Very early on in deciding to undertake the Erasmus semester I knew I wanted to maximise my cultural experience and spend as much time as physically possible in Germany. Therefore I stayed in Munich over the Christmas holidays in order to experience a proper German Christmas and to use the time off of lectures to travel more widely. So as lectures ended I waved goodbye to my friends and colleagues, however it wasn't all lonely however as my partner, Kathryn, came to stay!!
The Christmas buzz in Munich really gets underway at the end of November when the Christkindlsmarkts (Christmas markets) come out in force. Having experienced the Bath Christmas market I thought I was prepared, however the number and scale of the markets in Germany made Bath look tiny in comparison! Every district of Munich seemed to have its own local market (my "local", in Schwabing, was especially pretty and focused on the arts and crafts of the area) as well as the huge ones in town catering to every taste possible. Instead of the major shopping experience we seem to have in the UK the markets here are more of a destination to meet and socialise with friends, drinking Glühwein and eating Heiße Maroni around the outside tables. My favourite market was the "medieval market" at Wittelsbacherplatz - themed in a medieval style with the huts and vendors dressed appropriately, it was a lot of fun to be shopping for axes and bows eating a Flammbrot (like a german answer to the pizza) avoiding the sword-fighting going on behind - Brilliant! And in the evenings when the lights were out it was truly magical to wander the streets of the old city stumbling across market after market in under the twinkling lights...
Christmas Markets of Munich!
Christmas eve is the main event for most of Bavaria with Midnight mass being the "unmissable" event to attend so e we wrapped up warm and headed down to the local church at 11:00 pm. Singing Stille Nacht in a huge catholic church lit by candle light was a great way of entering Christmas. For breakfast we had the typical Bavarian breakfast of pretzel, white sausage and sweet mustard (washed down with large mugs of tea!) and then moved on to attempting to cook a Christmas dinner without an oven on just two electric rings - fairly successfully I have to add! After lunch a brisk walk in the English garden and then back to open presents. Skyping home to our family and playing some cards ended off one of the most memorable Christmases I am sure I will ever have.
In the following week we became tourists, visiting Salzburg and Vienna on the train for a few days to explore the beautiful cities and learn about their illustrious histories too. Back in munich we travelled to the Dachau concentration camp memorial which was a haunting place with an eye opening museum, the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle and the grand Nymphenburg Schloss which also had a large "ice festival" on its frozen lakes and ponds. Also an experience was the Müller'sches Volksbad, an old classical style swimming hall with beautiful architecture and an attached suite of steam rooms and sauna in the traditional German style - you leave your modesty along with your swimming trunks on the hook by the door!!
New years eve in Munich was also a lot of fun - Shops are able to sell fireworks from three days before and it seemed that everyone made good use of this time judging by the empty shelves and people staggering back to their homes under the weight of explosives. On the evening itself it was like staying in a warzone with constant bangs from around five o clock until early into the new year however from what we could see the colours in the sky were amazing. The next day a huge smog had enveloped the city and we heard on the news that the air pollution was 26 (!!!!) times over the EU legal limit because of all the smoke! And the debris on the usually pristine streets was unbelievable too! Fortunately it snowed the next day and covered everything up!
Back into the last few weeks in Munich now we are currently (trying) to organise our exams and complete our courses before heading back to Bath for semester 2. Although I am excited about seeing my friends in the UK again and moving back to the beautiful city of Bath, I will be very sad to leave Munich and I think a piece of my heart will be forever here... but more on that later.