What’s Doing in Munich

By Jonathan Spira on 19 June 2013
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DSC_3602Munich, a city of broad avenues, Baroque architecture, and Bavarian accents, not to mention beer and BMWs, is one of the most visitor-friendly cities in Germany and its motto, “München mag dich,” which literally means “Munich likes you,” reflects its welcoming nature.  Approximately 1.38 million people live in the Bavarian capital, which spans 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) and where the sun shines more often than almost any other spot in Germany.

Munich’s origins date back to a 12th century settlement of Benedictine monks along the Isar River, a moment commemorated in the city’s logo, the Münchner Kindle, a small monk.  It stayed under the control of the Wittelsbach family, Bavaria’s royal dynasty, from 1255 until 1918, serving as Bavaria’s capital starting in 1506.



There is much to Munich that doesn’t meet the eye. Munich is an old city with a rich history, yet it has a strong presence in publishing, film, technology, and fashion.  Munich’s ability to combine, yet protect, these elements makes it a desirable place to live in and visit.

The Inner City, or Innere Stadt, is Munich’s beating heart: an epicenter of history, culture and beauty.  In the center lies the Marienplatz, a large square that’s home to the old and new Rathaus or town hall (for the record, the new one dates from 1874) , as well as the site of the thrice-daily playing (11 a.m., year-round and 12 noon, and 5 p.m. during the summer) of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel.

It’s worth visiting Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel, which tells the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V (founder of the Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine, and is accompanied by a joust by knights on horseback, one Bavarian (in blue and white) and one from Lothringen (in red and white).  Not surprisingly, the Bavarian knight wins every time.  This story unfolds on the top half of the Glockenspiel while a second story, that of the Schäfflertanz (coopers’ dance) develops below.  The apocryphal tale recounts a plague in Munich in 1517, as the coopers dance through the city’s streets to dispel fear.  The performance lasts approximately 12 minutes, the melodies vary, and the end of the performance is signified by a tiny golden bird at the top of the Glockenspiel that chirps three times.

The Glockenspiel during a performance

The Glockenspiel during a performance

Close nearby is the Peterskirche, the Inner City’s oldest church, which was built during the Romanesque period.  Known as Alter Peter (Old Peter), the view from the top – after ascending the 92 meter-high tower and 306 steps – is memorable.

One of the most recognizable buildings in the city’s center is, without a doubt, the Frauenkirche, thanks to its two Zwiebeltürume or onion towers. The green twin-peaked cathedral serves as a landmark because it is widely visible due to building height restrictions (99 meters, the height of the Frauenkirche’s spires) in much of the city.  The south tower can be ascended for breathtaking vistas of the city and nearby mountains.

The Residenz, once the palace of the ruling Wittelsbach family, is now Germany’s largest city palace and home to a complex of museums and attractions.  Explore the sprawling grounds and you’ll find royal gardens and courtyards, the treasury that contains jewels from Bavaria’s past, the National Theater, and other architectural masterpieces.  As was the case elsewhere in Munich, many buildings in the Residenz suffered damages in World War II, but have since been restored, renovated, reconstructed and even expanded.

There are many museums in Munich worthy of praise.  Lose yourself for hours in the enormous Deutsches Museum, founded in 1903, where you can browse the most extensive exhibits on science and technology in the country.  The museum, which sits on its own small island on the Isar River, attracts 1.5 million visitors annually to its over 28,000 objects on exhibit.  The building and bridges are themselves to be admired.

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