Getting to know Munich

 I admit it: I own a pair of lederhosen and a dirndl. They are buried somewhere in the attic, but I could probably still squeeze into them if I tried. I sing Silent Night in German on Christmas Eve and I even eat cheese for breakfast. But I keep very quiet about all this.
You see, the British can’t do Germany. All that thigh slapping, those plaits and strudels. A bit of Claudia Schiffer is fine but the full-blown Teutonic experience is too much for most Englishmen. They start murmuring about the Luftwaffe and moustaches.
It’s ridiculous really. The British will visit Romania, Austria, Italy, even the Balkans. But they won’t go to Munich. They can’t pretend it is because there are no beaches — they go to Switzerland.
It isn’t the food — Germany has nearly as many Michelin stars as France — or the weather, which is as clement as Italy’s. More than 14 million British tourists went on holiday to Spain last year and 12 million went to France, yet fewer than a million visited Germany.
I am only one-eighth German but I lived in Bonn as a small child, rode my bike down the Rhine and went on exchanges to Cologne, where I visited bombed churches.
So for our 15th wedding anniversary I decided that we would go to Munich. My husband Ed’s reaction was predictable: horror followed by resignation. As we boarded our flight I realised that we were the only British people travelling to Munich.
My husband got out his reading material: a book about Hitler’s haunts, Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich, and Andrew Roberts’s The Storm of War, about the Second World War. What about Caspar David Friedrich, one of his favourite painters? And Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse? He’d read all their books. The southern Germans weren’t all about war; Richard Strauss came from Munich.
Clean streets and fast autobahns
The hotel driver who picked us up was punctual, spoke fluent English and knew where he was going. Residents clean the streets in a rota system called Kehrwoche. Then there were the autobahns. How could I have forgotten? — on long stretches there is no speed limit. Ed was smitten with our hired Mercedes convertible. I had to promise that we could drive to Austria and back to test its paces.
We arrived at our hotel and everyone was courteous and welcoming. They don’t have many British guests, they said, so they felt honoured. Our balcony looked out over the red rooftops and spires. Just to appear gracious my husband even ate a piece of the salami in the room, although he loathes sausages.
Modern art
The seven-year-old Pinakothek der Moderne, the largest museum of modern art in Europe, was a huge success. “They actually do design quite well,” Ed admitted as we looked at rows of chairs, motorbikes and typewriters.
The collection of paintings was staggering: Georges Braque, René Magritte, Max Ernst and Oskar Kokoschka were followed by almost every masterpiece of German Expressionism from Emil Nolde to Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. The gallery was empty.
There were no queues in the shops, either. “I can’t do shopping,” my husband said. “German clothes are horrendous.” We watched two Germans wandering down the street in breeches and loafers. Next came a girl wearing a PVC corset and boots, followed by a matron dressed in a royal blue Escada trouser suit. He had a point.
“Just Prada, please,” I asked. The shop assistants were charming and everything was half price. We still had to go past the beer hall where Hitler gave his first speech and visit the English Garden, where Unity Mitford shot herself for the Führer, but Ed was beginning to forget the war. And we were beginning to enjoy ourselves.
That night I had booked the Tantris, which has two Michelin stars and no black bread or sauerkraut. The restaurant is very orange and 1970s, except the food.
Diners are expected to have at least five courses, but I could only just make it past the lobster medallions on black linguini, the slow-baked tuna with glazed onion, aubergine and capers and the bass with artichoke and sugar-snap peas in a beet emulsion sauce with risotto. I could barely touch the warm coconut soufflé with coconut ice cream and gooseberry and blood orange sauce. But the bill was easy to swallow. Munich is so much cheaper than Mayfair.
The waitresses chatted away to my husband in German, while he nodded mutely. And then it dawned on me: no one thought I was German, but they all thought he was. Ed is actually quite Germanic: he’s very tall and blond. And he loves German wine. The food was utterly extraordinary. “Why haven’t we been here before?” he said.
That night in bed we watched Tom Cruise in Valkyrie trying to blow up Hitler (I still hadn’t weened him off the war theme). Just as the officers were singing the Nazi oath, room service arrived with coffee. The woman looked horrified.
Here was a very German-looking couple sitting in bed watching SS officers striding around in boots issuing oaths. It was great watching my husband issue a grovelling apology in case he had caused any offence and trying to explain that it was a film that demonised Hitler rather than glorified him.
By the next day he had relaxed enough to want to see the German countryside. The car was delivered to our door and after he’d spent half an hour fiddling with the controls we sped towards the Alps and mad King Ludwig’s castles. These were another bone of contention. “Disgusting, childish, Disney affairs,” Ed said.
But our eldest son is called Ludovic, I love the castle scenes in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I remember visiting Neuschwanstein as a child and being enchanted by its turrets. “Typical,” Ed said, “we have one weekend away from our children and you want to spend it pretending to be a princess in a fairytale scene.”
But as we tore past gushing streams, chalets and cows he began to calm down. By the time we had seen all three of King Ludwig’s countryside castles, we decided we would have to come back with the children