What makes the English Garden in Munich so attractive? It is partly the feeling that within just a few steps you can escape the bustle of the big city and enter a world of unspoiled nature
The English Garden is just a few minutes' walk from the Marienplatz. The park, set over 900 acres, offers visitors almost 80km of bridle paths, almost 10km of rivers, four beer gardens and much more. Let me take you through it and why I enjoy a visit to the park every time I visit Munich.
Created in 1789, Elector Carl Theodor’s aim was not just to extend the Court Garden, but also to create the first public garden in Europe. Although it appears completely natural, many of the features including the hills, the lake and the planting of trees were completely created by designer Benjamin Thompson (later made Count Rumford for his efforts). The lake or Kleinhesseloher See was built in 1800 and the Monopteros monument was added in 1837.
In 1880, at the Chinesischer Türm early on a Sunday morning, an event that became known as the "Kocherlball" (cooks' ball), began. Up to 5,000 servants, soldiers and students would come to dance to the music of a Bavarian band. The dance began around 5am and ended around 8am, when the servants would return to cook their employers' breakfast or go to church. The event ceased in 1904, but in 1989, as part of the 200 year celebrations of the park, a restoration of the dance was made, with around 4,000 people in attendance; and the dance still takes place one Sunday in July, when over 10,000 people attend in historic costumes.
I like to enter from the southern end after watching the surfers next to the Haus der Kunst on Prinzregentenstrasse. Yes, there really are surfers on this fast flowing stretch of the Eisbach as it bursts through under the road bridge. Many times the authorities have tried to prevent the surfing but each time they failed, despite it being illegal. You get a great sense of peace and relaxation in the garden, broken only by the sounds of the birds. Miles of footpaths meander their way around the park and you will see families taking a quiet stroll or having picnics in summer, joggers burning off the calories and cyclists taking tours of the park. The trees change the backdrop of the park, with vibrant greens in spring and summer, rich reds and gold in winter and snowy white in winter. As you walk along the footpaths you will use one of the 100 bridges that span the rivers and streams that criss-cross the garden.
I follow the path of the Eisbach until after the Monopteros monument, and then head left towards the Chinesischer Türm. Since the 1960s, the area to the south east of Monopteros, known as Schönfeldweise, is an area for nude sunbathing in summer, although I have never been myself. By now, after about 20 minutes walking, I reckon I have earned a rest and some refreshment and I always visit the beer garden at the Chinesischer Türm.
The Chinesischer Türm, which can sit up to 7,000 people, is one of Munich’s largest beer gardens. The tower was first built when the park was created but destroyed during the war and rebuilt in the same style afterwards. There is a large children’s play area to one side. The Oompah band plays on Wednesday and Friday afternoons and most of the day at weekends, which just adds to the atmosphere. Here you will find locals and tourists alike, enjoying a cool beer and sampling the delicious food, the sound of the band or people chattering makes the background noise. It is completely self-service, and you can enjoy a spit roasted half chicken, bratwurst, spicy spare ribs, potato wedges, all reasonably priced from just a couple of euros. The food is fresh and delicious and the enticing smells drift through the air. I never visit Munich without spending time, usually Sunday morning at the Chinese Tower.
As you head north (about 20 minutes' walk) the next beer garden is the Seehaus, set on the northern edge of the Kleinhesseloher See. The first beers were served here from a wooden hut that a park warden set up to serve workers in the park. The restaurant evolved from that to the current building, constructed in the mid 1980s. It is lovely to sit at the side of the lake and watch people in the rowing boats that are available for hire. I can particularly recommend the homemade ice cream, very refreshing on a warm day.
Carry on northwards, about another 15 minutes, over the footbridge that crosses the city ring road (the only blight in the garden) and you arrive at the Hirschau. A traditional beer garden that offers live jazz music on Wednesday and Friday evenings and weekend afternoons. In this area, the green areas are mainly for sport and sunbathing, however in some places you will find sheep grazing, but despite all this the atmosphere is still just as relaxing.
The most northern point of the garden is marked by the Aumeister beer garden. This is a place for relaxation and lively conversation. There is a self-contained children’s play area, which sits across the path, separate from the main seating area. An institution among the locals, it is largely unknown by visitors, until now. Don’t try to walk from the other beer gardens as it is a distance of a couple of miles, take the U6 to Studentenstadt and then it is only a 10 minute walk.
Check out their websites for opening times as they can vary depending on the time of year
What to eat and drink
All the beer gardens offer Bavarian food from just a few euros. You can have salads or snacks or a something more substantial such as spare ribs, hot and spicy and more like pork chops than ribs! A beer garden specialty is Steckerlfisch, which is fish (usually mackerel) barbecued on a long stick, mouth-watering and delicious. My favourite is the Hendl; spit roasted half chicken with a crispy seasoned skin and tender moist meat underneath. Take time to stop in a beer garden and enjoy a cool beer, with a large foamy head, usually served in a one-litre stein, called a “Mass”.
If you want a more restful tour of the garden, then I suggest the horse and carriage ride from the Chinesischer Türm (Chinese Tower). The horses wear their finest livery and in winter you are wrapped up in warm blankets to keep off the chill. Alternatively, you can arrange a rickshaw to take you on a tour of the park, whether it is for two people or more. Prices start from 50 euros (www.riksha-mobil.de
From the end of November the Christmas market opens at the Chinese Tower. Here you can but gifts made from wood and glass, Christmas tablecloths and puzzles and toys for the children. While here, you must try mouth-watering crepes and a warming mulled wine (Glühwein). Instead of returning the cup for a refund of your deposit, keep it as a memento as they issue a new design each year.
The English Garden is a great day out for everyone.
Where to stay
For location, I recommend the Holiday Inn, Munich City-North. The hotel is close to the garden and located very close to shops and restaurants. It has a pool area, which would appeal to families in particular. Alternatively, for those on a budget, try the Haus International, which is a hostel with a good reputation for cleanliness and the “all you can eat” breakfast buffet, again close to other bars and restaurants in the Münchner Freiheit area. Both are just a few stops from Marienplatz on the underground.
Watch this video to see what a good time you can have in Munich