Montag, 19. September 2016

High fives all round for "wheely" great tour of Munich. Just mind those naked sun lovers ahead!

Just one day before the Oktoberfest starts, and I'm staying in a lovely old-fashioned hotel with my parents right opposite the entrance to the Wies'n. It's been fun watching all the comings and goings, especially the beer maids queueing up for selfies under the Fest banner, linking arms with butchy-looking security guards. But we have another plan today, and before sunset I will have stood on one leg in central Munich and performed, in broad daylight, a pirouette. I will also have plunged through a crowd of naked sunbathers in the English Garden and dived into the "Eisbach", letting the current carry me downstream towards the Chinese Tower Biergarten. Boy, I must be desperate for a beer. 

To set the record straight, I don't normally put myself out there like this, and it certainly isn't punishment for losing a bet in the pub just before closing time. In short, the whole thing is totally unpremeditated and unintentional. That's what I'll be telling my lawyer, at least.

Wind back an hour or so. The day begins with me signing up for The Classic Bike Tour with Mike's Bikes. It seems a smart way of showing my parents more of Munich than they might normally experience by foot. Besides, even though I've lived in Munich for over 16 years I'm still not too hot when it comes to the city's facts, figures and history. As for what's what and what's hot, I always feel local guides are much better at explaining these things to visitors. Unfortunately my parents pull out at the last minute. They seem worried we might be practising for the next Olympics. "We haven't ridden a bike in ages", says mum, "why don't we just meet up in the beer garden when you take a beak?". I end up going along by myself. 

My parents needn't have worried. "This isn't the Tour de France", announces our guide called Abs, "it's the Tour de Munich - way easier". We're assembled under the shadow of  the Neues Rathaus on the Marienplatz, the heart of Munich. Abs begins by describing the ritual of the daily Glockenspiel, acted out in the clock tower just above us. "Don't expect anything exciting to happen though", he warns "It's the most over-rated thing in Munich". He proceeds to enact the "Schäfflertanz", performed by life-size figurines every morning at 11 sharp. "Come on everybody, dance with me!", he calls. No time to protest, I'm perching on one leg, arms arched over my head, hovering around performing a 360-degrees pirouette, alongside some 20 other unsuspecting tourists from Britain, Canada, America and Australia. "Oh my God!", chuckles Abs, as we complete this clumsy spectacle, "I can't believe you just did that", I'm dead sure the surrounding bystanders who've just witnessed us make fools of ourselves can't believe it either. Several of them are touting movie cameras, guffawing deep belly laughs. Delighted to have caught the whole thing on video, no  doubt. 

                        Abs, our guide, giving a pep talk at the start of the tour:
                 "You CAN all ride a bike, can't you?"

Luckily that's all the dancing I'll be doing today. From now on it's just plain biking. But before we hit the saddle our guide wants to know if we can all actually ride a bike. "Hands up anyone who can't!", he says. For a moment I feel like a six-year old being quizzed by teacher on first day of school. "Cool", says Abs, as we all demonstratively dig our hands deep into our pockets. Poker-faced, he relates how the other day they had a woman from Texas on the tour. Putting on an accent he mimics: 'Oh yeah, I can ride a bike, I just can't turn left'. Abs tells the anecdote off the cuff, as if the lady's still somewhere in town, recuperating from the ordeal. But I suspect it's all part of a well-rehearsed script. Either way he's already won us over. Each time he asks a question and one of the group gets it right he zooms in for a high-five. My school teachers certainly never did that.  

We're soon off, weaving our way through crowds clogging the streets around the Hofbräuhaus. "Any one need a toilet, by the way?" asks Abs, pointing to the back entrance of Munich's most famous beer house. "One of the very last free loos in town", he tells us. Munich is an awful place to get caught short in, so there's a tip I'll definitely remember. 

First stop: Munich's most beautiful baroque church, the Theatiner Kirche. "I can't pronounce that", says Abs, "So I just call it Tina Turner Church". Abs explains how the church houses the Four Evangelists, lovingly sculptured by Balthasar Ableitner. "So then, what's love got to do, got to do with it?" Abs quizzes."Everything!" shouts an American lady, sprightly clad in lycra. "High five!" calls Abs, heading in for a hearty hand-slap. We all cheer. So far very good.

But I suppose you can't really do a tour of Munich's history without touching on a much darker chapter of German history, and Abs is already preparing us for this. "Sorry to dampen the cheery mood, guys", he says, explaining we're standing at the scene of the notorious Beer Hall Putsch. This is where Hitler unsuccessfully attempted to storm the Bavarian Defense Ministry in 1923. Just before I'd been humming that Tina Turner tune to myself, and everything had looked so peaceful in the sunshine. But suddenly a chill runs down my spine. We move on.

You don't HAVE to leave your hat on. Or very much else either. 
 We're about to enter the no-clothes zone of Munich's best-loved garden.

Originally from the USA, Abs has been in Munich for just a year but can already quote chapter and verse on the city's history. I'm impressed too by his "insider" knowledge of the English Garden, the biggest park in Munich - larger than even Central Park NY.  As we ride into the 37 sq-km park he tells us to look out for one or two "local celebrities". I'm wondering which TV stars he's referring to, but it soon turns out he has something else in mind. There are six nudist "zones" in Munich, and we're already smack bang in the middle of the biggest. "You can't miss the Human Tripod", he says, explaining that this nudist enjoys waving to cyclists. But not necessarily with his hands. Hey....

It's not every day you get to cycle amongst a mass of nude sunbathers. Some of the group prefer to take their time, dismounting and wheeling their way through the clothes-free crowds. I manage to keep going, and we finally all reassemble at the Chinese Turm (below). Surrounding the tower is an enormous beer garden, and we all pile our plates high with currywurst and chips, washed down with a liter-mug of froth. When a brass band on the first floor strikes up, serenading one of the group with "Happy Birthday to you!" it almost feels like we've parked our bikes in heaven.

  Cyclists' heaven comes with five storeys in Munich.  
And if you're lucky, you'll even get serenaded by the in-house brass band. 
Refueled, we continue the tour, stopping off next at Surfer's Bridge, at the top entrance to the garden. Strangely, I hadn't been here for over ten years, even though it's not even 10 minutes walk from the centre of Munich. Crowds of spectators stand admiring athletic looking Münchners as they queue to ride the 4-foot wave. It looks dead easy, but I guess none of the seasoned surfers dare try out their stunts there before practising elsewhere - without an audience. See amazing video. 

The four hours are over far too quickly, and after cycling along the Isar  ̶  passing some of the city's other five nudist zones on route  ̶  we turn back into the main thoroughfare, winding back at where we started. All told, the 31 € fee (21 € students) is excellent value. You really do see far more on this tour than you could ever hope to see by foot in a whole day, or say on just a one-hour open-top bus tour. And although the guides tell some jokes you perhaps might not wish to repeat to your parents this tour definitely offers something for all ages. The just-retired couple from Sydney certainly seemed to enjoy the joking around. And, given the leisurely pace we rode at, no one is expected to perform like Lance Armstrong either.

After handing back my bike I return to the nudist "zone", joining the crowds for a quick dip near the Eisbach or "ice brook". The fast-flowing water - usually bitter cold just like the name suggests - feels gloriously refreshing.

Strip off, cool off  ̶  just 10 minutes from the centre of Munich.


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