European itinerary: Munich

Munich will forever be one of my most beloved cities. My home for nearly three years, this old-meets-new Bavarian gem has provided me with some of the best experiences in my life and is a place that should be visited for more than just its beer festivals (however, these are nothing short of spectacular purely for the fact that you can wear a dirndle or leiderhosen and not be judged).

But for anyone who has Munich on their radar during their European adventure, here are the must-do’s to make sure you make the most out of your visit to one of the most historic cities in all of Germany.

Transportation:

Before you start deciding where you are going to explore in Munich, it is important to know how you are going to get there! Munich is a biking city and there are bike paths lining nearly all the streets! You can rent a bike from Hauptbahnhof (the central train station) for around 20 euros a day and it is the best and most efficient way to see the city!

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Breakfast:

Germans’ main meal of the day is lunch, so don’t be surprised if the breakfasts options seem slim. But not to worry, you still have plenty of options to get your day off to the right start.

On the go: There are a broad range of bakeries to choose from, so if you are on your way for a day full of sight seeing make sure to grab a freshly baked bretzel or crossaint around any corner.

My recommendation:

Die Backstube//Sendlinger Tor

Rischart// Marienplatz

Sit down: Bur if you are feeling like a sit down meal, The Victorian Teahouse is snuggled in the corner of Marienplatz and is one of the only places in the city that offers brunch. Enjoy a wide selection of teas, coffee, pastries, eggs and even a BLAT!

Morning adventure: 

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Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz are considered the city center of Munich, so it can get quite busy by midday. Enjoy the historic sites without the busy bustle by checking these spots out first thing in the morning. Top places to visit:

1) St. Peter’s Church: Be prepared to climb nearly 700 old wooden stairs in cramped corners but you will be rewarded with an ariel view of the city. On a good day you can see all the way out to the Bavarian Alps!

2)Ludwig Beck: in the Galleria Kaufhof is one of the most posh stores in all of Bavaria. Make sure to try on some of the most exquisite dirndles and leiderhosens that this city has to offer.

3) Rathaus: One of the most iconic places in Munich, this city hall is a combination of old and new, with only remnants of the original building remaining post WWII. See if you can figure out the difference between the two.

4) Viktualianmarkt: a daily farmers market that has been in the same spot for hundreds of years! Make sure to get a basket full of fruit and snacks for an afternoon picnic.And don’t forget the obligatory milka as well!

Mid-morning break:

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After you have done your sightseeing for the morning, head over to the English garden for a bit of relaxation. Located right next to Marienplatz, it is no more than a five minute bike ride to Munich’s version of Central Park. Have a picnic, dip your feet in the Isar and make sure to watch the Munich surfers.

Afternoon:

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Bavarians love their long afternoons and most choose to enjoy it with a big and hearty lunch. Beergardens are an institution in Munich and it would be a crime to not experience one for yourself.  Remember that it is not an official beergardens unless there is a playground for children to enjoy as well! Make sure to order yourself a radler, bretzel and obatzda.

Top beergardens to find:

Seehaus//English Garden

Chinesischer Turm//English Garden

Augustiner Keller//Arnulfstrasse 52

Park Cáfe//Sophienstrasse 7

Evenings:

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Evenings in Munich can be as peaceful or l as wild as you want. If you are keen to experienxe a more local night out, head to Isator. You’ll have your choice of Bavarian fine dining at Augustine Keller,a row of local bars lined up along Isator Platz and a selection of films at the museum-turned-cinema Lichtspielhaus and an evening swim and hot chocolate across the street at Müller’s Volksbad.

But if your afternoon at the beergarden has inspired you to have a wilder night out, you have your selection of bars and clubs to choose from. And luckily, the Ubahn doesn’t shut down until 2am and there are night trams running twice an hour for the rest of the evening.

$: Turkenstraße and Gieselastraße

$$: Isatorplatz

$$$: Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz

But no matter how you choose to spend your time in Munich, make sure to appreciate the unique heartbeat of this city that has managed to capture the history of its development as well as adopt progressive mindsets that have made it one of Europes most successful cities. And remember to Prost!

 

Why Summertime in Munich is the Best

There’s something about summertime in Munich that is magical.

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The Englischer Garten: When the sun is out, everyone heads to the Englischer Garten. Bigger than Central Park in NYC at 910 acres, the park provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city It also provides easy access to cool off during the rather hot and humid days; running through the middle of the Englischer Garten is the Eisbach, which is an ice-cold and rapid-paced river.

