Munich is the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. It is undeniably a city of revelers. Yet there's much more to Munich than Oktoberfest and the city's reputation as the beer-brewing capital of the world.
Munich is Germany's high-tech hub (Silicon Bavaria), one of its film and publishing centers, the historical residence of Bavarian royalty, the headquarters of such corporations as BMW, and the city in which most German professionals routinely say they would like to live. It boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany.
Munich throbs with haute-couture shopping, grand churches, opulent palaces, vigorous music and art scenes, and an abundance of gourmet restaurants, beer gardens and popular nightspots. If Oktoberfest season is too hectic for you, try Munich in summer. There's nothing quite like enjoying a cold wheat beer in the cool greenery of the Englischer Garten. Whether you go to Munich for business or pleasure, you're bound to be exposed to a pleasant mix of the two.
Munich lies 50 mi/80 km north of the Alps. The Isar River flows through the eastern part of the city, near the zoo (Tierpark Hellabrunn) and the Bavaria Film Studios, around the island housing the Deutsches Museum, past the parliament building (Maximilianeum) and finally through the lush greenery of Englischer Garten, the city's main public park.
Four massive city gates provide the general boundaries of Munich's innenstadt, or inner city. Two of the gates, Sendlinger Tor to the southwest and Isartor to the east, were once part of the medieval town wall. Karlstor, which today marks the west entrance to the Old Town, was part of Munich's second ring of medieval fortifications. (The Hauptbahnhof—the main train station—is a few blocks west of Karlstor.) A bit farther to the north of the Old Town is the 19th-century Siegestor (Victory Gate). At the heart of the innenstadt is Munich's central square, Marienplatz, site of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) and the ever-popular glockenspiel in its tower. Many of Munich's landmarks—Frauenkirche, the twin-onion-domed medieval cathedral; the Residenz, former royal palace of the Wittelsbachs; the world-renowned Hofbrauhaus beer hall; and the city's popular open-air food market, the Viktualienmarkt—are within walking distance.
A lively pedestrian area runs from Marienplatz westward toward Karlsplatz (also called Stachus). Odeonsplatz, a short walk north of Marienplatz, marks the beginning of the boulevard Ludwigstrasse, which turns into Leopoldstrasse north of the Siegestor. This is also the beginning of Schwabing, an artsy student quarter. Two other popular districts, Haidhausen and Bogenhausen, lie on the east bank of the Isar. The Gartnerplatz and Glockenbachviertel, south of Viktualienmarkt, have also developed into a trendy area of Munich.
The city was officially founded in 1158 by Heinrich der Lowe (Henry the Lion). In 1255, Munich began its long history as the home of Bavarian royalty when the Wittelsbach family, dukes of Bavaria, settled in the city. In 1504, the city was named the official capital of the Duchy of Bavaria. However, several brief periods of foreign occupation followed: In 1632, during the Thirty Years War, Munich was ruled by Gustav II of Sweden, and the Hapsburgs of Austria ruled the city 1705-14 and 1742-44.
Beginning in 1745, Duke Maximilian III Joseph began shaping the Munich we know today. He founded the city's academy of science and built the Cuvillies Theater and the Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory. In 1806, Munich became the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria, and its rulers set about leaving their mark on the city. In the first half of the 1800s, King Ludwig I commissioned the Glyptothek and the Alte Pinakothek, in which the Wittelsbachs' important artworks were displayed. Nymphenburg Palace was also expanded on his orders. The eccentric King Ludwig II, a professed "Munich hater," spent his time building outlandish castles outside of the city, among them Neuschwanstein. His life and mysterious death in 1888 remain a popular part of Munich folklore.
In the early 20th century, Munich saw the potent beginnings of National Socialism. Adolf Hitler's failed beer-hall putsch ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle south of Odeonsplatz in 1923. However, by 1933, the Nazi party was in full command, and the concentration camp in nearby Dachau went into operation. In 1935, Hitler named Munich "Die Hauptstadt der Bewegung" (Capital of the Movement). He ordered the building of the Haus der Kunst, which opened in 1937 with the exhibit Degenerate Art, aimed at skewering the works of 'un-German' artists. In 1938, the infamous Munich Treaty (an Allied attempt to appease Nazi aggression) was signed there. By the end of World War II, much of Munich was destroyed.
Reconstruction and restoration of the city took place over the following decades. The 1972 summer Olympic Games, which were held in Munich, were supposed to be a celebration of the city's rebirth. However, when 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists, the host city again found itself associated with tragedy. The 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of Munich as an international center for technology, media and insurance. Today, the city attracts a large number of high-tech companies and serves as a center for Germany's fashion, art and cinema industries. Munich is also one of Germany's most popular tourist destinations, and every year in late September, Oktoberfest attracts about 6 million visitors.
