Munich/Vienna 2004


In the spring of 2004, I decided to pursue an interesting concept when buying my next car. I had read about a program that is offered by a few auto manufacturers where, to enhance the car buying experience, a customer can order his car at the local dealer and then make arrangements to pick the car up at the factory where it was built, drive it around for a while, then drop it off at a shipping company to be delivered and picked up at the local dealer. After I did a little bit of research, I thought this was something I would want to try. Right now the details of the car buying transaction are not important, but I was able to follow the steps and secure my order. The car was a BMW 325xi that was built at the plant in Munich, Germany. They have a few factories, mostly in Germany, and depending on the model you buy will determine where you pick the car up. El and I planned this trip to spend three days in Munich and then three days in Vienna. Again, a lot of research and planning went into the car buying experience for me. Unfortunately, in retrospect, a little too much car and Munich research and not enough Vienna, but we wound up having a great time anyway. As in some of my other travel journals, I did not have the foresight to keep a running narration while we were travelling that I do today. With this in mind, I can only offer some recollections based on our photos from the trip or, in some cases, notes that were jotted on the backs of photos or in our guidebooks.

Friday 6/25/04

We flew into Munich direct from New York's JFK. We had all of the paperwork for the car in hand and as much information as I could collect for our destination. By this time, we had traveled enough and were confident in our abilities to figure out the local public transportation system, which in this case was an S-bahn which was like a commuter rail serving the suburbs of the city (as opposed to the underground, U-bahn that operates as a subway within the city). Anyway, we took the S-bahn direct from the airport to the BMW factory. We were tired from our overnight flight, but excited at the same time. The internet forums where I did most of my research about the car pickup were really a great source of information and we were quite prepared for the sequence of events surrounding the pickup. With our luggage in tow, we got off the train at the stop which was a few blocks away from the factory itself. It wasn’t far enough to take a taxi, but we did have to drag our bags through the streets of a residential neighborhood until we arrived at the guard shack for the plant. We knew we were in the right place as there was a gigantic parking lot filled with brand new, sparkling BMW’s all waiting to be shipped off to various destinations. The guard checked our paperwork and waved us on to the main building. Still dragging our luggage (some on wheels, some with shoulder straps) we got to the reception area where we were escorted to a small café inside the office building and told that it would be some time before our “presentation” was ready. They gave us each a complimentary lunch (sandwich and chips) and told us to wait until we were called. After some time a gentleman named Richard came to our table and told us to follow him. We obliged and were led to a “presentation” garage. It looked like a cross between a dealer’s service garage and a showroom. The room had a couple of cars in it which were all of the cars that were being picked up at the factory that day. As we entered the room there was a single spotlight shining down on the car, effectively dimming the light on the other cars that weren’t mine. Then Richard went into salesman delivery mode. We sat in the car as he went through the features with us. He had the owner’s manual and made sure that we knew all of the bells and whistles that came with the car. This being my fourth BMW, I was pretty familiar with the package. He also made sure to let me know about mechanical limitations that needed to be adhered to during the “breaking in” period of the car. Here we were about to drive out of the factory and onto the autobahn and being told to make sure not to let the engine surpass 4000 RPM’s during the first 1000 miles or so. After telling us everything on his agenda and answering any questions we had, he gave us directions out of the plant and sent us on our way. I recall having some issues just getting out of the factory complex. I think we hit a fork and I took the wrong way and wound up on a ramp leading back into the factory. Here I have had the car for a grand total of 35 seconds and I am already having driving challenges! I was quickly able to get myself righted and got on with it. On the first couple of streets I was able to take it slower through that residential area we had walked through. Then the streets got a little busier until we started seeing signs for the autobahn (which, by the way, just means highway). Up to this point I had never driven in a foreign country (except Canada) and was not sure what differences I would notice from what I was used to. Would the roads be narrower or wider than I was used to, were there any etiquette differences or things that were different “legally” than home? (Like, did you know it is illegal to lock your car door while driving in Germany? The idea being that a locked door will hamper emergency responder’s efforts should you get in an accident) So, like I said, I see a sign for the autobahn and then almost immediately see a paved path on my right. Not wanting to miss my turn, I jerk my wheel to get onto this rather odd looking access road to the autobahn. As I drive about 15 yards up this “road” we both realize that the road is getting narrower and will soon not accommodate the width of the car! I look in my mirror and see no one behind me. As I immediately put all pieces together, we realize at the same time that I have actually taken a right onto a bike path! Luckily there is no bike or pedestrian traffic. I quickly back up and get myself back onto the road we turned from. Embarrassed, tired and cranky I throw a tantrum on how this driving in a foreign country could be more difficult that I originally thought. We are back on to the normal course and as we round the bend we see what turns out to look like a completely normal width access road with normal signage. We take it and get on the autobahn for the first time. The hotel was not too far from the factory so we only had to go a few exits. We made our way through the center of the city and eventually found our hotel which offered underground parking. We stayed at the Best Western Atrium on Landwehrstrasse 59 in the center of the city. We checked in and got the scoop on the parking which included special codes and passkeys to access the underground spaces. We got it all figured out and got to our room. For our first night we had made reservations at one of the finest restaurants in Munich, called Restaurant Tantris (Johann-Fichte-Strasse 7, 80805 Munich). I think I found it through the Zagat Guide. I don’t remember all that much about the meal other than for the quality of food, it was the most overpriced and expensive place we had ever eaten at. Not that anything was bad, but when you are spending more than one week’s paycheck on a single meal, your standards tend to rise a little. I did manage to find the bill from that evening. We started out with a before dinner cocktail. Our first course was lobster with vegetables. Next a salad. And for the entrée, El got braised beef cheeks while I had the turbot. We had a bottle of 2002 Gavi wine and each got some sort of soufflé for dessert. The staff was wonderful (as they usually are in places of this caliber) and something I had never experienced before, when we were finished, instead of calling a taxi, the restaurant actually provided a car and driver to return us to our hotel. I don’t remember doing anything else on our first day in Munich.

