December in Munich is a beautiful time of the year. The enormous Christmas tree gets installed into Marienplatz, the center of Munich’s medieval style old town, in late November. Then the wooden huts are assembled and stocked with carved and glass tree ornaments, nutcracker soldiers and homemade toys, ceramics and candles, leather slippers and felt hats, and all manner of gift ideas.
It might be Oktoberfest that comes to most minds when thinking of Germany, but locals have other ideas. Each year in the lead up to Christmas, Glühwein (German style mulled wine) is sold in newly designed cups to add to one’s collection. People bundle themselves in scarves and “hand shoes”, which are really gloves – German is a practical language. And in evenings, the best time to be there, is when the air is spicy and cold, lights are twinkling, and groups of friends stand around tall tables talking and laughing. It’s homey and cozy despite what the thermometer reads.
That’s the thing about Munich. It is a capital city, but feels like a small town. The thing about Münchners is that quality of life is paramount. They’ve mastered “Work to live, not live to work”. They don’t even think about it. They just do it.
It’s into the mountains for skiing in winter, and on summer weekends parents head into the Alps with children, baby carriage et al, hiking to a mountain hut in time for lunch. Weekdays find parents riding alongside their kids on bicycles to drop them off at school; after school they ride to one of the many parks including one of Europe’s largest urban parks, the English Garden, which reaches into the city center.
Foreigners living in Munich can’t help but appreciate the lifestyle, as well as picking up a local habit or two. They, too, get annoyed by tourists who don’t move to the right on the escalator when choosing to stand and not step. They, too, take the bicycle ride to a beer garden for live jazz and beer with friends. And they, too, appreciate the endless lunches and still having to ask for the bill when ready to leave.
The abundance of green in Munich, the Middle Ages feel, the history that oozes out of every brick, and the ubiquitous bicycle paths. The elderly women dressed up fine for lunch to gather, gab and giggle like when they were youths. The opera house, favorite restaurants, and the universally known fish fountain meeting spot, all in the historical downtown that is populated day and night by locals as much as tourists.
Munich has been described as “Lederhosen and laptops”. It’s true, and it’s more, and it juggles it all seamlessly.