At the very start of the Englischer Garten, near Maximillianstrasse, are the “Munich Surfers”, who surf on the waves of the river day and night. It was actually illegal to surf on the river until 2010, and now there are always huge crowd watching in amazement.

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Walk a little further into the park and you will find huge grassy areas covered with bikes, small groups of friends playing volleyball or Frisbee, sunbathers, and teenagers floating down the Eisbach. People who float down the river often start by the surfers and float all the way to the tram stop, where they hop out and get on the tram in their sopping wet bathing suits and go back and start from the beginning once again.

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A little bit further into the Englisher Garten are several biergartens, the two most popular being the Chinesischer Turm and the Seehaus. On the third Sunday of July tons of local arrive at the Chinesischer Turm at 4AM for the annual Kocherlball in their leiderhosens and dirndls–which  was originally for domestic workers to dance, and is now the best attended folk dance event in Munich. It is quite the sight to see people of all ages dancing on tables with beers in their hands as the sun is just rising. But the Seehaus is my personal favorite though because of the adorable lake next to it. It is an especially fun place to take the kiddies, as they love riding the paddle-boats around.

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The World Cup: Of course, this summer has been extra-magical because of Germany’s recent success at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Germans are so passionate about their Fussball team: every time Germany had a match the entire city nearly shut down and everyone crowds in the biergartens, pubs, or other public viewing areas to cheer on their team.I was lucky enough to watch the historic 7-1 Germany vs Brazil semi-final match in the Olympic Stadium. By the end of the game I was soaked in beer and learning the “celebration dance” from my happy new German friends.

But if that wasn’t exciting enough, the following Sunday I got to watch the final Germany-Argentina match with thousands of other fans! However, finding a place to watch was not easy. Little did I know that the moment Germany secured a spot in the final, every place in Munich was reserved. So at 4PM I lined up with nearly a thousand other people to try to get a spot at a public viewing area.

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After getting into Muffathalle, it was another five hour wait before kickoff, so luckily I had the great company of many other expats. But it was worth the wait when Germany finally scored in overtime–everyone climbed on the tables, threw their glasses of beer on the floor, and  jumped up and down in celebration. As soon as the match was over and Germany was officially pronounced “Welt Meister”, everyone ran to the streets with their Deutschland flags. The Ubahns were soon flooded with people chanting “Deutschland ist sehr schon” and heading to Leopoldstrasse to celebrate. I have been part of some major post-game celebrations at the University of Michigan, but that was nothing in comparison to what I experienced that night. Over 500,000 people flooded the streets until 7AM the next morning singing, dancing, and drinking in celebration.

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Summer Festivals: Munich is also great in the summer for all of the festivals! For the majority of July there is a music and arts festival called Tollwood in Olympic Park. It is full of different cultural vendors, performing artists, and of course heaps of beer! It is one of the most popular hang outs for locals on the weekends.

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Right outside of the inner city of Munich is another festival called Kaltenberger Ritterturnier. Located in the forest and the Schloss (castle) of the town, the festival takes visitors back in time to the medieval days. For the whole month of July visitors can walk into an atmosphere full of knights, street performers, naturally made food and drinks, and witness a live jousting tournament. While this is not really up my alley in terms of entertainment, it was so much fun watching the kiddies have a blast and pretend to be medieval nights themselves. And they sure loved the wieners there!

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But summer in Munich is not always full of sunshine. In fact, there have been more rainy days than I care to count. But the best part about the rain is that there is always a beautiful rainbow arching over my favorite city in the world.

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Christmas in Germany

If you are as obsessed with Christmas as I am, than Germany is the place to be for the month of December!
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The elf workshops and Santa meet-and-greets that dominate the Christmas culture in the US are replaced with Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) scattered throughout all the cities in Germany. Weihnachtsmarkts are THE social event of December. Everyone–kids, parents, elders–come to the Weihnachtsmarkts at all hours of the day to drink Glühwein, catch up with friends, and purchase handmade Christmas gifts.
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But these gifts that are sold at the markets are not the electronic/gadget/cuddly gifts one would find at a shopping mall (by the way, the word for shopping mall in German is einkaufsmöglichkeiten), but rather, Weihnactsmarkts are filed with rows of kiosks showcasing wooden ornaments, wax candles, hand-made nutcrackers, advent calendars and all types of German foods and drinks.
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On the first Advent Sunday I decided to go check out all of the Weihnachtsmarkts in Munich and see what all the excitement was all about. I put in my headphones and listened to Michael Buble’s Christmas album while walking through the mystical and magical markets.

