. When I walked in, my head was emptied at once. There was only silence – in the chapel and in me. And there she was standing – the Black Madonna of Altötting – small, modest, but in the same time shining with a powerful light. I would have taken a photo, but I was not allowed. And better so – I don’t think this energy would have been transferred to a picture.
We continued our journey and our next stop was Burghausen to see the longest castle in the world. One more time I regret the off-season timing. I can’t imagine how beautiful this place is in summer, because even now I liked it. I browsed through all the paintings of noble ladies lived there throughout the centuries, then climbed the tower and let the wind play with my hair as if I was one of them. I think every girl deep down inside dreams of being a princess. And if you wanna know how it feels to be one – go to Burghausen!
I quickly woke up from the dream though – by the ring of my phone, which welcomed me to Austria – so close to the border we actually were.
We stayed at Best Western Hotel Amedia, which is situated in the outskirts of the town, close to the motorway and hidden in the building of the Kaufland shopping center. Some of the pros: the bed was really comfortable; there was a beginner’s dictionary to Bavarian dialect in the toilet; at breakfast you can get a decent cafe au lait. On the other hand rooms were really small, we weren’t informed in advance that pets are allowed in the hotel (what if someone had an allergy?), and the lobby was too small to be a functional social point for the group.
When we got to Passau it was already dark. Close to the hotel there was only a Chinese restaurant that didn’t seem appealing, although those, who eventually ate there, praised it for the deliciousness and the variety of food offered. But I belonged to the part of our group that prefers exploring, so we needed to go downtown. The hotel receptionist called us a taxi, but what a surprising taxi it was! The lady driving it was friendly, really talkative, quite a character. She said she was born “in the national park” Bavarian Forest to where we were heading the next day. She was full of suggestions where we should eat, what we should do and even which streets we should walk. In the end she gave us her private phone number and her shift schedules, so we can call her when we need a taxi again. And sure we did!
I only got acquainted with Passau for two evenings and one morning in a row, but I felt the spirit of this place, which is very romantic. Not that I mind the company I had, but Passau seems like a place you should visit with your special one – walk hand in hand through the narrow streets between the whispering rivers, hide in a thousand years old wine cellar for a dinner and a drink, and end the night in a traditional Bavarian guest house, from the window of which you can observe the sun rising over the mountains in the morning.
National Park Bavarian Forest
The main point of our educational trip was the oldest national park in Germany. I have promised not to write about boring work stuff, so I will try to describe this place while sticking to the plan.
When I was in high school we had a project about Bavarian Forest. That’s how I first heard about this place. Back then I wasn’t very keen on school work, especially when it required extra work and long hours of preparations. So I didn’t get very excited and I tried to take responsibility only for small work loads. But this place stuck to my mind forever, even though I was sure I would never have the chance to visit it. Well… Never say never!
The national park I can easily compare only to the ones in Finland. In this sense I can say Bavarian forest had had the time and the funding to develop the needed concept, infrastructure and activities to attract its vast visitor amounts. This is not a piece of wilderness, this is really a park – a place where humans can go and enjoy their time in nature. While in Finland national parks are a sample of a real wilderness, in a way branded pieces of real wilderness recommended to people to visit. In Bavarian Forest you don’t need any equipment or outdoor clothing, you can go walk the paths in your city clothes. In Finnish national parks you need extremely comfortable good quality outdoor gear and a damn good physical shape to make it through a national park. This is not my opinion as a project manager of a national park-related destination, but my personal one as a “city soul”.
The Bavarian Forest is situated in the mountains on the Czech border and covers a territory of 243 sq.km, so we just got a grasp of it, visiting the sites close to Neuschönau and Lusen, one of three visitor centers in the park. The Tier-Freigelände (open animal grounds) were kind of boring, since we didn’t see most of the animals. Well, this is understandable, since this is not a zoo. It was however kind of bothering, that the lynx looked at us shyly as if it was a domestic cat.
The real attraction was the Baumwipfelpfad (treetop path). This is a brilliant hybrid construction of a path and a tower in one. The path starts at a ticket point after you climb up a few stairs. Then it involves the visitor in a number of tasks and interactive information boards, while it imperceptibly rises literally on the level of the tree tops. At the path’s end there is a spiral tower that looks like an egg from outside.
In advance I was very nervous about the treetop experience, because I am scared of heights. This construction was so massive though, that I didn’t feel anxious even for a second when I stood on top. I just enjoyed the view of Rural Bavaria on the one side and Peak Lusen on the other.
Bavaria and its cars
On the way from Munich Airport to the hotel we had to first go through the bus sightseeing tour. The group had waken up as early as 3 a.m. before starting the journey, so we were longing for coffee and breakfast. Good thing, BMW Welt was just on the way. Nice excuse to go see some shiny cars.
I am not a passionate driver of a car fan of any kind, but BMW Welt was still on my wishlist for Munich, so I am glad we visited it.
Germans are crazy when it comes to cars. Do you know there is no speed limit on the motorways in Germany, except these temporary ones depending on weather conditions and traffic jams? Germans believe, that if you have a nice car, you get to drive it and enjoy it in a proper way.
I have a love-hate relationship with Bavarian food. After the Napoli experience, where I could have literally picked any menu entry and be satisfied with it, the Bavarian restaurant menus offered quite the opposite. I don’t care about the schnitzels, and the knödel– bread and potato dumplings I tried but didn’t like. There was no chicken options in most of the restaurants.
So what else is to eat? Well, there is one safe option always – cheese! I literally ate cheese with cheese, everywhere, all the time. Deep-fried Camembert with a toast of bread and some berry jam was my top choice. The other one – Obazda, is cheese spread, which is addictively tasty when dipped in with Pretzel bread… At least so in case you get it without onion – a detail I got wrong far too many times.
The portions in Bavaria are huge! When you order, it’s like you always order for two. I wanted to taste the traditional Apfelstrudel (apple pie with vanilla sauce) and I got so huge plate that it would have worked as a main dish. Actually I don’t remember finishing any of my ordered meals completely…
The size is double also when it comes to drinks. In Passau I got the biggest gin tonic I have ever seen! It was like when I mix my drinks at home. The wine glasses were always filled with Riesling up to the edge. The small beer in the menu was probably just a theoretical possibility – I never saw a small one in real.
One interesting thing I haven’t seen before was the concept of “cocktails to go”. I didn’t try it myself but I saw it in a few bars. I can’t imagine who would like to be on the go with their cocktails instead of enjoying them at the bar. It seemed like a trend though.
Service in German
I am glad I refreshed my German language knowledge a bit during the Bavarian visit, but I can’t help but wonder what would a person do with none. Everyone understood English but nobody spoke it. Weird.
I don’t mind. I actually enjoyed ordering “ein dunkles Bier”, and in the end of the trip it was just “alles gut!”. 🙂