Spending Christmas Eve in Germany was not in my life plans about a month ago.
A month ago, I had assumed I’d be spending my winter break split between Qatar and France — Qatar for a conference on Islamic theology and peacebuilding funded by my university, and then France to immerse myself in French language and culture for a week, also funded by my university. If I was going to wind up in any other countries along the way, I figured they’d just be short layovers not really worthy mentioning — kind of like the time I was technically in Abu Dhabi for two hours for a layover during my flight to Nepal.
But, as it turned out, once my flights were organized by the conference coordinator, I got an extra long layover in Munich, Germany, on my flight to Doha, Qatar on December 23 — a whole seven hours! Initially, I figured I’d just hang out and explore the airport. I’ve heard good things about the Munich airport.
Remembering the fun I was able to have in Bucktown, Chicago during my long layover in O’Hare on my flight home from Nepal, I began to wonder though if maybe I’d be able to do the same for Munich. I’m not the most comfortable traveling by myself to foreign countries, though I don’t know if anyone ever really is, but I’ve been getting more confidence over the last few years, especially having traveled to London and Nepal semi-independently.
After doing some research (namely consulting the TripAdvisor forums), I decided to go for it and try to see the city during the seven-hour layover. There was another Notre Dame girl going to the same conference who wound up on the same flight from Philly to Munich, and after telling her my plan, she agreed to go too. Neither of us had ever seen Germany and neither of us spoke German, but we figured we could function for a few hours.
I departed Kentucky midday, and then I had a medium-length layover in Philadelphia. From there, it was a nine-ish hour flight — at which point, we arrived in Munich at about 9:00 AM local time.
Immigration was a piece of cake — the officer only asked how long I’d be there, and then he sent us on our way. From there, we purchased the less than 20 USD train tickets to Marienplatz, as the TripAdvisor forums suggested.
If there was anything I loved about Germany, it was the S-Bahn train. The New York Subway, the London Underground, the Chicago L — none of those public transport systems have anything on this German train. It was clean, quiet, modern, and perhaps most surprisingly for me — perfectly on time. There was even a screen where you could see estimated arrival times for each stop, and how those ETAs changed based on how long loading and unloading took each stop. The future is now, I guess.
When we stepped out into Marienplatz, the town square, I admittedly didn’t know what to expect. I’ve hardly ever studied German language or culture, and I was too lazy to do much studying up before I went. I had almost no preconceived notions of what a German city should look like — but rest assured, I was not disappointed.
I saw a lot of different things over winter break — the colorful Doha skyline, sand dunes in the Middle East, gothic churches in France, a spring of supposedly magical healing water — but I don’t think anything had quite the same effect on me as seeing Marienplatz all decorated for the Christmas Eve Market. For context, the second you walk out from the Marienplatz S-Bahn stop onto the street, the first thing you see is the massive Rockefeller Center-sized Christmas tree in front of the spectacular gothic-style New Town Hall.
Coming from the US, and a relatively small US city at that, I don’t get to see much that even vaguely resembles Marienplatz very often. Notre Dame’s campus has some cool collegiate gothic architecture, and I do love God Quad with the basilica and the Golden Dome, but Notre Dame can’t compete with the feel a real European city. Everything there is so old — even stuff that technically isn’t that old, like the New Town Hall (which actually was only built in the 19th century), feels old.
One of my favorite things about travel is the ability to get a feel for a city — the facial expressions of locals as they walk through crowded train platforms, the ambient sounds as you maneuver through the town square, the kind of birds that nest in the crevices of buildings. If I had to describe Munich from my short visit, it was quaint. London, or what I saw of it in 2017, felt old, but somehow, Munich felt older. Munich felt a little quieter, a little friendlier — distinctively different from the sense of frustrated energy that exists in a massive city like New York or London. And I love the frustrated energy of New York and London — in fact, I’d love to be a frustrated, energetic New Yorker one day — but I also appreciated the slower pace of Munich.
In the end, my friend and I didn’t do much more than walk around. We did end up getting hungry and wander into a random restaurant, where I had the most German encounter of my trip: I tried to order water to drink, and instead I was given beer. I mean, I have nothing against drinking beer in Germany — in fact, that seems to be probably a pretty good place to do it — but I was still kind of surprised when I thought I was just getting water. It was good though. And what was even better was that it ended up being free, for some reason? Don’t know what happened there, but no complaints from me.
I was a little worried about getting back in time for our flight, but I shouldn’t have been. The train ran just as beautifully as it did on the way there, and immigration was once again a simple interaction. From there, it was another six hour flight in order to make it to Qatar. I got in at around 11 at night local time, and I didn’t stumble into my hotel until around 1:30. But more on that later.
To check out my full Munich adventures, I highly recommend checking out my Instagram story highlights from that day!
That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my travels. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Bloglovin, Twitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Top: The LOFT
Pants: Thrifted (Salvation Army)
Scarf: My mother’s closet