After a stay of about a month in Switzerland we were ready for a brief tour of Europe. We had bought Eurail passes in India which allowed us 14 days’ unlimited travel over any of the European railways, including the high speed French Train a Grande Vitesse (TGVs), in 1 Class. Unlike today, in 1987 TGV used to run between very few stations. We had a service from Paris to Geneva and back. For other places one had to use reasonably fast inter-city express trains of various countries.
Our first target was Munich in Germany – a journey of around 7 hours. We did it in day-time. Interestingly for us the train passed through a place in Switzerland named Winterthur. I was reminded of my second brother who used to have a pen-friend in this town back in mid 1940s. His name was Kurt Senft. The concept of establishing friendships with persons living elsewhere, even abroad, through letters has apparently died down. With the advancement of information technology none probably ever writes letters, particularly hand-written ones. But in those days pen-friendship was promoted not only by parents but also by schools. And there used to be ads in the newspapers of individuals seeking pen-friends from distant towns and countries. My brother was very good at writing letters and he used to write long ones to Kurt. As luck would have it, a few years later, in 1952-53, he happened to be in Frankfurt when he seems to have nipped across to Winterthur to meet his pen-friend. He described to us his joyous meeting with Kurt in one of his interesting letters.
We reached Munich by late afternoon. It was a pretty big station and plumb in the middle of a huge foyer we came across a large assemblage of Indian-looking men and women. Eventually, it turned out that they were Sri Lankan Tamils who were there to seek refuge. Perhaps, the crackdown on LTTE Tamils had started in right earnest and they had fled from Sri Lanka to seek refuge in Germany. Surprisingly, as I write this, Munich has again been forced to accept large number of refugees (called migrants by Europeans), this time, however, from the Middle-East, especially from Syria with the ISIS occupying large parts of the country.
In Munich our lodgings had been fixed in a pension, a term not really heard very much these days. Used generally in the Continent of Europe, pensions are kind of guest houses run by a families in their respective residences, a structure that could be a heritage one or an ordinary one. These also provide breakfast and other meals, depending on the requisitions of the guests. They provide an alternative to hotels and other lodgings to cut costs. Our elderly landlady was a little sticky about payment of rent. She wanted the entire amount in advance. Perhaps she had been cheated earlier. Our booking was in a pension in an ordinary house and included breakfast which meant a morning cup of tea/coffee bread and butter with eggs. In England these are known as B&B (bread & breakfast) joints. In our later trips to Europe we found that the frugal breakfasts have yielded place to lavish spreads, almost in as good a scale as those of hotels.
Known in German as Munchen, Munich is the capital of the province of Bavaria and is the third biggest city of Germany after Berlin and Hamburg. Located on the banks of River Isar it is a more than a millennium old city. Deriving its name from monks, Munich had been a centre of Counter-Reformation movements. It has been a centre of arts, culture and science since the 19th Century as well. Later, it became a place of prominence as the Nazi Party was founded here. There is much in the city for those who are interested in the city’s recent history. Around 80% of it was destroyed in the air attacks during World War II. Lots of tourists come to compare various parts of the city with the old photographs and figure out the changes. All that was not possible for us in our 48 hours stay besides the shoe-string that we were tied to.
It was a dark and murky evening when we set off for Marienplatz – a square that has been named after St. Mary. It is the main square in the city that has been in existence since the 12th Century. It is dominated by the New City Hall (neues Rathaus) and huge grounds in front of it has mostly tourist milling around to see and hear the musical tower clock. It was built between 1867 and 1908. Built in Gothic Revival Architectural Style it is a massive construction of around 10000 square metres with about 400 rooms. The basement has a restaurant and the ground floor has some business houses and tourist information Centre. The tower – all of its 85 metres – can be accessed by an elevator. The clock on the tower plays music at specific timings with what is known as Rathaus-Glockenspiel. At those times the concentration of tourists on the open spaces is to be seen to be believed. The grounds in front were used centuries beck to host sporting tournaments. A Marian Column, erected in 17th Century is located in the Centre. It was erected in commemoration of end of the Swedish occupation in the 17th Century.
Another beautiful structure in Marienplatz is the church that is known as Frauenkirche – the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady. It serves as the cathedral of Archdiocese of Munich. It is no less a landmark than the New City Hall. With its 99 metres tall twin towers, or more appropriately the spires, it is visible from practically all locations in Munich. It was built in 20 years from 1468 to 1488. Though a gothic structure, the towers are, however, not in the same style. Scarcity of funds did not allow Gothic embellishments and eventually they were capped by the two domes, modelled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
A few miles away from where we were located is the Nymphenburg Palace. A palace built by the members of the House of Savoy who ruled over Bavaria, Nymphenburg Palace (palace of the nymphs) is so extensive that it is impossible to cover it in a day. The attractive baroque architecture along with extensive well-laid out gardens, parks and lakes with fountains, it is indeed kind of a paradise – fit indeed for nymphs. The Palace and several pavilions were designed by Italian architects over a few decades as and when additions were made to the original structure. There is so much to see especially of the affluent and opulent Duchy which never seems to have shrunk from displaying its wealth. It is a veritable feast for the eyes.
Munich is known for its museums, especially the Deutsches Museum which is reputed to be the world’s largest of science and technology. But we just didn’t have time as we had to leave for our next stop, Vienna.