Munich — The Sophisticated Village
Photo courtesy of Heribert Pohl
In many ways, Munich, situated at the southern end of the Romantic Road, remains a sophisticated village of over a million people. Most people associate Germany's third-largest city with beer drinking. And so they should. It's probably got more beer halls than any other city in the country, plus it draws thousands of people to its famous annual celebration, Oktoberfest. But the city has so much more to offer.
Over 800 years ago, Duke Henry the Lion constructed a bridge across the Isar River for the transport of salt shipments from the mines in Bad Reichenhall to Augsburg. Munich, the town that grew up around the bridge, took its name from the occupants of a nearby monastery. Originally called Monchenem> (Little Monk), a child-like monk, the Munchener Kindl, is to this day a symbol of the city.
It wasn't until the 19th century that Munich, under the reign of Ludwig I and Ludwig II, acquired a reputation as a center for the arts and sciences. Much of this was due to ambitious and flamboyant architectural projects, but the city and its schools also attracted leading scientists, artists and writers.
Unfortunately, many visitors aline the city in particular and Bavaria in general with the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. It was here in late 1919, that Hitler joined an obscure political party called the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei which became the nucleus of the Nazi movement. It was also here, in November 1923, that he, in a first attempt to win political power, staged his so-called "Beer Hall Putsch" and proclaimed a "national revolution" for which the courts sent him to prison for high treason.
Visitors come from around the world to Marienplatz, the city's largest square, to watch the glockenspiel on the Rathaus (City Hall) clock as figures dance across its facade three or four times daily. In stark contrast are the ultra modern buildings of Bayerische Motorenwerke (BMW) and the nearby Olympic Village. If you want to learn more, you need to visit the German Museum. Its collections range from a recreated salt mine to a German U-Boat and the world's first operational Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter of 1944.
The city center contains many of Munich's most notable sights, including the two Pinakothek Modern Art Museum, the Schrannenhalle, an old grain market filled with delicatessens and food stalls, and the traditional beer halls. The Hofbrauhaus, the most famous, loudest, and most touristy of the city's beer halls, attracts crowds every day of the week. But for a taste of Munich life, join the locals at the quieter and more conservative Augustiner Keller or the Ratskellerin in the Rathaus basement. Not only is the beer good, but the food is, also.
Although much of Munich has been rebuilt since World War II, there's still much to see and do.