Munich is an eccentric town of centuries-old class and modern efficiency that has charm other big cities I’ve been to can’t match. Everything has an aura of familiarity while still being unfamiliar. It is both charming and resilient. I spent eight weeks in Munich three years ago, and these are the nine things about Munich that stayed in my mind (and heart) that I’d recommend to any Munich visitor.
1. the first is always marienplatz
The first time I saw Marienplatz I was ascending from the subway station and the Neues Rathaus slowly came into view, seeming to dwaf the sun and sky. Any and every guide book will point you towards Marienplatz with good reason. The Rathaus-Glockenspiel is a famous cuckoo clock, if you will, with 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. Every day at 11am and 5pm, the clock re-enacts the marriage of Hofbräuhaus founder Duke Wilheml V and the Schäfflertanz, otherwise known as the copper dance.
Also in the immediate plaza is Peterskirche, where you can climb the bell tower to see most of historic Munich. There is also the Altes Rathaus, the old town hall, which was infamous host to the Nazi party that led to the Reichskristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass, and is now a toy museum.
Munich has history, parts of that history is fun and playful and other parts showcase the worst of human behavior. Marienplatz, more than any other place I saw in Munich, embraces something I came to respect about Bavaria: they acknowledge and own their history, and they move forward from it, growing.
Other recommendation for the Marienplatz area:
- See the Devil’s footprint in the Frauenkirche.
- Stop by Hotel Bayerischer Hof, München where Michael Jackson infamously hung his son Blanket out the window for the press to see.
- Visit Wiener’s Der Kaffee where I spent many hours enjoying great Wifi and coffee.
- Find the ever popular Hofbräuhaus München.
- Eat at Fedora Cucina, an amazing, friendly and cozy Italian restaurant.
If you are in a walking mood, I suggest getting off the train at Sendlinger Tor and walking to Marienplatz. There are gorgeous little streets and shops to see along the way. During Christmas, this is also the area for Christkindlmarkt.
Devil’s Footprint in the Frauenkirche
2. this history shirker’s alley
Walking from Marienplatz down Residenzstraße to Odeonsplatz, there is a unassuming alley with a gut wrenching history that is worth observing.
The bit of history: in 1923, Adolf Hitler led two thousand Nazi supporters to the center of Munich in a failed attempt to seize the city. Sixteen Nazis and four police officers died in the confrontation. Hitler, who was not wounded, was charged with treason and sentenced to 5 years in prison. The coup and his 24-day, public trial gave him and his party national attention. He served only nine months of his 5-years-sentence. During that time, he wrote Mein Kampf. Both Hitler and the Nazi party grew in popularity until they took control of the German government in 1934.The rest of the story you know.
During the Nazi rein, Hitler constructed a propaganda monument to the 16 Nazis that died during that early coup, and required those that passed the monument to salute the it. Citizens that didn’t want to salute this monument slinked down Shirker’s Alley. I was told that many people were caught and punished for this disobedience.
Today, their civil disobedience is honored with a bronze line that weaves down the alley but doesn’t go the entire way to honor those that didn’t make it down the alley without punishment.
Shirker’s Alley in Munich.
3. exploring odeonsplatz to siegestor
There is plenty to see wondering from Odeonsplatz to Siegestor and lot of history, too. Munich Residenz is the former palace of the Bavarian monarchs. I remember the exhibits being interesting, but the building itself impressed me most. From there, you can roam around the Hofgarten for museums and government buildings.
In Odeonspltaz, it you look at the 1841 Feldherrnhalle “stage” you’ll see two lions standing in front of you, one looking towards the Theatinerkirche with its mouth closed and one looking towards the Munich Residenz with its mouth open. This artistically represents that we should question government and respect the church.
Closer to Siegestor is the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (the library), with free wifi and amazing stacks. Finally at Siegestor, you’ll find the 19th-century triumphal arch. This whole area has a Parisian vibe to it–wide streets flanked with beautiful architecture–and the arch completes this picture in my mind.
Feldherrnhalle in Odeonsplatz
4. kunstareal (the art area)
There are three Pinakotheks to visit (pinakothek is derived from the Greek pinacotheca, meaning picture gallery). I suggest giving each part of your time (if art museums are your things as they are mine).
- Alte Pinakothek is in a beautiful, neoclassical building. The castle-like structure was built for the purpose of this museum. At the time of its construction, the Alte Pinakothek was the largest museum in the world. It is one of the oldest galleries in the world, home to the Old Masters and other works before the 1800s.
