Tall tankards and high-tech cars, edgy art and Lederhosen – Munich is a city where traditional and modern sit side by side like few places on earth.
Mine's a Mass
Beer has been part of Munich life for at least seven centuries and the brewing tradition is very much alive and kicking today. Nowhere else in Europe has a beer tradition quite like the Bavarian capital with six mammoth breweries pumping out world-class suds to hundreds of beer gardens and beer halls. And the climax to the Munich beer year is, of course, the famous Oktoberfest, attended by over six million people. Germany’s ‘purity law’ guarantees there’s nothing in your Mass (1L tankard) that shouldn’t be, so if you can lift the thing – ‘Prost!’ (Cheers!)
Teutonic Treasure Trove
Munich has long been known as the ‘city of art and beer’, so before you head off to the pub, take some time to savour the local art scene. The Kunstareal, Munich’s art quarter, is the place to start, with four major venues displaying everything from Dutch masters to 1960s design. The city also boasts some world-class museums focusing on topics as diverse as Oktoberfest, porcelain and BMW cars. And if that weren't enough, there are still royal palaces to explore – the legacy of 700 years of rule by a single family, the Wittelsbachs.
The locals have a word for it – Gemütlichkeit – that untranslatable intermingling of cosiness, well-being and laid-back attitude. In Munich you will sense it most under the fairy lights of a summer beer garden, people-watching in the English Garden and behind the wheel of a BMW heading south. It may be just the local character, but a large share of Gemütlichkeit must come from the fact that the Bavarian capital is one of the most affluent cities on the planet, it’s economy larger than most small countries, its infrastructure well-tended.
Munich’s various quirks, the things that make the city the place it is, might be what stick in the memory most. Whether it be the inebriated oompah band, that special knife for eating monster radishes, the Bavarians outrageous dialect, the mad hat traditions of the Oktoberfest or the surfers on the Eisbach wave – you’re sure to discover some freakish aspect of Munich life every day. And then there is the local garb – nowhere else in central Europe do the locals don their traditional costume – the famous Lederhosen and Dirndl – as readily as the Münchners, so why not join them?
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This commanding palace and its lavish gardens sprawl around 5km northwest of the Altstadt. Begun in 1664 as a villa for Electress Adelaide of Savoy, the stately pile was extended over the next century to create the royal family's summer residence. Franz Duke of Bavaria, head of the once-royal Wittelsbach family, still occupies an apartment here.
Home to Bavaria's Wittelsbach rulers from 1508 until WWI, the Residenz is Munich's number-one attraction. The amazing treasures, as well as all the trappings of the Wittelbachs' lifestyle over the centuries, are on display at the Residenzmuseum, which takes up around half of the palace. Allow at least two hours to see everything at a gallop.
Munich's main repository of Old European Masters is crammed with all the major players who decorated canvases between the 14th and 18th centuries. This neoclassical temple was masterminded by Leo von Klenze and is a delicacy even if you can't tell your Rembrandt from your Rubens. The collection is world famous for its exceptional quality and depth, especially when it comes to German masters.
The sprawling English Garden is among Europe's biggest city parks – it even rivals London's Hyde Park and New York's Central Park for size – and is a popular playground for locals and visitors alike. Stretching north from Prinzregentenstrasse for about 5km, it was commissioned by Elector Karl Theodor in 1789 and designed by Benjamin Thompson, an American-born scientist working as an adviser to the Bavarian government.
Germany's largest modern-art museum unites four significant collections under a single roof: 20th-century art, applied design from the 19th century to today, a graphics collection and an architecture museum. It's housed in a spectacular building by Stephan Braunfels, whose four-storey interior centres on a vast eye-like dome through which soft natural light filters throughout the blanched-white galleries.
Picture the classic 19th-century museum, a palatial neoclassical edifice overflowing with exotic treasure and thought-provoking works of art, a repository for a nation’s history, a grand purpose-built display case for royal trinkets, church baubles and state-owned rarities – this is the Bavarian National Museum, a good old-fashioned institution for no-nonsense museum lovers. As the collection fills 40 rooms over three floors, there’s a lot to get through here, so be prepared for at least two hours’ legwork.
If you’re one of those people for whom science is an unfathomable turn-off, a visit to the Deutsches Museum might just show you that physics and engineering are more fun than you thought. Spending a few hours in this temple to technology is an eye-opening journey of discovery, and the exhibitions and demonstrations will certainly be a hit with young, sponge-like minds.
Next to the Olympiapark, the glass-and-steel, double-cone tornado spiralling down from a dark cloud the size of an aircraft carrier holds BMW Welt, truly a petrolhead's dream. Apart from its role as a prestigious car pick-up centre, this king of showrooms acts as a shop window for BMW's latest models and a show space for the company as a whole.
The Neue Pinakothek harbours a well-respected collection of 19th- and early-20th-century paintings and sculpture, from rococo to Jugendstil (art nouveau). All the world-famous household names get wall space here, including crowd-pleasing French impressionists such as Monet, Cézanne and Degas as well as Van Gogh, whose boldly pigmented Sunflowers (1888) radiates cheer.