Sunday, September 29, 2013

Enchanting Eastern Europe - Munich/Germany

This holiday takes us through 7 countries and 10 cities/towns although is was actually a 5 countries tour. Two of them, Germany and Slovakia, are just stopovers but we did enjoy something unique about them that I will share a little.

Emirates flight EK49 flew off at 8.25am local time in Dubai for Munich. We landed at 12.35pm local time to a rainy welcome with outside temperature around 11C. After clearing immigration and claiming our baggage we boarded the coach driven by Josef, a Hungarian, who would take us through the various countries. Our tour director Alice took the mike and introduced herself. She speaks English and Mandarin fluently, have a pleasant personality and exudes confidence in knowing what she is doing. As our group comprise mainly church members we had a short prayer of thanksgiving for the safe trip.

It is 1.45pm when we visited the BMW Welt (BMW World) for an hour. Expecting to be given a guided tour of how BMW cars are designed, components manufactured and assembled, I found the Welt was really a car display hall showcasing the latest models as well as the first BMW compact car.

Local female guide Bernatte joined us after that to give us a city tour about the history of Munich which is headquarters to many international organizations like BMW (Bavaria Motor Works), Allianz, Gigaset Communications,Nemetschek, Siemens and Munich Re.

Munich is a young city compared with some of its neighbors. It had its origins in 1156 in an unpleasant struggle between two feudal rulers over the right to impose tolls on the traffic moving along the salt road that stretched between the cities of Salzburg, Hallein, Reichenhall, and Augsburg. Up to that time, Bishop Otto von Freising had controlled a very lucrative toll bridge across the Isar River, directly on the salt route.

The ruler of the Bavarian territory, Guelph Heinrich der Löwe (Duke Henry the Lion), was in need of cash. So, with the customary ferocity that had earned him his nickname, he simply burned down the bishop's bridge and built his own bridge a few miles upstream, co-opting the profitable tolls. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was called upon to settle this dispute between his cousin Heinrich and his uncle, Bishop Otto. However, the bishop's fully justified rage did little to influence the faraway emperor, who was too busy to worry about a minor clash between church and state. This particular squabble, however, was to have far-reaching consequences.

Henry's new bridge was adjacent to a tiny settlement of Benedictine monks, a small community on the banks of the Isar River that was referred to as zu den Münichen -- "at the site of the little monks." The name stuck -- though it was later shortened to München, and the little monk, or Münichen, remains the symbol of the city of Munich.

Henry the Lion had already had successful experiences in founding trading centers. With this knowledge, he granted Munich the right to mint its own coins and to hold markets, basic tools that any city needed for survival. Tolls from his new bridge, which now funneled the lucrative salt trade across the Isar, went directly into Henry's coffers.

Within a few months, Barbarossa validated the crude but effective actions of his duke, legitimizing the establishment of Munich on June 14, 1158, the date that is commemorated as the official debut of the city. Henry, however, had to accept a price: Barbarossa ordered that a third of all tolls generated by the new bridge be paid to the bishop of Freising, whose bridge Henry had destroyed.


We stopped at the Nymphenburg Palace (which means Nymph's Castle) where the rulers of Bavaria would live during the summers. It was at the beginning of this holiday that we were told the history of the Austrian Empire (covering most of the present day eastern Europe) being ruled by emperors first from the Habsburg dynasty in 1804 for 114 years until 1918 when it broke up at the end of World World 1 into Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia and Czech Republic), Poland and Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro). Meanwhile, Hungary (which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1867 until October 1918), separated from Austria and became a soverign nation. Much of the history of the Austro-Hungarian empire is complex but interesting. If you are interested please pursue your personal research. However one personality that was repeatedly referred by more that one tour guides was the Empress of Austria called Elisabeth (nicknamed Sisi by friends) who was both beautiful and independent. Read more about her life HERE.

End of the city tour we proceeded for Chinese dinner before we leave for Salzburg, Austria to overnight at the Radisson Blu. Was I glad to find a soft bed to lie horizontal after over 30 hours in the air and in the coach.

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