Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Free Bike Tour of Munich

While I usually prefer to discover things on my own with the aid of a good guide book and stay away from group tours, there is one tour I wholeheartedly recommend - the Discover Munich Free Bike Tour.

I know nothing is free, but really, the only expenses you will have if you take one of these tours - and you should - are the beers you drink, the food you eat and the tip for the guide. Bikes are provided.

On Munich's birthday, which was full of festivities and revelry, I was standing with my sister in the square in front of the New Town Hall (home to the famous glockenspiel) on Marienplatz watching the celebrations when an American walked up to me and asked if I'd like to hear about a bike tour.

At first, I thought he was a tout and was just trying to milk me for a few euros, but he insisted it was free and handed me a flier.

"If you want to go, just meet me at the fish fountain at 11:30," he said.

The flier said the tour was comedic, and with our other option being yet another city bus tour, my sister and I opted to give the bike tour a try, especially since the June day was so perfect weather-wise.

We assembled at the fish fountain in front of the New Town Hall building with about 20 other English-speaking tourists in their 20s and followed our guide to where the bikes were parked.

"They don't have bells," he said, "so if you get close to someone, j
ust say, 'ding, ding,' and they will move."

The bikes were surprisingly new and well-maintained, and we set out on our tour, stopping in front of the m
any historic sites for information and a healthy dose of jokes. The guide had a dry sense of humor, which I liked, and he was very easygoing and friendly. Best of all, as an American, there was no straining to decipher an unwieldy accent.

We passed churches, original Bavarian building facades that were undamaged in World War II, government buildings museums and, of course, the famous Hofbrau Haus. At each place, we got just enough information to decide if we needed to explore it further.

As we rode through the English Garden (think Central Park), our guide pointed out the nudists' section, to the amusement of most of us, as well as some of the other sights in the park.

We made a stop at a sign that said "No Surfing." I thought for a second about Munich's geography. It's about as far away from an ocean as you can get in Germany, and I saw the quizzical looks from the other tourists. Our guide then led us over a bridge and pointed down.

To my surprise, a man was surfing in the river. Apparently, some landlocked surfers had chained a park bench to the bridge's pylons to create a wave, and they would come out, clad in wetsuits, to surf Munich.

The next stop was the one we'd all been waiting for - the Chinese Pagoda Beer Garden.

Located in the English Garden (Englischer Garten), the beer garden is a huge Chinese Pagoda building surrounded by picnic tables capable of seating 11,000. As I was there while Germany was hosting the World Cup, they were all full at night, but it was only about half-full during the day.

Our guide told us about the qualities of the different beers, including a
warning to stay away from the dunkel (darkest of them all) unless your gastrointestinal tract was used to it.

Going through the food line, I opted for a sausage and potatoes with an amber ale (that I think was 9 percent alcohol). The cute jungfrau asked me if I wanted a large or small beer, and really, the only answer I could give was large, but I was surprised when she handed me a liter in a glass stein. It was just before 1 p.m., I hadn't eaten anything all day, and I was about to consume the equivalent of a bottle of wine in alcohol.

And it was good. Very good.

You're supposed to return the steins to get your deposit back, and on the bike tour I couldn't carry one around with me, but I talked my sister into stealing one for me when she returned a year or so later.

Once we'd all reassembled, at varying degrees of intoxication, we started riding through the rest of the tour. At a stoplight, our guide called us all close.

"Okay," he said. "You've all been drinking strong German beer, and we're riding our bikes past these nice Mercedes and BMWs. If you hit one, you need to tell me immediately. Don't think about just riding on and hoping no one notices. Tell me, so we can all ride like hell and get out of here."

Laughing, we continued on to see the Imperial Pavilion, with the best acoustics in the city, and the nearby tree under which Adolf Hitler supposedly lost his virginity.

Near the end of the tour, we saw the Stat
e Chancellory, which was heavily damaged in World War II and rebuilt with glass to demonstrate the transparency of the new government.

We ended up back where we had started and returned our bikes. Our guide took his backpack off and set it on the ground, asking us to put tips inside. I'd read somewhere that nine or 10 euros is customary, and I considered that a bargain for the three-hour tour.

If you want detailed history of the city, with a focus on what king did what and when, then this isn't for you. I'd recommend a textbook. If, however, you want to take a leisurely paced bike ride through the city and learn the general overview of its history, from how it was founded by monks and made its fortune in the salt trade to the Nazi regime, then this is the perfect tour. You also get the added bonus of going places the buses can't and the stop at the beer garden.

For more information, visit the company's website here.

Please do remember to tip your guides. As someone who use
d to work for tips myself, I can promise you that it makes all the difference. As they say on their website, they need to get their drinks too.

Oh, and the verbal "ding, ding" really did work wonders.

Yes, I occasionally drink out of my stein. It holds almost exactly three pints (the bottle in the picture is 1 pint, 9 ounces)


Elka said...

Hi. If you want to get more information about munich beer halls or hafbrauhaus you can visit
munich expat forum

jackleen said...

Hi, I've been browsing the same topic for some time already, about bike tours in Munich, about visiting the city generally. I've found an interesting site
Good luck!