I’ve alway been one for embracing spontaneous travel, but this time I may have outdone myself. I was just finishing up my first day of Friday classes a couple weekends ago (yes, this post is a bit overdue) when I was reminded by a fellow Wipper that I wasn’t going to have class until reunidas classes began the following Thursday. So what do I do? That night I decide to book a flight to Munich, Germany to spend a couple days in the city as well as experience the world famous Oktoberfest festival located there- something I have always wanted to do. Of course, since this is all completely last minute, I decide to embark on this spontaneous adventure solo. But not without the help of Couchsurfing!
Couchsurfing is a community of travelers that open up their homes to other travelers, gives them a place to stay during their travels, and if desired, will act as a travel companion/tour guide showing you around their city giving you helpful hints about all the great places to go that may not be known to the common tourist. And it’s free!
Couchsurfing embraces the idea of hospitality, friendship, and pay-it-forward which is a completely brilliant concept if you ask me. So that’s what I did! I sent out a few requests to Couchsurfing hosts around Munich and prayed for a response, considering how last minute it was. Luckily, I was accepted by a very nice business student in Munich named Baran. I gave him my flight details for the next day and we planed to meet up in the airport terminal when I landed.
On Saturday- very early in the morning, I grabbed my travel backpack, took the metro to the airport and hopped on the flight to Munich! (Side note- I must say that the German airline “Lufthansa” is phenomenal). When I landed, Baran was standing outside the terminal gates holding a piece of paper with my last name on it- which was very cool and I felt like a celebrity. We then took the metro into Munich where I was able to drop off my things, and then venture out and explore the city.
It was really cool talking with Baran and hearing about all his other Couchsurfing adventures. He also is fluent in 4 languages (German, French, English, Turkish) which is extremely impressive since I’m studying abroad in Spain attempting to become fluent in my second language. We walked around the city center, which included the old downtown area and I got the chance to really embrace the city’s vibe through the amazing architecture and the crowds of people walking through the streets. This also includes the stunning and intricate city hall.
Since I visited during Munich’s busiest time of the year (thanks to Oktoberfest) the streets were obviously filled with more tourists than usual, as well as people wearing traditional Bavarian clothing (Dirndl for girls, Lederhosen for boys) worn all around town to celebrate the festival.
I almost felt out of place for NOT wearing a dirndl. We spend a good chunk of the afternoon wandering about the city, taking pictures, and embracing the vibrance Munich has to offer.
After my little tourist excursion, Baran took me to this really cool Ethiopian restaurant. He said it was one of his favorites and wow, he was right the food was delicious! It was definitely a unique experience because Ethiopian food is not eaten with utensils. You are given an assortment of bread to use as a utensil and pick up your food with. This can also get messy if you are not careful.
The restaurant was also decorated in traditional Ethiopian style, and our “table” was in this little sunken living room where you eat elbow to elbow with other people at other tables. It’s a cozy environment to say the least.
After we completely stuffed our bellies with Ethiopian food, we walked around the city more. Of course, many bars were filled with Oktoberfest-goers who were unable to secure a place at the actual festival that evening, but it definitely made for a lively and entertaining crowd.
While Baran and I were having a great conversation at a traditional “beer hole” in the city, we met an Italian family who had traveled to Munich for the weekend. Although there was a bit of a language barrier (they spoken very broken English, the dad spoke a bit of Spanish, and I understand a bit of Italian) we had the most wonderful evening together exchanging laughs and conversing in our broken languages. But it worked and I think that’s what made it so fun! As the night died down, we said our goodbyes and headed off to bed for some much needed sleep.
Sunday started of beautifully with Baran making me homemade French crêpes for breakfast which was really sweet (no pun intended). I even attempted to make my own crêpe but I wasn’t so successful.
I then wandered about the city on my own with some wonderful suggestions from Baran of places to see while he caught up on some homework. One of the things I love about wandering throughout Germany is that it reminds me a lot of Wisconsin with it’s natural beauty so I felt very much at home- or maybe that was my German heritage coming through.
