The jewel in Bavaria’s glittering crown, Munich is the mother of Germany’s Medieval cities. Sitting snugly at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, Munich sets itself apart from Germany’s other major cities by managing to be something of an oxymoron: an international, sophisticated village. Munich blends its well-groomed, stately elegance and obvious wealth with pockets of kitsch that do little to dispel the image of a well fed, jolly Bavarian tucking into a plump knuckle of pork. It’s an endearing combination and one that sets the tone for the kind of experience Munich offers – old school glamour meets proud tradition.
Routinely named as one of the world’s most liveable cities, Munich is a study in prosperity, offering a high standard of living, some of the lowest crime and unemployment rates in the country, world class science and research centres, universities, a slew of top notch restaurants and serious retail therapy. But it hasn’t always been such smooth sailing. WW1 saw severe food shortages and deep political unrest and allied bombing during WWII all but decimated the city centre. Munich painstakingly rebuilt itself and today, strolling through the magnificent Marienplatz, site of both the Old and New Town Halls and the Palace of Justice, browsing through the luxury fashion boutiques on Maximilianstrasse or visiting the Gothic Frauenkirche, there is little trace of last century’s volatility.
Oktoberfest inevitably draws enormous crowds, year after year, many donning traditional Bavarian dress and paying more than 9€ for a litre of beer. If that floats your boat, go for it, but be prepared for serious crowds of seriously drunk tourists. If beer-wielding, dirndl-wearing Mädchen aren’t your thingand you’re after a quieter, more authentic taste of the city,you may want to consider a different time of year to visit. Germany in the Spring time is truly a sight to behold. In Munich, the Englischer Garten blooms and all throughout the city, cafes’ patrons spill onto side-walks, their chairs and tables positioned to face the sun, as Munich shrugs off its chilly, sub-zero Winter.
Three things you won’t leave Munich without getting acquainted with are their beloved Bayern Munich football club, seriously good beer – notably Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu – and Weißwurst (white sausages) with sweet mustard. Simple, hearty food forms an important part of Munich’s culture and tucking into a Schweinehaxe, with a stein of locally brewed beer in a cosy Bavarian beer hall is about as close to this city’s heart as you can get.
And something you may notice, should you break Brezel (a pretzel) with a Münchener, is a certain mentality. Determined to set themselves apart from the rest of Germany, Bavarians (and their various sub-cultures) take enormous pride in their differing dialects and traditions. Müncheners are no different. Fiercely proud of hailing from Bavaria’s capital, no one is less surprised by the city’s elegance and prosperity than Müncheners themselves. Of course Munich is one of the most liveable cities in the world … it’s Munich. So feel free to sing the city’s praises to the locals, they’ll happily join in; but unless you want to fan the flames of ongoing regional rivalry, just don’t bring it up with the other 83 million Germans who have a bit of a bee in their bonnet about Munich’s awareness of its own – albeit absolute – greatness.
In recent years, Munich has flourished, shedding its reputation as Germany’s conservative capital and emerging as a one of its most popular and likeable cities. While Berlin has its edge and restless energy, Cologne its openness and love of a good party, Munich has its own vibe that is equal parts worldly and quaint. Blending history and glamour with ease, Munich’s stunning historical buildings sit side by side stretches of luxury shopping and traditional breweries brimming with beer drinkers.
Whereas once much of Munich’s pulling power stemmed from its historical Altstadt, proximity to the Alps and Oktoberfest, nowadays the city boasts buzzing neighbourhoods that stand alone as worthy destinations. Whether its the rolling green gardens of a royal palace, an afternoon of art, or a cold beer at any of the traditional breweries, Munich, with is German hospitality, has a little bit of everything on offer. This ‘world village’ has more than come into its own.
A History Lesson … Centre/Altstadt
If it’s your first time in Munich, its beautiful Altstadt is the best place to start. All roads lead to Marienplatz, which has been the pulsing heart of central Munich since the Middle Ages. Here the crowds bustle and the coffee isn’t cheap, but if you can grab a table at one of the several cafes jostling for space, the view will afford you some truly excellent people watching. Marienplatz is hemmed in by some of the city’s most impressive buildings, including the Neues Rathaus which has housed the city government since 1874 – be sure to catch the glockenspiel’s famous daily performances at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. Also calling Marienplatz its home is Mariensäule (Mary’s Column) built in 1638 in celebration of the Swedish occupation during the Thirty Years War.
Nearby Marienplatz, stands one of Munich’s most important symbols, the magnificent Frauenkirche. Work began on the late-Gothic church in 1468 and, thanks to financial problems, wasn’t completed until 1525. During WWII, severe damage was wrought upon the roof and one of the towers. Restoration was finally completed in 1994, over five hundred years after work first began.
