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Monday, November 29, 2021

Munich Diary: Beer, Bratwurst And Bavaria

For me the best part of the trip would have to be the cuisine. If you are an Indian, you love your potatoes, and it turns out so do the Germans.

Written by Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava |
August 25, 2015 12:24:22 pm
Building at the Ludwig Maxmillian University, Munich Building at the Ludwig Maxmillian University, Munich (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

It is a city steeped in history. It is also a city that tries very hard to forget its history. Munich, the capital of Germany’s Bavaria region was at the centre of action during the World War II. It is here, that the Nazi and Hitler rose to power. It is here, that Hitler spoke publicly for the first time, predictably at a beer hall and came into the limelight.

Walking into Hofbrauhaus, a hall full of beer drinkers sitting in endless rows, there is some memorabilia of what happened there in 1919. There are many names but as expected there is no mention of Adolf Hitler. It is a history no one in the city or I am guessing even the country wants to be reminded of. What the city does not shy away from is how heavily it was bombed by allied forces during the second World War. Munich has been practically rebuilt, but by preserving its pre-war charm. The architecture is ornate, the buildings majestic.

What stuns you into silence though, is a visit to the first concentration camp created by the Nazis. It is just 16 kilometres outside Munich in the town of Dachau and was liberated in 1945. By then, nearly 30,000 prisoners had died of the more than 200,000 imprisoned there from thirty countries.

Inside Dachau Inside Dachau (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

Dachau has preserved a lot of its infamous history. There is still a symbolic barrack where countless prisoners lived together, always at the centre of an epidemic. Walking through the vast grounds and the many buildings, what caught my eye was a photo of an Indian flag tucked away amongst the flags of some other countries.

Only remaining barrack at Dachau where the prisoners were housed. Only remaining barrack at Dachau where the prisoners were housed. (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

The flag commemorated an Indian princess Noor-un-Nisa, who worked for the British secret service and was betrayed by the Gestapo. She was deported to Dachau, where she and three other women were shot dead as soon as they arrived. The chill you get reading this continues through the tour, when you hear about the kind of medical experiments that were done on prisoners and it only magnifies when you walk through the gas chamber.

Indian princess killed in Dachau Indian princess killed in Dachau (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

Questions have been raised about whether the citizens of Dachau, a small pristine town not unlike most towns in Europe, knew what was going on in their own backyard. In fact, this concentration camp was the only one to have existed throughout the twelve years of the Nazi rule. No one can say for sure. Some speculate the citizens were aware but kept quiet out of fear, others suspect with more Nazi officers in town their business started looking up, so they just looked the other way. Whatever the answer, it is an eerie feeling as I travelled through the town, absorbing the shocking legacy of the darkest phase in Germany.

Munich hit the headlines again, closer in time. In 1972, during the Olympics eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage and later massacred. It was a terrorist attack that shook the world. This history though is not forgotten or brushed under the carpet, neither does it dictate what Munich is today. The city is now a bustling and thriving centre of tourism. Germany in fact, is one of the most reliable countries of the European Union.

Spearheading its progress is the auto industry. Think luxury cars, and chances are they are German made. For car lovers, a visit to the BMW museum is heaven. From vintage cars and motorbikes to the most dynamic modern designs, it is a fascinating walk through the curving corridors. We can definitely learn a thing or two about how to restore and showcase things.

BMW Museum (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava) BMW Museum (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

Munich’s biggest charm though lies in its easy-going lifestyle. You can take your bicycle into a metro compartment and the only reaction from fellow commuters will be to give you space. Dogs have as much a right to be on the tram or a bus as you and me, deeply in contrast to how a club in Delhi stopped me once from taking my own child inside because she was in a stroller. Perhaps, the most defining part is how the city is completely accessible to disabled people even if they are on their own. Munich has made even those with difficulties completely self-sufficient.

For me the best part of the trip would have to be the cuisine. If you are an Indian, you love your potatoes, and it turns out so do the Germans. A simple potato dish has never tasted better as has a potato salad which accompanies almost every dish. But, the real deal are the sausages or Bratwurst, which can be fresh, smoked or if you are worried about putting on those calories, grilled. None of these meals will be considered complete without a giant pretzel on your plate. The Germans insist that the salt in the pretzel lines up your stomach and helps when you are consuming those big beer mugs. They would know, because no one parties quite like the Germans.

While the rest of the world goes pub hopping, the Germans go ‘beer hopping’, and they do not have to wait for sundown. In the summer, families move to the gorgeous outdoors, or the ‘Bier Garten’. There are almost 200 beer gardens in and around Munich. A walk to the English Garten by the lake with snobbish ducks demanding food is worth every step, even if beer is not your thing.

Alongside the English beer garden Alongside the English beer garden (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

When you change locations, you pass revellers sitting on tyres floating on a lazy river, or daring surfers taking on the rapids. It seems like the entire city is out in the short summer, dressing down so to speak to match the rising temperature. Weather in Munich though is unpredictable, you can go from extreme heat to a woolen in minutes.

Germans enjoying the summer Germans enjoying the summer (Source: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

All European cities, big or small have one thing in common, a town square. Munich is no different. Marienplatz, is a street where fancy brands and local shops exist side by side. But, nothing that you can buy or eat in the city compares to that mother of all festivals, the Oktoberfest (which ironically begins in late September). 6 million people are in the city during those 16 days, and many with families. So, if you have not seen this part of the world, now is the time to book your ticket. The festival is around the corner and you can have an early Diwali.

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