Saturday 6/26/04

The next morning we got up and had breakfast in our hotel. Standard European hotel breakfast. On our first full day in the country and with the car, we decide to drive down to Mad Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps.

I had been to the castle 10 years earlier when I went with my dad and I remember it being a picturesque setting and knew it would make for some scenic driving. We drove south from Munich until we hit the Austrian border. There is no border crossing per se, but we had read about buying a windshield vignette when entering the country. It seems that every country in the EU has different driving rules when it comes to the payment of road taxes and you are expected to know what you are doing, as “I didn’t know I needed to pay road use tax” does not fly and results in heavy fines. For example, Switzerland requires every car to pay road use tax by the year. Fine if you live there and will drive there all year, but our short visit would require the same one year fee. Needless to say, we avoided Switzerland. Our tourist license plates that came with the car covered all road use taxes in Germany. Our research had told us that if we were planning to drive in Austria that we would need two things: an international driver’s license and a windshield vignette. We got our licenses at AAA before we left and knew that most stores near the borders sold the needed vignettes. You could buy them in one week, month or yearly increments. Obviously, we chose the weekly, since we would only be there for a few hours. Another thing that we picked up from the internet was a rule book for driving in Germany. Many of the road signs are different than we are used to and we needed a tool to decipher them. I, like everyone else, have always heard there is no speed limit on the autobahn. Well, that is partially true. Basically, town and city center speed limits are 30km/hr, autobahn through the city is 60km/hr, and autobahn between cities is limitless. In planning for our drive time I made sure to bring what I consider to be the greatest driving song of all time...Radar Love by Golden Earring. I brought my CD and in addition to testing the handling of the car also tested the audio system. Pushing the 4000 rpm limit of the engine we opened up as we blasted the road songs and cruised on down the highway.

