Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Germany - Munich, Dresden, and Berlin

PART 1 of a 5 part series

In June 2011 my friend Alvin and I took a one month backpacking trip through Europe to visit 8 cities in 5 countries. I had been to a few of the cities before but that was on my first ever visit to Europe right after I graduated from college. At the time, I was on a tour with Contiki so we traveled in a bus - I had no experience navigating to and from the cities so this trip would be different. And I was excited to visit as an adult who had money this time. :o)

We covered 5 countries in one month
We covered 5 countries in one month

We started in the South and worked our way North counter-clockwise. Alvin and I went to the first 5 cities on our own before we were joined by his friends Matt, Shefali, and Jerry for the last 3 cities. Our final itinerary was:
  • Munich, Germany - 2 days
  • Salzburg, Austria - 3 days
  • Vienna, Austria - 3 days
  • Budapest, Hungary - 3 days
  • Kraków, Poland - 3 days
  • Prague, Czech Republic - 5 days
  • Dresden, Germany - 2 days
  • Berlin, Germany - 2.5 days
I only wanted to stay in hotels while Alvin advocated for hostels but I was resistant. Honestly, I was biased and scared of the hostel experience. I thought they would be dirty, loud, and I couldn't imagine sharing a room with strangers. Originally Kraków wasn't on our list but we added it when we were able to book a first class sleeper cabin on a train from Budapest to Kraków. Once we found Kraków on our itinerary we had to book accommodations quickly. I ended up giving in and booked us in a 12-person mixed dorm. I guess I didn't just dip my toe in the hostel water, I jumped in the hostel pool! More on that life-changing experience later.

Recommendations
  • Pack light Travel as lightly as possible in terms of weight and luggage size. You'll be thankful, especially when you have to move around as much as we did. I brought a tiny wheeled suitcase and a backpack but I wished I brought less because even though my luggage was small, it was heavy. I used the rolling technique to fit in a ton of clothes. These Eagle Creek packing cubes have changed my packing game. I use the large cube for most of my clothes, the medium cube for toiletries, and the small cube for socks and underwear. No more hunting around for my stuff! Even so, I ended up re-wearing a lot of clothes and washed essentials like socks and underwear so those could be re-worn. I didn't end up wearing 1/3 of what I brought. Sigh. 
  • Get cash from ATMs I have an ATM card from First Republic Bank that offers free cash withdrawals from ATMs worldwide. Much cheaper to get cash from an ATM than at a current exchange bureau.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle Tap water is perfectly safe in most cities in Europe - Google tap water safety ahead of time and save yourself some money and the environment by being bottle water free. I love these klean kanteen bottles - I bring mine on every trip and fill up straight from the tap. Klean kanteens come in a variety of colors and sizes so find one perfect for you!
  • Pack your "gadgets" I brought a few non-electronic essentials that came in handy. Bandana, combination lock, carabiners, sleeping mask, and ear plugs.
We book-ended our trip with cities in Germany but I'll write about our entire German itinerary (Munich, Dresden, and Berlin) in this blog PART 1 post. I'll cover other countries in their own posts.


Day 0: San Francisco to Munich, Germany

We took an overnight SFO-LHR-MUC flight on Continental Airlines (US$1499.30/person). We had an almost 4 hour layover at Heathrow Airport - we napped in the terminal but I was worried about someone stealing all my luggage while I slept. I guess it didn't really stop me because Alvin snapped this photo.

Napping at Heathrow Airport (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Napping at Heathrow Airport (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

After we landed in Munich we made our way to our hotel and slept until dinner. We stayed at the Leonardo Hotel München City West (US$170.96 for 2 nights) which is about a 10 minute subway ride from the city center. Reviews of Leonardo Hotel München City West on TripAdvisor. We had dinner somewhere close to our hotel and just turned in early because our next day was our only full day in Munich and it was going to be packed.


Day 1: Munich - Munich Residence, GlockenspielViktualienmarkt, Hofbräuhaus, Frauenkirche

Our first day of sightseeing consisted of 6 sites all around the city center. We took the subway to Marienplatz to get started.

