Photos by Kait Bolongaro
“Oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” shouts the man sitting behind me as he downs a beer. Dressed head to toe in lederhosen while singing Bavarian drinking songs, clearly, he is proud to be Bavarian. He clinks glasses with his comrades and continues belting out the lyrics that he knows by heart. He has probably sung them a thousand times.
This isn’t an uncommon scene in Munich, Bavaria’s capital. Although this ancient kingdom joined the German federation after World War I, its people have maintained their ethnic identity, cultural traditions and language. This rich history blends seamlessly into bustling Munich, a modern industrial giant. Here are five ways to experience Bavarian traditions in Munich.
1) Grandiose Palaces
It’s hard to understand modern Bavaria without looking into its noble heritage. As monarchs enjoy building palaces, Munich and Bavaria have more castles and royal residences than most regions. Ludwig II, one of Bavaria’s last kings, built some of the most famous dwellings-including the Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein. Despite his great architectural achievements, this Bavarian king remains an enigma. Ludwig II was known as an eccentric who loved art and history. His death was as mysterious as his life. After being deposed for mental incapacity without a medical examination, he was found dead in a lake with the doctor who was supposed to care for him.
While both of Ludwig’s creations are a nice day trip into the Bavarian countryside, Nymphenburg Palace is close to the heart of Munich. The blue beauty was built in the 17th century and was the main summer residence of the royal family. The main entrance is surrounded by a canal filled with swans and gives way to a 490-acre park riddled with pathways and gardens. The river continues to run straight behind the palace and the garden boasts two lakes, many statues and buildings.
Although the palace continues to be the residence for the head of the house of Wittelbach, it is open to the public. The central pavilion is stunning: covered in frescoes with glittering giant chandeliers that dance in the suns rays. Another highlight is the Great Gallery of Beauties, which holds paintings of 36 of the most beautiful women in Bavaria in the 19th century. This is also the birthplace of Ludwig II and his birth chamber can also be visited.
It is easy to pass an entire day enjoying the sites. Schloss Nymphenburg is accessible by Munich public transport’s tram number 17. Although there is a fee for the palace, the residence’s park is free.
2) Sipping a Lola Montez at Café Luigi Tambosi
While a coffee named after a Spanish dancer in an Italian café may seem very unbavarian, both are part of local folklore. Lola Montez was the stage name of an Irish courtesan who became a mistress of Ludwig I. She was famous for her brash attitude and Spanish dancing that seduced the king.
Café Tambosi was founded in the 18th century by an Italian immigrant and is one of Munich’s oldest cafés. It was one of the royals’ favourite hangouts and throughout and remains one of the places to see and be seen downtown. The two-floor establishment is always full and it takes some maneuvering to get a table. If it is sunny outside, the patio is the ideal spot for people watching. Rushed locals walk quickly to work as tourists snap photos at every corner.
Despite its central location, Café Tambosi is usually full of German speakers and is still somewhat of a local hotspot. The menu is full of specialty coffees, teas, and beers as well as food. I would recommend trying the Lola Montez-a double espresso with chocolate and cream. It tastes excellent; Lola Montez would be proud.
Cafe Luigi Tambosi is located at both the Hofgarten in the Residenz Palace grounds and Odeonsplatz, one of the main squares in Munich.
3) Munich’s Old Town
Munich’s Old Town, in the heart of the city, is vibrant and dynamic yet retains its cultural charm. Although most of this part of Munich was destroyed in World War II, it has been fully restored to its former splendor. Although the many platz and streets are crawling with tourists, there are three things one must do to experience Old Munich like a Bavarian.
First, stroll down to Marienplatz and take in the splendour of the Neues Rathus-New Town Hall. This gothic beauty was built in the late 19th century to replace an older town hall, which can still be seen on the other end of Marienplatz, the old market square. However, it’s not only the New Town Hall that attracts throngs of visitors. The Rathus-Glockenspiel recounts important moments in Bavarian history with 43 bells and 32 life-size statues.
The top part of the clock shows the marriage of a Bavarian duke with a French Princess. There is an epic jousting competition between a Bavarian and French knight in honour of the marriage; the French knights falls astride on his horse, gutted by the lance of the Bavarian victor. The bottom part of the clock tells the story of the Cooper’s Dance. After the Plague ravaged Munich in 1517, the coopers began dancing to tell citizens that it was safe to leave their houses. Since then, a dance is performed every seven years during German Carnival; the next one is in 2019. The whole show is about 15 minutes long.
To witness this event, it is important to arrive before 11 am as the spectacle happens only once per day in the winter (with noon and 5 pm showings in the summer).
Another Munich tradition involves rubbing various parts of two statues. One of these traditions was imported from Italy; the other is a homegrown phenomenon. One of Munich’s sister cities is Verona, the hometown of Romeo and Juliet. Verona sent a bronze replica of its own Juliet statue to Munich as a gift. Feeling unlucky in love? Touch her right breast or leave her flowers for luck to find your better half. She can be found on the southern side of the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall). Four brass lions guard the entrance of the Residenz building on Odeonsplatz. Watch as locals stroll by, pausing briefly to rub each lion’s nose. According to Munich folklore, it brings good luck.
4) Fine Dining à la Bavarian
Upon arriving to Munich, get thee to a brew house to consume the Bavarian holy trinity: Beer, Bretzel, Wurst. This trio is essential to understanding local food culture and it is Munich’s claim to culinary fame. Vegetarians can replace the wurst with a special orange cheese eaten with raw onion and bretzel. Bavarians eat these foods as a kind of second breakfast, starting from around 11 am. One of the most famous places to experience this specialty is Hofbrauhaus, the old royal brewery.
Located in the centre of town, tourists and locals rub shoulders on packed benches while being served by serves in dindls and lederhosen. Musicians, also traditionally outfitted, play drinking tunes constantly. There are dozens of house-brewed beers of all shades and tastes served in one-litre pints. Women in dindls also sell local pastries to patrons for a small price, including the famous bretzel. Arrive early, as Hofbrauhaus is packed and it can be hard to find a table during meal times.
5) Speak Bavarian
Although German is a notoriously hard-sounding language, I have heard many Germans say that Bavarians have the sexiest accent. Their dialect holds a special charm and is quite different from standard German. One way to work your way into a Bavarian’s warm heart? Learn a few words of Bavarian.
1) Servus – Hi!
2) Prost – Cheers
3) Spezi – Friend
4) Spatzerl – Honey
5) Schmusn – Kissing
6) Pfiati – Goodbye!
Now you are ready to speak to that good-looking Bavarian at the table next to you.