MUNICH, An Urban Oasis By The Alps
Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, is an attractive and relatively compact city…
Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, is an attractive and relatively compact city, making it a good place to spend time while touring Europe.
Much of central Munich is pedestrianized and is a pleasant place to explore on foot. Kaufingerstrasse – the broad, popular shopping street in the centre of the city – runs from Karlstor,once the site of a medieval city ate, towards Marienplatz,the heart of the city and site of the ornate Gothic-style façade of the Neues Rathaus (the ‘new city hall’).Crowds gather on Marienplatz at 11am, noon and 5pm each day in summer to watch 32 figures up on the clock dance and joust scenes from the city’s history while bells chime.Some of Munich’s most stylish shops are located less than two minutes walk from the square, whose golden column depicting the Virgin Mary marks the zero point from which distances in the city are measured. The upscale Ludwig Beck (www.kaufhaus.ludwigbeck.de) department store abuts the square. The elegant Fuenf Hoefe (www.fuenfhoefe.de),meaning the ‘five courtyards,’ was designed by the architects Herzog and de Meuron and hosts stores such as Emporio Armani, Massimo Dutti and Patrizia Pepe in addition to restaurants, cafes and the Kunsthalle art gallery (www.hypokunsthalle.de)
If you’re an art lover then it makes sense to take the brief tram ride towards the city’s Maxvorstadt district, the site of the Kunstareal or ‘art district’. This is the home of galleries (www.pinakothek.de) hosting artworks ranging from classical sculptures in the Glyptotech, through old masters in the Alte Pinakotech gallery, works by Cézanne and van Goghs in the Neue Pinakotech, to contemporary classics by Beuys in the Pinakotech der Moderne and Cy Twombly in the neighboring Brandhorst Museum, a building notable for its colorful façade consisting of ceramic rods. In the city center, the Residenz Museum (www.residenz-muenchen.de), on the site of the palace long used by Bavaria’s reigning Wittelsbach family, is widely regarded as one of Europe’s finest. It hosts one of the world’s leading porcelain collections plus artifacts throwing light onto courtly life during medieval times.
The museum is just paces from Odeonsplatz, where you can visit the Pfaelzer Residenz Weinstube www.bayernpfalz.de), a traditional wine restaurant where you can savor German wines by the glass. It’s a good place to gain an overview of the country’s vinicultural products and to take a pause from sightseeing. Opposite stands the ochre-colored Theatinerkirche, the Italian high-Baroque style church dedicated to St Catejan, one of Munich’s key landmarks. It was on Odeonsplatz that followers of Adolf Hitler were shot during the infamous putsch of 1923. The trial that followed resulted in Hitler’s imprisonment; time the former Munich resident used to write Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’). Locals occasionally joke that Munich is Italy’s most northerly city, reflecting the region’s warm summers, street cafe culture and the grand architecture of buildings such as the Romanesque Revival style Ludwigskirche. They also take pride in banter about Munich being Germany’s biggest village; a reference to easy-going pace of life in this city of 1.3 million people,of whom many still make time to chat with their neighbors.It’s also a tacit acknowledgement of the fact the crime rate is so low that many newspapers are still sold via honesty boxes on sidewalks.
You can see evidence of Munich’s warmth and conviviality in the beer halls and beer gardens. The Bavarians appreciate good wine but beer is a great leveler, bringing people of all walks of life together around heavy wooden tables on which conversation flows as readily as drink. Even outsiders are welcomed to interact. One of best and most accessible places for visitors to appreciate this tradition is in the Hofbraeuhaus (www.hofbraeuhaus.de), by the cobbled square known as Platzl, meaning the ‘little square’ in the centre of the city.The Bavarian Duke Maximilian I opened a tavern here in 1598. The vaulted ceiling is colorfully painted with traditional scenes and the blue and white diamonds of the Bavarian flag
lederhosen-wearing brass band and serving staff in regional costumes ensure that a visit to the Hofbraeuhaus provides an insight into the thriving heritage of Bavaria and good photo opportunities too. Conversations and music echo within this popular beer hall with royal connections. If the weather is good then it’s worth taking a stroll through the Englischer Garten, an open green space that’s surrounded by woodland and larger than New York’s Central Park. It was named after the naturalistic English style parkland that was in vogue two centuries ago. The Monopteros, a round Greek style temple stands on a hill. It offers good views across the park to central Munich. The classical landmark was designed by Leo von Klenze, one of Bavaria’s best known architects.The Chinesischer Turm (www.chinaturm.de) – meaning the Chinese Tower – is one of the best known beer gardens in the city and on sunny fall evenings people of all ages, and diverse backgrounds, can be seen here in the golden light.The centerpiece of the beer garden is a five storey pagoda, under which bands play at weekends. Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that are most njoyable and you’ll see friends meeting for a Mass, a one liter glass of beer, sharing bread torn from giant pretzels and dipped in Obatzda, a Bavarian delicacy made from soft cheese and flavored with paprika.
