By Joshua Danton Boyd is a copywriter for the online accountants Crunch
Situated around 350 miles away from each other, these two German cities go a long way in representing Deutschland’s two identities: one of dirndls and beerhalls and the other of underground clubs and techno music.
In the south of the country, in Bavaria, sits Munich. It’s nearly a third of the size of its northern counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hold it’s own against the capital. It’s got a lot going for it.
The starkest difference is its more traditional look and atmosphere. While things aren’t slow, they’re certainly not as hectic as in Berlin. While it’s still bustling, there’s a lesser sense of urgency, which dissipates completely as you move away from the centre. By the time you reach Hofgarten, a ten minute walk from the main square Marienplatz, you feel like a member of the idle rich strolling around their grounds without a single care in the world.
Head north for another ten minutes and you enter the Englischer Garten: a park even bigger than New York’s Central Park. Inside you have a river and a small lake, a Japanese tea house and Chinese tower, an artificial wave you can surf on, and there’s even an area for nude sunbathing if you want to go really German.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Munich is in Bavaria, which has its own unique traditions and culture. To many, the outfit of lederhosen, dirndls and feathered trilbys are typically German clothes, but this isn’t strictly true. They in fact belong to Bavaria and it’s not uncommon around festival time to see people wearing them, both young and old.
Another strong aspect of Bavarian culture is food and drink. Munich is, of course, famous for Oktoberfest, but just one festival involving rivers of beer would be a poor showing. Albeit smaller, you still get locals flooding into the beer tents for things like Fruhlingsfest (Spring Festival) and Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival). There are few things more enjoyable than dancing on tables with drunken Bavarians wearing Tracht.
Finally, one of the greatest aspects of Munich – and something Berlin can never rival – is the Alps located just a short train journey away (with that journey being enjoyable in itself). Just south of the city you have one of the best mountain ranges on the continent along with incredible forests, lakes and castles like Neuschwanstein.
The stereotypical traditional Germany is felt strongest here as you wander through small Bavarian towns, hike over mountains, stare across frozen lakes and eat some of the best food and drink in the country. It’s something Berlin can never give you.
That’s not to write Berlin off, of course. It’s one of the most famous cities in the world and for good reason. It also has a reputation as being one of the top clubbing cities on the planet. The city is steeped in the history of techno and people travel from all over the world just to dance and party. Munich may have its own clubs and beerhalls, but it would be hard to argue they can win out over Berlin if you’re craving all-nighters and crawling back to your hotel at 6am for an entire week.
In the most basic sense, Berlin is ‘cooler’ than Munich. Obviously that’s pretty subjective, but the city is more modern and filled to the brim with hipsters. Lederhosen has been replaced with skinny jeans and the traditional pub replaced with indie bars.
Take Schönhauser Allee, for example. The surrounding area itself is popular with artists, but you have the 50s rock and roll punk themed burger joint White Trash Fast Food directly opposite the 8mm Bar, which plays indie and electro music with projections while the singer of the Brian Jonestown Massacre lives upstairs. Berlin is a magnet for this kind of stuff.
But what if all that doesn’t interest you? What if clubbing and discussions about obscure bands bores the hell out of you? Obviously the capital has other strengths that lie elsewhere. In general, there’s a more frenetic energy that you feel as soon as you step out onto its streets. This exhilarating mixture of rushing business types, chattering restaurants and people heading out for the night might sound like London, but it’s far from it.
In the end though, it’s impossible to talk about Berlin without any mention of its history. The experience of wandering through the city’s Holocaust Memorial is sobering to say the least, especially when you realise Hitler’s bunker sits a short walk away.
The Cold War also had a profound effect when it split Berlin in two. Remnants of Checkpoint Charlie, a Berlin Wall crossing, still sit on Friedrichstraße reminding you that the free movement you’re enjoying while wandering didn’t even exist 15 years ago. A walk down Karl-Marx-Allee shows how different the two sides of the city became, with the eerie feeling that you’ve stumbled into Russia by mistake.
All in all, Berlin offers you some of the most intense clubs in Europe along with some of its most intense history too. Just like Germany, it has its two sides.
So, which destination should you choose for your next holiday? The ideal outcome has to be both – on the German ICE train, Berlin and Munich are only 6 hours from each other, so even if you’re only in the country for a week it’s possible. That way you can make up your own mind on which city wins out.