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July 2005

Leading the Way

How to become a Munich tour guide

There’s little doubt about it: Bavaria’s capital is a fascinating city. Did you know, for example, that Munich’s airport is home to the world’s first public hydrogen fuel station? Or that the Radler was “invented” one sunny day in 1922, when 13,000 cyclists headed to the Kugler Alm beer garden in Oberhaching? Landlord Franz Kugler was concerned that he didn’t have enough beer to go round, so craftily diluted supplies with lemonade. Were you aware that the elevated corner of the Augustiner beer garden on Arnulfstrasse was Munich’s public execution ground? Or that the city’s gasworks were used as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in the popular film of the same name? But why just keep these anecdotes to yourself? If you’re the sort of person fascinated by history and trivia, as an expat, you’re in the perfect position to earn a bit of money with your passion, by joining Munich’s band of 220 official tour guides.

You must have seen them—the smiling men and women who lead groups of visitors around Munich on foot or by bus. The guides conduct about 25 tours a year, which tend to last two to three hours, but can extend to eight hours at a stretch. Their busiest months of the year are May, June, September and October.

The guides have become qualified via courses run by Munich’s Tourist Information Center. With roughly 20 to 25 people, each course is held, in German, every three to four years, between January and April, at a cost of around € 1,000. A historian teaches trainees about the history of Bavaria and Munich from 1158, when the city was founded, up to the present day. The course also touches on the history of Germany and Europe.

According to Claudia Weidenkopf, who is responsible for the training, the job attracts a variety of people, though surprisingly few students, as the Tourist Center is seeking people interested in doing the job for the long term and not just as a short-term money earner. Tour guides work on a freelance basis and tend to use the job to supplement their existing income. “It is not enough to live off,” says Weidenkopf.

Obviously tour guides need to know the city inside and out. They are given detailed tours of Munich’s museums, historical buildings and art galleries, including the Pinakotheks and the Opera. “They need to know enough to be able to answer all kinds of questions,” says Weidenkopf.

It is important for tour guides to be able to speak confidently in front of a crowd of strangers. “There are art historians who know a lot about their chosen field but who aren’t used to interacting with groups,” says Weidenkopf. Would-be tour guides take turns to conduct practice bus tours in front of the rest of the group.

Personality-wise, tour guides should be very open and friendly, says Weidenkopf. Above all, they need to be flexible and willing to adapt to the different needs of various groups. Guides often don’t know who is attending their tour until the moment it starts. “One day you might have a group of 16-year-old school children, who might not be very interested in the history of the city,” she says. “In this case, guides should be able to tell them about the modern side of Munich and show them where the Kunstpark Ost party area is. The following day, you might be taking a group of middle-aged women, who have completely different interests. Alternatively, you could be leading a tour of people who are in Munich for a convention or conference. Another time, it could be an art group.”

The guides also need to make a good impression on visitors. The Tourist Center views the guides as the city’s “diplomats” or “representatives.” “Some groups are just making a quick stop in Munich on their way to Italy or somewhere else and the tour guide is the first contact they have with the city,” says Weidenkopf.

All people taking part in the course need to show proof of having completed a viable first-aid course and, in order to qualify for the job, they need to pass a written, spoken and practical examination. The written exam comprises a list of multiple-choice questions, such as “Which cities are twinned with Munich?” or “When did the Oktoberfest start and why?” says Weidenkopf. The spoken exam tends to focus on the examinees’ weaker areas of knowledge. “If someone knows a lot about art, then I would tend to ask them about the Allianz Arena instead” says Weidenkopf.

For the practical test, trainee tour guides need to carry out a dummy bus tour and conduct the tour in any language they intend to use on the job. “The tour guides have to be fluent in other languages,” says Weidenkopf. “They need to know technical terms and special expressions to talk about art, for example.” Anyone know the Japanese for Jugendstil?

For more information on becoming a guide or to book a tour, contact Claudia Weidenkopf at the Munich Tourist Information Center, Sendlinger Strasse 1, Tel. 23 33 02 31, Fax 303 37.

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