Before you sit down for an ice cold Augustiner beer, it’s worthwhile paying a visit to the Munich Residenz (Münchner Residenz) the largest city palace in Germany and the very one Bavarian monarchs used to call home. With construction beginning in the late 1300s with work continuing into the 1800s, nowadays it acts as a museum with 130 rooms open to visitors keen on seeing royal collections, interior designs and the fascinating architectural amalgamation of late Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Classicism styles.
Thirsty now? Head to the 400 year old Hofbräuhaus, one of Munich’s most famous breweries which could tell a few tales if only its walls could talk (it is, after all, just around the corner from Mozart’s former abode). Once your thirst has been quenched, you can head to Munich’s high-end shopping street, Maximilanstraße. But after a couple of steins of Hofbräuhaus beer, perhaps it would be best to have someone hold onto your credit card for you.
A Cultural Experience … Schwabing and Maxvorstadt
North of the Altstadt and West of the Englischer Garten, lie Munich’s areas of academia and culture, Schwabing and Maxvorstadt respectively. If you are after galleries and museums through which to spend afternoons wandering, book stores to browse, cafes to kick back in and the vast expanse of calming green the Englischer Garten offers, then this is your neighbourhood. You may want to pack your surfboard – the Englischer Garten offers the unique experience of ‘urban surfing’ which is as interesting to watch as it is to try.
Schwabing boasts Ludwig Maxamillion University, giving this area both its stately academic vibe and youthful energy. Before Maxvorstadt took its crown, Schwabing was the artist’s district, attracting painters, writers, musicians and actors in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Now students and young families fill the cafes and shop in the boutiques on Hohenzollernstrasse and the tree lined Leopoldstraße. And it isn’t just trees that line the latter, bars and restaurants do too. If your visit coincides with a Bayern FC match and they just happen to win, this is where you’ll find the revelry.
Picking up where Schwabing left off, Maxvorstadt, the ‘artistic quarter’, is home to Munich’s key museums and galleries. For an afternoon of art, head to Barer Strasse where you’ll find the Old Gallery (Alte Pinakothek), the New Gallery (Neue Pinakothek) and the Pinakothek der Moderne (Munich Museum of Modern Art). Or just hang with Maxvorstadt’s young crowd at any of the pubs and cocktail bars on offer.
Hip and Happening … Haidhausen & Isavorstadt
On opposite sides of the Isar River lie Munich’s up and coming neighbourhoods, Haidhausen and Isavorstadt. The current ‘in’ city, Isavorstadt is the residence of choice for Müncheners in the know, who haunt the numerous cafes, pubs, cool boutiques and cocktail lounge bars. Multicultural, the home of Munich’s gay and lesbian scene and where the magic of Munich’s theatre happens, Isavorstadt pulses with its own brand of fun, welcoming energy. If it’s a break from classic Munich that you’re after and a breath of fresh air, then this is where you need to be.
Across the Isar River, you’ll find Haidhausen, where trendiness has sprung from economic disaster. After all looked lost for Haidhausen in the 1970s, it was renovated and became the place to be with its chic ‘French Quarter’ around Pariser Platz. Gems popped up – like the German Museum, the world’s largest of its kind and the Gasteig, a cultural centre housing the public library and the Richard-Strauss-academy of music and the philharmonics – as well as a vibrant theatre and cabaret scene, turning Haidhausen into Munich’s cultural centre. With all of this happening, it stands to reason Haidhausen is also where you’ll find most of Munich’s party lovers. The area around the Ostbahnhof, known as Kultfabrik, is riddled with bars and discotheques and where you’ll want to head if a big night out is on the cards.
For a Change of Pace … Neuhausen & Nymphenburg
Perhaps, by now, you’re after a change of pace, something a little more relaxed. Perhaps the world’s largest beer garden is calling, or the calming greens of palace gardens. If that’s the case, go west, life is peaceful there. Nymphenburg boasts the beautiful Schloss Nymphenburg, commissioned in the 1600s, and its enormous Baroque gardens that stretch across 200 hectares. At the end of the Nymphenburger canal, look for a small bridge called Gerner Brücke. If it is warm day, you’ll find young locals enjoying a beer and catching the sunset.
Neuhausen is a little less grand and made up mostly of students and artists (who aren’t hanging out in Maxvorstadt). But it has wonderful shopping around Rotkreuzplatz for bargain and boutique lovers who are after something a little bit different. Also in the area is a locally beloved ice cream shop by the name of Sarcletti. Perhaps you can have a quick pit stop there before continuing on to enjoy a beer in the world’s largest beer garden, The Hirschgarten.