Two Sides of the Same City
On my first trip to Munich, I found myself lumbering away from the main train station in the early morning hours, completely disoriented from the overnight train ride. With my 60-pound backpack and my phone battery on 2%, I made little note of the Bavarian details and architecture.
I bought a cheap dirndl from a cart on the street, slipping the pink gingham print skirt over my jeans—loose from a month of subsisting on free hostel breakfasts and cheap street food carts. I readied myself for Oktoberfest and made no plans to see the city outside the ten blocks between my hostel and the main beer tents. Easily, I fell in with the crowd, making friends and memories, and then tumbled out of the city as chaotically as I tumbled in.
So, for the next decade, Munich meant greasy street food dripping down my cheap dirndl and jovial beer halls with sticky tables. It was skipping down cobblestone streets at night, big crowds, and carnival rides that were maybe not entirely safe.
When I first started traveling the world, I was careless and naive. I floated from city to city, comforted that any missteps would simply become a funny story one day. I forgot about military time and missed planes. I budgeted wrong and ended up having to skip lunches. But I was also open with no threshold to how much energy I could muster when needed. I stayed up all night just for a 6 a.m. walk up twelve flights to see the sunrise over Madrid. I waited in line at the Louvre for four hours because it was free entry. I booked a last-minute overnight train to Berlin after making friends on a pub crawl.
Eight years later, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop cornered to an intersection that looked out at that same train station in Munich. I had just finished a semester teaching English in Budapest and was recovering from the chaos. It was Christmas, and the German city had drenched itself in lights for my arrival. A scone with cranberry jam sat in front of me, and the whole day laid out ahead. The frenzied traveler I used to be would have eaten the scone on the go as I tried to fit in as many museums and sites as possible, regardless of my interest in them. But I breathed easy, knowing I wasn’t the traveler I used to be.
I spent my most recent visit to Munich sitting in parks and treating myself to thoughtfully constructed dinners. I took a tour that covered the city’s history and a day trip to the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle. I still allowed the spontaneity and openness I loved as a younger traveler to dictate my time, but now it felt more harmonious.
This second visit to Munich brought a realization and newfound peace. Late nights and free walking tours have slowly transformed into mornings spent people-watching in cafés and afternoons appreciating the parks and architecture. Gobbling down food from street carts has transformed into treating myself to intentionally chosen meals. Souvenir shopping in tourist districts has turned into thrifting for a memorable piece with history and character. The natural transition happened so seamlessly that I’ve never looked back. After over ten years of traveling, it now feels less frenzied. I don’t hold myself to checklists, and I don’t force myself to go on excursions simply because they’re popular.
The first time I left Munich, I arrived in France for a two-week stay where I traded my dirndl with someone staying in my twelve-bed hostel room for a raincoat in preparation for the changing weather. All I could think about was looking ahead. I hardly gave my time in the Bavarian capital a second thought. My whole life was lying ahead of me. Why would I ever think to look back? This time, as I left Munich to travel back to New York for the holidays, part of me only wanted to look back and reflect on what this city used to mean to me. But mostly, I was happy that I had discovered a new version of Munich along with a new version of myself.
A version of this article appears in print, in Issue 1 of Álula Magazine with the headline: “Munich Revisited: Two sides of the Same City”