Marienplatz is the heart of the city and the best place to start your tour. If you time your visit well, you'll be able to view a daily performance of the Neues Rathaus' glockenspiel. From Marienplatz, it's also a short walk to several landmarks, including four important churches (Frauenkirche, St. Michaelskirche, St. Peterskirche and Asamkirche). You should also take a stroll along the grandiose Maximilianstrasse, which begins north of Marienplatz and stretches east to the red-granite Maximilianeum, seat of the Bavarian Parliament. Along the route are a number of prominent museums and upscale boutiques. A pedestrian area from Marienplatz to Karlsplatz offers abundant shopping possibilities. You could easily spend two days exploring this central area.
Two royal palaces, the Residenz and Nymphenburg Palace, are also must-sees. In addition to their ornate interiors, each has its own garden or park. However, the city's most appealing green space is the Englischer Garten—take a break from sightseeing and relax at one of the popular beer gardens there. If you're up for more sightseeing, explore the nearby districts of Schwabing, Bogenhausen and Haidhausen or take the U-Bahn north to the Olympiapark.
Bavaria's cultural heritage is well-preserved in several excellent museums. Old masters are on display at the Alte Pinakothek; impressionist and early-modern works are in the Neue Pinakothek; and expressionist, abstract and avant-garde works are displayed in the Lenbachhaus and Haus der Kunst. The Pinakothek der Moderne has been drawing large crowds to see its wide-ranging exhibits on modern and contemporary art and design. The Deutsches Museum, a large science and technology museum, is so fascinating that most visitors vow to spend more than one day there. Kids will enjoy the Munich Stadtmuseum's puppet collection and the classic children's shows at the Muenchener Theater fur Kinder.
The Munich City Tour Card (10.90 euros for a single day, 20.90 euros for three days) offers price reductions for many inner-city sights, museums, tours, excursions and some restaurants. A family card for up to five people is available for 17.90 euros for a single day, or 30.90 euros for three days. A map of participating sights comes with the card. The card can be purchased at S-Bahn and U-Bahn vending machines, at the MVG Kundencenter Marienplatz, at the tourist information center or online. Phone 030-4431-8850. http://www.citytourcard-muenchen.com.
For nightlife seekers, our advice is simple: If the weather is good, head for a beer garden; if the weather is bad, head for a beer hall. Munich has the best of both worlds, and the best part is that both beer gardens and beer halls usually serve delicious food in addition to the liter-size mugs of frothy beer. We think Hirschgarten is probably the most authentic example.
If you prefer your nighttime music with less oompah, try Jazzclub Unterfahrt with its live jazz acts; Muffathalle for jazz, hip-hop, gospel and pop; or Nightclub Bar Bayerischer Hof with its eclectic, sophisticated mix. Nightclubs start to get busy around 10 pm and stay open until 5 or 6 am. Bars close a few hours earlier.
Munich, the city of seven world-renowned breweries, scores of beer halls and the world's largest beer gardens, is equally blessed with a variety of restaurants. There's something to please virtually every palate (and pocketbook), ranging from traditional Bavarian specialties to Italian, Balkan, Greek, Thai and classical French delicacies.
Gasthauser and gaststatten eateries serve rustic German and Bavarian foods. Bavarian dishes tend to be a bit heavy, but good local beers and Franconian wines act as delightful digestives. Braten (roasts), schweinshaxe (shanks of pork), sauerbraten (marinated beef served with a sour-flavored sauce) and weisswurst (spiced veal sausages) are popular meats, usually accompanied by sauerkraut. Kasespaetzle (egg pasta served with melted cheese and butter) and dumplings, known as knodel and made of either grated potato (kartoffel) or bread crumbs (semmel), are also common side dishes. Leberknodelsuppe is a clear broth served with a liver dumpling. Leberkas, a loaf of minced pork and veal, is similar to hot dogs in flavor. We also think you will love the more than 300 konditoreien (pastry shops), many of which make their own chocolates.
Smoking is prohibited in all restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs and beer tents.
Breakfast is generally served 7-11 am, lunch 11 am-3 pm and dinner 7-11 pm.
Expect to pay within these general price ranges, based on the cost of dinner for one, excluding tip and drinks: $ = less than 15 euros; $$ = 15 euros-25 euros; $$$ = 26 euros-50 euros; $$$$ = more than 50 euros.
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