We wanted to go somewhere with grandma and grandpa during Christmas and chose Germany because of its festive markets and fun activities for the boys. Tyler has been dreaming of visiting there ever since his WWII fascination began in Kindergarten. We packed in a full itinerary for four days tailored just for him, thanks to grandma’s great planning.
In less than a two hour flight, we arrived in Munich. We lucked out again with fantastic weather considering it had snowed a week prior, but had warmed up with blue skies and sun for us.
We checked in to our little Hotel Exquisite right near the famous Bavarian Christmas markets they’re so known for. Our first day was for exploring and shopping in the cute markets. We saw all kinds of hand-made gifts, ornaments, nativities, clothing, toys and German food at the decorated stalls. The hand carved nativities and blown glass ornaments were my favorite. Smells of roasting nuts, cinnamon, baked pretzels, gingerbread, bratwurst, wine and chocolate filled the air.
The steak sandwiches, seasoned fries and sausage dogs were a big hit. There’s something about their bread that is so light, crispy and addictive! Tyler and Cade had to try the Kinderpunsch, which tastes a lot like wassail. Jace loved the pretzels and ate a whole one every day at the breakfast buffet. Nathan couldn’t believe how gigantic the hot dogs were and shocked us all by eating the whole thing and asking for more.
Munich was different than I expected. I hadn’t realized eighty percent of it had been bombed and destroyed and has since been rebuilt from the 50’s. While there is still some beautiful, original architecture, a lot of the buildings are basic and plain looking, given their lack of funds after the war. We did admire the intricate Glockenspiel, bell towers and churches. I have loved seeing the beauty and craftsmanship of each country we’ve explored. You can see the similarities in structures from one to the next too. Their arc of victory and obelisk weren’t quite as impressive as in France.
We got a good recommendation for an authentic Bavarian restaurant, dining around a large round wooden table on little cushions. The brave ones tried different entrees of weinerschnitzel, meats with gravy and sausages and we pretty much steered clear of the bread and potato dumplings. The best part was the apple streudel and giant bowls of mixed ice cream for the kids.
After a delicious breakfast buffet with the best breads, hot croissants, fruity jams and potatoes, we split into two groups. Grandpa, Lynn and the older boys went out on a walking tour of WWII. Grandma, the younger boys and I took a tour on the hop on/off bus around Munich.
The guys met up with a tour guide who led them through various former Nazi buildings. The beer hall was where Hitler first spoke in 1920 to a group of 100 or so supporters. Although Munich was decimated with bombings during the war, the majority of the Nazi headquarters were unscathed. It felt surreal and creepy for them to walk these haunted places.
On a lighter note, our first stop of our Munich tour was at the Nymphenburg Palace. We didn’t have much time, but took a quick tour inside the enormous, baroque palace. It was erected in 1664 in celebration of the birth of the Bavarian elector’s son, Maximillian. It was the Bavarian rulers summer home. Many additions were continually made over the years by various heirs to become the impressive grandeur that it is today. Inside, we saw various rooms with original furnishings and walls and walls of art. My favorite was the open grand hall with delicately painted frescos on the ceiling. Its 3 levels of windows overlooked the expansive gardens in both the front and rear of the palace. If we had more time, I would have admired the symmetrical, lush gardens and seen the rare collection of stage coaches.
Our bus tour stopped at the Olympic Park for a minute where we were able to see the Alp inspired stadium and Tower.
After meeting up for lunch, we took the boys over to BMW world for a tour. My car enthusiast guys loved checking out how it all began and seeing the many classic and fantasy cars from its inception. By the end of the tour, they were eagerly convincing Lynn to get one after learning how well they are built! There was also a section up top with Rolls Royce cars since BMW bought that car company a few years ago. I found it quite interesting how the famous goddess of speed hood ornament came into existence and distinguishes this luxury brand. The boys knew better than to try to convince Lynn to get a Rolls Royce, but they had a fun time admiring them!
Another carb-filled, delicious breakfast and we returned to the Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel come to life at 11:00. Different scenes played out depicting the marriage of a local Duke and his love in the 1600’s and below them a customary dance dating back to the 1500s that symbolizes loyalty and perseverance following a German plague, that continues to be a tradition today.
