Munich, the capital of Bavaria, lies in a valley close to the Austrian alps. Bavaria is the most southerly of the German states: a land of castles, churches, lakes and mountains. Its museums contain objects from the past; its art galleries paintings and sculptures created through the ages. The living beauty of nature is seen in its parks and countryside against the ever-changing canvas of the sky above.
In 15 BC recruits and camp followers from the Roman armies sweeping through Europe settled in Bavaria. They included tall blonde Saxons, short dark Gauls and people from the Latin tribes of Italy. These types, with temperaments ranging from stolid to volatile, still exist in the Bavarian people. A later migration into the area, mainly of the Bajuwarii or Bavarii from Bohemia, gave Bavaria its name.
In 1158, the Duke of Bavaria, Heinrich der Löwe (Lion), demanded the destruction of a bridge over the river Isar at Oberföhring and its replacement by a new bridge at Ludwigsbrücke. This meant that he, instead of the Bishop of Freising, would be able to levy tolls on the traders travelling from the salt mines at Bad Reichenhall and Hallein to Augsburg. Later that year the currency of Freising was also moved to the area and the new bridge was opened. The small settlement nearby was named Apud Munichen or Munichen (amongst the monks), after the Benedictine monastery at its centre, which preceded Munich’s oldest Church, the Alter Peter (dating from the 12th century).
Walls once bounded the old city of Munich. Its limits are now marked by the gates of Karlstor (also called Stachus), Sendlinger Tor, Isartor and Odeonsplatz. It is best viewed it from the tower of the Alter Peter church.
Another vantage point for viewing the city is the Rathausturm, part of the Neues Rathaus (new Town Hall). Beneath the Town Hall clock, two sets of figures on two levels dance at 11 am and 5 pm every day. The upper figures depict a tournament from the wedding celebrations of Wilhelm V and Renata von Lothringen; below this you see the dance of the barrel-makers.
Nearby, the Altes Rathaus (old Town Hall) was built in 1480. It was destroyed in the Second World War and restored in 1975. It now houses the Toy Museum.
The Victualienmarkt, on the right of the Toy Museum, is a large food market. You can sample Weisswurst (white veal sausage) with yellow mustard and also Leberkäs (a meat loaf mixture of ox meat, pork, bacon, onions and herbs, eaten in a bread roll).
Opposite the Viktualienmarkt is a network of streets leading to the Hofbräuhaus on a small square, Am Platzl. This started as a brewery in 1589 and became a public drinking place in 1830. The customers, mostly tourists, sit at long wooden tables while waitresses in Bavarian dress serve them with beer in one litre mugs (a Mass) or Spezi, a mixture of coca-cola and orange juice. Food is also available.
Near Isartor is the ZAM (Centre of Unusual Museums). Its exhibits include the Bourdalou, similar to a sauce boat in shape. Ladies at the court of Louis XIV were so fascinated by the long sermons of the Jesuit priest Father Bourdalou that they used this in order to avoid having to go out to relieve themselves. (It's now a greater relief that times have changed!)
Between Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz is the former palace of the Bavarian rulers. This now houses several museums, including the Residenzmuseum (porcelain and silver), Schatzkammer (gold and jewellery) and the Staatliche Münzsammlung (coins). The front of the palace facing the Hofgarten (palace garden) contains a collection of Egyptian art.
Between Marienplatz and Sendlinger Tor is Sendlinger Strasse, a narrow street with many old buildings including the Asamkirche, a church notable for its rococo architecture. There are also boutiques, bookshops and the newspaper offices of the 'Abendzeitung' and the 'Süddeutsche Zeitung'.
The Fussgängerzone (pedestrian area) between Marienplatz and Karlstor (Stachus) is Munich’s main shopping centre. Sandwiched between shops and department stores or just nearby are the following:
Many museums and art galleries offer free admission on Sundays. You can combine visits to these and other places of interest with tram rides and thus see more of Munich.
Take the 17 tram (Amalienburg) from Sendlinger Tor to Schloss Nymphenburg, the former summer residence of Ludwig I. The castle is noted for its painted ceilings and Gallery of Beauties, paintings of women commissioned by Ludwig I. Admission is free to the park with its formal gardens and woods concealing the summer pavilions of the Amalienburg, Badenburg and Pagodenburg. The Botanical Gardens lie next to the park and the Museum of Man and Nature is to the right of Schloss Nymphenburg.
The 27 tram from Karlsplatz (Stachus) brings you to three art galleries on Barer Strasse: the Alte Pinakothek with paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries, the Neue Pinakothek with paintings from the late 18th to early 20th centuries and the Pinakothek der Moderne housing 20th and 21st century art and designs.
The 17 tram (Effnerplatz) goes near Prinzregentenstrasse, on which are the Haus der Kunst (House of Art), Bayerisches Nationalmuseum and Schack-Galerie. Nearby is the Archäologische Staatssammlung on Lerchenfeldstrasse, with its collection of archaeological findings in Bavaria, spanning over 20,000 years.
