Note: This is a very different post compared to what I usually upload here. It involves a retrospective of my past and will be longer and with fewer photos than expected.
I have lived in Munich for almost 3 years straight, from January 2017 to the end of October 2019. It was the first time I ever had to leave my home country and live elsewhere, a difficult choice back then, but it eventually proved to be the right one (mostly for business reasons). Of course, leaving a place you have lived 35+ years of your life is never easy and getting successfully settled elsewhere is harder still, but since I work in IT, this proved to be easier than I thought.
Leaving Greece and Settling in Munich
I made the decision to leave my hometown on December of 2016. The company I was working for at the time was going through various transformations and I had to decide whether I wanted to be a part of those or not. I happened to get a job offer from a previous boss of mine for a role in Munich and after much and heavy deliberation I took the plunge and moved there.
I was fascinated by how the majority of Bavarians and the few Austrians I met were more friendly than I expected. I also met people from northern Germany who were definitely different in demeanour, more serious but usually not less kind. One thing that almost all of them shared however is an almost chauvinistic love for their language, a symbol of identity so strong, that English is especially difficult to use in common situations; you almost feel shameful for not speaking German.
Garching. A mostly industrial suburb on the northern side of Munich
Munich had an unusual effect on me, something I experienced on my recent trip as well. It is a very beautiful city, there’s no denying that; there are some very beautiful buildings and landmarks throughout the city. It’s a boring city if you are young though (in which case Berlin is definitely the better choice), but it is ideal if you want to raise a family.
It is also big. Due to regulations not allowing tall buildings to be built any longer, the solution has been for quite some time to spread out more and more. Commuting via public transportation or even by car can take quite a bit. For example, I was lucky to have found an apartment close to my first job when I immigrated there: merely 20′ away. My next job though necessitated a 70-minute trip and three different means of transportation, one way! You really cannot begin to appreciate lost time, until you have wasted more than 2 hours every day in commuting.
And if someone were to suggest that it would be an ideal time to read a book, they would be wrong: trains at times are so packed, you can barely breathe, much less open a book. I still have nightmares from peak hours in the U6.
It is also the only city that managed to kill my creativity. I found myself many a time not wanting to get out of the house, as if the photographic subjects that the city had to offer were completely uninteresting. As I said, the city had a very unusual effect on me.
Nature is always within cycling distance in Munich
I decided to try and remediate the lack of proper photos from Munich to the best of my ability, by visiting for a couple of days. Two days isn’t nearly enough time to see all of Munich, or even half of it, but I thought it would give me enough of an opportunity to provide a feel about the city through this very post. I had already seen most of it when I lived there, so going back was not going to be a 100% tourist experience for me.
I booked a hotel near Hackerbrücke, a rather industrial looking area, but close to the bus station where I would arrive. Yes, I did travel by bus, since not only it is faster than the train (!), the schedules work way better too! I chose that hotel in case something would go wrong so that I would have my belongings as close to the bus station as possible. It was not that great of a hotel either, but I would only stay there for a night’s sleep, so that was OK.
I left from the Zürich Sihlquai Carparkplatz at around 8 in the morning and after about 4 hours I arrived in Hackerbrücke, by a DB IC Bus. I can gladly recommend the DB bus to anyone who wants to travel to Germany. It’s far more reliable than most private companies and in certain cases it can be faster than the train.
After a 10-minute walk from the station I checked in my hotel, reactivated my old MVG (public transportation) account and booked a day ticket for less than 8 euros. I couldn’t help but smile when I thought how much the same ticket costs in Zurich; it is easily an order of magnitude costlier. My first stop then would be Westpark.
Westpark is not the largest park you can find in Munich; that honour goes to the English Garden where the very first photo in this post is from. It is however one of the nicest parks, densely covered with trees, hills and a few sculptures, creating a very relaxing symphony of nature while still retaining its own unique style.
I did not have time to visit the park in its entirety; I still had 17km to go before I would have to return to the hotel and as such I may have missed a few of the sights the park had to offer. Still, you can see from the photos that I managed to get, that this is an incredibly beautiful and relaxing place. If only I knew about it while I was living in the city…
That’s right, Westpark was one of the few places in Munich that I never bothered to visit and if I am completely honest, it never registered on my radar when I lived in Munich. But if you are a Munich resident or merely a visitor, I highly recommend you spend some time there!
