I struggled to find the poetry in Munich. The boy and I were there for about four days, visiting with his best friend Zipper while he was in town for a conference.
The trouble with traveling in Europe is that, unlike traveling anywhere in California, where the weather is generally dependable (or at least predictable) for most of the year, a marginally sunny weekend in Spring has, so far, been beyond our reach in Europe. Munich was grey and dreary the entire time we were there, which certainly puts a damper on any kind of sightseeing excursion and can make even the most charming cities seem dull and damp and lonely.
Munich is set up very much like other large European cities we’ve visited, with one McLargeHuge square (the Marienplatz) which houses the main tourist attractions — the old and new town halls and a giant glockenspiel, as well as several churches.
To be honest, one can only look at so many churches before they all start to blend together. Living in a city where there seems to be a church every few blocks, and even a cathedral that would be considered grand in the US (St. Eustache, for example, which has the largest pipe organ in France) seems to be completely ignored by tourists, it’s not exactly easy to get excited about the “largest Renaissance church north of the Alps” or whatever it happens to be that is on the tourist trail today.
That being said, I found my favorite church in Europe so far in Munich. And I love it because it’s so strange. It doesn’t have the pointy Gothic grandness of Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It doesn’t have the heart-soaring color and light of Saint-Chapelle. Those cathedrals, and the other great cathedrals of Europe, look as if they were made for the glory of God. The Asamkirche, in contrast, looks as if it were made for the glory of worldly opulence and excess.
This drippy Rococo wonder of a church is quite small as far as churches go — it’s actually located within a row of normal houses and offices and only a little bigger than my old Santa Monica apartment (though much taller, of course). Every square inch of the place is gilded and marbled and carved and statued within an inch of its life. There aren’t any lovely stained-glass windows. It’s just a dark, stuffy, over-decorated explosion of “hey, look what we can do.” It feels less like a space designed to take your thoughts to heaven than exactly in the other direction. Highly recommended for those who like to squirm a bit in regards to their religious proclivities.
However, the real magic of Munich was in the park. Properly, it’s the Englischer Garten. This huge green space in the northeastern part of the city center was nothing like any park I’d been in before. Sweeping lawns, burbling streams, ducks and swans, meandering paths, the works. Strangely, there is a several-stories tall Chinese-style pagoda with a biergarten surrounding it. Unlike the parks in Paris, the Englischer Garten allows dogs, which were happily doing doggy things all over the place — prompting Tim to quip, “I could see living here. It’s a good city for pets.”
Best of all, though, was the surfers.
We had seen surf shops in the city center and had wondered what the hell one does with a surfboard in a landlocked city. Surely people weren’t buying their surfboards in town, only to have to cart them to a vacation spot near the ocean?
It turns out that the Munchen are a bit more inventive than that. This river, which breaks up into the small, charming streams that wind throughout the park, enters through this opening that is covered by a bridge.
The central pillar of the bridge (and possibly some rocks underneath the bridge) along with the speed of the rushing water creates a constant wave on which these surfers were shredding. They took turns entering one at at time from either side of the river, surfed for a minute or so, then let someone else have their turn. Some people were clearly beginners, and could only stay up for a few seconds at a time. Others were clearly being kind to the people waiting and fell of their own accord after having their turn.
I could have watched them for hours. Truly, one of the most bizarre and beautiful things I have seen on my travels.
Music to travel by: Dog Days Are Over [Florence + The Machine // Lungs]