6 stops in Munich
6 stops in Munich

Exiting the Marienplatz station
Exiting the Marienplatz station

Our first stop was the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of Bavarian monarchs and now the largest city palace in Germany (combination ticket for Residenz Museum + Treasury + Cuvilliés Theatre €13/person). The palace rooms and halls were ornate and grand but I, of course, made a beeline for the treasury where I played the "pick one" game. You know, where you imagine you get to "pick one" from every jewelry case. Reviews of Munich Residence on TripAdvisor

This looks like a heavy piece
This looks like a heavy piece

Statuette of St. George slaying a dragon, constructed with more than 2000 precious stones (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Statuette of St. George slaying a dragon contains more than 2000 precious stones (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

One of the many crowns on display
One of the many crowns on display

I've never seen such a tall crown before
I've never seen such a tall crown before

Top row, second from the right
Top row, second from the right

Diamond and pearl stomacher
Diamond and pearl stomacher

Travelling set belonging to Empress Marie Louise of France, the second wife of Napoleon
Travelling set belonging to Empress Marie Louise of France, the second wife of Napoleon

One of many courtyards on the grounds
One of many courtyards on the grounds

"Shell grotto" made of Bavarian freshwater shells
"Shell grotto" made of Bavarian freshwater shells

"Antiquarium" hall
"Antiquarium" hall

"Antiquarium" hall used for festivities and banquets
"Antiquarium" hall used for festivities and banquets

Hallway cutting through a row of rooms
Hallway cutting through a row of rooms

Ornate hallways
Ornate hallways

Residenz Theatre

We went to Marienplatz square to see the famous Glockenspiel. It chimes every day at 11am and 12pm (and 5pm from March - October) and large crowds gather below to watch the many figures dance and bells ring. The show lasts for about 15 minutes and concludes when a golden bird emerges to chirp 3 times. Reviews of the Glockenspiel on TripAdvisor.

Glockenspiel
Glockenspiel

Large tourist crowds watch the Glockenspiel chime
Large tourist crowds watch the Glockenspiel chime

It was lunch time so we headed to Viktualienmarkt, a huge daily outdoor market. We grabbed small bites from a few vendors and sat down to eat at one of the open tables. Reviews of Viktualienmarkt on TripAdvisor.

Buckets of olives
Buckets of olives

Lots of prepared side dishes
Lots of prepared side dishes

Smoked fish
Smoked fish

What better way to finish lunch than with a cold drink? We headed over to Hofbräuhaus München, Munich's number one tourist attraction. I don't even drink alcohol but I had to check out the giant beer hall. I ordered an apfelschorle, basically a sparkling apple juice. We sat at communal tables and enjoyed our drinks while a very merry band played traditional Bavarian music. Reviews of Hofbräuhaus München on TripAdvisor.

Apfelschorle
Apfelschorle

Community tables (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Enjoying our drinks at Hofbräuhaus (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Enjoying our drinks at Hofbräuhaus (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Hofbräuhaus band
Hofbräuhaus band

Hofbräuhaus München
Hofbräuhaus München

We made our way to the Church of Our Lady or Frauenkirche, the most well-known and largest cathedral in Munich. The church is easy to spot as no buildings in the area may be taller than the church's two towers. The towers are open to the public and offer wide views (tickets €3). Reviews of Frauenkirche on TripAdvisor.

Legend has it that the church's architect made a pact with the devil to help him complete the cathedral. The devil could take the soul of the first man who entered the church after completion. When the devil came to collect, the architect claimed that the devil had build the church incorrectly because no windows could be seen in the church. He was standing from a vantage point where all the columns covered exactly the views of the windows. The devil stamped his foot in rage and left the Devil's Footprint in the entrance hall. The devil can still be heard today as the wind howls through the church.

Alvin comparing foot sizes to the devil
Alvin comparing foot sizes to the devil

View from the Frauenkirche tower
View from the Frauenkirche tower


Day 2: Munich - English Gardens

On our second day we just had time to walk through part of the English Gardens and have lunch before we had to take our train to our next destination - Salzburg, Austria.

I noticed a ton of parked bikes just leaning against buildings, not locked to anything. I couldn't believe my eyes. If we were in the Mission in San Francisco, that bike would be gone in about 8 seconds. I thought not only were these bikes not locked to anything but that they also weren't locked. Later on I noticed that the lock was actually an inconspicuous ring around the back tire. But still, it wouldn't have prevented anyone from just picking up the bike and walking away with it. Or tossing it into the back of a van. Seemed like here, people didn't steal stuff that didn't belong to them. Mind blown.