In the City Centre
Here is another admission from me. Munich has many, many museums. And yet, I have barely visited even half of them. It was impossible to visit any of them in my short two-day trip this as well, so I decided to plan my route around the city centre. That said, I still had to choose carefully; there was simply no chance I could see even half of the city centre merely in a day or two.
I took the tram from Westpark back to where I started and thus began my walk around the city. Started from the Arts area, where you will find most of the museums and galleries in the city, then towards Karlsplatz before I ended up in Marienplatz.
The Arts area (which is not really the correct term, but it’s what I am sticking with) is one of the best areas to be in if you like museums. I had visited two of the galleries in the past and they contained great exhibits for the most part (some truly gigantic paintings included), but as I said, there simply was no chance to visit any more of them on that day. I had to move on.
It was a long walk however. I said it before; Munich is big and in retrospect I should have rented a scooter, but I’ve never used one in the past and I was a bit apprehensive with the idea. I decided to stick to my guns and keep walking.
The weather started improving a bit and the clouds were making way for the sun. I was getting a bit tired and hungry and I thought it would be a good time to take a break.
I stopped for a pizza at a place called L’ Osteria. I wasn’t expecting much, yet I was pleasantly surprised. The pizza was huge, yet at the same time it was very thin, with the sauce and the cheese beautifully mixed together and the crust underneath barely being there to support the two. This was proper pizza!
And this was the point where I had a bit of a mood swing. I had been walking for 5 hours by then and for the most part I was going through familiar old places. I was trying to get into the mentality of a tourist yet I felt more like a resident which wasn’t what I had in mind initially. Problem was, I had sketched out already a plan in order to take photos of the most representative spots in Munich and I didn’t want to deviate from it. It was almost 6 in the evening and I would not have daylight for too long.
My intention for this post is to give a feel about the city, ideally as if I had visited for the first time. I did expect to go through familiar places again and when I was planning I thought it would work better because I could plan ahead better in regards to what I would take photos of. With that in mind, I finished my lunch and off I went towards Marienplatz, which was pretty close by now.
Marienplatz is the city’s centre. It’s a very commercial part of the city and almost always full with people. With the weather opening up this was no different, COVID-19 be damned.
This was going to be my final stop for the day, but Marienplatz is… not a small place to be. I also bought a fantastic super-fino panama hat of a quality and price I would have never expected to find in Europe, ideal company for the rest of the day.
I had visited Marienplatz a lot in the past. I also visited when my parents came to Munich for a weekend (who end up sharing the same opinion as me) . I know Marienplatz; its large plazas are not unknown to me, nor are its cobbled narrow passageways. And yet, what i feel about it it’s also the epitome of how I feel about Munich. Marienplatz in many ways is Munich (OK, along with the wider city centre in general). You will find many, many neoclassical buildings, lots of big (and sometimes unassuming even) churches, modern shops near a probably rebuilt residence that doubles as a beer hall… It is Munich.
It is also making me a bit uncomfortable. The buildings are imposing. They are old (or in many cases, fake-old) but they are the majority, to the point it feels like a city-wide museum of architecture where you must be careful not to break anything. It is very attractive to tourists, but I could never see myself living there permanently.
On the flip side, in other areas (such as on East Munich where I used to live), everything is deathly quiet and most buildings are strictly residential yet more modern. It feels like a nice kind of neighbourhood to live in, but the lack of activity can be intolerable for someone like me.
I have a theory about this. You see, I come from Thessaloniki, Greece. Thessaloniki, with minor exceptions, is a relatively ugly city. There are far too many ugly buildings built during the 60s military junta and in many, many cases they haven’t been maintained properly. The downtown can be very beautiful and there are some more traditional buildings to be found, but what makes Thessaloniki tick is that it is always full of shops and people. It is also by far and away the… City of Food in Greece, meaning that many of the shops are not merely high-end clothes retailers or expensive watch makers where most of us will never set foot into, but rather busy establishments where one can find immeasurable cafés, bistros and street food shops to their hearts’ content.
It’s also the reason why I felt closer to Zurich from the first moment compared to Munich. Zurich is uglier than Munich, not by much, but it’s no poster child. And yet, the same mentality of establishments and life one can find in Thessaloniki can also be found (to an extent of course) in Zurich as well. It feels like Munich is the most serious city in Germany and one of the most serious one I’ve been to.
The day was coming to a close. I had arranged to meet some friends of mine in a rather large Biergarten called Augustiner-Keller. Not my first visit there, but this time I got disappointed: unlike other times, this time they didn’t have any proper Weissbier apart from a non-alcoholic version. This is Bavaria, the birthplace of Weissbier; what were they thinking?
