Exlporing Munich By Bicycle

After four weeks of missions in Armenia, Azerbaijan and China I found myself in Munich for a brief respite in the form of a technical study tour before heading back to Azerbaijan and Georgia to finish my marathon 7 week trip. We don’t normally have trips this long, but having to fit in China between two missions to Central Europe resulted in this too long mission.  In fact, juggling work between Asia and Central Europe as well as my annual leave to New Zealand has resulted in an excessive travel schedule: Since January 4th I have only been in Washington April 14 to May 24th. I think of that song “I was born a travelling man …”. One does not work for the World Bank in field operations if one is not prepared to travel.

One positive aspect to working at the Bank is their program of ‘Spouse Points’. Once one has travelled 200 days they pay for your wife to join you on mission. I managed to accumulate just under 600 points in my 4+ years at the Bank (another indication of too much travel given the official policy of no more than 90 days a year!) and so because I was on such a long mission Lis joined me in China and then Germany. So here we were in Munich together at the start of a week in Germany, which was very nice indeed.

One of the goals of the study tour is to get an understanding of the public transport system in Germany since we are trying to help our client countries improve their systems. After arriving in Germany we had a brief stop at the airport for victuals: it was great to have fresh German breads and their delightful yogurt (and chocolate). Then it was to the train to central Munich. We found our way to the station and managed to work out the machines but then got on the wrong train, there really was very poor information for travellers–especially those rushing for a train leaving in 4 minutes. This meant that we got a very nice extended tour of the city as we went far to the west and back again, but at least it was a lovely evening and we saw beautiful fields and green areas in the evening glow. Both Lis and I were very pleased to be back in Europe again–it had been four years since Lis was last here.

From the Haupbahnhof we caught a taxi to our hotel and after dropping our bags off went for a stroll to stretch our legs. It is such a contrast coming to Europe from China since the streets are so deserted, and the air is so clean. There were blossoming trees lending a sweet fragrance to the evening air.

We had one day off before the tour started so after a great breakfast we headed back to the Haupbahnhof and rented two bicycles. What better way to start a transport study tour than by checking out the cycling facilities – which Munich is very well equipped with. They have cycle paths everywhere, with their own dedicated traffic signals and, importantly, drivers actually yield to cyclists and recognize them as legitimate road users. Such a contrast to the USA.

The plan was simple: cycle through the old part of Munich and then head for the Isar river. We would go up to the ‘English Gardens’ and then south along the same route that I checked out on my earlier visit to Munich. It was a very warm, sunny Sunday so we expected a lot of traffic, but even then we were surprised at just how many people were out cycling or walking.

Like all major German cities Munich was bombed by the Allies and about 70% of the IMGP2671old city was destroyed. In fact I had just finished reading a book on 617 Squadron – the ‘Dam Busters’ – who, among their other achievements, were the first to break through and bomb central Munich. Consequently,  when we travelled to the old city there were only a few of the original buildings left, isolated and surrounded by modern buildings. However, the Rathaus, or city government building, managed to survive.

There were hordes of tourists lined up with cameras so I sauntered over to an English speaking tour group and listened in. They were waiting for the ‘Glockenspiel’ which played at 11 a.m. This was up the the clock tower and was comprised of two rows of life sized IMGP2668human figures. The photo to the left gives a vague idea of what they were like. At 11:00 a figure on the side began striking a bell with a hammer and then musical chimes started. The top characters then began to go around in circles; the ones on the right clockwise and the ones on the left counterclockwise. They were followed by two knights on horseback with jousting lances. On the second round one of the knights was knocked back on his horse. This was followed by the figures on the bottom who were twirling around in circles on a pole. It was very impressive, especially when you think how old it was.

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The building was also covered in ornate carvings showing people, different aspects of life, etc. Lis was very taken with the dragon to the right. If you look closely you will see some of the netting they use to keep birds off. In fact they even had put spikes on the window sills to stop them landing. It was very effective but not exactly bird friendly!

From the Rathaus we explored the cobblestone streets and admired the city gate, old buildings and the general atmosphere. It would have been a very nice city and such a pity that the war led to so much destruction. I reflected on a photo of my father’s uncle and cousin taken in 1937 in Coventry with the lovely medieval city in the background: that was flattened three years later in the Blitz. Such a waste all around.