It’s true that I fit right in in Germany and many of the locals thought I was German (which I technically am) and would begin speaking to me in German before they realized I didn’t know the language. It was actually very comforting and fulfilling being in a place where my ancestors grew up.
I began the day by visiting the old downtown again. I even found something that might seem a little familiar to UW Madison students! 😉
Near the city hall, I also encountered a tower in an old church that people were able to climb for spectacular 360degree views of the city. The climb up the tower was exhausting and the passageways were very narrow so it was difficult when groups of people needed to pass each other. But once you reached the top, the view took your breath away almost as much as the climb up. I feel like you never really understand how amazing a city is unless you have the chance to take a moment a separate yourself from the hustle-bustle and view it as a complete entity. I spent a good amount of time in the tower mesmerized by the view.
When I returned to Earth, I started on my way to the English Gardens which was recommended to me by Baran. However, on my walk to the gardens the most incredible thing happened. A piano revealed itself to me in a quiet city square. I walked by just at the moment it was being uncovered and my heart exploded with joy. In Spain, pianos aren’t readily available to play like they are back at Madison or in the states. Practice rooms with pianos are seemingly inexistent. So after being deprived of playing in over a month, I got the opportunity to play for a small group of people in a little city square which is the greatest gift Munich could give me.
With an extra skip in my step, I continued on my journey to the English Gardens. This park, located around the center of the city, is absolutely gigantic and filled with so many people and things to do! For reference, it’s bigger than New York City’s Central Park. One of the first things I noticed when I entered the park was how naturally beautiful it looked. It was filled with little streams, ponds, pathways, green areas and flowers. Of course, there were many people enjoying the park’s pathways on bikes as well as on foot.
As I walked on the pathways and enjoyed the day, I saw a small group of people gathered around one of the small rivers that ran through the park. When I got closer, I realized that there were people surfing on the river rapids. I never imagined that surfing was a popular sport in Munich but apparently it is! It was mesmerizing to watch the surfers go back and forth and back and forth on the rapids. They would ride the waves until they fell, at which the exact moment another surfer would enter the river to take their place.
There were also places to eat scattered around the English Gardens called “Beer Gardens”. It was as if you put an entire cafeteria in a park where people could gather, have a beer, eat food and enjoy the scenery of the park and each other’s company. I ended up stopping at one of the beer gardens to order some traditional German food because I didn’t think there would be a more appropriate time in my life to eat bratwurst and sauerkraut than in a beer garden in Germany. And it was delicious! The atmosphere in the beer garden was very warm the the views of the park were scenic so if I lived in Germany I could see myself passing a lot of time there.
Once I devoured my authentic German meal amidst the beautiful English Gardens, I continued on my scenic stroll around the pathways (keep in mind this park is HUGE and walking takes hours). I’m pretty sure I even made it around the entire thing, but I didn’t have a map with me so I never knew exactly where I was which was an adventure in itself. With every corner I was surprised by something new.
Before I knew it, it was time to meet up with Baran at an outdoor pavilion at a park closer to the old town area. Every Sunday during summer, this pavilion turns into a dance space for swing dancers to gather and dance with each other while swing music echoes throughout the pavilion.
Baran is a part of the swing dancing club in Munich, therefore I never would have known about this if it wasn’t for him! It was such a cool thing to watch. All of a sudden a group of people gather and start swing dancing under this pavilion. It really takes people by surprise, but they love it! The dancing goes on for about 3 hours in total and you really can’t get bored watching all the people dance whether they are professional swing dancers or amateurs. I was also interested to learn that swing dancing in Germany became popular during the war when American soldiers brought it here as a way to entertain themselves when they were off duty.
For those of you wondering, yes, I did participate in swing dancing while I was there (BADLY- let me tell you). But how could I pass up the opportunity? The swing dancers attempted to teach me, and after a while I started to catch on more but was never really successful. The important part is that we had fun! It was fun to watch and it was fun to dance under the pavilion until sundown; something I never would have experienced if it wasn’t for my wonderful Couchsurfing host.
