Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A walk in the park

I would like to share one of my favourite places with you; a place where I really feel good and at peace with the world. That place is the Englischer Garten (English Garden) in Munich and it is the largest urban park in Germany, and one of the most pleasant centrally-located green spaces of any city in the world. The name Englischer Garten  refers to its informal “English-style” of landscaping; a form of outdoor design which became popular in England from the mid-18th to the early 19th Centuries. 

I became enthralled by the Englischer Garten during my first visit to the Bavarian capital in 2005, and  ever since I have made a point of spending at least a day there whenever I visit the city. I just love strolling along one of its many paths, walking at times through mature woodland, before emerging again into areas of parkland, brightly lit by the warm summer sun. What is more, unlike London’s Hyde Park where it is often difficult to escape the noise of the traffic, in the Englischer Garten it is hard to believe that one is in the middle of a large metropolitan city.

Despite its name, the Englischer Garten was conceived by an American called Benjamin Thompson. Thompson had sided with the British during the American  War of Independence, and had been forced to flee his homeland when the war ended. He ended up in the service of Prince Karl Theodor, the recently appointed Elector of Bavaria, who was keen to carry out improvements to his new home city. This was partly to court favour with his new subjects thereby avoiding the fate of his contemporary, Louis XVI of France. Theodor commissioned Thompson to come up with ideas that would endear him to the people of Munich, in order to head off any thoughts of rebellion they might harbour.

Thompson worked on a number of  projects, but his best idea was in persuading the prince to set aside a portion of the Royal Game Reserve on the outskirts of Munich, along with an area of swamp along side the banks of the River Isar. The swamp was to be drained and the whole area developed into a large public park. The site was landscaped and laid out in the natural English style, rather than the more formal French style of landscaping. Although the park was Thompson’s idea, it was designed and laid out by the Royal Gardener, Ludwig von Sckell and the man who was to become Thompson’s successor, Baron von Werneck. It is considered a prime example of a classical landscape park.

The Englischer Garten was officially opened in 1792, and was an immediate success with the local population. The Prince awarded Thompson the title Count von Rumford and the Bavarians even named a soup after him, (Rumsfordsuppe). In 1836, a mock Greek temple, called the Monopteros, was built on an artificial hill.

Today the park occupies an area of 922 acres (373 hectares), and is three miles long and just over half a mile across at its widest point. There are three streams flowing through it, in addition to the Isar which forms the eastern boundary of the park. On hot summer days it seems as though half of Munich has decamped here to soak up the sun, jog or cycle along its many paths, or to bathe in the streams.

As I said earlier, I fell in love with the place during my first trip to Munich. This was a short visit in the summer of 2005, and was a welcome and much needed break from the pressures of running a busy off-licence, which was open seven days a week. I packed quite a lot into my three day stay, but it was on my first full day in the city that I found my way to the Englischer Garten and was delighted with what I found.

The other great delights that the park has to offer are its beer gardens, of which there are several. Probably the best known is the Chinesischer Turm, so-called because the 7,000 odd seats are arranged in front of a 50 foot, multi-tiered, wooden pagoda. This structure acts as the stage for a Bavarian oom-pah band on weekend afternoons. All Munich life seems to gather here, and it is a fascinating place to spend a summer’s afternoon. The beer is from Hofbräu, one of Munich’s, and one of my favourite breweries.

Back in 2005, the Chinesischer Turm  provided my first experience of a German beer garden, and the rituals involved with the buying beer and food at the self-service kiosks. It was also just really good, sitting at one of the wooden benches, enjoying a nice cool mug of beer and people watching. Beer gardens are great levellers, and people of all ages and from all walks of life are all equal there.

A bit further into the park is Seehaus im Englischen Garten , which overlooks the idyllic Kleinhesselohe Lake. Boats can be hired from the nearby boat-house, and are an ideal way of working up a thirst prior to visiting the beer garden. The beer here is from Paulaner, one of Munich’s largest breweries. There are two other beer gardens slightly to the north of the Kleinhesselohe Lake. They are Osterwald Garten ( Spatenbräu) and Hirschau (Löwenbräu ). Three years ago, on my last summer visit to Munich, I finally managed to visit these two establishments as well.  

