Think of Munich and what springs to mind? Perhaps its Bayern, the Allianz Arena or the great Karl-Heinz “Kalle” Rummenigge. But Germany’s least German city isn’t all about football. I quickly realise this as soon as I set foot in the city. I can see it in its parks. At all hours of the day you’ll find tie-clad managers on bikes, families with picnic baskets and sports enthusiasts in training.
the sporty type
The first park I head for is the Olympic Park. Sadly, it’s known the world over for the tragic 1972 Olympics, when a group of Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed some members of the Israeli Olympic team. Seventeen people were killed in what has come to be known as the “Munich massacre” and today there are many memorials in Munich and its surroundings to commemorate the events. Almost fifty years on, the park is one of the most exemplary models of how a city can benefit from the urban investments generated by the Olympics. Even simply visiting the Olympic Stadium can be a challenge and walking on the roof of the tent-like structure is an unusual way to visit a stadium. After strapping into your harness properly, make your way along the rope that takes you down from the roof to the centre of the stadium. I couldn’t resist! Besides the grass, the hills and the small lake, I also came across the huge indoor swimming complex, Olympia Schwimmhalle, the great Olympiahalle arena and the football pitches. For those who want to take advantage of Munich’s colder temperatures, there’s even an ice skating rink.
I arrived in Munich at the end of the summer and, although the sea is a fantasy here, I couldn’t help but be lured by the beach volleyball courts. I know what you’re thinking: in 1972 beach volleyball wasn’t even an Olympic sport yet… But it’s been fifty years since then! Ah, and don’t even think of driving here. As well as disturbing the balance between humans and nature, you’ll miss out on the fantastic cycling and pedestrian paths. If I may, I’d like to give you another piece of advice: go up to Olympiaberg and you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the whole city.
You’ll leave the Olympic Park with a pleasantly bewildered feeling. You also get this feeling in Maximiliansanlagen park, a true urban oasis. Captivated by so much wonder, I then found myself at one of the bridges over to Englischer Garten. Created in the 19th century, it’s one of the biggest urban parks in the world. But don’t worry; thanks to the many informative boards, you won’t need a compass to find your way around here. Instead, let yourself be guided by the numerous tennis and football training areas and play areas near the Chinese Tower, on the large grassy lawns in the southernmost part of the park.
And then, a bit of random question, but are you scared of surf boards? At the entrance to the park, on the Eisbach river by Prinzregentenstraße, you can go surfing! I didn’t believe it either and I was left eating my words. When the American marines were stationed in Munich during the Second World War, they were nostalgic for their favourite sport: surfing. So, they made the most of the fast current in the Eisbach and created a dam using big rocks. Since then, the river has offered spectacular waves and you’re bound to meet surfers trying to perfect their balance.
After all that adrenalin, relax as you look at the brilliant murals under the Friedensengel (Angel of Peace) monument. They all have a particular meaning, like fairy tales that tell the story of the importance of nature and respecting nature for the good of the community.
I said you should keep your car far away from the parks. I’d even go as far as to say you should keep it away from Munich altogether. You’ll soon see that the city is literally covered in cycle paths. Always keen to discover more, I ask my hotel if they can recommend somewhere to rent bikes and… surprise surprise! Some hotels will even lend you a bike for free. It wouldn’t have been a problem if my hotel didn’t have them because Munich is full of bike sharing. Parking isn’t an issue either, as there’s even some two-storey bike parking around. Bikes three, cars zero.
I head along the cycle path from Marienplatz, Munich’s main square, to Flaucher park. I scribble the name DAV Kletter- und Boulderzentrum (DAV Climbing and Bouldering Centre) in my notebook. That’s right, I’m on the lookout for the city’s best climbing centre. Not far from here are mountains where you can climb for real, but if you don’t want to leave the city, the 7500 m2 (81,000 square feet) of walls, both indoor and outdoor, right here in the city centre, might be the place for you. Don’t be scared to bring your children too. While you’re hanging upright, you can always chat with other mothers and fathers who are alternating between climbing and feeding their little ones. I found another climbing centre, Boulderwelt München Ost, near Ostbahnhof station. It’s smaller with lower ceilings but has the same relaxed and chilled vibe that characterises the bigger centres. They’ll also lend you equipment and there’s a restaurant with dishes catering for the dietary requirements of every sportsman and woman.
Does the name Jochen Schweizer mean anything to you? Entrepreneur and stuntman, Jochen is the man who helped Germans fall in love with extreme sports. I paid a visit to the Jochen Schweizer Arena, in south Munich. Suffice it to say it’s a centre for adventurous spirits. I spent half an hour choosing which of the three activities I wanted to try first: the adventure park, surfing or bodyflight. Far be it for me to twist your arm, but I suggest you try everything!
Prepare to disentangle yourself from between ropes, Tibetan bridges and structures suspended 13 metres in the air. If vertigo is a problem, try surfing instead. It’s not the same as having a go on the Eisbach, but you’ll definitely have fun in the wave pool. It won’t just be fun for you – while you ride the waves, spectators watching from the bar will be able to compare your progress with the expert surfers projected up on the screen. An unfair comparison, you say? It won’t matter a jot to you, because while you’re finding your balance rest assured that all your attention will be on the board and the movement of the water.
For me, ropes and water tickle my fancy, but it’s the acrobatic parachuting that gives me a mad rush of adrenalin! Strap on your helmet and jump suit, step inside the large transparent cylinder, stand on the metal grille and… a loud hissing at 200 km/h (124 mph) shoots you up into the air! If you prefer gliding a bit lower, maybe on a film of water, head over to Lake Starnberg, just outside the city. Here you can wear yourself out with windsurfing, sailing or pleasure boating. Looking for a bit of relaxation? Ask for a tour of the lake by boat. Or, better still, if you’re there in the right season, take a dip in the rain. Seeing intrepid elders swim without hesitation, I imitated them with no qualms whatsoever. After a few strokes, turn onto your back and enjoy the sweet tickle of rain drops on your front. It’s like a massage from nature!
di Paolo Ermano