Chinese Tower - the beer garden here is the second largest in Munich
Chinese Tower - the beer garden here is the second largest in Munich

Canoes and pedal boats for rent
Canoes and pedal boats for rent

Mother and baby geese
Mother and baby geese

We came across a field of grazing sheep
We came across a field of grazing sheep

My friend Connie's husband Milan is from Germany and he recommended trying the duck at Sankt Emmeramsmühle, a restaurant very close to English Gardens. I didn't expect to find it easily but we basically emerged from the park and there it was. I went a bit nuts and ordered a heavy soup in addition to the duck and finished it off with bitter lemon drink and a slice of apple strudel (€38.70 for my meal alone!). I guess I figured we were taking the train to Austria and it might be a while before I ate again. I love duck and I order it every chance I get. I loved the crispy skin and the gravy that came with the dish. I wasn't a fan of the potato dumpling - in fact, I found all dumplings that I had on the trip to be super heavy and bland. Reviews of Sankt Emmeramsmühle on TripAdvisor.

Cream of potato soup with bacon

Duck with potato dumpling

Appelstrudel

We left Munich that afternoon and didn't come back to Germany until 18 days later when we visited the beautiful city of Dresden. By then Alvin's friends Matt, Shefali, and Jerry had joined us. We made it a point to do something that each person wanted in each city so it was a lot of fun trying new things.


Day 0: Traveled from Prague, Czech Republic to Dresden, Germany

Matt, Shefali, and Jerry and I talk about our time in Prague and plan for Dresden during our 2 hour train ride from Prague to Dresden.

On the train from Prague to Dresden (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
On the train from Prague to Dresden (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Taking the Dresden subway to our hostel (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Taking the Dresden subway to our hostel (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

We stayed at Hostel Louise 20 on Louisenstraße - we had enough people to book a whole apartment (€244 total = US$346 or $34.60/pp/night). Reviews of Hostel Louise 20 on TripAdvisorAfter checking in to our hostel, we wandered around Dresden to search for a lunch spot. We ended up at a place that only had menus in German and our waitress didn't speak English. Uh oh. We turned to the vocabulary section of our travel guides and tried to decipher the menu. Luckily no one needed a guide to order beer. We learned that hackfleisch meant ground meat - literally hacked flesh! I was super excited and started looking up other words to break down and translate. 

Trying to translate the menu (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Trying to translate the menu (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

1 liter beers! (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
1 liter beers! (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

I found Dresden to be an incredibly beautiful city. It was bombed and destroyed by Allied forces in 1945 but rebuilt to be what people consider to be one of Germany's most beautiful cities. I definitely agree.

We walked around and noticed a bunch of children playing in a water fountain, cooling off in the hot sun. The only difference between German kids and American kids was that most of the German kids were running around naked. I love the European approach to nudity which is... it's not a big deal. Everyone has a body! I wish we'd take that approach more in the US. I'd rather see the television industry and the FCC allow less violence and take a more lax approach with nudity! Not the other way around, as it is currently.


Day 1: Dresden - Albertinum Museum, Church of Our Lady, Neues Grünes Gewölbe

We only had one full day in Dresden but we made the most of it by visiting 2 museums and taking in the views from atop the Church of Our Lady. First stop was the Albertinum Museum, a modern art museum - Alvin's choice (tickets €8). We each made our own way through the museum while keeping an eye out for the piece that would speak most to Alvin. I'm totally not a fan of modern art - thoughts of "I don't get it" usually flow through my mind when I view most works. The piece that really caught my eye was Cathedral in Winter by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme. I think I stood in front of it transfixed for at least 15 minutes just looking at every detail on that canvas. It was amazing and haunting. Reviews of Albertinum on TripAdvisor.

Albertinum Museum lobby
Albertinum Museum lobby

We visited The Church of Our Lady, also known as Frauenkirche Dresden. It was destroyed in the bombings of Dresden in World War II and the remaining ruins left for 50 years as a war memorial. It was reconstructed, completed in 2004 along with other buildings in surrounding Neumarkt Square. The church was rebuilt using original plans and reconstructed using as many salvaged pieces of the original church as possible. Approximately 3800 original stones were used in the reconstruction with each piece returned to its approximate original position. You can see the original pieces stand out on the exterior, darker due to fire damage and weathering.

We climbed the dome of the Church of our Lady to the top to take in the views below. There are actually two views - the first level is the looking down on the interior of the church itself and then you ascend stairs to the second level to see the view outside. Reviews of The Church of Our Lady on TripAdvisor.

Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady

Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady

Looking down into the church interior (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Looking down into the church interior (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Church of Our Lady (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Church of Our Lady (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Views from Church of Our Lady
Views from Church of Our Lady

Views from Church of Our Lady
Views from Church of Our Lady

We had lunch at Gänsedieb - another chance to eat more duck and indulge in a chocolate shake. Reviews of Gänsedieb on TripAdvisor.

Duck leg, dumpling, and brussel sprouts
Duck leg, dumpling, and brussel sprouts

Chocolate shake (Schokolade in German)
Chocolate shake (Schokolade in German)

Neumarkt Square
Neumarkt Square

Neumarkt Square
Neumarkt Square

Our next destination was Neues Grünes Gewölbe, a museum that houses the largest collection of treasures in Europe (ticket €10). We specifically visited Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault) to see the green diamond and "185 faces." The former is the largest natural green diamond in the world and the latter is a cherry pit featuring 185 faces carved into it. Yeah, like the cherry pit you'd spit out when eating a cherry. It was mind-blowing. Review of Neues Grünes Gewölbe on TripAdvisor.

Green diamond (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Green diamond (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

The next day we took a 2 hour train ride (€37/person) from Dresden to Berlin.


Day 1: Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie

After we arrived in Berlin we headed straight to Checkpoint Charlie and visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (tickets €12,50). All that was left of Checkpoint Charlie were signs indicating you're entering or leaving the American sector. A lone checkpoint guardhouse stood in the middle of the street, surrounded by souvenir shops and even a McDonald's. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was vast and full of exhibits. It was a hodgepodge of artifacts and it took some concentration to get through the entire thing. Get ready to do a lot of reading! Reviews of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum on TripAdvisor.

U.S. tanks facing off against Soviet Union tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, 1961
U.S. tanks facing off against Soviet Union tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, 1961

Entering the US sector sign
Entering the US sector sign

Guardhouse in front of McDonald's
Guardhouse in front of McDonald's

Leaving the American sector sign
Leaving the American sector sign

US checkpoint guardhouse
US checkpoint guardhouse


Day 2: Berlin - Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Gemäldegalerie, East Side Gallery

It was raining on our first full day in Berlin but we still managed to cover a lot of ground. We started off the morning with some coffee and liege waffles because there's nothing like caffeine and sugar to keep us going.


We went to see The Holocaust Memorial, an outdoor memorial of 2711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern in a sloped area that spans 19,000 square meters. It can be accessed from all 4 sides and according to the architect who designed it, it's supposed to provoke feelings of uneasiness, confusion, and loneliness. I think it had that exact effect on me - I felt uncomfortable walking between the slabs and the rain added to that feeling of isolation. I didn't want to walk too far into the memorial and just stayed on the periphery. Review of The Holocaust Memorial on TripAdvisor.

The Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

Sections of the Berlin wall remain up in Potsdamer Platz
Sections of the Berlin wall remain up in Potsdamer Platz

We visited the Gemäldegalerie, an art museum that houses thousands of paintings from the great masters (tickets €8). I was very excited to see Caravaggio paintings on display there.

That evening, we made our way to Berlin's East Side Gallery, a nearly one mile long stretch of the last remnants of the Berlin Wall to search for a panel called The Kiss by street artist Dmitri Vrubel. The Kiss is one of the most famous panels, depicting Soviet leader Lenoid Brezhnev and East Germany President Erich Honecker in a passionate kiss. You might think the depiction is satire but it's based on an actual photograph of the two Communist dictators sharing a fraternal kiss. Reviews of East Side Gallery on TripAdvisor.

The Kiss
The Kiss

East Side Gallery (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
East Side Gallery (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)


Day 3: Berlin - Charlottenburg Palace, returned to San Francisco

We took it super easy on our final day of our trip. We visited Charlottenburg Palace, ate a few meals, and didn't mean to but we stayed out all night, sitting at a doner kebab restaurant. We headed back to our hotel just as the sun was rising - we had time to pack up our luggage and get to the airport for our 9am flight. This time, we didn't have any trouble falling asleep in the terminal.

Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Charlottenburg Palace (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Berlin at 4:40am (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Berlin at 4:40am (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Alvin is ready for the long flight home
Alvin is ready for the long flight home

We covered 4 other countries during this backpacking trip. Please read about them here:
If you enjoyed reading this travel blog please check out my other trip posts:

Happy traveling and thanks for reading!

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