By Mark Hannan

Travel Writing and Photography Awards Finalist 2009

When someone mentions the word Munich, most of us will automatically think of two things – beer and Oktoberfest. The history buffs out there may connect the capital of Bavaria with the birthplace of the Nazi Party; religious scholars may reflect on the city’s former Archbishop who is now the supreme leader of the Church of Rome; and football fanatics may reminisce about the glory days of the city’s famous team FC Bayern Munich. However, for most of us Munich will be forever linked with copious amounts of amber liquid and the 16-day festival that celebrates it. But if you find yourself in Munich outside of the peak tourist season, and more importantly outside Oktoberfest, what options do you have?

Well for starters, beer is still readily available so even if you can’t experience the festivities of Oktoberfest, you can still put on your lederhosen or dirndl, grab a seat at one of the Munich’s many beer halls, and down steins to your heart’s content. Or alternatively like me, you could wake up on a cold winter morning feeling slightly dazed and confused from the previous night’s revelry and decide that a spot of fresh air wouldn’t go astray. So why not learn a little while you walk off that dusty feeling and join one of Munich’s free walking tours?

Ozzie, our tour guide, is a bit of legend in these parts (go to Google and search for “Ozzie Munich Walking Tour” and you’ll get the picture) and although not what you would call stereotypically ‘German’, he is proud of his home city and his Bavarian heritage. As the tour starts, Ozzie asks us for our thoughts on what we think of when we hear the word ‘Germany’. Taking a particularly notorious Austrian and his political party out of the equation, the most common responses are beer, bratwurst, lederhosen and Oompapa bands. Ozzie quickly informs us that all those typically German clichés are actually first and foremost of Bavarian ancestry and have been subsequently stolen “by those people up north”.

As the tour snakes its way through the city, Ozzie chips in with snippets of historical importance and highlights prominent points of interest like the Frauenkirche – the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady. The cathedral, with its characteristic domed towers, was designed by architect Jörg von Halsbach and consecrated in 1494. The building took a little under 20 years to complete which, at the time, was considered akin to a miracle.

Ozzie tells us some locals believe that the architect, a canny operator, hoodwinked the devil into helping fund the project to expedite construction. The story goes that upon realising he’d been duped, the devil erupted into such a frenzied rage that he managed to permanently stamp his hoof print onto the cathedral floor – the print remains there to this day.

Following a typical Bavarian lunch of beer and sausages, the tour loops through Marienplatz to pause in front of the tourist-heavy Glockenspiel – a giant cuckoo-like clock that depicts scenes of Munich’s past in the vein of Team America and the Thunderbirds. Ozzie, like most locals, can’t understand the popularity of it and after a couple of minutes standing in subzero temperatures, the group can’t understand it either.

Incidentally, the Glockenspiel, along with the two domed towers of the Cathedral, were the only historic structures within the old city to withstand the Allied aerial assault in WWII. Despite the old city’s aged appearance, the majority of the buildings are less than sixty years old. Ozzie informs us that “every building has been rebuilt to mirror the pre-war Munich streetscapes and facades using detailed survey photographs compiled by the Nazis”. The Nazis, knowing that Munich would be high on the list of Allied targets, undertook an extensive task to photograph and record the architecture of the city in anticipation of widespread bombing. These archival photographs were then subsequently used by the city’s planners to restore old Munich to its pre-war glory.

As the walking tour comes to a close, our attention is again turned to the amber liquid that has made Munich famous worldwide. The group is told that all breweries within the city are signatories to the Reinheitsgebot – the famous ‘Bavarian Purity Law’ – which is one of the oldest food regulations in the world. Introduced by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516, the law restricted Bavarian beer to only three basic ingredients – barley, hops and water – thereby ensuring the distinct fresh taste that is loved by so many. The original law has now been updated to include the use of yeast in the fermentation process (the properties of yeast were only discovered in the mid-1800’s), however the fundamental principles of the brewing process have remained unchanged for over 500 years.

With sunlight fading and a winter chill setting in, Ozzie wraps up the tour in front of the Feldherrnhalle – a commemorative structure celebrating famous victories of the Bavarian Army. This particular site is also significant as it marks the exact location where in November 1923, a group led by a young and ambitious Adolf Hitler attempted to overthrow the Government by force. The unsuccessful attempt at taking power resulted in the deaths of four police officers and sixteen conspirators, and saw Hitler arrested and imprisoned.

As the tour disbands, Ozzie invites a bunch of us to join him for drink at one of his favourite Munich beer halls. As we sit down at a table and reflect on what we’ve learnt, the consensus is that Munich definitely has more to offer than just beer and Oktoberfest. However, as the first sip of liquid gold hits the back of the throat, we all agree that beer could quite easily be the only reason you ever need to visit Munich – everything else you discover is a bonus!

Ozzie’s Free Walking Tour of Munich starts most days at 10.15am in the lobby of wombats CITY HOSTEL Munich (Senefelderstraße 1, D-80336 Munich)

By Mark Hannan

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