Bavaria’s capital is obviously famous for its beer culture and festivals. It is also home to a wide range of art galleries and other cultural institutions. Munich is a perfect starting point to visit Southern Germany, and it is worth spending a few days here to get better acquainted with the rich Bavarian culture before heading to the country-side and its sights.
Downtown Munich has maintained and restored its old buildings beautifully. Treasures of baroque architecture and lavish decoration hide behind the pastel-painted façades that line the busy streets of the city center. Nowadays, it is impossible to tell that the Allies heavily bombed the city at the end of WWII. Bavarians have carefully restored all the destroyed landmarks; they have also transformed their downtown into a large pedestrian area. Strolling in wide avenues or getting lost in narrow streets, all the while enjoying the wonders of this beautiful city without worrying about cars, smells and noise, is a true pleasure.
One of the most striking examples is the Asam Church. Outside, delicate marble columns seem to rise directly from the roughly-carved boulders that lay on the street. The decoration becomes more intricate and airy as it rises to the top of the building. The Baroque message of the counter-Reformation movement is obvious: from Earth to the clouds and, above them, to God’s Kingdom. Religious faith isn’t private or subtle here, instead it clamors its fervor loudly! The exterior of the Asam Church is fairly ornate, but nothing here prepares for the extravagance that awaits inside.
Carved marble, twisted columns, leaves and flowers covered in gold, and paintings adorn the entire building. Art works are rich and convoluted. Bright colors assail from every direction. The church is narrow and tall, which didn’t deter its founders from heavy decoration. In fact, the profusion of riches is so overwhelming that there is no relief for the eye. Even the ceiling is covered with dramatic episodes of a martyr’s life. The experience is so intense that I felt immediate relief when I stepped back into the sunshine outside.
Time to enjoy a beloved Munich sight. Three times a day, mechanical figurines made of enameled copper, parade on the neo-Gothic façade of the city hall, the Neues Rathaus. Some perform a medieval tournament, while others celebrate the end of a deadly plague. Ringing bells accompany their cheerful dance.
Numerous other statues decorate the white building; they tell the story of Munich and Bavaria. Together they bring a joyous atmosphere to the grand Marienplatz. Across the Rathaus, several cafés invite passersby to rest and lazily savor the afternoon, in front of a large beer, while waiting for the 12-minute show to start.
King Ludwig was born in the baroque palace of Nymphenburg, which was the summer residence of the kings of Bayern. The main castle is heavy and without much grace, yet it is imposing. On the other hand, the park is quite charming: numerous statues grace the paths, while ducks and swans paddle slowly in the pounds and small canals. And it contains several surprises hidden in small clearings.
One of these pleasant surprises is the remodeled hunting lodge of Amalienburg. Especially beautiful, surrounded by a verdant patch and majestic trees, it is a delightful retreat. Every room is luxuriously, yet tastefully, decorated. The most majestic of them is the hall of mirrors, where silver paint enhances the effect and further enlarges the space. A few doors down, stunning colorful tiles bedeck the kitchen walls from floor to ceiling.
All the other rooms are just as delightful; in most of them, paintings of birds and plants adorn walls and ceilings. One is especially charming, perhaps more simple than others, with delicate birds in blue tones.
While this castle wasn’t created out of King Ludwig’s imagination, visitors will be able to experience and appreciate his love for the luxurious and the fantastic in the Southern Cavalry Building, which contains a wonderful collection of carriages and sleighs. These vehicles are exquisite, delicate yet sturdy. They seem to come straight out of a fairy tale, or a fanciful dream. It is difficult to imagine them being used, let alone riding in one. Seeing these few sleighs and carriages opens a small window into King Ludwig II’s originality. To this day, locals and tourists alike are fascinated by his personality. They read about his life and visit his unbelievable castles, trying to understand him, probably without any luck.
After the visit, here is the verdict of three women, belonging to three different generations: the carriage collection is a must for romantics, while taking a turn in the shady trails of the park is very pleasant. Of course, we loved our light lunch at the café, surrounded by trees and flowers.
Munich art museums abound, and it can be difficult to choose what to visit. But enough of the Baroque and its extravagance! The Pinakothek der Moderne, a striking contrast with the city center of Munich, focuses on modern and contemporary art, architecture and design. The building is wide and bare, with a glass rotunda dispensing light all the way to the first floor.
The impression of openness is further emphasized by the white walls. Since the exhibition space is so large, paintings hang away from each other, and yet they seem to have room to breathe. Some artworks are colorful and cheerful, they look almost like splashes of paint on white walls. Others, more subdued, invite to meditation and reflection.
Bavarian food and beer is what most foreigners know about German food. One of the most famous locations of the city is the Augustiner Keller Bier Garten, a wide courtyard filled with tables and chairs. And people! It is the perfect location to enjoy Bavarian sausages, pretzels and sauerkraut. This brewery has been in business since 1328 and you will certainly find a beer, or several, that please your taste buds. Hearty Bavarian food and drink do fill stomachs here, and the joyous atmosphere of the guests’ laughter and chatter fills hearts.
Munich has many treasures to offer. Small surprises await us when we stroll downtown: a funny animal sculpture here, one of Stephan Balkenhol’s men precariously balancing on a beam overhead, or a couple of weather-vanes shaped as long gone galleons. This large city offers a wide array of activities that will please everyone, from the BMW headquarters, to the Baroque churches and castles, and spending time in good company in a beer garden.