Over the last few years our author has been able to indulge her thirst for discovery as a travel blogger; there would always be time to relax back in Munich. In this column, she writes about making up for the local joys she missed while she was away. And she really did miss them – because then the coronavirus crisis changed everything. Our author visited the Summer in the City event to see what’s happening on her doorstep. Read on to find out what that has to do with Luna Park in New York!
Last year, I was in New York doing some research. That’s something I had always wanted to be able to say – especially when I was still working as a travel blogger. While I was there last October, pushing my way through the bustling city streets, I also went to visit Coney Island – a neighbourhood south of Brooklyn that ends where the sea begins. Luna Park is a nostalgic amusement park that is prominently positioned along the seafront promenade. It’s a proper funfair. And funfairs have always been great: candy floss crackling in your mouth, the screams of roller coaster riders in your ears, the smell of burnt-sugar almonds in your nostrils – those are the main childhood recollections I associate with funfairs. Those sensory delights remain an unchanged part of the funfair experience, though today I would add the refreshing hit of a cool beer on my tongue and many sunset views that I try to commit to memory as I ride the Ferris wheel.
And right now it’s all happening just like that on Königsplatz, in the heart of the city and a mere stone’s throw from my apartment. What does Coney Island’s Luna Park have to do with all this? Right now, many weeks since the coronavirus outbreak hit New York, tourism in that city is virtually unthinkable, and Luna Park also remains closed. Back in March and April things looked much the same in Munich. However, within just a few weeks the city responded to the cancellation of Oktoberfest and the traditional markets with a wonderful new initiative: Summer in the City. And that brings us to the overarching theme of this column: holidaying on your doorstep. Because you can really make it special, even now, when everything has suddenly changed. Here’s how I did it.
The sight of the latter causes me to promptly let out a squeal, buy a ticket and embark for flight. That’s how it goes with these festivities: it doesn’t take much to make you feel like you’re sixteen again and forget everything outside of this city square.
On a warm summer’s day, I am cycling along the Isar to Mariahilfplatz in Giesing, where I have arranged to meet our photographer Frank to get an idea of everything on offer. It’s a Monday afternoon: there are no queues and everyone has enough space, whether you’re heading for a Bavarian delicacy, a traditional Dult-style market stall or a ride on the chair swing. The sight of the latter causes me to promptly let out a squeal, buy a ticket and embark for flight. That’s how it goes with these festivities: it doesn’t take much to make you feel like you’re sixteen again and forget everything outside of this city square. After I stagger off the carousel, I immediately need to sit down on a bench – turns out you’re not actually sixteen any more, I think to myself. The Fischer Vroni stall catches my eye and calls to mind a really great, somewhat boozy evening I once spent in their festival tent at the Wiesn. I have always enjoyed Oktoberfest, although I am not a regular by any means, and some years I’ve only popped by once or twice. Nevertheless, the thought that it won’t happen this year makes me rather melancholy.
Frank brings me back into the moment, telling me he wants to get some fruit dipped in chocolate – and just like that, notwithstanding our sad moment about Oktoberfest, we are in a happy carnival mood once again. He drags us both first to the chocolate-dipped fruit and then to the shooting range. Frank wants to buy a round and I tell him I’ve never held a weapon before. Before I can even raise my eyebrows sceptically, he slides some change over the counter in return for five shots. I need some time to get used to the weapon, to understand where I need to look if want to hit the target. However, my four shots miss the mark. Then Frank’s trigger finger gets itchy and he wants to have a go – he is right on target of course. We make our way over to our bikes – I am somewhat huffy, even as I am holding the plastic flower he won, and he seems rather amused. To Königsplatz.
From Ludwigsbrücke bridge, we head north along the Isar. En route to Königsplatz, our second destination, we pass a wooden structure. We dismount and take a closer look. “Bridge Sprout” is an artwork that protrudes far over the river and has been put in place as part of Summer in the City. You can step out onto the bridge-like pier to enjoy a completely new view of the Schwindinsel nature reserve from the viewing platform. I’ve read online that the temporary installation can be understood as an act of honouring nature, in the form of a wooden structure inspired by traditional bridges in the Alps, and makes it possible to stand a few metres above the Isar. How appropriate, I note, as many people are yearning for nature at this time. Luckily enough, Munich is a city in which it’s easy to get very close to nature.
He drags us both first to the chocolate-dipped fruit and then to the shooting range. Frank wants to buy a round and I tell him I’ve never held a weapon before. Before I can even raise my eyebrows sceptically, he slides some change over the counter in return for five shots.
We hop back on our bikes and cycle citywards in the direction of Maxvorstadt, travelling level with the Friedensengel (Angel of Peace). When I see the Ferris wheel from Karolinenplatz I can’t help but smile. I catch myself indulging in some wishful thinking that it could always be there – because, to be honest, it blends in so perfectly with the cityscape that it seems as if it has always been there, framed by the Glyptothek museum and the Staatliche Antikensammlung (State Collections of Antiquities), held in the embrace of the impressive Propylaea.
We’re on foot now, pushing our bikes as we pass the beer garden where a few people are already sitting and enjoying an early-evening lager. The aroma of bratwurst is in the air, where it meets the sweet smell from the crêpes being prepared. We head for the Ferris wheel as the sun bursts forth from behind a cloud. We quickly take our seats in a gondola and sit back as it climbs into the air and unveils an incredible vista of the city. I have never seen it like this before – from this point of view, in the heart of Maxvorstadt.
“Under the palm trees next time, please,” I say to Frank as we part, and arrange to meet again on the Theresienwiese. We will start by having a bounce on the trampolines and then sit under the palms to enjoy snacks we’ve brought with us. Fortunately we still have another few weeks to enjoy the attractions, because as all Munich locals know, Oktoberfest season – usually at the end of September – comes with a glorious late-summer burst, and the city enjoys a real Indian summer.
On those days, I go for a dip in a crystal-clear lake on the outskirts of the city, before the various summer offerings call me back for an evening in the centre. It might be for the concerts and family-friendly activities on the summer stage in the Olympiapark (Olympic Park); the cultural stage in the Werksviertel area; or performances in the inner courtyard of the Gasteig cultural centre. And sometimes on a balmy summer’s evening, a simple sunset ride on a chair swing is all I need. As I fly above my city, I think somewhat wistfully of Luna Park in New York – but then my thoughts turn to my next trip, to Oktoberfest 2021 or to my next outing into Munich’s stunning environs. And of course, to Summer in the City.