The Christmas Markets in Munich

The last time I went to Munich was for Oktoberfest, which is a big tick on the bucket list, but Munich as plenty to offer during Christmas time – the markets around central Munich would take days to visit completely, especially if you need to try everyone’s gluhwein.

the New Town Hall in Marienplatz, Munich

The weekend we were there was almost as warm as an Icelandic summer. With sun and temperatures around 10 or 12 degrees celsius, the Christmas spirit was certainly not so cold or white, but the spirit was there nonetheless. Thousands and thousands of people, cramming every main street and square that had been turned into an outdoor mall, with roasted chestnuts and freshly made gluhwein on offer at every corner. The regular food markets and bars nearby were overflowing with people, but with such good weather, noone really wanted to stay indoors so the streets remained packed.

riding in the Bavarian countryside

Munich is also a destination for horses and food, so both had to be enjoyed. We ate at the Michelin Star restaurant Showroom one night, and I thought Iceland was expensive, but this place still surpassed my expectations. My friend Michael lives in Munich and boards his horse a short drive away, so I had an English lesson under his german instruction and came out with an open wound on the inside of my leg after trying to sit his horse’s trot.

the sunset being counterbalanced by the pink lights at the Pink Christmas Market

The weekend was short but sweet, and the highlight for me was simply the light. In the shortest days of an Icelandic winter, a German December day with 8 hours of daylight and warmth from the sunrays was like an exotic, faraway vacation. It was everything I needed to get through the next 3 darkest weeks in Iceland.

Bavarian Heaven

Bavaria is the kind of place Disneyland should dedicate a theme park to. It would be located somewhere between Frontierland and Toontown, since it has this rugged countryfeel mixed with a colourful fantasy world. People would drink beer out of mugs and the carnival rides would be the same as at Oktoberfest. It would look like a typical Bavarian village, full of big wooden cottages with baskets of flowers hanging from every window, and all the staff in the park would wear dirndls and ledehosen. And maybe they could even speak with cute German accents.

Sandra and her Icelandic horses, with a Bavarian cottage behind her

I arrived in Berlin before taking a train to Munich, and Berlin could never be a part of Bavaria. It has a big-city, modern feel to it, with skyscrapers overshadowing its cobblestoned streets. Its huge, sprawled out with 3 and a half million people and there are 2 or 3 city centers, main train stations and airports (although one is now a huge green space). Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is only 1.3 million, with a pedestrian friendly city centre, full of old, closely-built buildings and churches. In Berlin, my idea of cosy was taking a touristy boat through the canals, and to live like a local meant I ate kebabs and smoked shisha in the Neukölln district. In Munich, I picnicked in Englischer garten, a beautiful park in the centre of town, and stayed in two different Bavarian villages with friends who gave me horses to ride, home made dumpling soup to eat, and swam in lakes with a view of the Alps.

the journalist and the photographer at Tempelhof

But don’t get me wrong, I loved Berlin. Nowhere else in Western Europe is it as cheap to eat and live, and the slogan “poor but sexy” rings so true. I was there for 3 days for an atypical interview. A friend of mine there is a journalist and he was covering my story, but that only took an hour or two, plus a short photo shoot in the abandoned Tempelhof airport, and the rest of the time we watched the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, patio-furniture shopped, and drank beer and wine on his balcony with the fruits of our shopping trip.

 

these rolling green hills in Olympia park are made of WWII rubble

I took a train to Munich, and the idea of German efficiency was proven time and time again by every long distance train or local U-bahn arriving on schedule down to the exact second. I would watch the minute hand click the same moment the train came to a hault, and I decided to synchronize all my clocks to theirs. I couchsurfed with Phil, a friend of the journalists, in Munich city, who took me on a tour of Olympia park – another huge green space in the city.

my Bavarian family at Oktoberfest

I went to Oktoberfest with Phil and his friends a couple nights and dressed as a boy in an extra pair of his lederhosen. The other nights I was at Oktoberfest with another couchsurfing friend named Kerstin and her entire family, and I stayed in her family’s Bavarian paradise home in Feldafing, close to Sternberger See. On our only day off from Oktoberfest, we went to Andechs, an ancient hill-top monastery that brews amazing beer.

