First Impressions of Bavaria
Working for years for a company which recruited doctors for Germany I was often asked whether we had jobs in Munich or anywhere in the Southern part of Germany. The reason: it´s the most livable part of Germany, with the mildest winter and the most pleasant summer, not too different to the one in Italy, at least the Northern part of it. This was the general conception I heard from many of those who were thinking about moving to Germany, and who heard stories or had the chance to visit. I have to admit that I crossed already Germany several times during my travels through Europe, but never took the chance to spend more time there. So we decided to make it our new destination.
We like to go on trips off season when the places are less ˝populated˝ by tourists and have the places for ourselves, but that´s not doable in all cases because of the weather. Germany has a continental climate with four seasons and recently autumn arrived on time. By September sunny days could get replaced entirely by windy, rainy days which would ruin our trip and wash away our chances of strolling in the cities, enjoying the architecture or the walk on the mountain. So we scheduled our travel to the second half of August hoping that the weather would be sunny and warm, and perhaps it would be less crowded in the touristy areas.
The famous German ˝Autobahn˝
We traveled the highway through Austria, crossed the border and landed on the famous German Autobahn. Many of you might have already heard about the limitless German highway, but if not, let me give you a quick rundown: according popular belief there is no speed limit. Contrary to this the Autobahn is not entirely unrestricted, as there are portions where road works restrain drivers from the speeding pleasure, or hazardous parts have mandatory speed limits, but there are indeed long kilometers where ˝you can put your car to work˝, if you dare.
The road surface is smooth as if it was just finished yesterday. No potholes to endanger peoples´ lives.
And though you might think that everyone is driving like crazy travelling at 200 km/h (125mph), that is not the case. If you traveled by car in other countries in Europe, you probably noticed that the speed limit on the highway is generally 130km/h.
The Germans have this as a ˝recommended˝ speed, but of course it´s up to the driver whether he sticks to it or not. Despite the high speeds, we noticed how safely everybody drove: there were no ˝pushy˝ drivers who jumped in front of you when overtaking, most of the cars proved outstanding attention.
The contrast is most striking if you compare it to the Austrian or Hungarian roads where often you have the impression to be in a car jungle where you have to pay extra-attention to your surroundings, as cars jump in front of you from the right lane, or just force you aside by coming from behind speeding in an aggressive manner. Germany is a more conscious driving nation and we enjoyed travelling on the ˝Autobahn˝.
Arriving to the hotel, a kind receptionist handled our check-in and gave us detailed information about the breakfast, parking, etc. I speak a little German and I had the impression that he speaks the language natively. Later in the evening I got my suspicions confirmed by Greg who speaks the language almost natively. But we saw several other employees who had their training and they were non-native Germans.
During our stay we met several ladies and gentlemen who worked in the hotel and they represented different countries: Latin, African, East-European. Eating out or visiting places we had the chance to meet several people working in the tourism industry.
We realized that many of them were from all around the world. One of the ladies at the cloakroom in the Residenz Museum was Hungarian who was living in Germany for about 30 years.
The waiter at the restaurant Spatenhaus an der Oper came from Romania to Germany also about 30 years ago. We met another group of Hungarian staff at the Schlossrestaurant Neuschwanstein where, to our surprise, most of the waiters were Hungarian.
They all learned to speak the German language very well and had an established life in Germany, but never ceased to speak endeared and a bit sarcastically of their home country. They left their homes to ensure a better future for themselves and their families, but there was always a part of them longing to return home, to speak their mother tongue with the family, the relatives and the childhood friends.
The choices these people make are definitely one of the hardest and I always look with admiration at those who leave everything behind because they want to make things better for their loved ones, or simply because they have no other choice. And this is more striking in a country like Germany that embraced so many foreigners, offered them better living conditions and hope for a better life.
Vegetation and animation
Germany is also iconic for their flower box decorations. Images on the internet will show many public places and villages with houses full of flower decorations. This is no myth: German houses are indeed beautifully ornate with flowers of all colors, and not only in the countryside. The streets of big cities and the smaller towns alike are richly decorated with azaleas and palm bushes. With the sunny warm days we had in Munich we rather felt in a Mediterranean country then a central-continental one bordering Scandinavia. This special care for a beautiful environment created a more welcoming feeling.
A downside of the flower gush is however that cities are full of wasps.
Whether the reason really is the flowers, or the fact that these are protected insects in Germany and cannot be exterminated unless you get special authorization remains an open question.
Nonetheless the wasps are everywhere and in case you are allergic to their sting or are simply afraid of them, you´d better take precautions and avoid the terraces and just admire the flowers from a distance.
The German cuisine
During our trip we mainly ate at the restaurants of guest houses (in German they are called Gasthaus) for two reasons: to taste original German food and for the price. The meals at the guest houses are cheaper then at the fancy centrally located more international versions of them. We recommend to avoid the international chains like McDonald’s or Subway and just simply dive into the local culinary experience by going to the nearest guest house.
Generally speaking, the German cuisine is based on meats of all kind, potatoes and pastries. The breakfast is usually made up of bread or any sort of pastries with butter, cheese, ham, salted meats, salami. You can go for a sweet breakfast pastry with jam or chocolate cream or cereals with milk. Those following a gluten-free diet will have a really hard time with the German breakfasts, as the choices are quite limited for them.
As a vegetarian there are more options: you can simply avoid meat and go with vegetarian sandwiches for example.
At lunch, the German guesthouses offer a variety of meat. In Bavaria the Schnitzel is on all menus: this is a slice of meat (it can be beef, mutton, turkey, pork, chicken) coated with flour, egg and bread crumbs and fried in oil. Other types of meat are the sausages: Bratwurst, Blutwurst, Schwartzwurst, Weißwurst. They are usually served with potato as side dish, and salad at choice. Among the salads, one of the most common in Germany is the sour cabbage (Sauerkraut) salad.
As a vegetarian your choices are limited at the guest houses. Many menus have sweet potato cream soup and I found it really delicious. Some places offer 2-3 varieties of main courses dedicated to vegetarians and these are usually made of vegetables with different types of cheese. At the restaurant Tresznjewski near the Alte Pinakothek I had a very tasty veggie quiche with assorted salad. I recommend it to all vegetarians and anyone who want to ditch meat for a lunch.
Another famous German specialty is the pretzel, a baked mini-bread with twisted knot. They are not served only on the occasion of Oktoberfest to accompany beer, but you can find them served at breakfast at hotels or in every pastry-shop around the cities.
They are even served at lunch as side dish. I tasted several pretzels, not only because they look so good, but also out of curiosity and I have to admit that the most delicious was the one I tasted at the restaurant Edelweiss in Ettal where we stopped only to have a coffee and visit the big church we saw from the road. Why is their pretzel so special? They just simply added a small twist to it granting it a silky smooth salty taste: they cut it in two and buttered it. A genius idea, given the fact that otherwise it´s rather dry. With a little butter on it, the pretzel gets a wonderful taste.
Unlike many countries around the world where life at countryside means retrograded lifestyle with really bad or non-existing roads, with lacking sidewalks and nothing to welcome a visitor (no restaurant, coffee shop or any opportunity for leisure), the German countryside is a completely different world with its own rhythm of existence. The roads are neat as if new, the houses are well looked after with windows ornate with flowers. The fields and the animals are well managed.
The German countryside is one of the best places to visit while on vacation, as you can enjoy not only a calm and laid back lifestyle, but also an amazing scenery due to the varied geography.
We enjoyed the time we spent in Germany. Some things we found similar to our culture and some were very different. Yet the most amazing and striking of them all is how welcoming are both the cities and the countryside. The people and the places alike were calling out loud: come and visit me. This is definitely one of those places we would gladly return to.