If you’re looking to eat something more substantial many locals will be quick to point you in the direction of Schuhbecks in den Südtiroler Stuben (www.schubeck.de), on Platzl. Chef Alfons Schubeck has carried the culinary distinction of a Michelin star for more than three decades. His elegant restaurant in central Munich provides an opportunity to enjoy creative or traditional dishes with Bavarian and Mediterranean influences. For diners watching their figure there’s an ‘FC Bayern Fitness Salad’ named after the local soccer club that in May 2013 won the UEFA Champions League title..
Schubeck’s restaurant stocks a range of fine wines, including bottles from the best vineyards in Germany, Austria and Italy’s South Tyrol region. Restaurant Broeding (www.broeding.de) is a good place to visit if you enjoy fine food paired to wine in a welcoming environment. The focus is very much on the taste and presentation of what you’re eating. The restaurant, at Schulstrasse 9, is run by Manuel Reheis and Gottfried Wallisch. You can choose between a five or six course menu based on traditional German dishes. The menu changes on a daily basis. Quality Austrian wines are offered to accompany each course.
Another fine place to dine is Esszimmer (www.bmwwelt.com), within the futuristic BMW Welt complex. Window seats provide views over the floor on which new cars are collected by proud owners. The name of this French-style restaurant means ‘dining room’ and Bobby Braeuer is the chef of the 45-cover venue. There’s no need to worry about how to get back to your hotel after enjoying the fine wines served here as a chauffer service is offered to all diners, meaning you can ride back in the comfort of one of BMW’s latest vehicles. If you’re a fan of motor vehicles then it also makes sense to visit BMW Welt during the daytime and spend some time over in the nearby BMW Museum. A guided tour lasts 90 minutes and provides an insight into the products and history of one of the world’s most recognizable brands.
Munich has plenty of good hotels to choose from. If you enjoy smart contemporary design then the 4-star Eurostars Grand Central Hotel (www.eurostarsgrandcentral.com), a fifteen-minute walk from the city center, is worth considering. The 247-room hotel has a saltwater pool and sauna area on its top floor. You can walk out onto the rooftop and enjoy views over the skyline.One of the most highly regarded addressed in the city is that of the 5-star Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski (www.kempinski.com/en/munich/hotelvier-jahreszeiten/overview/). The hotel has 11 categories of room and puts you within an easy five-minute walk of the Bavarian State Theater. The efficient concierge can arrange tickets to the operas, ballets and other shows performed in the theater. Notably, the hotel also hosts one of Munich’s leading wellness areas, Kempinski the Spa, where you can enjoy facials, massages plus an exclusive range of treatments by Daniele de Winter.
Another 5-star hotel with a well-regarded spa is the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost (www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-5413-sofitelmunich-bayerpost/index.shtml), located within an impressive Wilhelmine style building that originally served as the regional postal headquarters. The 393-room hotel has subtle lighting and sleek, contemporary interiors. The hotel’s So Spa makes use of Carita and Cinq Mondes products during treatments. With 345 rooms, the Bayerische Hof Hotel (www.bayerischerhof.de) also gives you luxury accommodation and access to a spacious onsite spa. The rooftop Blue Spa is notable for its excellent wellness treatments and also for its design, by architect Andrée Putman. While you’re in Munich don’t overlook a visit to one of the municipal saunas, whose quality is good. The riverside Müller’sche Volksbad warrants a visit for the Art Nouveau design of its swimming pool and also houses a Roman style sauna. Munich is one of Europe’s great cities and a rare example of an urban area in which you can feel relaxed.