Georges Rouzeau - 2006-09-15
Very pleasant, opulent and dynamic, Munich cultivates well-being with nonchalance, between tradition and modernity. Here are ten reasons to visit the capital of Bavaria during the beer festival (Oktoberfest).
On the same pavement stand a strapping moustachioed man dressed in traditional Bavarian costume and a ditzy blond scantily clad in Prada, who has just stepped out of her BMW Z4 cabriolet. Such is the charm of Munich, where opulence and well-being, traditions and modernity joyfully cohabit. Here are ten good reasons to enjoy this great city of art and history, where people surf in summer and go cross-country skiing in winter.
1. Oktoberfest (end of September). The beer festival commemorates the wedding of Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in 1810. Nowadays, the opening ceremony is an absolute must: the brewers’ flower-covered floats, drawn by horses dressed in all their finery, parade through Munich amid a procession in traditional Bavarian costume.
You could say that there is not ONE but several beer festivals, each catering to a different section of the public. On weekdays and during the daytime, this world-famous event is perfectly suitable for families – as surprising as that may seem! After your children have enjoyed the fairground attractions, you can all go together to sample one of the specialities (chicken grilled on the spit, for example) available in the giant beer halls erected for the occasion – each Bavarian brewer has an immense “permanent” chalet, replacing the tents of yesteryear.
If you come on a Friday or Saturday evening, it’s a different kettle of fish. Heavy drinkers come to slake an unquenchable thirst to the sound of Bavarian brass bands. There is overindulgence, certainly. But the atmosphere always remains friendly and fundamentally peaceful. The organisation is meticulous, leaving nothing to chance, while the police and Red Cross keep an eye open for trouble. As there is nowhere to park around Theresienwiese square (deliberately so!), everyone leaves by public transport…
2. Munich, a catholic and... Italian city! Munich is a very beautiful city. With almost 50% of it destroyed during the war, it is the first German city to have been rebuilt exactly as it was before. Capital of a fundamentally catholic Land, where the question of separation of Church and State does not even arise, this “big village” sometimes has an air of the Vatican about it. The bell towers of the countless churches punctuate the horizon everywhere. Humanist and friend to artists, Ludwig I of Bavaria was mad about Rome and Florence. The façade of the Residenz was inspired by the Pitti Palace and the Commanders’ Hall is the spitting image of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, while the Theatinechurch celebrates the triumph of Italian Baroque. The passion of the people of Munich for Italy continues today with food, thanks to star-rated restaurants which celebrate Italian cuisine, such as Acquarello or Acetaia.
3. Art. Munich is an inexhaustible reservoir of masterpieces! From Wilhelm IV to Ludwig I of Bavaria, all the Bavarian princes were passionate about art. In the early 20th century Munich gave birth to a crucial artistic movement, which opened the way to abstract art – DerBlaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). From Rogier Van der Weyden to Hans Memling, from Dürer to Mathias Grünewald, from Veronese to Titian, from Rubens to Rembrandt, from Kandinsky to Paul Klee, the whole history of painting will pass before your very eyes. Concentrate on the main places, namely the three art galleries (Pinakothek), the Villa Lenbach (for Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Franz Marc) and the Haus der Kunst. The latter, built in Nazi style to exhibit the “real” (sic) German artists in 1937, today houses classic modern art and temporary exhibitions.
4. Music. Munich boasts three symphony orchestras. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Munich, directed by Christian Thielemann, performs at the Gasteig, a vast modernist auditorium built in 1985. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is under the musical direction of Mariss Jansons, while Peter Jonas has just passed his baton to Kent Nagano to direct the Bavarian National Opera, based in the National Theatre. The Munich Opera is a veritable repertory theatre, where you can see a different work every night – or almost. Born and bred in the city, the composer Richard Strauss was the son of a horn player with the Bavarian Court Opera. A fountain pays tribute to him on the Karlstor.
5. The Englischer Garten. The German people love Nature. The English Garden with its lake, vast immaculate lawns and waterways is shining proof of this. Laid out in the late 18th century by architect F.L. von Sckell, this park can be enjoyed on foot or by bicycle, or better still by taking a nap in the shade of a tree. The English Garden extends right to the heart of the city, joining up with the Hofgarten, the garden of the Residenz. Everywhere, beautiful young things, male and female, come to bask in the sunshine here, as if they were on a beach. The English Garden also contains several Biergärten, which are very busy in summer.
6. Surfing. A surf spot in Munich? It’s no joke! The Eisbach, one of the rivers that flows through the English Garden, forms a roller at the level of Prinzregentenstrasse. Dressed in wetsuits, a succession of surfers tackles, one after the other, a single formidable wave. A very popular attraction.
7. Cars. In Munich, cars are a sight in themselves: no insignificant model (or almost) disfigures the roads of Munich. The most beautiful models from BMW or Audi, many of them cabriolets, can be endlessly enjoyed like real works of art. Munich and the automobile: a veritable love story. Indeed BMW has its headquarters in the capital of Bavaria; the shape of the building, imitating the 4 cylinders of an engine, is one of the emblems of the city. As for Audi, its headquarters are in Ingolstadt, just one hour from Munich.
8. Gärtnerplatz. This is Munich’s (small) trendy gay district, named after a square (more of a roundabout) where the theatre of the same name stands, built in 1872 and rebuilt exactly as it was in 1948. Its peaceful streets, lined in places with vaguely Jugendstil stuccoed buildings, are worth wandering through for their restaurants, boutiques selling clothes and jewellery, and a smattering of record shops.
9. Amalienburg. This is the name of the hunting lodge of Nymphenburg Castle, a mini Versailles that was once the summer residence of the princes of Bavaria. Very sober on the outside, the Amalienburg hunting lodge embodies the quintessence of south German Rococo in its interior. Using silver stucco and large mirrors which fragment the space to infinity, Frenchman François Cuvilliès created an illusionistic madness that delights the senses. A masterpiece!
10. “Pater Noster” lift, Blumenstrasse, 28b. Extremely unusual, never listed in any guide, here is a lift that is one of a kind: several door-less cages that you jump into move constantly without stopping, at slow speed. When you reach the top floor of this administrative building, these cages shift over to descend via the adjacent shaft. It is a modern-day antique of which scarcely any examples remain. Dare you make a discreet foray into this private building to have a go?
German tourist office
Munich tourist office