It was that time of the year again when Indian tour operators promoting the Federal Republic of Germany as a premier tourist destination were handpicked by the German National Tourist Office (GNTO), New Delhi along with media to attend the Germany Travel Mart (GTM) 2015. This was not my first time at the European country. I had attended GTM 2013 in Stuttgart, which was the destination for out pre-event tour at the time.
For this year’s tour, from among the many options, I opted for the ‘Scenic Routes – Routes of Emperors and Kings’, which covered Munich, Passau, and Regensburg, besides the joint host cities of Erfurt and Weimar in Thuringia. A pleasant weather and a sunny day welcomed us at the Frankfurt Airport. Though this was not my first time in Germany, I was quite apprehensive about managing all of it on my own - getting off at Frankfurt Airport, boarding a train to Munich, and reaching the Maritim Hotel München. But all you need is to know the English language and follow the signages. The train route on the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) from Frankfurt to Munich was approximately of 3.5 hours, and with the complimentary Wi-Fi in the First Class, we were on social media, uploading photos and pouring our hearts out.
The Maritim's German hotels have always been strategically located near the city centre with proximity to the railway stations. As I got out of the Munich railway station, right ahead was the lane where the hotel was located. I checked in at the four-star, full-service Maritim Hotel in Munich at 1 pm and in two hours we were out to discover this melting pot of cultures. Locally called Muenchen, the quintessential city of Munich is the capital of the state of Bavaria, where the old and the new co-exist. The city is popular as the hometown of Oktoberfest—the world's largest annual funfair. The 16-day folk festival runs from late September to the first weekend in October with more than 6.5 million people from around the world in attendance.
‘Munich’ in German means the ‘Place of Monks’. To get a look and feel of the old town of Munich, we boarded the U-Bahn (the underground train or tube). The tour guide informed us that the city came into existence about 857 years ago because of the salt trade. Immigration from Romania, Bulgaria and many others, along with the onset of information technology, communication technology, media, finance and life sciences industries helped the city grow.
With a 1.46-million population, Munich is a cosmopolitan city. About 35 per cent of the population are foreigners. The city is a relatively yourng city in Germany, as it was rebuilt only in 1950-70 after it was almost completely destroyed in World War II. Munich exudes a beautiful mix of Baroque and Rococo architecture, with not many high-rises. Among the striking and best features of the city are its approximately 1,200 km of marked bicycle lanes and almost 22,000 bicycle stands. The city thus reduces traffic, and effectively propagates a healthy way of life.
We were taken to the Opera House, a.k.a. the National Theatre, in Max-Joseph-Platz. With a seating capacity for 2,200 people at a time, this first theatre was commissioned in 1810 by King Maximilian I, but got destroyed by a fire in 1823. It was later rebuilt with the Beer Tax paid by the locals, and is till now the Mecca for opera connoisseurs.
Next stop was St. Peter's, a Roman Catholic Church in the old city of Munich. After climbing its 603 steps, one can have a mesmerising aerial view of the city. Near this church is an old town market with pedestrian lane that boasts of shopping options and an incredible variety of food joints. Munich also houses the biggest BMW factory site producing about 1,600 cars on a daily basis.
One of the must-visit places in Munich is the beer cafe, Hofbräuhaus (meaning ‘Brewery of the Royal Court’), where we dined. The historic beer hall on the ground floor of the building is considered the heart of Hofbräuhaus, buzzing with energy and music. The first floor, on the contrary, has a private, upscale, and sophisticated set-up. The second floor is a festive hall with a seating capacity for 1,000 people. Combining the three floors, the capacity goes up to 3,000 people.
On an average, almost 15,000 litres of beer are consumed at Hofbräuhaus daily. I started off with Radler (half fruit beer, half lemonade), which is said to be one of the most refreshing drinks, available all over Germany. So, I am no longer a teetotaller!
On the second day, we were headed to Passau, which is a three-hour journey from Munich. It is undoubtedly a treat for anyone to drive on an autobahn, the federal controlled-access highway system in Germany that is well maintained and ensures a smooth conveyance. Today’s German autobahn system has its network across most parts of the country. It offers an unperturbed experience, offering a view of the sceneries and taking one around installations of windmills and solar panels.