The next day wasn’t as flexible as the first. I had to check-out from the hotel after a not-so-great breakfast (thanks again, COVID-19) which meant I had to lug my suitcase around. Whilst I was relatively prepared and the suitcase was small and quite portable, it still meant I couldn’t walk around with absolute freedom. Not only that, but I had to be back to the bus station by 16:30 for my trip back to Zurich.
I was to meet a friend near his place this time, up north in Olympiazentrum. Naturally, I booked another full-day public transportation ticket and off I went, camera and suitcase in hand. The trip was relatively short, merely 25 minutes or so, but it was quite distant and I had to take 2 different trains to get there. This was pretty much the point I was making in the beginning; if you want to go anywhere in Munich, you will be very lucky if you can get away with merely half an hour of travel and only taking one train/bus/tram to get there.
The Olympiazentrum area is very close to Olympiapark, where the Olympic park & village that hosted the 1972 Olympics are found. There is a bit of a grim history with terrorists and murders involved here, which you might be aware of if you have watched Spielberg’s Munich movie.
Regardless, just as I said that the city centre is old, loud, serious and unapproachable, my friend’s place was the exact opposite. I was back in Suburbia, a place not dissimilar to where I used to live.
After that, I decided I would wander around the east side where I used to live. Unfortunately, I was running out of time and I had to go back, but not before I visited one of the Edeka supermarkets I used to buy groceries from and pack my suitcase with steaks. Meat is expensive in Switzerland, so I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to get some perfect old dry aged rib-eyes for about 40% of what they would cost me in Zurich!
Shock about the prices aside (something I described in my trip to Konstanz), I had to be careful to buy just 1 kilo of meat. Sure, probably nobody from the Swiss customs would bother checking your luggage, but why risk it?
It’s good to be back!
I hopped on the bus, ready to travel back. Unfortunately, I was assigned a seat on the wrong side of the bus and I couldn’t snap any good pictures from the way back. If you like photography, the whole trip from Zurich to Munich provides ample opportunity for landscape photography, provided you have a car so that you are able to stop at your leisure.
So my take on Munich? I think it’s apparent how I feel about it if you read the text above. I am not going to lie and pretend that everything was perfect and ideal, yet I do recognise that part of it was because of me. All in all, my experience was positive. In closing, I am going to provide you with a bullet point of my impressions and you can make up your own mind:
- I met good people with whom I am still friends. Most of them are expats like me, but there are some native Germans included. You will meet very nice and friendly people too,
- There is very little chauvinism/racism that I noticed,
- Public transportation is generally reliable. Not as reliable as in Switzerland, but very reliable (unless there’s construction going on),
- There is Amazon and even PrimeNow! I don’t like their practices towards their employees if I’m honest, but I used to shop a lot from them,
- It’s a highly functional country which makes it relatively easy to go about your business without too much care. Still, as in most of the DACH region, you ought to have some extra insurance booked if you know what’s good for you (at least the Private Liability one),
- You are very well protected as an employee,
- Learn the language and you will have a great time,
- Weissbier. One of the few types of beer I actually like,
- It’s a great place to raise children. It’s one of the safest cities in Europe,
- It’s one of the best paying cities too, though be prepared to shell quite a bit for a proper apartment.
- However, if you work in high-profile sectors (such as I.T. or medicine) and money is your top priority, you are probably much better off in Switzerland.
- … unless you have children and/or only one person in the couple works. Then Switzerland might be a tougher journey,
- You definitely need a car, at least for those times where going to IKEA can be either a 15′ drive by car, or an 80′ gruelling procedure by public transportation.
- If you live too far from where you work, you are going to have a bad time, no matter if you use your car or the public transportation,
- Finally, do you have a bicycle? You will love Munich then. I wish Zurich had a bike culture similar to Munich, unfortunately every time I take my bicycle here I live in constant fear of either getting fined, get hit by a car or both. Trust me, Munich is one of the best cycling cities in Europe; it’s flat and the vast majority of its roads and pavements have nice and wide bike lanes.
- Oh not to mention, it’s more probable to have your bike stolen in Zurich than in Munich!
- Best part of Munich (and Zurich) is the weather. I would say that the weather is about 85% of what you get in Greece, which is ideal if you hate the eternal gray gloomy sky if Northern Europe.