It took a little bit of getting used to as driving in the fast lane was limited to cars that are actively passing others. The thing is that if you are in the middle lane and need to pass someone you look in your rearview mirror and see a car a ways off in the distance, but as you pull into that far left lane you realize the car that was far off is actually approaching at 120-135 miles/hr! It takes a little getting used to. All told the fastest I got my car to go was 108 mi/hr which was plenty fast for me. And being surrounded by the beautiful Bavarian Alps was just breathtaking. We followed our maps and signs to the town of Fussen which is where the castle is located. It is a pretty popular tourist stop and I remember having to park a bit away and walk. We ate lunch in one of the shops at the foot of the hill. Then, the choices are to walk up the large hill (free), take the bus (cheap) or take a horse drawn carriage (expensive). We took the bus. It drops you off at a fork in the road where you can either walk directly to the castle or walk to Mary’s Bridge for a great scenic overlook. We went to Mary’s Bridge first then walked down to the castle for an up close look. We went into the courtyard (near the gift shop) and got some pictures. I know that tours are available, but for some reason we did not take one (possibly a long wait time as it was very crowded). We took a bunch of pictures and then caught the bus back down to the bottom of the hill.

Hohenschwangau Castle was Mad Ludwig’s parents’ castle and stands on the next hill over. We did not visit that castle, but saw it from the base level, and I am not sure they give tours of it. We spent a considerable amount of time in the Fussen area before driving back towards the Munich. In order to get the maximum driving time out of our three days we were going to need to drop the car off at the transport company's lot on Sunday. I had arranged with the manager to do this, but knew that I had to go to the office on Saturday to fill out the paperwork, get instructions and leave a copy of the key. We made our stop at the office on the way back to the hotel. The drive was probably in the 1½ hour range each way between Fussen and Munich, and we made it back sometime

in the afternoon. We had read much about the beer gardens in Germany and decided we needed to experience one for ourselves. We had heard mixed, but mostly positive reviews of a tourist trap called the Hofbrau Haus. This is a Munich institution that some say is overrated in its popularity while others call it a great example of the beer hall/garden experience. We call it the latter. Not being Oktoberfest, we were able to get a seat in this restaurant that holds 5000 people! Biggest restaurant I have ever seen (until the next night!). They have main dining rooms with bench seating, rooms with chairs and tables and a rather large courtyard with both. There was a live oompah band playing in the main dining hall. They served beer in mugs that were huge. We got a table for two in the courtyard where we could enjoy the music and conversation at the same time. I remember the food being decent enough and El remembers her dinner being excellent, but we weren’t going anywhere, we were just going to stay here for the night soaking in the experience. At some point I needed to use the men’s room and excused myself. Dressed in my best casual look I was wearing a Saxon concert t-shirt (as seen in some of the above pictures). Saxon is one of my favorite bands and even though they are from England are still hugely popular in Europe, and Germany is no exception. As I waded through the crowd I made it to the restroom. I head in as a gentleman (I'll call "dude") is coming out. He looks about my age, takes one look at my T-shirt and in his best German, death metal growl grunts: ZOGZON! I give him the metal salute "\m/" and a head bob as I headed in to do my business. As I exit and head back towards my table, “dude” is actually waiting for me outside the bathroom. He makes his way to me and starts speaking to me. Of course, I give him my best “no sprechen ze Deutch”. Thinking fast he motions for me to stand still as he disappears into the crowd. I sit tight for a few moments out of curiosity and sure enough “dude” returns, but this time with friend in tow. Turns out “dude” speaks no English and LOVES heavy metal music, but “friend of dude” speaks English, and hates heavy metal music. I try to wrap things up and head back to El at the table. Somehow, “dude” and “friend of dude” invite themselves to sit with us as “dude” has too many more questions about American and British metal for me. We get back to the table in the courtyard and they pull up some nearby chairs. I introduce them to El and we have a crazy four way conversation centered on myself and “dude” naming off our favorite bands. As the beers continued to flow and the night got on, it turned out “dude” had several other friends also at the restaurant and as more and more people arrived to pull up chairs we ended up with 10 to 15 people crowded around our little table for two. We all drank too much and had a grand old time. What was a bit of a weird situation to start with turned out being one of the most memorable trip stories in our repertoire. With an all around great experience there, we have no choice but to give the Hofbrau Haus two thumbs (and metal horns \m/ ) way up.

