Munich and Stuttgart: Germany's Perfect Match
Sunday, May 21, 2006
In case anyone is wondering how I ended up on a barroom stage in Munich, throwing my voice into a soccer-fighting tune, I can tell you this: It started with a tip.
Mine had been a familiar traveler's predicament. Wanting to find a no-attitude place to catch a game and a brew on a Saturday night, I turned to my friend, Wolfgang, a nightclub bouncer. He knew just the place. Soon I was making my way down Schraudolphstrasse, a side street in the city's Bohemian Schwabing quarter. Inside the Arc, beer flowed like a geyser as youthful revelers watched a soccer face-off on a large-screen TV. Eventually Catherine, a local schoolteacher, coaxed me into joining her in a duet of "We Are the Champions," the Queen tune that sports fans the world over employ to exhort their teams to victory.
As suggestions go, the Arc scored. After that, I relegated my Lonely Planet to a bottom drawer and relied instead on advice from locals.
I'd come to explore the Bavarian capital and the nearby city of Stuttgart as a kind of advance man for fans headed to this year's World Cup, the international soccer tournament taking place in a dozen German cities (including these two) from June 9 to July 9. How, I wondered, could visitors weave in the flavor of these two delightful southern Germany cities between matches?
I was familiar with Munich and Stuttgart from earlier visits, but nonetheless had questions. Was it worth fighting the crowds in Munich's Hofbraeuhaus -- the raucous 5,000-seat beer hall -- for a half-liter of beer and a super-size platter of calves' brains? Would the Viktualienmarkt, the elegant open-air gourmet market in the city center, make a suitable picnic spot? Was Olympic Park, site of the 1972 Summer Games and backdrop for Steven Spielberg's "Munich," as thrilling in life as on celluloid? Was the view from the top of the 712-foot Fernsehturm television tower in Stuttgart -- reputedly the first such structure ever built -- worth it?
In the end, I gave all of them a pass. My ad hoc team of travel agents -- a clerk in a department store, a student on the subway, a restaurant waiter, a seatmate on a train to Stuttgart-- recommended brilliant alternatives.
* * *
Few things in Munich come cheaply, a point drilled home as I walked through the ever-popular Viktualienmarkt, passing dozens of stalls sagging with fresh meats, pungent cheeses, just-baked breads and other gourmet foods. The goods for a modest picnic lunch for two, I calculated, would run around $40. But during a coffee break in nearby Deutsche Eiche, a popular restaurant on the gay scene for more than five decades, a waiter told me there was no better place for picnic fare than Elisabethmarkt in the Schwabing quarter.
A quick ride to Josephsplatz on the U-bahn, the city's easy-to-use subway system, and I was there. The products were much the same as at Viktualien, but less expensive. With a lovely $11 picnic in hand -- hunks of Camembert and Gruyere, a piece of Spanish ham, a loaf of bread and some strawberries -- I plopped down in the adjoining beer garden for lunch.
The more I traveled through the city, the more it seemed on the brink of World Cup overload. Posters for the tournament hung on street corners; clocks ticked away the seconds until the first kickoff. The Allianz Arena, the city's uber-modern sports stadium, will host the opening match and five others.
Throughout the Cup, Olympic Park will host a sports fest, highlighted by a free open-air screening of all 64 games nationwide, leading up to the championship game in Berlin. On July 2, the Long Night of Sports program will feature dozens of local sports clubs, including aquatic divers and horseback riders, in public sports demonstrations. Those who tire of watching will have the chance to participate in in-line skating, tai-bo, Nordic walking, gymnastics and other sports at various sites. The Deutches Museum, Munich City Museum and State Ethnology Museum will hold special exhibits. (For more information on World Cup tickets, see Page P10.)
It's no surprise, then, that the city is expecting a rush of tourists. When I asked Jill Henne, managing editor of the English language magazine Munich Found, where visitors could go to escape the hordes, she pointed me to two happening neighborhoods: Schwabing for its youthful cafe and club scene, and Haidhausen for good, inexpensive eateries.