On a warm sunny summer’s day, a visit to the local park can be a wonderful way to spend a few lazy hours, doing nothing much except watching people stroll by and soaking up the sunshine. This is true even when you’re on holiday. When you take the time to stroll around a local park, you can enjoy a much more intimate glimpse of everyday life in the city than can be offered in even the best museums.
Strolling in the Park
In Munich, the best park to go for some relaxation and people watching is the Englischer Garden, or English Garden, in the centre of the city. This green oasis covers 3.73 square kilometres and is famous for being the largest park in Europe, bigger than Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York. Commissioned by the unpopular Electoral Prince Karl Theodor to quell public dissatisfaction and laid out in the typically rambling English style, the garden is one of the most popular recreational spots for Munich residents, who come during their lunch breaks and on the weekends to soak up the sun and the park’s festive atmosphere.
The English Garden stretches from the very heart of the city at the Odeonsplatz, all the way to the open countryside to the north of the metropolis. Bordered on one side by the mighty river Isar, the park is a beautiful expanse of wide, rolling hills, neatly trimmed lawns and shady groves, delineated by winding paths, pleasant streams and ponds. The entire park is more or less evenly divided by the mittlerer ring freeway, which separates the park into the more domesticated southern part in the city and the wilder northern section further into the countryside.
Most of the major sights in the English Garden are located in its southern corners. There are four of these wonderful German institutions – Aumeister, Chinese Tower, Hirschau and Seehaus. The Chinese Tower beer garden, amazingly enough, surrounds an incongruous Chinese Tower known as Chinesischer Turm, which dates back to the park’s very beginnings in 1789.The beer garden is also known for being the largest in Bavaria, with seating for over 7,000 happy drinkers. There are plenty of grills selling food, but everyone is welcome to bring their own grub, and its often cheaper than buying food. During the summers, a live brass band plays nearby, accompanied by the clink of beer mugs and laughter. If you have some free time during a trip to the city, then this is definitely a great place to immerse yourself in German life!
Another Oriental feature of the garden is a beautiful Japanese Tea House located smack in the middle of a crowded duck pond. This charming structure was built by Mitsuo Normura in 1972. Visitors can watch a tea ceremony on the 2nd and 4th weekends of every month between 3 and 5 pm.
One of the more notorious structures in the park is the Monopteros, an artificial, ancient Greek pavilion crowning a small hill near the beer garden. In the past, the pavilion was notorious for the presence of drug peddlers, but in recent years the police have been successful in chasing these undesirables away, and today the Monopteros is a popular spot for photographers, as there is a great view of the Munich skyline and the Alps in the distance.
Further to the north, the landscape has a more untamed feel. Huge trees stand in deep groves alongside the parks, there are wide meadows of wild flowers, foxes, rabbits and other wildlife disappear between the trees. During some periods of the year, there are even herds of sheep contently grazing in the park!
Pleasant Pastimes In The Park
On any given day, there are literally thousands of people taking their leisure amidst the greenery — strolling with their dogs or companions along the paths, picnicking or enjoying a game of cricket on the lawns, whizzing by on bicycles, cantering along on horseback, taking a dip in a pond or stream and even surfing along the rapids on the Eisbach river, one of the tributaries to the Isar river. Despite the large numbers of visitors, the park still feels wonderfully spacious because of its vast size.
There are plenty of other things to see and do in the English Garden. Most of the visitors are inevitably clustered around the beer gardens, but there is another “attraction” a little further from the more populated areas. A number of wide sunny lawns are dedicated to this practice, and on every sunny day, there will be crowds of sunbathers stretched out on the grass. The composition of sunbathers is amazingly varied: staid office women and high powered executives still carrying briefcases taking some sun during their lunch breaks companionably share the lawn with lazing students and gossiping housewives, all as naked as they were born.
Given the more repressed nature of Anglo-Saxon cultures, it isn’t surprising that visitors from these countries are quite shocked by the sight of nude Germans nonchalantly strolling around — or that these very same visitors often make the nude sunbathing lawns a major stop in their itineraries, specifically to do some slack-jawed ogling. There have even been drops in the number of nude sunbathers who, while not averse to being naked, do object to being gaped at by tourists. Perhaps the best way for the visitor to enjoy the scenery without giving too much offense would be to doff their own clothes and join in!
For the slightly more energetic, there are rowboats available for exploring the Kleinhesseloher lake, which has three small islands and a multitude of ducks and swans, fat from constant feedings by park visitors. The Seerhaus beer garden sits on the shores of this lake, combining a pleasant lake view with a good mug of German brew. With so many streams and ponds in the park, its not surprising that a few designated stretches of water are open to swimming. The only problem is that the water comes straight from the Alps, and is often surprisingly cold! Amazingly enough, you can even go surfing in the middle of the city — parts of the river Isar are almost perfect for getting some surfboard practice and on warm summer days, you might even have trouble finding a bit of clear space to practice your moves!
One activity particularly popular with courting couples are the carriage rides, which are a pleasant way to enjoy the park without too much effort. To really enjoy the park however, the best way to go is by foot or on a bicycle. Just watch out for the dogs! There are plenty of them gamboling about in the park, and though they are required to be on a leash, no amount of regulation in the world will help you if you run over a poor poodle while admiring the scenery. If you don’t want to put in too much effort however, then just find an empty seat in one of the beer gardens, take a sip of cold beer and soak in the warm sunshine, the loud, happy music and the festive, fun atmosphere that makes the English Garden such a pleasant place to be.