*just to explain beforehand, I was not asked to review this tour for anyone, including Sandeman, I’m just giving my own personal opinions and an overview if anyone else was thinking of taking them
I first discovered the Sandeman’s New Europe free tours whilst planning a quick trip to Berlin. In the end, I realized I might not be able to go to Berlin when I thought I would, so I checked to see if they had a tour in Munich. And, bazinga, there it was. So I bit the bullet and did my first solo S-bahn trip into town (it the easiest thing in the world, and a lot less complicated than the London underground, but I still took it as a little triumph that I managed to not get lost/end up on the wrong side of Munich/get fined for stamping my ticket wrong).
The friend I am staying with had encouraged me to do the tour; although you can see a different side of a city by staying with a local, they tend to not know that much about the sights in their hometown, as they have never been there as tourists themselves. She was quite right, and I am so pleased I did the tour and got a chance to learn a bit more about Munich.
The tour covered the essentials, starting off at Marienplatz where we met our guide, Ian. You were a great guide Ian, but you just looked so much like Chris O’Dowd that I now genuinely have it lodged in my head that it was him who did the tour. I was sincerely grateful that we got a good guide because I can imagine walking around for 3 hours with someone who is overly anxious, or who goes way too over the top, would be a pain. I was thankful he wasn’t the type to throw himself around shouting and being painfully ‘enthusiastic’; those sort of people get on my nerves and I’m not very tolerant of these personalities! Also, he found cool shady spots for him to talk to us in; with the sun beating down it must have been nearly 30 degrees and we were all feeling it.
It was all the little things that we learnt throughout the trip that made it worthwhile. Although I could have wandered the route myself and seen these sights, I could never have known the little stories and histories that made them interesting. Like the Frauenkirche. We not only learnt about the origins of the ‘devil’s footprint’ at the front of the church, but why there was a menorah at the front of the church (those in charge of the church during the Second World War promised to store and keep safe those religious artifacts important to the Jews), and the golden brick half way up one of the towers which shows where a bomb landed during the raids on Munich. It was a dud, and only did minimal damage to the tower, which the Church saw as a miracle. I would be inclined to think the same myself if I was there at the time, seeing as 60% of the rest of Munich was flattened.
In the Viktualienmarkt I learnt that a beer garden is only a true beer garden if it has chestnut trees growing in it (the sort of fact I can smugly bring out if I ever sit in a ‘beer garden’ in England; probably to the annoyance of everyone else). At the Hofräuhaus we saw a group of elderly revelers endanger weak hips by dancing like people half their age to a Bavarian Elvis. We sat on the lawn in the Royal Residence and heard about some of the mad old Kings of Germany, the origins of the Oktoberfest, and just how many children were left behind at the beer tents during last year’s festivities (44, you might be both interested and horrified to find out).
My favourite part of the whole tour though was seeing a simple memorial to those who engaged in passive resistance during the Nazi regime. This little side street behind the Feldherrnhalle allowed people to avoid the memorial to the Nazis who died in the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’, where armed men would watch to ensure all of those who passed by gave a Hitler salute. By avoiding walking by this memorial they were making a quiet statement of their beliefs, and many suffered for it. A long line of golden bricks traces a path in this side street, and it stops just in front of an imposing doorway in the wall. This is where, after finally cottoning on to what was happening, the Nazis posted a Gestapo officer to watch those who took the street instead of the main road. The officer would note down those who passed frequently, and without good enough reason to be taking this street, they would often find themselves sent to Dachau. Just as I thought in Bosnia, I find these subtle memorials the most powerful, so I was grateful to have had the guide point it out to us and explain the story behind it.
We ended at the Feldhernhalle, where I really felt the benefit of being reminded of the Putsch and the lead up to the Nazi regime. It was something I had studied at school but being given a bitesize refresher course brought back of the names and places I had read about in textbooks.
Tipping at the end of this tour is a little awkward (this is the only way the guides are paid, being freelance and not employed by Sandeman’s directly), but thankfully Ian was gracious enough to laugh about this. Not that I ever would have slipped away without tipping; he was a fantastic guide, it was a great tour, and I came away having met a few more people and learnt a lot more about a new city.
In that sense, this tour was perfect, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, as well to anyone who might be visiting other cities they do tours in. I will go into parts of the tour in more detail in further blogs, but I just wanted to give an overview for anyone who might be thinking of doing this in the future. What I’ve mentioned in here won’t ruin it for you, there are plenty of other nuggets you get and each tour will be different. Our guide showed us some things that others won’t do, and equally other groups will have seen and heard about things I didn’t. That’s the great thing about having these freelance guides, they make each tour a separate experience!