In most of the market there are tall tables where people gather to drink Glühwein, snack on waffles with applesauce, and catch up with one another.
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Most markets are kid-friendly;the one at the Chinese Towers have two log cabins titled “Oma” and “Opa” workshops.
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In Oma’s cabin there are comfy chairs with fuzzy blankets that kids sit in while listening to an elderly woman read them a Christmas story.
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In Opa’s cabin an elderly man helps children build toys out of wood.

For as magical and splendid as the Christmas markets are in Munich, the markets in Nuremberg are on a whole other level.

Last Saturday I decided to make the journey out to the city. So I hopped on the regional train with my Bayern day pass ticket, not knowing that nearly 600 other people had the same plan as I did. Needless to say, I stood for the whole 3 hour train ride.
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As soon as I arrived in Nuremberg I felt like I was in a medical version of Black Friday. The city was so crowded that I was walking shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people throughout the entire city!
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I have always been prone to anxiety when it comes to crowds; Nuremberg was no different. After managing to escape the center of the markets I immediately found a stand that sold Glühwein. This warm, sweet drink is quite strong. Needless to say, I was ready to take on the crowds again not long after.
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While the crowds are a huge downside to the Nuremberg markets, they are populate for a reason: the markets have an old-fashioned and magical Christmas feel. I don’t think there is anything else in the world that quite compares to the markets in this city.
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My favorite stands were the ones that sold honey wax candles and nutcrackers!
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After a successful afternoon of Christmas shopping I unfortunately hopped on the wrong train back to Munich, thus pro-longing my journey home by another 4 hours. But hey, it was just another excuse to listen to Christmas music for that much longer!
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Frohe Weinachten! (Merry Christmas)

Living Abroad is Easy (Said No One Ever).

One of the reasons that I wanted to move to Munich for a year was to challenge myself. But I was not prepared for the seemingly simplest of tasks to turn into the most difficult of challenges.
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Example 1: Putting gas into a car.
I went to a local gas station to fill up my car. Seeing that there was no machine-to-accept-money hooked up to the gas pump, I assumed you had to go inside and pay first. So I went in and told the cashier,

“Zehn euros zum Zapfsäule acht bitte.” (10 euros for gas pump number 8 please)

The cashier looked at me in complete confusion. I thought I had made perfect sense, as I had rehearsed the phrase multiple times before saying it out loud. Maybe it was my accent? The cashier went and got her co-worker who spoke English. They started laughing, and the co-worker told me,

“You pay after you fill up the tank!”

They continued giggling as I walked out slightly embarrassed. Germany is really trusting, as this system of “use and THEN pay” would never work in the States. But the problems continued.

As I went back out to the gas pump I realized I had no idea what type of gasoline to put in the car! My choices were: Deisel, Super Deisel, Super Bio, Super, and Super Plus. I once again went back to the cashier and asked what type of gasoline a BMW uses. More giggles ensued as I left once again.

Finally I could make the third, and final, trip into the cashier and finally pay for the gas.

Example 2: Having a debit card.
I was so excited to finally have a European bank account and debit card! In the States, to activate your debit card you just call a phone number and press in a code However, in Germany, it is a little bit more complicated.

First, they send your debit card and pin number separately. If you want to have an online account, you need to have a separate account number and pin. Then, to activate, they give you a Tan code. Which has serial numbers. Which have a six-digit code, that will FINALLY allow you to activate and prompts you to make a new pin number.

So after I spent an hour trying to figure out this complicated system (didn’t help that my German is not strong enough to translate the instructions adequately), I finally had an activated account!

To celebrate I decided to book a plane ticket to go to Istanbul. But when I went to enter my card information on the website, more trouble ensued. On my card there was a “Konto-Nr.”, a “BNZ” number, a “Karten-Nr.”, and an IBAN nr. But none of these series of numbers added up to the 16 digit number the information box was asking for. Furthermore, I had no idea where to find a security code.

Frustrated beyond belief and now more determined than ever to book this flight, I went to my bank the next day. I showed the lady at the desk my card and asked,

“Wo ist der Sicherheitscode?” (where is the security code?)

The lady took one look at my card, chuckled, and said in English (as she obviously guessed I was foreign from my dumb question),

“You need a credit card to have a security code. And to make online purchases. You have a debit card. That only works to withdraw money from the bank and make local purchases. Would you like to sign up for a credit card?”

Very embarrassed with my lack of knowledge for the German system, I signed up to get the credit card and waited for more complicated TAN number series to arrive in the mail.