Sunday 6/27/04

This was our last full day in Munich and we only had a couple things we needed to do. We consulted our maps and guidebooks and decided to take a leisurely drive with no specific destination. El had wanted to drive the car a little, but not in the city. I drove us to the outskirts of Munich and let her take over. I don’t think she was too keen on trying to go fast and was a little nervous with the other drivers. Her preference was to drive on the country roads and enjoy the handling of the new car. She does a great job with navigation and I think she is happy with that role. One issue we had quite a lot was the lack of directions on the signs. Most road signs do not use north, south, east or west, but instead use city and town names. This is fine if the sign is for “autobahn Munich/Stuttgart” you can quickly figure out which direction you want. However, on many occasions we would be heading to say, Fussen and we would get to a 4-way stop in the road where the sign would read the name of three different towns (one for each direction) that we didn’t know. So while you sit at the stop sign the navigator has to quickly look up the names of the 3 towns on the map to determine if it was in the direction we wanted. It was a bit difficult sometimes, especially if the town on the sign was too small to be on our map. Anyway, after our leisurely drive through the countryside we wound up near the city of Augsburg. We drove into town and found a little restaurant to have lunch at. Not surprisingly, there was no communication between us and the waitress since we speak zero German. We asked for schnitzel and beer by brand name. As we sat outside on bench tables under the shade of trees we discussed what a great experience this was. Driving through the country, lunch at a very local café, great weather it was just all perfect. After lunch we walked through a little shopping district to get some ice cream and enjoy the stroll. Then it was back to the car to head back towards Munich. Our next stop was the concentration camp Dachau, today a museum/memorial to the victims of the holocaust located about 6 miles outside of Munich. We spent some time there, joining others in a somber stroll through the site. Most heavy indeed. When we were ready to move on, we went on to drop the car off at the shipping company’s office which was close by. The office was located in an industrial park, that on a Sunday was pretty deserted.

It was so remote, that I didn’t ever consider there would be an issue leaving the car. We drove it to where they had told us and grabbed our stuff. Interestingly, (remember the “legal” questions I had?) in addition to my tourist license plates, the car came with two things that are required by law in Germany, a substantial first aid kit that fits in a compartment under your passenger front seat and a set of reflective hazard triangles to set on the street if your car becomes disabled. The thing that we were warned about was that since the car was being exported to the US and since US cars don’t have these features, if we wanted to keep these items we had to remove them from the car and carry them home in our luggage. We grabbed the medical kit, triangle and the front license plate (we were required to leave the back one on that was delivered). We knew the shipping company would scrape the vignette off the windshield, but there was no way we could scrape it off intact. We locked up the car, took some pictures of it and walked out of the park to the nearest bus stop. El remembers us waiting for a long time since it was Sunday afternoon, but I cannot recall how long it took us to get back into the city center and back to our hotel. Having had such a fun experience at the beer garden the night before, we decided to try another. The way that it works (I believe) is that beer gardens are owned by the breweries to sell their beers. So the only selections are limited to what the owning brewery makes. Not to be outdone by the 5000 capacity Hofbrau Haus the night before, we went to a place called Augustiner Keller, a beer garden with an 8000 patron capacity!! You are talking about a restaurant that is bigger than some sports arenas!(note: this is NOT my photo, but it gives you an idea of the setting) They had an indoor part where you could sit at a table and have wait service, or you could chose to sit outside in the beer garden where they had hundreds of picnic tables. They had food stands set up around the perimeter where you could just go order, pay and go from any of the offerings. Lots of pretzels and sausages. And all of them good with beer. They had pathways through the place and every once in a while you would see a guy driving a cart, bigger than a golf cart, smaller than a pickup truck, whose job it was to drive through the eating area picking up empty mugs to drive them to the conveyor style dishwashers. It was quite an operation to be sure. As I look back, I liked Augustiner, but I think we both agree that we had a better all around experience at the Hofbrau Haus. After dinner we walked back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our train to Vienna the next morning.


