Foodie Heaven in Augsburg: The Bavarian City No One’s Heard Of.

With the charms of the alluring Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg all nearby, Augsburg doesn’t get much of a look-in on the Bavarian tourist trail.

In fact we have lived an hour’s drive away from here for two years now and hadn’t even bothered to visit Augsburg ourselves until this weekend.

This was due to a bad review from an American expat friend (who wasn’t that impressed) and a less than enthusiastic write-up in the Lonely Planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Germany’s third oldest city is a beautifully buzzy place with astounding architecture and a thriving market perfect for foodie types.

In typical German style the Stadtmarkt (city market) must also be one of the world’s cleanest and most organised.

In one lane you will find around half a dozen bakeries, selling delicious German breads and mouth-watering cakes.

In another there are the colourful fruit and veg stalls peddling autumn truffles among the florists and a few home ware shops.

Then on a third aisle you have all the fishmongers and a few eateries where you can snack on fresh fish buns while watching the world go by.

As if that’s not enough the market also boasts a food hall full of international goodies in its Viktualienhalle.

Here you’ll find stalls brimming with Italian antipasti, Asian spices and fine smoked meats as well as a couple of pop-up bars where weary shoppers pause for a wine or beer. Nice!

It’s the perfect place for stocking up (particularly at Christmas time) and soaking up a great atmosphere at the same time.

As I grew up in Essex in the UK I used to think of markets as being the kind of place where dodgy guys sold cheap clothes and knocked off shampoo somewhere under a grimy underpass.

So I’m forever impressed when I stumble on a market that has charm, class and sells fruit a bit more exotic than apples.

After munching our way through the market we checked out Augsburg’s colourful Altstadt (old city) with its 17th century Renaissance Town Hall and gothic cathedral.

The sun even popped out for a bit, causing a rush of Germans to the nearest ice-cream sellers (they are mad for ice-cream here. When sun shines,  Brits sunbathe. Germans buy ice-cream).

Large chains and independent shops are in abundance in compact Augsburg too (perfect for shopping) with some cool arty places dotted along winding backstreets such as Dominikanergasse. I was impressed and wondered why the hell no one had gushed to me about this wonderful place before.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t trust American dudes or Lonely Planet. Find out for yourself.

After being seduced by the market and the shops we didn’t have time to see much else, but hopefully we’ll pop back one day to see the Art Nouveau synagogue and the famous Augsburg Puppet Box.

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

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Oktoberfest 2013: A Guide for the Lazy and Unorganised

Oktoberfest. The one time slightly uptight Munich actually explodes into a riot of fun, drunken debauchery! Merry people everywhere, girls in slutty dresses, and piles of vomit on every pavement slab. Just like London at 4pm every Friday then.

Last year was my first time at Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival – and I was lucky to experience it with a local Bavarian who has been a lot. I discovered that you don’t need to be a beer drinker to have fun, although the prices of any other beverage there will make you wish you were one. You don’t have to book a table or buy a ticket. Just turn up and get involved. Ja wohl!

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Oktoberfest is the huge fair. It’s hard not to, as it is the largest in the world. The rides seem to go on for miles. They also look positively retro, and they’re great fun, especially after a litre or two of strong Bavarian beer. Word of warning – look out for projectile vomit when standing under them. Really drunk people and fairground rides don’t mix.

I’d like to point out that we didn’t see one female in this state. Just men. WIMPS.

After having a few rides (ahem) get yourself to a beer tent and find a space on one of the many long tables. I’d recommend doing this pretty early, as those tables do get busy and the punters don’t tend to budge much (except for the loo). Avoid being in large groups too. We were a three, and found it pretty easy to slide onto the end of another group’s table.

The social side to Oktoberfest is great. Of course the beer gets everybody chatting, and it’s a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to enjoy the festivities. Everyone is there to have a good time. We got chatting to a very nice Croatian boxer and also a sixties British hippie who was selling glow in the dark thumbs. Here he is.