Andechs monastery

I spent my last days in Bavaria with a friend I met in Iceland on one of the horse trips, Sandra, who took me riding on her Icelandic horses near Augsburg. Though it was Oktober, we rode in 25 degree sunshine, to a beer garden only reachable by horse or foot. We had even more beer there for lunch, and now that I’ve escaped to Austria, I’ve started my beer detox since I’ve never imagined that one could drink so much beer in one week.

 

The ABC's of Oktoberfest

Activities, Action and Alcohol:

 

a ride more entertaining to watch than try

Oktoberfest is a party designed for millions of people to come and drink beer, but its also a family-friendly festival full of things to do and see. There are carousels and pony rides for the youngens, and some extreme thrill-fulfilling rides for the more mature or drunk. There are shooting games and bells to hammer to win cheesy prizes like colourful plastic roses. There’s the ‘old’ part of Oktoberfest, a small section of the festival where they’ve tried to recreate Oktoberfest as it was in the good old days – smaller roller coasters, cheaper rides, and calmer beer gardens with bigger bands and a place to dance. There are competitions, one of the most famous being the Miss Bavaria contest: Miss Bavaria is a woman who can roll the best dumplings, clean a carpet with an old style wacker, and hold a liter of beer and head of cabbage up in the air for longest. There’s always live music, where only songs that the crowd can sing along with are played, and once a night 6 men arrive with whips they snap in beat with the band. At the end of the night, a male strip tease happens at the Braurosl tent, Im not sure about the others. All the sexy action between Oktoberfest lovers happens behind the festival on this one stretch of green hill where others also take time to nap, pee, or vomit.

 

a full tent with the band playing

Beer, Beer, Beer: Oktoberfest centers around 14 beer tents, which are more like warehouses each full of 10,000 people drinking mugs of beer. The mugs

Hacker beer

are made of glass or stone and only come in 1L size, and all cost 10 euros after tip. Tipping gets expensive after a while since the beers only cost about 8.75 and the beers are never full, but that’s part of the deal. Most of the tents are

run by a different brewery, so each tent only serves one type of beer. And you cant buy wine or schnapps, its just all about the beer. Bavarian beer, of course. But it is kosher to mix your beer with carbonated lemonade, and if you blend it half half its called a radler. And Boobs are also important, but Ill get to that at “D.”

Cookies, Chickens and Cuisine:

 

peanuts, pretzels and a cookie

Heart-shaped cookies with messages like “Greetings from Oktoberfest” or “I Love you” come in a variety of sizes, and are worn as necklaces to enhance the Bavarian costumes everyone wears. In the tents, you can order food from a small menu, and almost everyone at Oktoberfest ends up eating rotisserie chickenwhich is half a greasy chicken served on a plate. Pretzels and sausages are everywhere, in all different shapes and sizes. It isn’t exactly fine dining cuisine, but its everything you need after 3L of beer! Oh, and clothes pins. Everyone needs their name etched on a clothes pin. And then there’s the clothes…


die dirndls... Kerstin had a better pushup

Die Dirndl und die Lederhosen: The men wear leather shorts, held up with leather suspenders. They wear a white or checkered shirt underneath, knee-high white socks, and suede shoes. Some enhance with a hat, or a felt overcoat, and sometimes the leather suspenders has a badge on their chest with fancy embroidery, spelling out their family name or home town. The women wear a dirndl, a traditional dress with an apron tied on top and a fluffy-shoulder white blouse and 1 – 3 bras underneath.The push up bra is a very important part of the outfit, and you almost always need more than one to get the appropriate amount of cleavage sticking out of your dirndl, which also needs to be uncomfortable tight around your chest to help the cause. Some women wear crazy heels, but its better to wear flats that you can last in all day and keep your balance while dancing on the benches and tables everyone ends up standing on by the end of the night.