Example 4: Cooking
With Thanksgiving approaching, I was excited to share my favorite holiday dishes with the family: apple pie, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, turkey, and sweet potato casserole. Except there was one slight problem—most German markets do not sell pumpkin puree, pie crust, bread bins, or chocolate chips!

Over a span of a week and a half I went to six different markets to try and find ingredients for my recipes. With carbs (mostly breads) being such and intricate part of the German diet, I expected finding the supplies for pumpkin bread and pies to be simple. I mean, there is a bakery on almost every corner of Munich.

However, in all the stores I went to, I could not find pie crust or tins to bake bread in!! So I improvised and instead made apple crisp and pumpkin cake. The kiddies wouldn’t mind as long as they got to eat sugary treats anyway 🙂

But the cooking troubles did not end with the German markets. As soon as I got into the kitchen I realized I would have to convert all the temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and change all of the cups/tablespoon measurements to grams! So there were a lot of estimations for the recipes. But Thanksgiving was a huge success and everyone (even the kids) ended the night in food comas.
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Example 5: Trying to speak German.
I am at the point in my German class where everything is becoming really complicated. So much to the point that my teacher told us,

“You can’t translate German to English. It won’t make sense. You just have to have a feeling for it.”

Well I don’t know when this “feeling” will come, but I hope I get it soon!

German is actually a really beautiful language, and as with everything else in their society, the language is set up in an efficient and logical manner. Thus, it is rather difficult for native English speakers (like myself) to catch on.

For example, Germans have multiple ways to express “love” for something. They think that it is bizarre people in the States use the words “I love…” to express admiration for everything ranging from a significant other to American Football. The German language is very specific on how they express the term “I love…”.

“Ich liebe dich” (I love you) is reserved for only the romantic type of love.

“Ich habe dich lieb” (I have love for you) is reserved for relatives and close friends.

“Ich mag…” (I really like…) is reserved for places or objects.

Another complicated part of the German language are the articles. There no specific rules as to what makes a noun masculine (der/ein), feminine (die/eine), or neutral (das/ein). But if that wasn’t already complicated enough, some verbs are nominativ and others are akkusativ. This means that sometimes masculine nouns have “den” or “einen” as their articles. But the only way to know the difference is to just “have a feeling for the language.”

One really important lesson I learned is to be aware of what article you place in front of “Freund(e)” (friend) when introducing them. When you say. “mein(e) Freund (e)”, you are introducing the person as your boy(girl)friend. But when you introduce them as “ein(e) Freund(e)”, you are introducing them as just a friend.

Telling time is also really complicated for most native English speakers. To explain, instead of saying “half past one” (1:30), you say “halb zwei” (half until two; 1:30).

You could also say “zehn nach halb funf” (ten past half of five), which is 5:40. Confused yet?

For me, the most intimidating part of the German language are the extremely long words. But in reality, they are often just multiple words combined into one so that the speaker can be efficient and to the point.

For example: der Hotelzimmerschlussel (the hotel room key) is really just das hotel (hotel) + das zimmer (room) + der schlussel (key).

Now that I am able to dissect a lot of long German words, I have a real appreciation for how brilliant the German language is!

But there are some words that are just ridiculous.

Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan.

This word has thirty two letters in it, which is six more than the English alphabet!

Dissected and translated, the word means Damf(smoke)+Schiff (ship)+ Fahrt (trip) +gesellschaft (company) + kapitan (capitan).

So in English, the word means something like: Captain of a company that has a ship with smoke that takes a trip. Pretty amazing how they can sum all that information up into one word.

Now try and say it five times fast.

Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan. Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan. Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan. Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan. Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitan.

München Trends and Etiquette

After a month of living in Munich, I have had plenty of embarrassing situations that make me look like a complete foreigner (in addition to me already being shorter and having darker hair than most women here).
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The first lesson that I have had to learn is that everyone values appearance. And I mean EVERYONE. Unless you don’t mind being stared at by fifty other people on the U-Bahn or having an entire restaurant glare and whisper about you, follow my advice:

Attire:
1) Yoga pants/leggings are not acceptable unless you are at the gym. But do not wear them on the way to the gym. Wait until you are there before changing. Last week I wore my Lulu Lemons and Nike running shoes to the gym. Huge mistake. The most casual outfit Munich locals wear to the gym are jeans and a nice blouse. Gym clothes stay in the gym.
2) Also, messy buns are not appreciated in Munich. Being a swimmer for the last 13 years, I have perfected the messy bun. But in Munich, unless it is a perfectly tight ballerina or business bun, women wear their hair down. Thankfully, nearly all the gyms in Munich have hair-dryers to help women look more put together before leaving the gym.
3) No sweats to the grocery store. Or any place in public. Usually after a hard work-out I just want to go home and not bother changing back into my street clothes. And that is exactly what I did this past weekend. Not finishing at the gym till after 8 pm, and thus missing my chance to run to the grocery store (all stores are required by law to close at 8 pm), I decided to go to a local restaurant and grab dinner to-go while still in my leggings and baggy sweatshirt. This post-workout look was not appreciated in the burger joint, and I have never felt more self -conscious.
4) House slippers are required in Munich homes. One day last week I took my boots off after arriving at the family’s home. Smilja, the housekeeper, ran after me extremely worried and told me that I should not walk around with just socks or I will risk getting ammonia.

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5) Recycle—Do it. Everyone in Munich is eco-friendly. So much so that each home has four different types of trash bins. One is for paper, one is for plastic and glass, one is for bio-degradable items, and the final one is waste. But what you put in each bin can be a little more complicated. For example, I thought that a paper towel should go in the “paper” bin after using one. However, this is not always the case. If the paper towel is damp then it goes in the “bio-degradable” bin. Germans are also very protective of their recycling bins. At my apartment I have to use my house-key to open each bin!
6) Be trustworthy. The entire city of Munich seems to run off of trusting their citizens to do the right thing. To explain, there are not gates barring access to the metro systems. The city trusts that each passenger has a ticket and thus it is only on the random U-bahn checks that people must prove they have a ticket. Also, citizens do not have to pay for a newspaper first before getting it out of the bin. There is a coin slot, but there is no way of knowing if you have paid.
7) The Bayern area (which Munich is part of) has several words specific to the area. One of those is “Servus” (which sounds like sehrvoos), which is used as a formal greeting, and the most polite phrase to greet people with.

Music:
8) As up to date as Munich is with their fashion and sustainability, they are WAY behind in terms of Music. The most popular songs on the radio at the moment are “Call Me Maybe” and “Wide Awake”. Not that I have problem with hearing Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepson on repeat, but they were popular in the rest of the western world about a year ago.
9) A few weeks ago my friend Kelsee and I were given tickets to go to the Thirty Seconds to Mars concert. I know that they were popular when I was in seventh grade but I had no idea the band was still together. Not only are they together, but it seemed like the entire youth of Munich was at their concert shouting the lyrics to all their classic songs.
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Food:
10) Carbs-This is the most loved food group in Munich. Every U-Bahn stop has bakeries with the constant smell of freshly baked bread. The most common snack that I see locals eating are “butterbrezels”, which are pretzels with loads of butter in-between. If it is not that, then they are eating cheesy potatoes. But yet everyone in Munich has found a way to stay slim. I guess it’s in the German DNA?

Driving:
11) BMW’s– They are the “it” car in Munich. Everyone seems to have one. And as I found out during the tour at BMW, no two BMW automobiles are identical.
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12) Drivers in Munich are insanely aggressive. They have no problem going from 30 km to 100 kpm just to pass you before the red light. I also had my first experience driving on the autobahn. There are no speed limits, so all the drivers are driving at least 200 km. Lets just say in the future I will be avoiding the autobahn at all possible costs.
13) Bikes have priority. They are allowed the right-hand side of the sidewalks. Also, as a pedestrian, if you get hit by a bike it is ALWAYS your fault. Bikers are never at fault. Everyone rides bikes. But unlike the states, most people do not bother locking their bike up. They just leave it leaning against the side of a building or tree. This further proves my point of how trusting Munich people are.

Even though it has been difficult to adapt to the new way of life in Munich, I am absolutely loving calling this place my home. The family I am with is so sweet. I spend my weekday afternoons picking up TT and Xavi from school, giving them swim lessons, and taking them out to afternoon tea and cakes.
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Last weekend we had a Harry Potter Marathon in the fort they had made. My next goal: turn them into Gleeks.
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Servus!

Sports in Munich

Back in the states, when people go to the gym they often say, “I’m going to workout.” In Munich, people will instead say “I’m going to do sports.”

There was a new gym that opened right across from where I am living, so it was not long before I had gone over to test it out. Gyms in Munich are set up very logically. The first station is labeled “Herz-Kreislauf”, which means cardiovascular. There are four rows of cardio equipment, which most gym-goers only use for ten minutes as a warm-up. In all the times I have been there, I have never seen a person on a machine for longer than fifteen minutes.

The next station is labeled “Frauen Sport-Bereich”, which means women’s sport area. This area has resistance machines rather than weight machines. There are rows of lounge chairs and a table with incense in the middle. The entire area is walled off with temporary walls. As a former D-1 athlete, I refuse to use this section. Women can lift weights too!