And here we are with our massive jugs.

But the real fun to be had is inside those beer halls. That’s where there’s loud band music, people dancing on tables and an all-round amazing atmosphere. They had already stopped admitting people when we arrived that afternoon, but we managed to get into one later on thanks to my cousin flirting with one of the doormen, telling him she had come all the way to Munich from Australia. Which she actually had. Not many men can resist a young, blonde Aussie, and with that, WE WERE IN.

The carnage inside was bloody brilliant. Hundreds of people all high on Bavaria’s finest. Men in Lederhosen, women spilling out of dirndls, and ‘liquid gold’ slopped all over the place. There was a great live band playing pop songs, and when they belted out ‘Hey Jude’ everyone got on the tables and sang along. It was a moment I will never forget.

Get yourself to Oktoberfest this year. You won’t regret it! (Unless you’re one of those guys throwing up in my pictures above).

Oktoberfest facts:

  • Oktoberfest 2013 actually takes place from September 21 to October 6.
  • It has been running since 1810 and is called ‘die Wiesn’ by the Bavarians
  • Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the festival since 1818. They come from six brewers and must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.
  • They are strong – 6% alcohol minimum.
  • The fair is held right in the centre of Munich at the Theresienwiese. The underground trains take you right there. Don’t drive unless you’re crazy.
  • A majority of visitors are Bavarian. Be aware of the local guys girls. I have been told it’s a real badge of honour if one manages to pull a foreign female in front of his mates.
  • If you haven’t booked accommodation already, then good luck. Prices rocket in Munich during the festival. Consider staying somewhere outside of Munich, like the Five-Lakes district. It’s an easy commute from there into the city.

Prost!

Munich’s Best Cakes?

Bavarians love making cake. I love eating it. And I have been assured that Maelu is the place to sample Munich’s best cakes. It’s swish, it’s pricey, and some of the delights on offer look like they’ve been polished with Mr Sheen. But this Konditorei is a great place to soak up the city’s atmosphere and stuff your face at the same time. I definitely recommend the chocolate eclairs. Divine. Maelu. Theatinerstrasse 32, 80333 Munich. 089 2429 2597.  www.maelu.de

Really Bavaria?

I almost choked on my big fat German wiener when I saw these photographs in the local Bavarian newspaper. Apologies for their quality. If you look closely you’ll see images of children – some with their faces ‘blackened’ – to make them look like Jesus’ Three Kings for Three Kings Day on January 6.  I hasten to add these were taken this year in 2013, not sometime in the 1930s.

For a country so desperate to escape its Nazi past, Germany really surprises me sometimes. Maybe I’m too uptight and British. Maybe the fact that this just wouldn’t happen in Britain today says that society there has become too politically correct. Or maybe living in Bavaria has made me lose touch with reality.  “They’re just trying to represent the Three Kings better,” a local explained to me. Personally, I don’t think they need to smear children’s faces in black paint to do so. Before I moved to Germany a year ago I wrote a list of what my expectations of this country and its people were. “Highly-intelligent, forward-thinking society” was on it. But when I see this proudly splashed across the local news I really do wonder.

Having spent a few days thinking over the pictures I have come to the conclusion that those responsible are not intentionally racist. I’m sure the children and the adults behind their supervision would be horrified to think they could cause offence. The problem is, there are very few black people in Bavaria outside of Munich. I guess if there were more black children here then church groups celebrating Three Kings Day wouldn’t be able to get away with doing something so ignorant. The people would hold them accountable.  Why am I getting so worked out about it? Well, I’m in the process of deciding whether Germany is a good place to bring up my son, now aged nine months. He was born here, and I figured that Germany would be a better place for him than England. If it was just me, I probably wouldn’t ponder these issues so much. What do you think? Are these pictures racist, offensive or just harmless fun? Does Bavaria need to move with the times more? I would be REALLY interested to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment!

On a lighter note, I did have a good laugh at how badly these youngsters were made up. Poor things.