James Ottery gets under the skin of Munich, a city of two halves
There are two Munichs. On the one hand there’s the beer-sloshing heartland of traditional Bavaria, where dirndls (traditional dresses) and sausages fill the postcards and fairytale spires ornament the skyline.
On the other there’s Munich the economic powerhouse, a thrusting city full of gleaming towers and glittering car showrooms.
The locals call this dual identity ‘laptops and lederhosen’, and witnessing how the city’s different personalities coexist can be richly enjoyable for visitors.
Its history delights at times and disturbs at others – the wealthy Wittelsbach dynasty spared little architectural expense when shaping their capital, while on a more inglorious level the city also gave birth to the Nazi movement – but Munich itself is never less than fascinating.
And crucially, you don’t need to visit during Oktoberfest or the Christmas Markets to get a sense of being somewhere special.
11.00: Begin the day with a view from on high. Climb to the top of the tower of Munich’s oldest church, the 14th-century St Peter’s, from where the city’s grandest buildings and, on a clear day, its outlying mountains spread out in picturesque formation.
Take a good look at the gothic drama of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), a building that took more than 40 years to construct. On descending, wander around the adjacent Viktualienmarkt, an open air food market complete with bratwurst stalls, decadent cheeses and a seemingly limitless supply of peckish locals.
14.00: Following lunch, head to the eye-opening Münchner Stadtmuseum to learn something of the city’s multi-layered history.
The museum’s various buildings take you through the legacy of the medieval age and the forming of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Bavaria to the effects of Hitler’s Third Reich and the trials of the Cold war (Munich was the “secret capital” of West Germany when the Berlin Wall was in place).
Take time too to visit two notable attractions: the strikingly designed Hauptsynagogue, a poignant replacement for the synagogue destroyed here in 1938; and the unmistakable brick-encased bulk of Frauenkirche, the 500-year-old church whose twin towers are something of an unofficial city emblem.
16.00: Bavaria’s famous Wittelsbach dynasty held sway over the region from Munich for well over 700 years. The sprawling, magnificent Rezidenz in the city centre acted as their royal palace for much of that time, and has been well preserved despite sustaining damage in the Second World War. Highlights include a beautifully ornate theatre, a near-priceless art collection and the decidedly bling Palace Treasury.
20.00: Munich remains synonymous with its bierkeller culture. The Hofbrauhaus might be the most famous of the beer halls, but there’s just as much in the way of atmosphere (and arguably a nicer tipple) offered by the Augustiner Brewery’s outlets.
Tuck into a heartily Bavarian meal at the Augustiner am Dom restaurant – roasted pig’s trotter, anyone? – before walking a short distance up Neuhauser Street to the cavernous Augustiner Grossgaststätten, where litre tankards, pigtailed waitresses and wood panelling are the order of the day.
11.00: BMW is one of the key brands behind Munich’s corporate success story, and you can marvel at precisely how much the car maker has embraced technology with a visit to the remarkable BMW Welt.
Part-museum, part-showroom, the über-modern complex displays vehicles through the ages, and even gives the chance to take a tour, in English, of the construction plant (Mondays to Fridays only).
On the doorstep of BMW Welt, meanwhile, join a guided walk of the Olympiapark, venue for the 1972 Summer Olympics. As well as the legendary exploits of competitors like Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut, the Games are remembered for the tragic deaths of eleven Israeli athletes – the Olympic Village apartment in which they were held hostage still stands nearby.
14.00: Back towards town, visit the excellent Pinakothek der Moderne, a vast contemporary art gallery as notable for its sweeping, elevated design as for its eyebrow-raising collection, which includes works by Kandinsky, Picasso and Andy Warhol. And if you’re feeling particularly culture-hungry, located just a stroll away are Munich’s two other major galleries – the Alte Pinakothek, home of some great Old Masters, and the Neue Pinakothek, good for 19th-century European art.
16.00: Close by, the Englischer Garten is one of the largest urban parks on the continent and offers a pleasant diversion from the city proper – keep a look out for the landmark Chinese Tower, modelled on a pagoda in Kew Gardens. After a walk, galvanise yourself with coffee and cake at the Café Luitpold near Odeonsplatz, a hangout for artists and writers since 1888.
19.00: Music and Munich go hand in hand, with orchestras, opera houses and ballets to woo visitors year-round. The colonnaded National Theatre is home to both the state opera and the state ballet, making it a great option for evening events – tickets can be purchased online through the theatre’s website.
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