- Neue Pinakothek is an art museum the is home to masterpieces by Monet, van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Cezanne. It focuses on 19th century artists. The original building was destroyed in War World II, the new building was completed in 1981.
- Pinakothek der Moderne is the world’s largest modern and contemporary art museum. Locals affectionally call it Dritte as it is the third Pinakothek. I had the most fun in this museum, visiting Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse.
The other museums are:
- Glyptothek (a word derived from the Greek glypto meaning sculpture) is a neoclassical building, home to Greek and Roman sculptures.
- Staatliche Antikensammlung (read “State Collection of Antiquities) is yet another neoclassical building in Kunstareal–King Ludwug I had a thing for the classics, huh?–and is home to pieces from Greece, Etruria and Rome.
- Lenbachhaus is not neoclassical. It is more of a Florentine-stlye building. It’s gallery focuses on Munich artists.
- Museum Brandhorst is another modern art museum, donated to the state from private collectors.
- Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München has a large collection of drawings, prints and engravings.
- Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst is the State Museum of Egyptian Art.
Cafes in the area that I can recommend are Daddy Longleg and Café Katzentempel. And if you are inspired for a culinary adventure, venture to Kaito for German-Japanese fusion.
Alte Pinakothek in Munich
6. everything there is to do in englischer garten
The Englischer Garten is one of the largest urban public parks in the world. Its design and use is inspired by mid-18th century/ early 19th century English Gardens, hence the name. There is plenty to see and do in Englischer Garten, making it well worth the time exploring.
What there is to find in Englischer Garten:
- Chinesischer Turm (read Chinese Tower) is a large wood structure that is a highlight of the Englischer Garten. It is the land mark to look for when on the hunt for the second largest beer garden in Munich.
- Eisbach is a popular area for surfing. You read that right: surfing. The artificial stream produces a turbulent flow that beacons surfers to wait along the bank for their chance to show off their skills. Even if you don’t surf, it’s a fun thing to watch.
- Kleinhesseloher See ( read Kleinhesseloher Lake) is a beautiful man-made lake with a little beer garden on its shore at Seehaus.
- Hirschau is a open space that sometimes allows sheep to graze. This area has two beer gardens and an open air amphitheatre.
- Japanese Teahouse is on a small island in a lake, a gift from a tea house in Kyoto in the 1960s. You can find traditional Japanese tea ceremonies there regular.
- Schönfeldwiese (read beautiful field) is a part of the park is a great area to lounge with or without your cloths on (nude sunbathing has been permitted since the 1960s).
- Monopteros, or Apollo’s Temple, sits on a lush hill flanked by trees.
- Steinerne Bank is home to a stone bench with the inscription “Hier wo Ihr wallet, da war sonst Wald nur und Sumpf” which translate to “Here where you meander was once only wood and marsh.”
7. venturing across the isar and through the maximilianeum
Maximilianeum is another urban park in Munich covering 30-arce along the right bank of the Isar River. There are a few monuments to observe, but mostly I just liked roaming the bank of the river and through the park.
Isar Rivev and the Maximilianeum park
8. german brand awareness: bmw
The BWM museum was fantastic, and this is coming from someone who knows next to nothing about cars and motorcycles. The best comparison I can make for the BWM Welt is the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. The emphasis on product, innovation, tradition and branding is equally strong in BMW as in the Guinness’ museum experience. With a showcase of old models and BWM through the eyes of history, this is definitely a to-do list item.
9. prost! something you should know about beer and restaurants in munich
Wondering around the city, you’ll quickly note several Augustiners, Hacker Pschorrs, Hofbräus, Löwenbräus, Paulaners and Spatens. This is because restaurants bear the name of the beer they serve. You can’t go into a Augustiner establishment looking for a Paulaner and they will laugh if you want a Spaten at Hofbräushaus. At all these establishments, you will find the standard options for your meal, and I think you’ll be happy with your pork knuckle, schnitzel or spaetzle wherever you get it.
More about German food to come.
My top recommendation has more to do with atmosphere than food and drink. Augustiner-Keller roughly translates to “Augustiner Cellar.” When the weather is fine, it will be hard to resist the various outdoor beer garden. But when the weather is not so fine, you can dive into a cellar. Monks use to store their beer down there to keep it cool in the summer.
It was at Augustiner Keller that I learned about Starkbier, the dark beer festival. It was started by monks in Munich is the 1600s since they drank strong beer during lent as a way to fill their bellies during the time of fasting.
Of course there is Oktoberfest… but more about that later.
Beers at Augustiner-Keller