I place Munich’s grandest park on a scale to New York’s Central Park for variety, or one of London’s large royal parks for landscape. But this is only as reference. I prefer Englischer Garten’s depth of beauty to any city park in Europe or America. What can I say? I’m a romantic! And we romies seek beauty in our surroundings to make life come into focus.
One pathway crossroads to the next, from open field to rushing stream, footbridges with filigree iron railings, distant buildings jutting towers and spires above the tree lines, flower trees around reflecting ponds, and even a Chinese tower in the center of a beer garden, Munich has created a masterpiece of sight, sound, color, and imagery. That’s a lot to get from a park—but not a lot to ask of such a huge space, though. Its British designer, Sir Benjamin Thompson, had worked for the Bavarian government for most of his life, and knew this area of Munich well. Thompson also knew Bavarians’ love of outdoors, swimming, bicycling, sunning, eating, playing, drinking, walking…in all, whatever form of life gives them pleasure. It’s all here.
Munich’s Englischer Garten lies just beyond the motorway ring surrounding the city’s Old Town, an ideal range from all tourist sites. Residential neighborhoods surround this uber-park, so once you’ve entered, urban noise ceases to exist for that time. The park averages more than 300 meters in width and stretches one kilometer along its main southern section.
When you enter the park from the south, closest to Old Town’s touristy Odeonsplatz and Marienplatz, you’ll find this narrow inlet—crushed stone pathway beside a fast-running stream—belies the depth and breadth of what’s to come. Suddenly you round a small pond with a Japanese teahouse on an island. Here the trees part to give an enormous view of the park across wide, deep fields. Yeah, it’s a real “Wow!” moment, even if you’re used to large parks. You feel an urge to get naked and run freely. (Actually, nude sunbathing is allowed in parts of Englischer Garten…and on a hot summer’s day you will see some fleshy bits frolicking far from the pathways.) From this point you can follow one of several paths that lead a winding stroll, jog, or pedal-power through the park. A welcome touch to the park’s design is the space given between paths. Through the fields or forests, you enjoy the sense of exposure to the natural environment.
I found fewer benches in Englischer Garten along its pathways or beside its waters, but I think this says more about how the park is intended for use. The park is about movement—jogging, walking, bicycling—and when you want to stop, there is soft grass to plant yourself, or, better yet, find a bench at one of the beer gardens.
The park has two sports complexes—baseball/softball diamonds, soccer fields, sand volleyball, basketball, tennis—set behind trees on the east side, one at the far south entrance, the other up north. Munchen’s love their sports, and these recreation spots are great for kids and teens. A children’s playground adjoins the sports facilities. Safety, cleanliness, and respect for the property all seem at a premium. The sports complexes are good spots to find toilet facilities in the park, as most parts are otherwise open field or forest.
Four streams flow through Englischer Garten. They are narrow, swift-running waterways that don’t accept boats. However, hot days find kids and adults using the clear waters to cool off. The paths intersect with the streams, the streams with the fields and forests, and footbridges bring them all together to make a very special kind of beauty whatever the weather, through all seasons. I love the light that filters through the willowy trees and hits the path in such a striking angle just at the mouth of a bridge. This is a painter’s paradise, a poet’s dreamscape.
All paths seem to blend towards the center of the park, where the huge Biergarten awaits your thirst and hunger (year-round service). Hot and cold Bavarian specialties—knockwurst, pig’s knuckle, sauerkraut, sausages—lead you along the line toward the beer taps. Yes, this is the Germany you know and expect to find: big beer steins, men dressed in lederhosen, traditional Tyrolean hats, German crooners shoulder-to- shoulder singing in tenor and baritone. I’m talking about a park here, right? Well, this is Bavaria!
When you leave the Biergarten, veer left or right along a path. You’re now into some of the forested sections of the park. At any point where you can cross a footbridge you’ll find out-of-the-way (“off-the-beaten-path”?) spots for sunbathing, shade, reading, kissing, or a picnic. Cross through the trees on a rugged path for a forest walk. Find a path that leads away. Wherever you turn, this is a good strolling section of Englischer Garten, especially to work off that lunch or beer buzz.
A highlight to the park is its huge lake where you can rent a paddleboat for some easy cruising, floating, and more kissing. (Say what you want about so-called German stiffness, but I saw plenty of middle-aged couples and seniors getting frisky in the park.) The Kleinhesseloher See has a circumnavigating path, lots of overhanging trees, soft grass banks for lazy lounging, and…yes…the park’s second beer garden. The Neues Seehaus has tables beneath shade trees for the beer and cafeteria crowd, or a restaurant for the languid loungers ready to take a load off their feet. Whichever suits you, the people watching is fabulous, the boats on the water make you dreamy, and time seems to float away.
(read more about Englischer Garten’s highlights here)