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We ended up at the Isar river and headed north, with frequent stops along the way to admire the sites. It was great to see how many people were out enjoying the day, walkers, runners, cyclists. Not surprising given how nice the weather was!

I took Lis up towards the ‘English Gardens’ which is a very large parkland with mature trees, fields, flowers, etc. I had decided that we should lunch at a restaurant I had seen during my earlier visit and somehow we made it there in spite of the winding paths.IMGP2682 The photo to the right gives you and idea of just how delightful the English Gardens are. Trees, flowers, excellent cycling paths – what more can one ask for?

When we parked our bicycles at the restaurant we had a hard time finding a place–the bike parking lots were full! The restaurant consisted of a series of tables and benches outside under trees where we saw lots of people quaffing large mugs of beer, even those wearing cycling clothes! I was told afterwards that these were special cyclist drinks – a mixture of beer and lemonade. Either way the quantity would soon have me searching out a WC.

The food line was very busy and we had the usual problem of finding something vegetarian. They had some nice sandwiches on IMGP2680the menu but when I ordered them my high school German failed me so we reverted to salads and bread, including a very nice, and very large, German pretzel. These were to prove to be a staple during our next week in Germany. 

Refuelled we headed back into the English Gardens, exploring other parts of the park. We passed many people out sunbathing, and being Germany many of the women were topless, not that I noticed in detail.

IMGP2689There were quite a few streams flowing through the park and it really was a delight to cycling through such a beautiful place.

There were people floating down the river which was impressive, since it looked *very* cold. What was more impressive was the surfers that we saw. Yes, surfers.  Let me explain …

IMGP2692We had reached the end of the park and were out on the main street when I saw a fellow walking along in shorts with a surf board. Now that is not what one sees everyday in the downtown of a city which is some 1000 km from the ocean so we followed him over to a crowd standing on a bridge looking down at one of the rivers. Sure enough there were at least a dozen people surfing in the river on a hydraulic jump.

 

IMGP2693 In the manner of everything German, it was very well organized. They queued up on the left and right banks of the river and then jumped in with their boards. They did about one minute of surfing left to right–unless they fell off–before they jumped off the board and floated down the river, swimming to the bank so that the next person had their turn.

IMGP2696 There were men and women, with a few even brave, or foolish enough, not to wear wet suits. The water was quite refreshing, even for late June. It was fun to watch their antics as they spun the boards around, splashed those waiting their turn, and showed their expertise surfing. In Munich. Go figure. I wonder how they would do with real waves.

IMGP2709 As we passed through the city on the way back to the Isar river, we passed some very stately buildings. The one to the left is a museum. Excuse the give way sign at the top right of the photo – Lis took it 🙂

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When we got to the river Lis grabbed another photo and then it was down to the bike path. I had learned from my previous visit that the East side was a safer bet since there were less false turns.  We headed south along the river, passing sunbathers, families out for strolls and lots and lots of other cyclists.

IMGP2715 As you can see from the photo below, even within the city people went down to the ‘beach’ and enjoyed sunbathing next to the river. Further along there were more and more people until at one point it was find and empty patch of sand or rock.

The cycling changed from flat with trees around to slightly rolling as we entered the forest south of Munich. There were mountain bikers zooming around on the trails next to us, IMGP2716and we even did a bit ourselves when we took a wrong turn. It was fun to do some technical riding, but Lis was not impressed.

We emerged from the forest and continued along the river on the west bank, passing some rafts with people drinking lots of beer as the floated down the river to the sound of their own Bavarian band.  The raft to the left had us a bit perplexed as it was approaching a power station and IMGP2721we wondered what they would do. When they lowered the umbrellas I realized that they were going to shoot down the spillway.

Hopping on our bikes we made it to the exit just in time to seem them come through with a splash and a cry. IMGP2724 Would have been more exciting had they not made it, but his being Germany it is too well organized for something like that to happen. Were it New Zealand they would have probably been taken over a Category 3 rapid with people tossed to and fro. Kiwis like risk.

This was our turnaround point and we headed back towards the city. It had been a long, hot day and we were a bit tired, but it was fun to have been able to explore the lovely city of Munich and the countryside with Lis. It’s a great city and rumour has it that the Bank is considering relocating its regional office here in a few years. Not a bad choice …

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