We step out of the hustle and bustle of Münchner Freiheit and make our way down sleepy side streets until we reach the edge of the Englischer Garten, central Munich’s large park that runs alongside the river north of the city centre. We are at the very edge of winter, wrapped up warm against the cold, the joggers blowing steam along the pathways as dogs chase each other over the frosted grass. As we make our way to the lake at the heart of the park we are frozen in our tracks at the sight of a flock of geese, taking to flight from the grass about half a kilometre away and now flying low in our direction. Instinctively we duck as they pass on the way to the water, the air filled with squawks and squeals and the beating of wings.
We beat a hasty retreat, following a stream on its meandering course through the park until we reach the Chinese Tower. It is December, and so the tower stands haughtily above the little wooden huts of a Christmas market. It is alpine-kitsch meets Mulan, but somehow it works. People queue for mugs of glühwein, wooden handicrafts and festive tea towels. The air filled with the smell of sausage, pretzel and pancake mix. Bells are ringing, but it is not clear if they are coming from the Chinese Tower or the kid’s carousel at its base.
Katrin disappears to take photographs and I stand alone at the heart of the market, watching a bearded stallholder move roasting chestnuts around with a heavy-duty gloved hand, and listen to the sing-song dialect of the locals. From those passing by I also hear Italian, French and English voices, and there are plenty of Bayern scarves in evidence… as there should be, their team the current conquerors of Germany and Europe. One man wears his scarf beneath a green felt cap with a feather in its band… all the symbols of regional pride present and correct.
We leave the market behind us to climb the small hill to the marble temple known as the Monopteros. There is a camera crew up there, with a fully made-up model and a collection of balloons, but if we climb to the heart of the temple we can avoid them obscuring our view to the south, to the remaining stretch of the park that runs down to where the surfers surf on a single, never-ending wave, and then the Residenz, the towers and the spires of the city centre. It is chilly atop the hills, and Katrin mentions something about glühwein from behind her camera. So make our way, down and out, back into the pre-Christmas crowds of the city, towards one of the legendary beer halls and the multinational crowd they have attracted to the capital of Bavaria.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig