It is a beautiful fall afternoon in Munich’s English Garden, and the city has come out to enjoy it. An area larger than New York’s Central Park, the English Garden is a vast urban green space of wide lawns, man-made streams created by diverted water from the Isar River, monuments, tall trees, and beer gardens. It is so large that the ring highway that circles part of Munich’s north before heading out of town runs through it, much to the chagrin of the locals.
Green spaces like this seem to be part of the very fabric of life here in Munich, consistently rated one of the most livable cities in Germany, whatever that means. But if it means a stroll here on a beautiful day – even on a cold morning the English Garden is lovely – count me in! I climb to the top of the monopteros, a Greek-style gazebo monument. From here, the tall towers of the city’s historic center (click here to read about that part of Munich) spread beneath me; greens in the park and blues in the sky play off each other. I sit in the sun, and enjoy the moment. This is the Bavarian Good Life.
Part of the reason Munich is rated so highly is the thriving economy of this southern German state, and part of that economy comes from the world headquarters of BMW, literally the Bavarian Motor Works. In the north of Munich, adjacent to the 1972 Olympic Park, sits the facility, its ultra-modern looking museum, and BMW World, which is hosting a small conference when I arrive, featuring some cool new electric vehicles.
The museum itself seems small from the outside, but winds it’s way down several stories into the ground, all full of exhibits highlighting the history of the car company. Some of these are highly technical and don’t interest me at all – I literally know nothing about cars – but others have pretty and old vehicles that I admire.
I also applaud the BMW Museum for the inclusion of a small exhibit detailing the company’s role during World War Two, using concentration camp inmates as slave labor, and ignoring the conditions – and later the outright murders – of those the Nazis deemed subhuman.
Munich does seem to have more cars on the road than other German cities I’ve visited, although it is hard to know if this is simply an illusion created by the fact that infrastructure was built for a population less than half of today’s 1.5 million. It is a good thing the city provides for some alternatives. There is a great public transit system here (although at €3.50 one way it is one of the most expensive), and some lovely green walking paths, most notably along the Isar itself.
The Isar River is small, not navigable by anything much larger than a kayak, and cuts it’s way through the middle of Munich. The city has gone out of its way to keep the banks green, creating park space and pathways that Munich residents and visitors can use to traverse the area, or just stop to picnic. Just take a ramp or staircase down, and emerge back to street level when you are ready, preferably at one of Munich’s many many beer gardens.
Munich is a city that runs on beer, more so than any other in Germany. In 1602, Elector Maximilian I instituted a decree that all taverns in Bavaria must sell wheat beer, beer that his family had the monopoly on. Besides restoring the royal coffers, it cultivated a beer culture that continues to this day.
While tourists flock to the Hofbrauhaus for the party atmosphere of the city’s royal brewery, for my money, nothing beats the feeling of sitting outside with a pint – or a liter – of German beer. Don’t like beer? Try a radler, a mixture of beer and either lemonade or lemon-lime soda that for whatever reason tastes significantly better than any equivalent American shandy. Beer here is less expensive than a bottle of water, so bring your own water bottle and go to town on the local favorite. Add a Bavarian pretzel larger than your face, or a roasted bratwurst, and your day will only be that much better.
Beer gardens are all over, including right in the middle of the English Garden, and my beautiful day soon includes a beautiful beverage, enjoyed in the shade of the trees and the currently-being-refurbished Chinese Pagoda. This is indeed the Bavarian good life!
While I arrived in Munich too late for Oktoberfest (which confusingly takes place in September), and too early for the city’s famous Christmas markets, I am right on time for a harvest festival that still offers some treats I might have gotten at its more famous cousins. Roasted almonds are the go-to, and mulled wine, plus the ubiquitous roasted bratwursts.
Munich is known for many things. It has more art museums per capita than any other city in Germany. It is the gateway to winter skiing, or to summer lake boating. It is a city of good food and great beer, of fast cars and green parks, of a life that seems from where I sit to be a good one. This is the Bavarian Good Life, and it is mine for the having, even if only for a short while. I’ll drink to that. Prost!
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