The Lenbachhaus at Luisenstrasse 33 is a Tuscan villa built for the 19th century Munich artist Franz von Lenbach. It houses works by 19th century Munich artists and artists of the “Blaue Reiter” school, particularly Vassili Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter.
The Deutsches Museum, Museuminsel 1, has displays of machines and technological developments through the ages.
The Deutsches Stadtmuseum, Jakobsplatz 1, has musical instruments, puppets, furniture and fashion.
The Englischer Garten is Germany’s largest inner-city park and one of the first landscaped gardens. It was designed by Benjamin Thompson, an American, who later became Graf Rumford. From Münchener Freiheit enter the park near Kleinhesseloher Lake, walk past the Seehaus Café , restaurant and beer garden, along a stream and across the road to the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower).
Go past a hill with a domed building on top, the Monopteros, and exit the park near the Hofgarten.
Olympiapark is the site of the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. From Olympiazentrum go to the Olympic Tower for aerial views. The nearby BMW Museum at Petuelring 30 has displays of plane engines, motor bikes, cars and futuristic technological developments.
Walk around the lake and climb the Olympiaberg, a hill built of rubble from buildings bombed during the Second World War. Descend the hill towards the exit on the other side. Turn left at the main road towards Hohenzollernplatz (U-Bahn).
Consider taking a day trip bargain from Munich Public Transport (MVV) with a ticket for up to 5 people to either the lakes at Starnberg (Starnberger See) and Herrsching (Ammersee), plus unlimited cruises on both lakes or Bavaria Filmstadt (Studio City) - extra for admission. The Studio City is the setting for many popular German film and TV series.
Individual tickets are also available for MVV travel plus 4 hours in the Therme Erding, Thermenallee 1. This tropical paradise has a jacuzzi, well of youth, steam bath and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. (Note: Nordbad at Schleissheimer Strasse 142 near Hohenzollernplatz offers a scaled down version of Therme Erding.)
Day trips by the Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) railway include:
Then, of course, there are festivals. During the four weeks up to Christmas there is a Christkindlmarkt in and around Marienplatz with stalls selling Christmas decorations, handicrafts and Glühwein (spiced red wine).
Fasching, is a carnival from about mid-January to Ash Wednesday.
The Munich Oktoberfest lasts from mid-September to the end of the first week in October and is held on the Theresienwiese. It started in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig, later Ludwig I, married Princess Therese Charlotte Louise von Sachsen. The subsequent wedding celebrations lasted five days and concluded with horse racing on a field outside the city, later named Theresienwiese in honour of the bride.
These horse races were dropped before the First World War. After the Second World War the American occupying forces banned beer brewing, saying that all available barley was needed for bread. Politicians from all parties protested in vain that beer was an integral part of the Bavarian diet.
On the first Saturday of the Oktoberfest a procession goes through the city to the Theresienwiese. There are horse-drawn carts decorated with flowers and greenery carrying barrels of Oktoberfestbier, lorries with waitresses in Bavarian costume brandishing beer mugs and open coaches for the landlords of the beer tents and their families. The procession is led by the Münchener Kindl, a girl on a horse, followed by the Mayor of Munich and Minister President of Bavaria in a coach.
At midday the Mayor of Munich taps the first cask of beer of that year’s Oktoberfest and speaks the traditional opening words, “Ozapft is!”
The following day there is another procession to the Theresienwiese. This is of people in national costumes from every German state and many European countries.
A bronze statue of the goddess Bavaria presides over the festivities from a hill overlooking the Theresienwiese.
Stalls selling food, drink and souvenirs line the paths to the beer tents. A giant Ferris wheel and a helter-skelter dominate the funfair. The beer tents are open from 11 am to 11 pm and the staff work 12-hour shifts. Seats are reserved months in advance for 4-hour slots. However, the staff may find you somewhere to sit, particularly during a weekday. A band plays in the beer tent. At times the men break off, raise their beer mugs and call, “Oans, zwoa, g’suffa” (“One, two and drink it down”). Raise your mug with them and drink a toast to the Oktoberfest.
Information on hotels and what to see and do in Munich is available at the Tourist Information Office in Marienplatz. (See their website link below).
The Kunden-Service-Center (Customer Service Centre) beneath Marienplatz provides information on all-day, 3-day and 7-day tickets for travel on Munich public transport (MVV), which covers the underground (U- and S-Bahn), trams and buses. (Note: Partner tickets cover travel for up to 5 people and a dog. Many tourist attractions are in zones 1 and 2.)
Before starting your journey, punch your ticket in one of the blue ticket machines on the underground stations or in trams or buses.
The Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) offers day trips further afield. Tickets are obtainable at the BOB counter at the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) and should be punched before starting the journey.
When travelling from the airport to the city centre by underground, you need 10 and 20 euro notes to buy an all-day single or partner ticket for the Gesamtnetz (all zones), which is valid until 6 am the following day.
As you can see, there is much to do about Munich - whatever your temperament.