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Things to do with Kids in Munich, Germany
Home Sweet Home - Traveling with Kids
We board Lufthansa flight # 459 to Munich from San Francisco at 9:05pm. Eleven hours later, we land safely back at home. The kids are well rested and our trip is off to a great start. OK, so maybe a little bit of luck goes a long way, but this is the best way to travel with young kids. Hands down. Nothing beats boarding an international flight late in the evening coinciding its departure with bedtime. And to top it all off, the local time is 9 hours ahead of San Francisco, so the next bedtime routine is literally just minutes away. Sweet!
We arrive on time, to be expected from a German airline which prides itself on precision. The sight of my first pretzel makes me almost feel giddy, and the couple of Euros I had stashed away after our last trip are immediately put to good use. I am reminded that Munich is a popular destination for reasons brought to life in the family favorite 'European Vacation' movie with Chevy Chase. For me, however, traveling to Munich means returning back home to familiar tastes, sights, smells and sounds. And the wish to share a little bit of my own background with my kids who are being raised in a bi-cultural household. I want to instill in them the fact that they are not tourists here, but in fact Americans made with German parts.
The Glockenspiel - A 'Must-See' Sight
The Glockenspiel at Marienplatz is at the heart of the city and a wonderful first stop. Marienplatz carries much of the same significance of town squares which are so prominent all over Germany, just on a much bigger scale. It is an open public space and a hub for community gatherings. During the holiday season, the famous Christkindlmarkt takes place here as well.
The Glockenspiel is a percussion instrument which has operated faithfully since 1908. At 11am and 12pm daily (don't be late!), and additionally at 5pm from March to October, two levels of figurines depict pieces of Bavarian history. The top half tells the story of the marriage of a local duke while the lower half depicts a traditional dance. The figures, 32 in total, along with its 43 keys, perform a show which lasts somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes.
The Viktualienmarkt - Munich's Farmer's Market
Just around the corner from the Glockenspiel is the Viktualienmarkt. Victualia is the Latin word for groceries. It is a beautiful farmer's market in the middle of the city, boasting over 100 stalls with items as varied as flowers, fruit, game, fish, spices and cheese. Open year-round, 6 days a week, and starting at 8am, it is truly a feast for all senses. Apart from food items, it doubles as a stage for traditional and folkloric events, including comedy, music and dance. Local crafts or souvenirs are on display and available for purchase as well.
The Viktualienmarkt offers plenty of opportunities to try local fare. Rest assured it is not a tourist trap as you will see many locals going about their business here. This makes for outstanding people watching while you picnic on your purchases from the market or indulge in an early morning beer at one of the eateries. Timing, for once, is not of the essence, as the beer garden at the Viktualienmarket opens as early as 9am. Try a pint of Weissbier (wheat beer), Weisswurst (white sausage), Suesser Senf (sweet mustard) and a Bretzel (pretzel) and you will be indulging in a long-standing Bavarian tradition. Just be sure that your Frueschoppen, the local equivalent of brunch, is consumed before 12 noon to make it count.
The English Garden - Head to the Outdoors While in Munich
Now that you have provided your kids with entertainment and food, head to the English Garden to walk off your German indulgences. This is one of the world's largest urban public parks and the primary outdoor recreation spot for Munich's locals. Its name refers to the English style of landscape gardening. The choice of activities are manyfold here: renting paddle boats, lounging on a meadow, cycling on paths, playing soccer, frisbee, horseback riding, and even surfing. For those of you with a craving for sights, there is no shortage of those either. Among the most popular are the Japanese Tea House, the Chinese Tower and the Monopteros.
Sunbathing is another popular activity that may be enjoyed at the English Garden, but with a caveat. Beware that in a designated area, called the Schoenfeldwiese (a nickname which translates to Beautiful Meadow), nude sunbathing has been allowed since the early 1960s. I remember being there as a teenager and my eyes were in disbelief at the sight of a middle-aged man dismounting from his bike and stripping off his clothes. He continued by washing his bike at a nearby creek, got dressed and pedaled off.
The Beergarden - A World Famous Experience
What better way to end your day than enjoying a 'Mass' (one liter) of beer at the Hofbraeuhaus. After all, Munich is the beer capital of the world, so your trip would not be complete without a stop at this legendary institution. Yes, this place may be a touch too touristy, but you will also find many Bavarians here. I know this because of the beer stein lockers I discovered there. These are only available to loyal customers who are offered a safe place to store their beer steins until they return for more.
And the Hofbraeuhaus is authentic: a huge drinking hall, long wooden tables with benches, and an ompah band playing original brass band music. The casual atmosphere and communal tables are a perfect set-up to sit, drink and be merry. Never mind the traditionally dressed waitresses delivering 10 'Mass' of beer in each run from the tap. It is loud and unpretentious which also makes it absolutely fitting for kids. Tucked away in a corner on the main floor you will even find a kids' play area. Or you can just teach them a few tricks with the Hofbraeuhaus cardboard beer coasters while enjoying your beer. At 40, I am still perfecting my skills of stacking them into a tower or catching one mid air after flipping it off the edge of the table. Just like my Dad taught me.