On that particular trip we also visited the Chinesischer Turm twice. Our first visit, which was on a Friday evening, found the place heaving. Many people had just finished work and were starting to wind down for the weekend. Things were a little more relaxed on our second visit, which was early in the afternoon, but it was a baking hot day and we were glad to find a shady spot under one of the many chestnut trees. As we wandered through the Englischer Garten that day, people were pick-nicking, bathing in the streams or just soaking up the sun (some completely naked!). Others were cycling, walking their dogs or strolling through the grounds. At the southern entrance to the park, some hardy souls were surfing in the rapids where the streams converge.

Of course Munich is much more than just the Englischer Garten, and the city is well worth a visit in its own right. Not only is it Germany’s third largest city, it is the city where most Germans say they would like to live. Munich is sometimes described as “Italy’s northernmost city”, and the city’s architecture and relaxed lifestyle certainly match this description. The Alps are only 30 miles away and there are numerous lakes and picturesque villages that are just a short drive away.

Munich though is also a city of culture. For over 900 years it was the capital of Bavaria; once a proud and independent kingdom, and a place which still describes itself as the “Free State of Bavaria”. Over the course of this period Bavaria’s ruler’s amassed treasures, collected fine works of art and constructed magnificent palaces and castles in which to house and display their collections. It is also a beery centre of culture, and can justifiably claim to be the “Beer Capital of the World”.

Go there and enjoy yourself, but when you do, make certain to spend some time in  the Englischer Garten.


Matt said...

I've not been to the Englischer Garten, but the beer garden of the Augustinerkeller opposite Munich Hauptbahnhof is an equally magical place in which to enjoy a few Maß beneath the shade of its trees of a summer's afternoon.

Anonymous said...

An enjoyable read, Paul. I remember you raving about the Englischer before. We did a family day trip to Munich from Nuremberg in 2015. Munich didn't blow me away in the way the N'berg and Regensberg did, but the Hofbrauhaus was a highlight. Need a longer stay.

Paul Bailey said...

I agree about the garden of the Augustinerkeller Matt, especially as you say beneath the shade of the trees on a warm afternoon. We may well be calling in there, on our way back from Regensburg, at the end of the month.

Munich definitely deserves a longer stay Martin, and it is worth heading out of the city centre by means of its excellent, integrated public-transport system and exploring some of the more rural beer gardens.

“The Beer Drinkers Guide to Munich”, by American author, Larry Hawthorne, lists some excellent, beer gardens, with full directions of how to find each one. What I like is that it is necessary to walk to many of these places, from the final S-Bahn or tram stop; often through woodland or open countryside.

The only drawback is the guide has not been updated since 2008, so details for some of the entries may have changed.

Paul Bailey said...

It seems that I’m behind the times Martin, as I’ve just noticed on Amazon that an updated edition of the guide was published in 2015. I must treat myself to a copy!

Dave said...

This site is also interesting: http://www.munichbeergardens.com/Main_Page

In Regensburg I really loved Spital Garden. Great beer garden.

Paul Bailey said...

Agreed Dave, Spital Garten is great. We visited last year, and providing the weather is kind, we'll be back there again this time round.

ps. The Munich Beer Gardens page is a very useful site and is easy to navigate around. Thanks for reminding me.

Dave said...

My other real favorite, outside of the ones in Bamberg, is in Salzburg: https://www.augustinerbier.at/?L=1 What a gem. Well worth a visit in my opinion.

Russtovich said...

Have only been to Munich once back in 1980, and that was during Oktoberfest so you know where I wound up. :)

My youngest's girlfriend may be attending higher education in Germany sometime in 2018 or 19. My youngest has said he will spend a year over there with her if that happens. And my darling wife has already suggested if that works out, the two of us should head over for a visit and... do a mini beer tour of Germany!

Needless to say, I'm checking out that website for Munich beer gardens, as well as rewatching Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter episode on the beers of Germany. :)


Dave said...

You have a lot to look forward to:) Don't miss Bamberg.

Paul Bailey said...

The lad and I are off to Bamberg next May, as part of an organised unofficial CAMRA trip. This will be my sixth visit, although three of the pervious ones have been brief one day affairs.