However, now was the time I had been waiting for. Of course, the real reason people come to Munich during this time is to go to the festival, Oktoberfest. Although Oktoberfest is celebrated all over the world, everyone knows the best celebration is in Munich because it is the largest in the world!
So Baran and I headed over to the Oktoberfest grounds and unfortunately I was a bit out of place since I was not wearing traditional bavarian clothing. Stores sell this clothing everywhere in Munich but it can be very expensive to buy- especially if I was only planning to wear it for a couple hours. Once I stepped on the Oktoberfest grounds I was in awe of the magnitude of the festival. There were so many lights and things to see between the rides, food stands, games, people, and beautiful decorations! You never really understand how incredible Oktoberfest is unless you step foot on the grounds and experience it yourself- it’s remarkable.
We walked around the grounds looking to enter one of the 14 gigantic tents on the grounds. If you go during the busiest weekends during Oktoberfest it can be hard to find a tent with the doors open (due to the number of people who want to enter). Luckily the night we went there were a few tents with their doors open and we were able to enter.
The interior of these tents was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. They were beautifully decorated with streamers of various colors and the ceilings were so high and incredible! Each of the 14 tents are decorated in a unique style and theme as well.
The crowds of people in the tents were just as crazy as the decorations. People do not sit during Oktoberfest, oh no. Everyone stands on the benches, shoulder to shoulder, beer stein in hand, and enthusiastically sings along to the live band in the center of the tent.
The live music has a lot of variety and you’ll hear anything from traditional German songs to popular American songs. However, a few traditional songs are repeated more frequently and the people get really excited when they hear these songs and everyone sings and dances along. Also, as you could imagine, everything was pretty expensive inside the tents. A beer stein for example will cost you a total of 10 euros (granted, they are very large). But it’s the experience you’re paying for so it’s totally worth it.
We found a small place at a table to stand and quickly made friends with the others at the table. Everyone really becomes a family under the Oktoberfest tents and it’s a great place to make new friends and share the experience. The entire night was spent singing, dancing, and enjoying the Oktoberfest experience- well, until the tents closed at 11pm. We then said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed back with the wonderful memories made under the Oktoberfest tents.
Baran had school the next day so I took a day trip to the outskirts of Munich to visit the concentration camp, Dachau. Located about 30 minutes outside the city, Dachau was the first concentration camp in Germany and where many Nazi officers were trained during the Holocaust. Dachau was a work camp rather than a camp specifically designed for mass execution, although over 40,000 died as a result of the terrible conditions.Today the grounds have been converted into a memorial site that people can visit for fee.
Upon arriving, there was a slight fog/mist in the air which made the environment more eerie than it already was. After just visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam the week prior, I became very humbled at the reality of what took place here. There’s a different level of understanding when you stand in the exact location where such horrible things took place- of which I’ve only read about.
The walk around the camp was very solemn and I rented an audio guide that talked about specific points around the camp which also included survivor stories and recollections of a specific space (roll-call yard, bunker, etc.). Various memorials were also placed around the camp in honor of those who had suffered there.
Although it was a drastic contrast to all the other fun things I had been doing in Munich. I knew this was an important stop to make. The holocaust is a crucial event in world history and we need to make sure we never forget so it will happen “never again”.
When I met back up with Baran in the evening, we went to one of his swing dance practices and I got the chance to continue to sharpen my (terrible) swing dancing skills. It was really fun dancing with the group of people and I’m happy I got the chance to experience something so unique in Munich (thanks to Baran)!
The next day, I got up, packed up my things, said my goodbyes to Baran (along with tremendous amounts of gratitude for his hospitality), and headed off to the airport for my flight back to Madrid.
The weekend was definitely a whirlwind, and it’s one for the story books for sure. For me, spontaneous adventures are always so rewarding and this one was no exception. I’m so pleased with my experience in Munich and now I have more wonderful memories to add to my collection of adventures around Europe!