Monday 6/28/04

As we went to Vienna by train, we had very few solid plans. We had tickets to see David Bowie on 6/29 and we had dinner reservations for 6/30. Other than that we were free to just wander and eat and drink. We took the train from Munich to the main station in Vienna. I don’t remember how long it took or what time we left, but I know that by the time we did get to Vienna, checked into the hotel it was sometime in the late afternoon. As we walked from the train station to the hotel, there was a landmark near our hotel called the Votvkirche that had some really intense gothic architecture and sculptures surrounding it.

Although we did not have tickets, we did know that Lenny Kravitz was playing that night at the same venue that Bowie was scheduled to play the next night. We decided to try to make the show. At the very least we would know how to get to the place the next night and if tickets were available at the door we would go. We got our public transport information and took the subway to the concert. It was a pretty incredible setting. The place was called Schloss Schoenbrunn. It is a castle (schloss = castle) and they had a concert series in the plaza using the castle as the background. Obviously, to accommodate the crowd for David Bowie, this place was pretty sizable. Anyway, we arrived and the gates were still closed. There was a kiosk selling tickets which were outrageously expensive, but we figured, how many times would we be able to see a show like this in a place like this and we both like Lenny shows. As we set our sights on trying to find some food, we walked along the fence towards a restaurant we noticed some posters pertaining to the David Bowie show the following night. It didn’t look good. After some questions to some passersby, it was confirmed that the Bowie show the next night was, in fact, cancelled (due to Bowie having had a heart attack on stage a couple nights prior, and to my knowledge he has never returned to the stage since). This news was a bit of a bummer since we were both looking so forward to the concert. It also made it that much more fortunate that we had decided to make this show. We found the restaurant that was located adjacent to the grounds and sat for dinner. In the background you could hear Lenny and his band working on a soundcheck. I don’t remember anything about the meal except I do know that one of the dessert options was an apple dumpling. It was the house’s signature dish. You could get the offering a la carte, a la mode, or you could pay a few extra Euros and actually get a copy of the recipe with your dessert. El took the latter choice and although I am not sure I remember ever making it, know that we do own the recipe to the pastry. After dinner we headed back around to the front gate as they were letting people in. We got in early enough to get great standing spots right up in front. The opening band was the Stereophonics who, coincidentally, we had seen open for David Bowie in Buffalo, NY a couple weeks before. They were OK. It was a great night for a show and the setting was grand. Big stage, bigger castle it was a large production. There’s not much more to say about the show, Lenny was in fine form and put on a decent show. The show got out at a reasonable time and we made our way back to the hotel neighborhood for a couple of beers. We found a small place very close to the hotel that offered free internet, so while we drank our beer, we checked in with folks at home.

Tuesday 6/29/04

With the Bowie show cancelled, we had a free day to see the city. Unfortunately, I am saddened to say, I remember very few details of our time spent in Vienna.

I know we went to St. Stephen’s Square and a clock museum that turned out to be a dud. We walked through the narrow streets of the city and at one point saw an apartment the Mozart lived in at some point in his life.

Wednesday 6/30/04

Our last day in Vienna I am certain that we spent more time walking to explore the city. One of the things that I find to be fun is to search out used music shops in any of the cities we visit. I know that El likes to visit cathedrals and such, but my interest is CD/record shops. Usually, during the first part of our trip to any city we try to get a page from the phone book’s yellow pages that has all the record shops with their addresses. Then, at our leisure, we pinpoint them on a map. Then, time permitting, usually on our last day of the trip, once we have seen all of the major sites that we wanted to see, we will split up for a few hours when El will visit some churches she has had her eye on, while I go to seek out the record shop. One aspect of this that we find interesting is that a lot of times, the shops are not located in the city center and sometimes they are off the beaten path or downright hidden. This allows us to actually spend time in neighborhoods that most tourists never see. We will arrange to meet at specific places and times for lunch or other reason. It has worked out well for us, but doesn’t seem to help me in the least to remember much more about one of the cities that I list as one of the places I liked very much. For our last night in Vienna, we had made reservations at Restaurant Steireck. I remember the meal being excellent and also a group of Americans inside that were remarkably loud and obnoxious. The staff didn’t seem to find them as offensive as we did, not vulgar, but characteristically boisterous. Our last night was spent in the bar across the street from the hotel (that had the free internet). We flew home the next day without incident.