Jonathan Spira’s Munich

By Jonathan Spira on 1 May 2010
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[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about Munich and covers museums and music. Virtual tours of both Munich and the BMW Museum are at the bottom of the page.]

The letter “B” is not found in “Munich” but it might as well be.  The letter B is everywhere in the city, whether it’s on the street (BMW), in a restaurant (Bier), or in a political discussion (Bayern, or Bavaria).  It’s probably the most important letter in the city as a result.

Munich is one of four cities where I have lived and, as my university town, holds a special place in my heart.  It is such a vibrant, diverse city and I know it so well that I have found it almost impossible to write about it, so I am doing it in sections.

Without a doubt, Munich (München) is a study in contrasts. It is the modern and hip capital of staunchly conservative Bavaria, a city where the modern constantly bumps into the old, and a high-tech center with an entrepreneurial spirit where world-class established firms such as BMW and Siemens are also headquartered.

The city is also a polarizing force, whether it’s Bayern München, the premier Fußball (soccer) team, the region’s Catholicism and strong Bavarian identity (the state of Bavaria is formally known as Freistaat Bayern, or the Free State of Bavaria), or just the city’s affluence.

For many years, Munich has lived in Berlin’s shadow. The capital city, with its anarchic attitude and cutting-edge club scene, is hip. Munich, on the other hand, is stodgy and decidedly unhip, at least according to the stereotype.

Three years ago, the International Herald Tribune and Monocle magazine named Munich the best place to live in the world and they were apparently on to something.

Munich is a quintessentially livable city.  It’s clean, has efficient and inexpensive public transportation, a very low crime rate, and benefits from an excellent location near mountains and lakes.

The Bavarian capital is a major destination for beer lovers, history buffs, car lovers, and music fans alike.  It boasts restaurants, concert halls, parks, dance clubs, science and art museums and, yes, beer gardens.

Its Baroque and Rococo architecture and stunning parks captivate visitors of all ages and it is home to some of Europe’s finest museums.


Museums run the gamut here from art to automobiles to science and technology to zoology.

The BMW Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Munich, alongside the Alte Pinakothek, the Deutsches Museum, and the BMW Welt.  The museum opened shortly before the 1972 Summer Olympics and was designed by Prof. Karl Schwanzer, an Austrian architect who also designed BMW’s neighboring four-cylinder headquarters building.  It was renovated as part of the development of the BMW Welt and reopened in 2008 with significantly increased exhibit space.

The museum presents almost a century of BMW’s history and heritage in seven thematic blocks covering design, company history, technology, motor sport, motorcycles, the BMW brand, and BMW’s cars.

In the original section of the museum, visitors ascend a spiral walkway to see the individual exhibits.  An escalator at the top brings them back to the ground floor.

The BMW Welt is BMW’s “experience and delivery center” which opened in October 2007.  In addition to its primary mission, the handover of new BMWs to customers at the factory, it presents a variety of exhibits on BMW technology and BMW automobiles.

Over five million people have visited the BMW Welt since its opening, making it the most frequently visited attraction in Munich (admission is free).  Designed by Prof. Wolf Prix, a principal at the Viennese design firm Coop Himmelb(l)au and a student of Prof. Karl Schwanzer, the building’s architecture, including the striking Doppelkegel (double cone) and the flying cloud roof, represents a new order in design yet the BMW Welt is harmoniously integrated into the context of the surrounding BMW buildings and Olympic Park architecture.

The BMW Welt is connected to the BMW Museum by a bridge and the BMW plant tours start in the Welt as well.

The BMW Welt staff can deliver up to 250 cars per day to customers who typically pay several hundred euro for the privilege. (Editor’s note: the author was the first customer to take delivery of a BMW in the BMW Welt on the first day of deliveries, 23 October 2007).  Those taking delivery typically plan an entire day for such an undertaking, receiving an extensive multimedia orientation for their new vehicles prior to a dramatic delivery on the premiere level of the Welt, and then taking a factory tour.  The private and exclusive Premium Lounge is reserved solely for these customers and their guests.

The Welt features several restaurants and cafés run by Do & Co, an Austrian restaurant and catering firm.  It also has shops and a multimedia auditorium for concerts and events.

Click here to continue to Page 2 for more museums.

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