This is part of a set of pages describing our trip in March 2012 to Europe.
Monday, March 19
Our landing in Munich was uneventful. Since we had already gone through European Union border control in the Paris airport before our connecting flight, we only had to pass through Customs in Germany. We had nothing to declare so we walked out and found our train. There is a suburban train (S-Bahn) from the airport to the city center.
As I approached the ticket machine, a woman and her friend approached and offered to sell us their group pass. European travel is very friendly to families and the train system has an all day group pass (Partner-version) that we were going to use to get ourselves into the city. The women had approached me and immediately began speaking in what, to me, sounded like rapid fire German. When the one speaking paused for a moment, I said I didn’t understand what they said (in English) and they then repeated what they said in beautiful English. My daughter was struck at how they were so fluent in both languages, their own and hers. Since they had exactly the pass we had planned to buy, we purchased it from them at a discount and headed for the platform.
I must own to a certain bias. I once spent a number of weeks traveling through Europe on my own, essentially backpacking. I am probably more lax about being approached by people I don’t know, in Europe, than I would be at home. We had warned our kids to be wary of pickpockets, mostly by not leaving anything in their pockets to be picked. But when I see backpackers and hostelers, I tend to be more relaxed in dealing with them. Which is to say, you may be better off buying your own pass from the machine rather than taking a chance on a ticket someone else wants to sell you.
Train to Munich
The S-Bahn pulled in below the airport and we were on our way. We had to wait about 10 minutes for the train and then we were off. The train is very much like a subway, with open carriages and seating, and less crammed with seats than a typical commuter train might be. We rode through farmland and flat fields, broken up every so often by housing and light industrial areas. The typical Bavarian house colorings started to appear to us. Lots of red-tiled roofs and buildings in yellows and oranges. There was glass everywhere – buildings were covered in windows – which stood out in comparison to apartment blocks and condominium towers we were used to.
We arrived at the main train station – Hauptbahnhof – and dropped off our bags in storage. I had not used left luggage in a train station since before the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. It was a bit surprising to me that one could still leave luggage unattended in locked cabinets but it was another example of how different things are from one country to another. We left our luggage here because it was only just about 2pm and we weren’t going to head to the youth hostel until dinner time.
The first stop of the day was to do something, and we had decided to go to the Deutsches Museum. The S-Bahn took us back to Isator station where we walked about 5oo yards, crossing the Isar river, to the museum. It’s clearly marked from the station but if you get turned about, just look down the road to see which way the river is. The museum is an impressive building with a large barometer on one tower. You have to walk past much of the museum to reach the entrance, which is in a forecourt with an amazing sundial.
This was one of the few museums we planned on visiting during this trip. The collection is typical of a national museum, with a wide variety of collections relating to the national heritage rather than a single topical focus. We were particularly interested in seeing the World War II airplanes that were housed here. There is a museum annex with aircraft as well, but the downtown collection had what we hoped to see: Messerschmidt ME 109, ME 262, a Dornier Do, and a “Storck”. None of these planes have been in any of the collections we’ve seen in North America.
In fact, I think the boat collection on the first floor, with a few full size boats, sail and steam, as well as an interesting collection of models, was almost more interesting than the planes. We wandered through the museum, looking at the musical instruments, watching the glass blower, visiting the reproduction of the Altamira painted caves, and then decided we were wearing out. Time to head for dinner and then to the youth hostel.
We walked back up from the museum, zigzagging from street to street, until we arrived at the Mariensplatz. It was jammed with people (we had just missed the 5pm clock ringing) and we meandered around until we saw a restaurant with particularly German food that seemed family friendly. We ordered plates of local sausage, salad, and cheese and each tried something new. Soft drinks are extremely rare in our house, even things like lemonade. So the children tried limonade and found, a bit to their disappointment, that it was fizzy! This began a regular experimentation as we travelled of finding the non-fizzy version of drinks!
After dinner, we returned to the S-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof, grabbed our two suitcases and rode the U-Bahn north to Rotkreuzplatz. Here I was a bit turned around and had to go into a bakery and ask directions. I used my very basic German and the baker responded in English! He didn’t know where the street was but a customer did, and we were just at the wrong end of the block. We turned around and found the street and headed west for about 5 minutes to the youth hostel.
It was amazing to me, when planning the trip, how many resources are available now which I couldn’t even have dreamt of decades ago when I backpacked. In this particular instance, I had used the Google Street Maps and walked all around this neighborhood virtually, in advance. As we walked down the street, with the sun going down and night coming on, it started to become familiar to me as we got closer until finally I knew exactly where the hostel would be. This is not a big deal, except that when you are walking with children, it can sometimes be good for everyone to know that you are almost there.
The Munich City youth hostel was clean and tidy and we had reserved a room. There is a grocery store across the street which we didn’t end up using but would have sufficed for travelling food. The room had 6 bunks but they let it go as a family room, so our 5 didn’t have to share with some unfortunate solo traveller. The bathrooms and showers were shared and the room had two sinks. We had our windows open for fresh air – it was an incredibly unusual March and the weather was cool but not cold – and quickly went to sleep. We were off to Neuschwanstein Castle the next day and were going to be making an early start.
Everyone was now getting accustomed to some of the basics of the trip. When you get on an escalator, stand to the right to left others walk by. Don’t walk too far ahead so that no-one can see you. There are bike paths throughout Munich, not always well marked and nearly always sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians. Stand on them at your peril and the cyclist’s annoyance.
We were all tired out but by keeping ourselves going – even if I had to turn myself into a Kinderbaum temporarily – it meant that we seemed to avoid the spectre of jet lag.