Munich and the hospitality of Bavarians
I JUST returned from a five-day trip to Munich and the Bavarian Alps organized by Saudi Arabian Airlines to mark the launch of flights to Munich from Jeddah and Riyadh on June 20.
Saudia has been flying to Frankfurt for several decades now and has decided to expand its European destinations to include Manchester, Vienna and Munich. These are going to be all-year-round flights, not seasonal, summer-only flights, as thought by many. The routes will be serviced by spacious Boeing-777s, which have adequate leg-room in the configuration that Saudia uses.
I had never been to Munich or Bavaria, and found the southern Germans much friendlier and fun-loving than their northern compatriots. Home to several beer brewers and all sorts of sausages, Bavaria was the favorite region of Germany of Adolf Hitler, what with its Bavarian Alps that surely reminded him of his native Austria just across the border.
Since Saudia’s flights to Munich had not started yet, we had to fly in through Frankfurt and then take the ultra-modern ICE train to Munich. The train stops at the airport, so it was just a little distance from where we disembarked from our flight to the train station. The journey took three hours and 15 minutes, with the train reaching up to speeds of 270 kilometers an hour.
Although 60 percent of Munich was bombed during World War II, compared to 80 and 90 percent of some other German cities, many of the destroyed buildings were rebuilt after 1945 in their original style, so that now it is quite hard to distinguish the real oldies from the newer ones.
Art museums abound in Munich, the home of venerable luxury carmaker BMW, which stands for Bavarian Motor Works. We visited a temporary BMW museum where a retired engineer spoke to us in excruciating detail about every single car and motorcycle model that the company had ever produced, including production models that had never seen the light of day. Needless to say, after 30 minutes of endless explanation about how many cylinders each car had, even I saw my journalist’s curiosity wane as my feet got tired from so much standing.
Our guide in Munich was a no-nonsense Hungarian woman who works for the city of Munich. She took us around the city and pointed out various landmarks after which we had a traditional lunch of beef liver dumpling soup, followed by white asparagus (which was in season) with Hollandaise sauce, and we finished it all off with delicious apple strudel with vanilla ice cream for desert.
That afternoon we drove to the Bavarian Alps in a mini-bus. The trip took nearly three hours during which one of the travel agents from Abha fell ill. He is a diabetic and had forgotten his insulin at home! I told the organizers we should take him to a hospital as soon as we arrived in the alpine town of Garmisch, which is what we did. He ended up spending two nights in the hospital, where doctors said his blood sugar level had reached 600! (The normal level is supposedly 80).
The town of Garmisch is rich and it shows: Apart from a local branch of the C&A department store chain, there seemed to be many small boutiques selling expensive clothes and jewelry. Garmisch is also the town where Hitler held his 1936 Winter Olympics and is a convenient launching point for trips up to Germany’s highest peak and into neighboring Austria, which at only 20 minutes away by car, is closer to Gramisch than Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt are.
After spending the night in a charming chalet hotel that was originally built in 1919, we went up the tallest peak in Germany at nearly 3,000 meters above sea level via a cable car ride that took around 15 minutes.
That afternoon we drove two hours west of Garmisch to visit the fairytale castle of King Ludwig II who had it built in 1869. He only lived in the castle for around 170 days before he mysteriously died on a nearby lake, allegedly drowning. An autopsy found no water in his lungs, so many people believe he was murdered by locals upset at the huge expense of building the new castle, using money levied on farmers in the form of taxes.