Munich Day 1: This Isn’t The German I Learnt At Uni

The day began early, after I, in the third day of a severe cold/possible sinus infection caused by all the freaking smoking in Berlin, and after two hours of sleep, hopped on the 5 am train to Munich. The problems began almost instantly, as the moment I left Berlin, I realised my German was nowhere near as good as I thought.

For one thing, and I haven’t found a reason for this online yet, the conductor kept saying “Morzhen” instead of “Morgen”. Then the engineer chatted over the speaker with a different accent entirely, and then I thought the next conductor who came by was speaking to me in Swedish.

Compound the fact I can (apparently) hardly understand any accent that’s not Berliner with the fact my nose presently contains approximately the same mass as a black hole in terms of mucus, which all means that though I would love to respond, on the one hand I’m confused and on the other I can’t pronounce a danged thing.

So I went on reading Die Verwandlung by Kafka, making sure the other passengers saw it was the German text so that they would think maybe I’m intellectually challenged and not, worse, an American tourist.

All that to say, I’m surprised at how little I could understand after three years of German and two months in Berlin, where I’m having no trouble (I mean I can use my German to almost get laid now, which I consider at least B2 level).

After a day I think I’m accustomed more to it. I listened to the people next to me during dinner and eventually it became clearer to me. And they speak very slowly in the South, which is nice.

Because I’m the history student I am, and I really only came here to see the Nazi stuff, to be perfectly honest, my very first stop was the Odeonsplatz. This plaza, built in the 19th century, was the location of the final showdown between the Nazis and police during the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Look up the pictures of this plaza with Nazis marching, and you’ll see why I had such a heavy gut reaction to standing in the same place.

Site of the final battle of Hitler's failed putsch, 1923

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Because I am an efficient tourist, I then took the U-Bahn to the Haus der Kunst, Hitler’s art museum. It has all the hallmarks of Nazi architecture, with appeals to classicism and to futuristic redesigns of that style. The building was meant to house perfect Nazi art, art for the people, etc. While expressionist and abstract pieces were doomed to the entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition, the Haus der Kunst was the example for all artists in the regime, and Hitler’s attempt at the Louvre, which served as a place of study for art students at the royal academy in its beginnings. So what is this monumental, ostentatious building doing now? For one thing, it’s hidden behind a row of trees so that it’s hard to see from the other side of the street. Andrew Graham-Dixon in his Art of Germany series on BBC called it something like pubic hair to cover the ugly phallus of evil. This country seems to like to cover up and hide buildings with a bad history. For another thing it houses mostly post-war art, mostly art Hitler would have hated, and mostly abstract pieces. So take that.

Haus der Kunst, art gallery constructed by Hitler

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After a brief look inside, since I was pressed for time and €10 reduced entry was a bit steep, I settled down in the Bavarian National Museum. Great museum, really. Like anyone with taste I basically skipped all the pre-renaissance art and went straight to the baroque, glossing over the signs on the way. Spoiler, they’re all in German. They had some very cool pieces, like astronomical clocks, woodwork (for which Bavaria is famous), and lots of armour.

Bavarian national museum

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Astronomical clock, Bavarian national museum

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Bavarian woodwork

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Bavarian woodwork

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Bavarian woodwork

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Something I learnt the hard way at this museum is that you have to ask for change. Because I need water constantly as I’m suffering from the plague, I had to break down and buy a small flask at the museum café for €2,30. When I paid at my table, I gave the guy €4. He said “Danke Dir” and just walked away with his ~76% tip. And I didn’t want to be stingy and be like “What the hell” so I kind of stared at him and walked away. Now I know. Good thing I didn’t try to break that €50 bill I had.

Satiated by these sights, and convinced I wasn’t like all the other tourists, I allowed myself to be like a twelve-year-old white girl on study abroad and walk through what has now become a slightly touristy old town, with absolutely spectacular buildings.


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So this is what Germany looks like! This city feels so open and old, not at all like Berlin, which is wild and cramped. Which I like as well. But this feels a lot more like what I expected Germany to look and feel like.

You also get the sense that people are very, very conservative. Homeless guy pees in the rubbish bin on the U-Bahn platform in Berlin? No one batted an eye. Here? An old woman scolded him and gave him some change to use the public washrooms. People take themselves very seriously in this town.

They also take German very seriously. The only person who switched into English on me was the pharmacist, since I couldn’t pronounce “Pseudophedrine” in German. I have a feeling if I were drowning in the river screaming “Help!” they would stand on the banks and say to each other “What is he saying? I’d help if I knew what he wanted.”

So here are the obligatory pictures of the old city, those I was allowed to take, and of which you’ll find much better copies on Google.

Also I’d like to put a word in for Zum Alten Kreuz, a restaurant near where I’m staying, near Columbusplatz. It’s a restaurant for locals, where they gather and play cards with the traditional German suits, and where you get seated wherever there’s space. I was alone at a table for five. Three people came in and sat down at the remaining seats, minus one. They were nice, we exchanged a few words. They’re the ones I listened to the whole time for practice and now Bavarian German makes more sense. I had a delightful Schwabenpferndl, some sort of pork on spätzle, and an apple strudel which nearly brought me to tears. So if you’re in the area, give it a chance.


2 thoughts on “Munich Day 1: This Isn’t The German I Learnt At Uni

  1. I am from Munich, so I read your post and observations with interest.
    Enjoy the good food, I miss it and check out Viktualienmarkt. A very yummy open food market.

    In case you are interested in castles, I know everybody runs to Neuschwanstein, but the King had another very beautiful castle, called “Herrenchiemsee”.
    It was modeled after Versailles in Paris and is located on an island in the middle of a lake, an hour south of Munich. It’s stunning in the summer with the Alps as a backdrop.

    Now I am homesick. 🙁


    1. Thank you for the suggestion! I’m definitely going to return at some point in my life and I am very interested in castles, the weirder the better.
      Sorry to have made you homesick!


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