A bit about Munich

P1060886 (1)THE CITY’S earliest origins lie in a settlement of Benedictine beer-brewing monks. The city’s ‘founding fathers’ are forever remembered in its name: München means ‘by the monk’s place’. This medieval city was located on the Salt Trade Route along the Isar river north of the Bavarian Alps. The early city flourished economically and grew as an important centre of salt trading. It became the capital of the region of Bavaria and was governed by the dynasty of the royal Wittelsbacher family from 1180 way up to the 20th century. The Wittelsbachs reigned as kings of Bavaria for an amazing 738 years! Their reign ended when Ludwig III issued the Anif Declaration in 1918 in which he released his soldiers and officials from their oath of loyalty to him.

Throughout the centuries several important cultural movements shaped Munich’s architecture. In the late 15th century revival of Gothic arts, the Old Town Hall was enlarged and Munich’s largest Gothic church, die Frauenkirche, was constructed. In the 16th century Munich was a centre of the German counter reformation and renaissance arts. The 19th century saw an explosion of monument-building which lends Munich its unique architecture and Italianate avenues. King Ludwig II bankrupted the royal house with the construction of his grandiose palaces (such as the fairy castle, Neuschwanstein, and the Schloss Nymphenburg). But today, ironically, Ludwig’s castles and palaces are the biggest money-spinners of the Bavarian tourism industry.

The city hasn’t always enjoyed prosperity and peace; Munich has seen its share of dark times and these periods remain embedded on its walls and within its minds. One third of the population died after the outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1634. In the famous ‘Glockenspiel’ of the town hall, the figurines enact the ‘Schäfflertanz’ (the coopers’ dance). After the outbreak of the plague, the coopers danced through the streets to, ‘bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.’ The coopers remained loyal to the duke and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times.

P1070033During the Allied blockade of food and fuel in world war one and the ensuing post-war Great Depression the city was practically starved to death. Not many years later when the socialists took power in 1933 Munich became a political hot-bed and the first Nazi stronghold. The first concentration camp was created in Dachau, just 16 km outside the city. In Nazi Germany, Munich was referred to as the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’, ‘Capital of the Movement’.

The city faced ruin and destruction when nearly 45 percent of its buildings were destroyed by the World War II Allied bombing raids and over one third of its population was killed or fled from their homes. After the war, meticulous plans were laid out to completely rebuild the city and preserve its historical and cultural significance. Historical monuments were reconstructed and repaired and its pre-war street grid was preserved. Today, memorandums on the walls of the city’s famous town hall remind visitors of Munich’s citizens who worked together to rebuild the city, of the Munich Jews who were deported and killed, and of the American troops who freed the city from the national socialist regime.

Today, Munich once again flourishes as a financial and publishing hub and the capital of Bavarian history, culture, and tradition. It is recognized for its high living standards and boasts the lowest unemployment rate of all German cities.

Now that you know a bit about the history of the city, I’ll give you some tips and tricks to help you create your own fantastic experience of Munich. Walk through the main walking-streets in Marienplatz and Karlsplatzstacchus to enjoy the old architecture and take in the city’s ‘vibes’.

There’s an ‘English Garden’ (a large park) in the centre of the city. It’s a great place for a stroll, a picnic or a quiet hour or two spent relaxing with a book – but before you get too settled remember that the ‘English garden’ comes with its German perks and quirks. There may be street musicians, people practising tightrope walking, people meditating, nudists at home in Mother nature or young folk just chilling with a beer.

P1060931Germany is known for its cutting-egde cars and technological innovation. For those of you who are into speed and science don’t miss the opportunity to experience this side of Germany; take the inner-city train, ‘the S-bahn’ to the Olympiapark and visit the BMW museum. Another insider tip is to have a coffee at Munich’s University cafe, the ‘TU Dachterrasse’. The prices are student-friendly and if you sit outside on the high cafe terrace you’ll get an amazing view of the city along with some spiffy music and a young crowd to mingle with – and I promise you’ll be the only tourists!

Enjoying German beer and a German beer garden along with a ButterBreze is a must. Most tourists go to the Hofbräuhaus in the Marienplatz; it’s probably one of the oldest and most renowned beer cellars in Munich. It will give you an idea of what a German beer cellar is like and the inner-architecture is worth a view, but personally, I’m not a big fan. It’s too impersonal and commercial and all done up for the tourists. Ask around for a smaller Bierkeller in the area if you want a more authentic experience. In Germany it’s all about the meat, the potatoes and the dumplings so while  guzzling beer from your one litre beer mug, order a plate of Haxen or Schnitzel and Kartoffelsalat to go with it.

Despite its reputation as an old traditional cultural city, Munich is a good place to live it up at night. Take the ‘S-bahn’ to the Ostbahnhof, from there it’s a couple minutes walk to the ‘Kultfabrik’; once it was a factory complex, now it’s been converted into a huge complex of night clubs. There’s a fantastic variety of clubs in the streets of the ‘Kultfabrik’ so you can ‘club-hop’ or pick the one that best suits you. Don’t forget to try the ‘Spaceburgers’ on your way out. And no, they can’t be compared to the Dutch ‘space cookies’. There are no drugs in them but the burgers are huge and delicious and really all you could ask for after a big night out. Germans enjoy a close love-affair with their breads, buns, pastries, pies and cakes –  before leaving the country you must visit a good ‘Bäckerei’ and ‘Konditorei’ to find out for yourself what the fuss is all about. Have fun in Munich and remember the city’s motto: ‘München mag dich’, ‘Munich likes you’.