So I spent most of my time in the third section, labeled “Männlich Sportbereich”, which means male’s sport area. There are rows of weight machines and an entire wall lined with dumbbells. However, these weights are in kg instead of lbs. Thus, what I thought to be a twenty-five pound dumbbell was actually fifty-five pounds! I was the only female in this section, and I received a lot of curious and confused stares from the other males in this area.

One even came up to me and asked “sind Sie ein professioneller Gewichtheber?” (Are you a professional weightlifter?) (Ha. I wish).

Being extremely new to the German language, I just shook my head and repeated “Nein. Nein. Nein,” and ran over to the fourth section labeled “Stretching-Bereich”, which means stretching area. The final section is labeled “Wi-Fi area”. The gym wants to make sure that people are not distracted by the internet, and only one area gets efficient Wi-Fi. Talk about motivation to finish a workout : )

Since arriving in Munich, I have also had the amazing opportunity to experience another aspect of “sports”. Kelsee invited me to a Bayern Münich Fußball game! Locals take this sport very seriously in Munich and it felt as if nearly half the city was in the massive Allianz arena for the game.
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The morning of the game Kelsee and I went shopping in Marienplatz to pick out some fan gear. We opted for the red and blue t-shirts. We later learned at the game that many people wear their work clothes to the game and wrap a Bayern Münich scarf around their neck. Next time we will know what to wear.
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We took the U-Bahn to the game after we finished work that evening and the entire train was full of eager Bayern Münich fans! Nearly every person had an open bottle of beer in their hand. The game took place on a rainy Wednesday night. The Allianz arena, which holds 80,000 people, was glowing red. This signifies that a home-game is taking place. The arena lights up blue when they team is playing an away-match.
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The entire stadium was filled by the time the game started! This was pretty impressive considering that most people had work the next morning. What was even more impressive was the entire crowd chanted cheers, such as “Ein Schuss, ein Tor, die Bayern, DIE BAYERN!” for the entire 2 ½ hour match without any breaks!
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My favorite chant was when the announcer interacted with the fans of the stadium. He would ask “Bayern-Fans- Wie viele Punkte hat Viktoria haben?” (Bayern Fans-How many points does Viktoria have?)

The crowd would reply in unison, “Null!” (zero).

Then the announcer would ask, “Bayern-Fans- Wie viele Punkte hat Bayern München haben?”

The crowd would then roar, “fünf!” (five) and erupt into dancing, cheering, and applauding.

While the game itself was a blow-out, it was great to be a part of an exciting atmosphere! It even came pretty close (but still does not surpass) the crowds at the University of Michigan football games!

Another experience Kelsee and I have had with sports was when we recently decided to try Bikram Yoga! We were both really nervous because we figured the entire class would be in German and we would be completely lost. However, the instructor of the class was bilingual, and spoke the first round of instructions in German and the second round in English. (giving us another opportunity to learn German.)

Germans often have a reputation for being really serious, but every person in this demanding yoga class was smiling the entire time. There were also a couple of ex-pats in the class who introduced themselves to us after the class was over! They were all so kind and made us feel very welcomed. This was just the type of relaxing detox Kelsee and I needed after our hectic weeks of chasing children around.

I have also started swimming at the Olympia Schwimmhalle a couple of times a week. You can’t find better inspiration during a workout than swimming in the same lane that Mark Spitz won his seven gold medals in! The perfect place to prepare for the Cologne swim and run 12k in May!Tschaauuuu! (cheers)

Munich: round two

After the crazy and dramatic summer I had had in Europe, I was prepared for the worst coming to Munich the second time around. And before I boarded the plane, it looked as if my fears would be valid.

Bad things come in three, and my experience at the airport was no different. First, as soon as I arrived at the airport I could not find my ID! (This was frustrating as I had everything prepared for the trip since the week before.) Luckily my mom was able to go back home and find it for me. Then, while on the way to the terminal the strap to my carry-on bag broke! Just as I had begun to try to fix it, I heard my name called over the intercom.

“Samantha Pearson please report to security check-point to claim your laptop.”

I had forgotten to take my computer out of the bin after going through security and had to sprint back to retrieve it so that I didn’t miss my flight.

But my luck turned around once I boarded the plane. For some reason there was only sixty passengers on the Boeing 757 to Munich, meaning that I had an entire row to spread out in during the overnight flight!