We reached Passau when it was drizzling and the temperature had dropped to 10 degree Celsius. The ‘City of Three Rivers’, as Passau is known, is situated in Lower Bavaria. The Danube River (Blue in colour) is joined at Passau by the Inn River (Green in colour) from the south and the Ilz River (Black in colour) from the north. Dotted with over 54 catholic churches and chapels, it is also referred to as the ‘Venice of Bavaria’. Passau is a little old town that has great water connectivity. It has a small population of 50,000, including 12,000 students studying in Passau University. It is a good place for bicycle tours, and its highlights are art, Baroque architecture, and its scenic beauty. The city was restored just two years ago after floods practically drowned it in 2013.
The old town of Passau, rebuilt in the 17th century by Italian baroque masters after a devastating town fire, is outstandingly beautiful. Tourism plays a major role in the Passau economy as more than 2,200 ships arrive here per year. Travellers stay overnight and opt for cruise excursions. One can shop for hats, ethnic pottery, fine glass, and wood work in this city. We did a walking tour – ‘A Royal Imperial Promenade through Passau’ - during which we visited St. Matthew’s Church, St. Paul’s Church, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the New Bishop’s Residence, the magnificent gothic Town Hall, and the Glasmuseum (Glass Museum) Passau, besides picturesque places, romantic lanes, and enchanting riverfront promenades. We also enjoyed a sightseeing tour on the ship of a renowned local cruise company from the waterside.
Over 1/3rd of the Glass Museum is Hotel Wilden Mann and the remaining is the Museum. Glass-making started in Passau some time between the 16th and 19th centuries. Inventions and refinements happened with time. The Glass Museum showcases 30,000 glass arts across five floors and 40 rooms, along with 600 glass cases that give a comprehensive view of the ‘European Glasses’ from 1650-1950 from Baroque, Rococo, Empire, Biedermeier, Historism, Art Noveau, Art Deco, and Modernism.
In the evening, we dined at a restaurant, right in front of Passau Hotel Weisser Hase, which was our abode for the night. My dinner comprised a plate of mixed salad with raw vegetables and leafy salads, with a dressing of oil, vinegar, mustard, and other ingredients. Passau Hotel Weisser Hase was built in 1512 and has been revamped, maintaining the old look.
It was sunny yet windy when we reached Best Western Premier Hotel in Regensburg after a coach journey of just two hours. Situated at the confluence of the Danube, Naab, and Regen rivers, Regensburg (also in Bavaria) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. The city has a population of about 1.5 lakh, including 30,000 students. It is a young city with Germany’s oldest stone bridge undergoing renovation that is set to complete by 2017. The very famous St. Peter’s Cathedral here was built between 13th and 16th centuries in Gothic-style architecture, in competition to the Cologne Cathedral. The city was not affected by World War II.
We met our guide at Stadtamhof and walked up to the Sausage Kitchen. After crossing the well-known Stone Bridge, we reached the historic town of Regensburg and visited the Snuff Factory. The former building of the Bernard Snuff Factory, built in 1812, was restored some time in 2005. Three rooms remained unchanged where tourists can still see the original equipment and learn about the production process.
During a walk through the narrow streets of the old town, a visit to the splendid patrician castles, the royal palace or the numerous Romanesque and Gothic churches, one encounters historical richness on every corner. With hidden backyards and places with a Mediterranean atmosphere, Regensburg is replete with typical Italian flair. The cathedral and the centuries-old stone bridge offer a picturesque setting. We also experienced the rich cultural metropolis of the city on the cruise ship over Danube.
Later, we toured the very famous Spitalgarten – the Spital Brewery and Foundation. In yesteryears, water here was contaminated and milk was very expensive. Though it is one of the oldest breweries in the world, Spitalgarten had started off as a charity foundation for ill people and those who needed calories. Boasting of a seating capacity for 800, Spitalgarten houses an old age home for 88 people as well. With a number of bars, restaurants, clubs, and other locations merely in the inner city, Regensburg provides a rich and diverse nightlife due to its young population.
During my eight-day stay, I learnt that Germans are proud of their ability to create quality offerings. They love good food and beverage and are friendly, warm, and welcoming. Bavarians, too, are traditional people, proud of their culture. All Germans follow traffic rules and the other norms religiously and maintain high standards of driving.
Most importantly, commutation is an overwhelming experience in the country, even for the disabled, with excellent connectivity offered by Deutsche Bahn and trams.
Though the trip drew to an end, I didn’t quite feel like returning just yet. Undoubtedly, Germany is a premier European travel destination with a bouquet of quality experiences. Though the beautiful moments spent here will stay on in my memory, I hope to explore newer destinations of Germany very soon.