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EuroTrip: A Hot Summer in Munich

BMW Museum and BMW Welt from the Olympic Tower 


Western European countries are known to be cold, at least in Nairobi where I come from. But that was not the case when I walked out of KL1791 from Amsterdam into the Munich airport. I had to double-check my boarding pass on that early August morning in 2018 to ensure that indeed I had taken the right flight, into Munich. I mean, besides Delhi and its 40 degrees summer temperature, Munich at 35 degrees is the second hottest place I’ve been to on earth.


In Nairobi, where I am from, 30 degrees is an exception and 32 degrees is pushing it.

My next challenge, I was supposed to take a train to Hohenzollernplatz (Why does everything here have a long name?) but looking out of the airport terminal building, there was no train! And so I asked and was pointed down some stairs. I soon got to the S-Bahn, and found a machine where I could buy a ticket with my card and thankfully, the machine “spoke” English!

Now, in Munich and Germany there are lots of different kinds of trains. In Munich, the S-Bahn is a train that serves the suburbs including the airport. It connects a number of stations and the central station in the city.

The U-Bahn serves locations closer to the centre of the city and would be considered more of an “urban” train. It has more regular schedules (On busy mornings and evenings, there can be one every 2 minutes compared to the 20 minute schedule of the S-Bahn. It is also mostly underground and a lighter train compared to the S-Bahn which is more of your regular train with tracks “over” the ground.
A proper Bavarian meal, the schweinshaxe ( roast
pork knuckle) 

Besides the two, there is also an R-Bahn (RegionalBahn) which as you have now figured, is a regional train connecting a city and surrounding areas (the region). This one runs on a schedule of about an hour or more.

There’s also the Deutsche Bahn (D-Bahn) trains which consist of a number of services that connect different cities in Germany and across Europe. And that ends my primer on the trains of Munich and Germany.

The trip on the S-Bahn was otherwise uneventful until it got to the point where I was to switch to the U-Bahn. Here, I made the rude discovery that there are two U5 trains, which for some bizarre reason, seemed to be going in opposite directions. And so I asked yet again and got directed to the right one. It took me another three days to figure out what direction a train is headed and I really felt proud of myself for this achievement. I wonder if there are medals, and where I should collect them in case there are.

But, the next obstacle was not far. On getting to my apartment’s reception at Hohenzollernplatz, I found a guest asking for a fan. Strange. A few minutes later, I discovered it was not so strange after all. With 35 degree temperatures, the apartment was quite hot – and to my shock, had no air conditioning. In Nairobi and many of the countries I have been to, air-conditioned hotel rooms are a standard.
Junction of Belgradstrasse and Nordendstrasse in Munich demonstrating some of the many transport options available. 
And in addition, the balcony door seemed broken. Untypical German. So I tried fixing the door’s upper hinge, and the door appeared to shut. Only later, after carefully observing the windows, did it occur to me that that the “broken” hinge was a design that allowed air to come in by partially opening the window!

How thoughtful of the Germans, they not only seem to think of a solution, but the thinking goes far beyond. I decided to take a short walk down Hohenzollernstrasse to find lunch, which I did at the junction with Belgradstrasse and Nordendstrasse. Here, I could observe that in addition to the S-Bahn and U-Bahn I had just taken, there were also buses and trams.

At this point, it may have occurred to you that the street names are denoted by the “strasse” and “platz” suffixes.

In Nairobi, public transport consists of privately owned buses and vans which all operate like taxis, and therefore four forms of public transport in Munich felt like two solutions too many. Again, someone must have over-solved a problem. My hosts, however, assured me that Munich’s public transport could even be better, but I do not think my fellow Nairobians will be convinced that the four may not be a little too much.

The next episode in my discovery series took place at the Schwabinger Kebab Shop, just next to the above-mentioned junction. Well, the food is good, and it’s the best Kebab shop that I have been to. However, I found it odd that they only accept cash and no cards. I would then discover that even the next shop would not take cards, and the next one after that and in fact, almost all of Munich save for MVG and the supermarkets does not take debit and credit cards. MVG is Munich’s public transit company running the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, trams, buses and parking lots and everything else transit. Organised, right?
Rice, Shawarma and a Munich Beer at the Schwabinger Kebab Shop
Quite strange. In Nairobi, larger shops accept cards, but on top of that, most will accept mobile payments on M-PESA, the world’s most popular mobile money system. More than 80 percent of cashless payments in Kenya are done by mobile money. In a country of just under 45 million people, half of them below the age of 20, M-PESA handles more than 18 million transactions a day including person-to-person transfers, payments, borrowing and saving.

The only place which tends to only accept cash in Nairobi is our public transport. It was therefore odd that in Munich it is the other way round.

It is said that cities are best seen on foot, and my goal was to walk as much of Munich as possible. Having done just under 190 kilometres of walking in two and a half weeks, some of the fascinating things I noticed are the low profile of the inner city, where buildings do not exceed five floors. That’s even far much lower than Stockholm’s eight to ten floors which I had thought were the lowest in Europe.
A section of the Schwabing District in Munich showing the low rise buildings in the city

Schwabing, though, is the most walkable place I had been to. With a grid layout, it was quite easy to find my way around, and also similarly effortless to explore as you can walk down one street, then take the next parallel street back. That cannot be said of the Central Business District, where the streets have a star layout and require consultation of a map every few steps.

Also lucky for walkers is how organised Schwabing is, including the hundreds of miles of cycle paths, and the safety of the city which means walking at 3 AM is just as fine as walking at 3 PM. Back in Nairobi, the pavements tend to be broken, and pedestrians share their paths with cyclists, motorcyclists and even buses and vans trying to evade our notorious traffic.

Besides the walking, my other joy was the late summer sunsets, which meant that you can enjoy a sunset as late as 9 PM. However, I think the sun being way up by 6 AM is nature just showing off. Back in Nairobi, a 7 PM sunset is considered late – the sun will always set between 6 PM and 7 PM.

Of course, a trip to Munich would not be complete without a trip to a beer garden for some Bavarian food. The amount of food that Bavarians take in a single serving still shocks me – it feels just too much. Kenyans, though, would be appalled by the amount of beer that Bavarians drink, and that there is even a Bavarian breakfast that features beer. With many Kenyans being protestant Christians, drinking tends to be considered a sin, though the country has been liberalising.
Pork, sauerkraut and beer at the Victuals Market in the Munich Central Business District 

Besides the many beers in Munich, my other favourite things and places were the Deutsches Museum, which I have been to thrice, and would not be shy stepping into for a fourth time. I mean, I finally have an idea why the Watt machine was such a big deal and the evolution of the transport and energy industries. Did you know that we once distrusted the petrol engine so much that Daimler had to deploy it in boats instead, and disguise it to hide the boat’s source of power?

Then there is Stamm Bar, over at Schellingstrasse. It is this tech-ish bar where you get a pre-loaded token, and there’s a line of taps on one wall. You can pour yourself any of the beers by placing your token under the tap. The bar is owned by Dr Robin, a cool chap who hails somewhere from Scotland.

Just a few shops from it, there’s a lovely gift shop with lots of interesting gems. However, much of these are what you would call lady gifts. Perhaps, we men should gift each other more often.



The New Town Hall in Munich’s CBD at the Marienplatz 
Follow this link for my experience in Vienna, or skip the queue and get yourself my book on my entire trip in 9 cities for a limited deal of $1.99 only!


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