Because of Tyler’s interest and knowledge of WWII, we decided to go see Dachau, a Nazi labor and concentration camp. The clear blue skies of the morning suddenly turned to dreary grey and shivers of cold immediately upon arriving. It was a somber, heartbreaking journey witnessing the very place of so much evil. I won’t elaborate on it much because I really haven’t processed all that I learned and it’s just too horrific to imagine what occurred there.
Across the street was a fabulous bakery that helped lift our spirits as we sampled all sorts of German goodies.
We ended the night at another recommended authentic Bavarian restaurant with overloaded plates of food. It was interesting trying to order since our waitress spoke no English. Tyler has enjoyed the food here more than any of us, even daring to eat the potato dumplings. Another round of mixed ice cream for the kids, and we went home stuffed.
We ended the trip on a high note (literally), making our final destination a tour of the Neuschwanstein Castle. We booked a private tour with a friendly South African guy who loaded us in a giant van and took us through stunning German countryside to get there. The boys were excited to drive down the Autobahn, shocked to see the various cars whiz by at crazy speed.
We arrived in a little German village below the castle. It was picturesque surrounded by breathtaking Alpine mountains, great lakes and snow topped Bavarian rooftops of cafes, stores and churches. Set high atop the rugged mountainside on either side are two fairytale-like castles. We trekked up the slushy trail to arrive at the palace doors. You would think my boys have never seen snow. They couldn’t stop throwing snowballs at each other and touching it. At least it kept them distracted from complaining about the climb.
What a gorgeous view once we reached the top! The castle was fitting for a princess, although one never lived there.
Neuschwanstein, meaning New Swan Stone, was built at the direction of King Ludwig II (who was the son of Maximillian, whom the Nymphenburg Palace was built for). It’s a 19th century Romanesque style castle inspired by the many operas of Richard Wagner the King was so enthralled by. He was quite an interesting, curious man. Ludwig II was raised in the yellow castle, Hohenschwangau, across the hill. If we had more time, I would have toured it as well. Once King, he spent uncontrollable amounts of money on several lavish castles to the point his family had him deemed insane. He was arrested at the castle and the next day found drowned in a lake with his psychiatrist–a mystery that has never been solved.
This castle took seventeen years to build and was never completed by the time he died. In fact, he only lived in it for less than 6 months. Shortly after his death, the castle that was built as an escape from the world was opened to the public, with over 60 million people having toured it to date. Walt Disney was so inspired by it to create Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.
I am now fascinated with the history of this eccentric family and their castles. I wish I understood German so I could watch the recently made movie “Ludwig II” which is filmed in these castles and makes the story come alive. No English subtitles that I can find. I might just watch it anyway, it looks so good.
Back to our tour–our guide led our group through the winding staircases up to amazing rooms that they did not allow us to photograph. The walls and ceilings were covered in paintings depicting scenes from various operas Ludwig loved. It’s impossible to describe the interior—it needs to be seen to appreciate. Google has several images of the interior to see. The whole thing was a bit of a fairytale existence inside, including a fake cave and hidden doors. His love of swans is captured throughout the structure, inside and out. The views from the top of the castle’s windows outside are absolutely incredible. Too bad the Ludwig II was nocturnal and probably did not appreciate them. I found it completely unbelievable that this enormous castle was built for a single King who lived it in for a matter of months.
Grandpa, Tyler, Cade and I followed our tour guide up a slick and steep, snowy hill to Marie’s Bridge to get the most fantastic views of the castle and surrounding mountains and valley. Wow, was it ever stunning and worth the hike to see the beauty below! I nearly had to ski down the hill in my boots, grateful our tour guide kept me from falling.
The little boys and grandma rode in horse’s carriage down the steep hill. Without much time to spare, we grabbed our last bratwurst and sped back to the airport in time to catch our flight back to England.
Even the airport had a big Christmas market outside. We said goodbye to charming Germany and each of the boys said it was their favorite place we’ve seen so far. It will definitely live in our hearts forever as special memories with grandma and grandpa!