We rolled into our final Christmas market destination just a few days before the holiday. But of the three regions we visited, Munich certainly showed the most spirit. Germany LOVES Christmas and getting ready for Christmas and shopping for Christmas. As proof I submit the dozens of markets in and around the city and the amount of garlanded and lit windows and frantic shoppers we witnessed. Even our Airbnb host got into the spirit, greeting us with poinsettias and a tiny decorated (and real!) tree.
After our arrival we grabbed a few basic groceries and then headed to the nearest Christkindlmarkt at Sendlinger Tor. The market was crowded but not crushing and full of scents of mulled wine and beer and bratwurst. After eyeing the glass ornaments and nutcrackers for sale, we found glasses of mulled beer (a first for us that the markets to the south should copy) made with spices reminiscent of gingerbread. Plenty of locals grabbed a post-work pint and snack with tourists mixed in.
We made a concerted effort to see as many markets as possible before they closed on December 23 or 24. Our second stop turned out to be Tollwood. Held on the Oktoberfest grounds at Theresienwiese, there is markedly less beer this time of year. With large tents housing bazaars of local handcrafted goods and another tent covering a food court, it was the easiest one to spend long amounts of time at. And we found that the goulash soup and potatoes made a perfect winter meal.
The market at Marienplatz was a must, the huge tree dominating the wooden houses set up around the square. We walked through a number of times, and as it ended on the afternoon of the 24th, listened to brass band play Christmas carols from an open deck below the Glockenspiel. This main market didn’t have a better selection but certainly catered to larger crowds.
On Wittelsbacherplatz, the Mittelaltermarkt held the title for most distinct. Basically a Renaissance Faire dolled up for the holiday, they fully embrace the middle ages theme. Everyone is dressed in period-ish clothing and there are more ragouts and stews for snacking and weighty ceramic cups and plates. One corner was full of the wafting scent of salmon, slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven. The market around the Chinese Pagoda in the English Garden seemed the most kid-friendly. They also were serving up Urbock, one of the tastier non-spiced beers. The sunny day balanced out the beer’s chill nicely.
The rest of Munich was just as beautiful and welcoming as the two previous times we visited (during quicker stopovers on more traditional vacations). Though we’d already been to Asamkirche it was worth a second stop. The ornate interior is so densely decorated that it was hard to pick our individual details from the general splendor. Still, the skeleton cutting someone’s tenuous connection to life drives home the central point in the entryway.
Christmas day itself was especially warm, and we wandered along the Isar River to the English Garden. Lots of kids were trying out new bikes and it seemed like surfers at the Wave might have received some new gear as well. Munich takes the week between Christmas and the new year seriously – many small shops and restaurants shut down completely and even larger places operate on limited hours. We grocery shopped in advance and enjoyed the quieter neighborhood vibe.
Having already seen the Residenz, the main royal palace in Munich, Schloss Nymphenburg filled our palace and castle line item for this stop. Built as a summer home when the surroundings were countryside rather than city streets, it feels more relaxed though it sprawls out to either direction for what feels like miles. The interior rooms are heavily muraled and bedecked with matching furniture. Outside, man-made canals and lakes form the centerpieces of a heavily landscaped vista that encompassed hundreds of acres now fronted by tram stops and backed by a train line.
Munich’s art museums are clustered in the Maxvorstadt neighborhood. We stopped by the Alte Pinakothek, which focused on works up through the 18th century. Currently under renovation, several galleries are shuttered and some masterworks are housed in temporary positions. Still, we felt like we got a good overview of the collection. For some reason it felt like more of the paintings dealt with bar and drinking scenes…
We missed the Deutsches Museum on previous trips, even though it is the largest technology and science museum on the continent. When we arrived, ticket lines stretched several hundred feet out of the courtyard and down the sidewalk. Rather than wait in falling snow, we opted to buy our tickets on our phone as we stood in the lobby. Several other families were doing the same; though it cost a euro extra for the privilege it saved us at least 40 minutes of queueing. It was shocking as well – walking by a few days earlier there had been no wait at all. Inside the museum there are miles of tech-related exhibits, many of which are interactive. Telescopes, centuries-old globes, airplanes, and ships share the space with a recreation of a coal mine, a cave, glassblowing, and interactive physics experiments. The old computer equipment was among the most mind-blowing. For example, the washing-machine-sized hard drive in the image above stores just 250 megabyes; the image I took of it on my phone is too large to fit on it. A cloud chamber entranced us for quite a while. Charged particles cause puffs of condensed water vapor to form, a direct way to visualize the radiation all around us, some of which is the universe’s background voice.
Munich is always lovely, and each time I leave I miss it. In many ways it feels like home. Having grown up with the background of German midwestern influence, much of the food and cultural tics are at least a little familiar. I’d absolutely visit again, in any season, for any length of time.