Ready to visit the heart of Bavaria? With lively beer gardens as well as a host of museums and everything between, there’s plenty to see and do in Munich. From how to tie your dirndl to why you need to respect the green man, here are the unwritten rules and tips to help you fit in and enjoy the city.
Guten tag is not enough
There’s a stereotype that all Germans speak great English. While that might be true in the more cosmopolitan cities like Berlin, you will need some German to get around Munich; about 70% of people will speak some English, the remaining 30% will stick to their mother tongue with a lot of eye-rolling if you can’t keep up. South Germany has its own dialect too; expect to hear people greeting each other with the Bavarian “Grüß gott” or more informal “Servus”.
The U-Bahn isn’t actually free
No ticket barriers might lull you into a false sense of security, but it turns out Germans are just honest! Those travelling with a monthly pass just have to carry it with them, but if, like most tourists, you’re using one of the stripe tickets, you have to stamp it in one of the little blue machines before heading down the escalators to the platform. Though ticket checks are infrequent, the lines leading out to the airport are the usual targets, so save yourself the €60 fine and grab one of the three-day tickets.
Cyclists are mean
In most cities, it’s the cars that terrorise the cyclists – here it’s the other way around! Munich cyclists take no prisoners and come flying down the cycle lanes with little tolerance or consideration for pedestrians; they have right of way even over cars after all. It’s not just a case of ending up with a few bruises, you might also end up being sued for any injuries the cyclist sustains or damage to their bike. A secretly litigious country, almost everyone that lives here have third party liability insurance as standard.
Lederhosen are normal
Did you think they only came out once a year for Oktoberfest? Lederhosen is the equivalent of putting on a nice shirt before you go to the pub on a Friday night. You’ll see them regularly around town, as well as for special occasions such as festivals –lederhosen have even been spotted in IKEA! They’re also standard dress for most Bavarian weddings, so you’ll see locals with beautifully embroidered dirndls and smart jackets.
Ladies, if you’re embracing traditional dress, you’ll also need to get familiar with the bow code. To save unwanted suitors from investing time in someone that’s taken, the way a woman’s apron bow is tied shows their relationship status. On the left is a green light – single, while a bow tied on the right means she’s not on the market. Then things get interesting. You may raise a few eyebrows with a bow tied at the front in the middle – it announces to the world that you’re a virgin. Finally, a bow at the back means you’re a widow or a waitress. People in Germany grew up with this, but tourists should get into the habit of glancing down for a quick bow check before turning on the charm.
The green man is God
No traffic? Stay exactly where you are until you see that green man. That traffic symbol is treated with a quiet reverence –woe betide the tourist that thinks they can just nip across a quiet street without his permission! Step foot on the road and you can expect to be on the end of a rapid and angry lecture from the oldest German nearby, particularly if there are kids at the crossing. At the very least you’ll be on the end of the well-honed withering Munich stare.
Müncheners are weather optimists
As soon as the snow is gone, restaurants and bars will rush to get their tables and chairs back outside. Even in February, when the Alpine wind is anything but warm, you’ll see Germans stoically sat outside with a maß or eating a meal; even the sun peeps out even a bit, you’ll find yourself fighting to find a spot outdoors. The only concession to the weather is that blankets are almost always provided – you’ll see them thrown over the back of chairs waiting for the next optimist.
Try the mystery potato salad
Accompanying most schnitzel dishes and also available as a dish in its own right at most beer gardens is a yellow-ish dish of carbohydrate goodness. A classic German dish, it’s technically a potato salad but not as you know it; this version has a creamy texture but with a tang that’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is. Served with a sprinkling of chives, it’s the perfect way to balance out one too many beers – and utterly addictive.
You might be used to most places taking card, but at a lot of restaurants, bars, and especially beer gardens will only take payments in cash. When you’re ready to pay, a waiter or waitress will come around with the ubiquitous black purse to settle the bill. They’re used to people splitting the bill so will usually assume you want to pay individually unless you say otherwise. The waitress will then cross your items that you’ve paid for off the bill and move onto the next person. Small tips are expected and appreciated, so when you hand over your cash, say how much you’d like back as change.
Avoid Hofbräuhaus on Friday and Saturday nights
On every “must-see in Munich list”, the Hofbräuhaus is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Munich. The famous beer hall dates back to the sixteenth century, and offers the quintessential traditional German experience complete with live brass band. You’ll be tempted to treat it as your local and go on a Friday or Saturday night… don’t. Oktoberfest rules apply and you have to be seated to be served which means charming your way onto the end of someone else’s table and a long wait to put your order in and actually get a beer. Go on Sunday instead – you’ll get all the atmosphere and none of the stress.
Hofbräuhaus, Platzl 9, 80331 München, Germany.
Choose your seat carefully
If you’re visiting one of the city’s many beer gardens, the seats you pick dictate the service you’ll get. Beer gardens are split into self-service and table service. Fairly self-explanatory, if you pick self-service you’ll need to head up to the food area to eye up the pork knuckle and pick your drink. This can be quite handy if you’re not a strong German speaker as you get to take a look at all the options on offer and point if all else fails!
Get bargain travel with a Bayern ticket
If you’re planning to see a bit more of Bavaria, the Bayern ticket is a great way to get around. The train ticket costs €25 for unlimited daily travel. It’s actually best if you’re travelling as a group because each additional person only costs €6; that means unlimited travel for five people for less than €10 each! It includes all regional trains as well as the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, and will even take you as far as Salzburg if you fancy a day trip to Austria.
What the pfand?
Wondering why the advertised drink price is one thing, but you’re being asked to pay another thing at the till? There’s a refundable deposit on all plastic and glass bottles as well as cans in Munich to encourage people to recycle. Once you’re finished, you can return the bottle at one of the automated machines found in most supermarkets for a coupon off your shop. It’s usually around 20–25 cents, and can only be used in the supermarket you returned the bottle to.
Munich is right in the heart of Catholic southern Germany, and is very religious. Sunday is kept as the traditional day of rest, and almost all supermarkets and shops are shut, and many restaurants are closed too. Make sure you get some food and snacks in on Saturday, then sit back and embrace sleepy Sundays like a true Münchener. Looking for something to keep you entertained? All state-run museums are just €1 on Sundays, so it’s a great day to get your culture fix.
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