I had butterflies in my stomach as the plane landed in Munich. I could not believe that I was actually back in Germany, this time with a secure job, permanent housing, and endless opportunities awaiting me.

That evening my Au-Pair family invited me to their home by throwing me an adorable welcome-party. The kids—Lex, Thalia, and Xavi— had decorated the entire house with signs, balloons, and home-made cupcakes.

After the dinner I went to my apartment, which overlooks Marienplatz! After the taxi driver discovered that I was American he began playing his own game of “guess that ‘American’ song” with me. He blasted songs by KISS, Shakira, and Justin Bieber and would ask me to identify them. It was a very entertaining ride home.

The locals have been so friendly to me since my arrival. On my way to pick up the kids from school there was a man walking his dog in my direction. The dog was not on a leash, so he came sprinting towards me. Startled, I jumped out of the way. When I looked up the man was imitating the dog and running towards me as well.

He laughed, patted me on the back, and said “Entschuldigen. Sie sind eine schöne Frau.” (Excuse us. You are a beautiful girl).

Then, as I waited for the bus, and elderly lady sat down next to me and started speaking very quickly in German. I was struggling to translate quick enough to form a response. The lady reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a handful of Lindt chocolates.

She handed them to me and said, “You must learn German dear. You will catch on quickly though.” Thankfully I start German classes this week.

In addition to the really nice locals, there is a wonderful community of Ex-pats in Munich as well. I have become really good friends with another Au-Pair named Kelsee.

My first weekend in Munich we decided to go visit the Neuschwanstein castle!
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Her friend Keaton, who is an Au-Pair in Dusseldorf, also joined us. In order to reach the castle we had to travel by train to a town called Füssen. We purchased the Bayern group day pass ticket, which saved us over 40 euros a piece. On the train ride over the three of us discussed the awesome benefits of being an Au-Pair, how nice our families have been, and funny stories about the kids. I explained how the other day Xavi, who is five years old, started singing “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. When I asked him if he knew what a hangover was, he proudly responded, “Well duh! It is when someone hangs you over their shoulder and it makes you laugh really hard.”

Sitting in a seat across from us was a girl named Meghan, who had been listening to our conversation the entire train ride. Finally she introduced herself and told us that she was also an Au-Pair in a town right outside of Munich.

Once we arrived at the castle I was overtaken with excitement and admiration. The Neuschwanstein castle sits perfectly on top of a hill with the Bavarian mountains as the backdrop. We had come at the perfect time of year as all of the leaves from trees were changing into their fall colors.
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It was a beautiful forty minute hike up to the castle that had taken seventeen years to build. Ironically, King Ludwig only lived in it for a total of 172 days before he mysteriously died. He built the castle so that he could live in solitude, with the palace he grew up in—the Hohenschwangau Castle— out in the distance below. The inside of the Neuschwanstein castle is absolutely spectacular. The name of the castle literally means “New Swan Stone”, so it is fitting that images of swans are designed into nearly all the rooms of this magnificent piece of architecture. Inside King Ludwig’s bedroom, which you must enter through a secret door, is a sink with a swan faucet. The water from this faucet comes directly from the river below the hill.
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After touring the inside of the castle we hiked further up the hill for the “fairytale view”. There is a wooden bridge that connects two parts of the mountain. On this bridge the magnificence of the castle is magnified and it is hard to not have your mouth hanging open in amazement. But be warned. This view makes all of the tourists extremely excited, and it was not long before Kelsee and I were stuck in the middle of the bridge with swarms of people around us. To make matters worse, we could feel the wood below us start to wobble. To future visitors, cross this bridge with caution.
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It was a great first week in Munich and I am so thrilled to call this amazing city my home for the next year. Auf Wiedersehen (good-bye!)

A Hands-On History Lesson (and a black baseball hat)

If I could recommend only one thing to do in Berlin, it would be to do the free walking tour. In every city that Liana and I went to we would do the free walking tour to get a lay-out of the city and learn about the history and significance of our surroundings. The one in Berlin was hands-down the best.
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Our tour guide was a guido-hipster-American named George. His black baseball hat and tight skater jeans complimented his crude and over-the-top personality. The first stop on the tour was the Holocust memorial for the Jews. There are hundreds of rows of cement blocks with narrow pathways throughout. George explained to us that the artist of the memorial never published an explanation for the design; he wanted the experience of the memorial to be personal and for the viewer to create his or her own meaning. The theory I liked best, and personally experienced, was that the further in you go, the easier it is to lose those around you, and soon, you feel completely alone and blocked off from the outside world—which is exactly what the Jews felt when shipped off to the concentration camps.
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George also took us to see the location of Hitler’s death and bunker, which is now a parking lot for high-rise condominiums. George explained that this is Berlin’s sly insult to Hitler, as the area is literally “shit on” by condo owner’s dogs, run over by cars, and stomped all over by residents on a daily basis. We were also taken to the location of the infamous book burning and other war memorials.

While on the tour I saw a girl in the distance that looked a lot like one of my former teammates. But I convinced myself it wasn’t her and continued on with the tour. However, I ran into this girl again at a restaurant after the tour, and it turned out to in fact be my former teammate Lauren! It was an extremely random meeting, but it was so exciting to be re-united with someone who was so influential in my life.
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That evening Liana and I went out for drinks at a bar called White Trash with our four Aussie roomies: Joel, Andy, Beth, and Matt. It was a really fun evening until we returned to our hostel room to find the door wide open. As I walked in I saw all of the contents of my bag scattered all over the floor and all of my bedding off of my bed.

My first thought was that someone had stolen some of my belongings. But after quickly realizing all of my valuables were still there, I noticed there was a black baseball hat on the bed and a camera. I turned on the camera to see who it belonged to and realized it was one of the girls on the walking tour. Just as I figured this out I opened the door to see this girl kissing our tour guide George in the hallway!

The black hat belonged to George. With undergarments all over the bed, I realized that George and the other girl had hooked-up in my bed!

Our roommate Joel told the girl off for taking my bed as George ran down the hall in embarrassment. Liana and I could barely hold ourselves back from hysterically crying with laughter. This event became a huge joke in our room and our other roommate Andy kept George’s black hat as a keepsake from the night.

Liana and I spent our last day in Munich at the Schanen Concentration Camp. This was an extremely difficult tour to do, but I strongly believe that every person owes it to humanity to visit at least one camp. The tour was six hours long. My stomach was in knots as we walked through the gates that so many prisoners never had the opportunity to leave. We stood in the area where roll call was done every morning. We entered one of the living barracks where over 300 prisoners were crammed into 3-tear bunks. We walked on the boot path- where many prisoners were forced to march with 80 pound backpacks until they collapsed to their deaths. We viewed Entrance Z, also known as the place of execution. Our tour guide reminded us that the Holocaust was not the first in history, and that these horrible places still exist in today’s world.

While the tour put Liana and I in a really sad mood, I realized how beautiful it was that Germany has owned up to all of their mistakes and taken full responsibility for their actions—something that many other nations in similar situations refuse to do.
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That night Liana and I headed off to the train station to catch our 3 a.m. train to Amsterdam!
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First Week in Munich

We arrived back in Munich to a wonderful reunion with Kyu and our friends Alice and Valentine— who live in the city. The backpacker lifestyle was thrilling, but it felt so good to have our own room to sleep in for the night and, more importantly, do laundry! That night we went out to dinner with Alice and Valentine at a local beer garden and had a traditional Bavarian meal. I was so excited to call this city my home for the rest of summer!

After a long first week of work Liana and I decided to treat ourselves to a beer tour around the city. We were shown around by our Australian tour guide named Andy, who was super helpful in giving us local tips of the city and recommending the best breweries to get our beer from.
We had to wait to move into our housing until the next week, so during our first week in Munich we stayed at Jaegers Hostel. We ended up having some awesome roommates, particularly two girls who were from Florida. That weekend we went to the Tollwood festival in Olympic Park with them. Tollwood is a twice-a-year arts and music festival with tons of boutique shops, delicious food, and friendly hippies!
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That evening we went to explore the English Gardens and watch the Munich surfers! The Isor river flows through the gardens and has such a strong current that the really skilled surfers can take on the man-made waves.
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Our tour guide Andy had told us about this pre-Oktoberfest celebration that is a local secret, and takes place once a year in the summer at the Chinese Tower beer garden. Thousands of locals gather at the beer garden at 4 a.m. with their traditional dirndls and trousers ready to drink and dance on the tables until the afternoon. Liana and I were set on joining, and planned on taking a quick nap before heading over.

Unfortunately, that nap turned into a really long nights sleep. It turned out for the best, as the next day our friend Kai, whom we had met in Barcelona, came to visit us for the day! We explored the city with him and eventually found Munich’s version of the beach, which are islands of rocks in the shallow part of the Isor River. We all sat there for the next couple of hours and listened to Kai explain what life was like as a pilot and all of his adventures he had had with the job.
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Liana and I returned to our hostel that evening thankful for a really fun weekend and excited to be moving into our real housing the next day!