Munich, the cosmopolitan city with a big heart, is a city full of art, culture and joie de vivre. It is the capital of Bavaria and the capital of beer and European art. Munich – that is the Royal Residence and the Hofbräuhaus, Nymphenburg and Schwabing, a city of princes elector and citizens, a city of immigrant workers and students, a city of conference members and tourists.
Munich, or München (“Home of the Monks”), traces its origins to the Benedictine monastery at Tegernsee, which was probably founded in 750 CE. In 1157 Henry the Lion, duke of Bavaria, granted the monks the right to establish a market where the road from Salzburg met the Isar River.
A bridge was built across the Isar the following year, and the marketplace was fortified.
In 1255 Munich became the home of the Wittelsbach family, which had succeeded to the duchy of Bavaria in 1180. For more than 700 years the Wittelsbachs would be closely connected with the town’s destiny. In the early 14th century the first of the Wittelsbach line of Holy Roman emperors, Louis IV (Louis the Bavarian), expanded the town to the size at which it remained up to the end of the 18th century. Under the Bavarian elector Maximilian I (1597–1651), a powerful and effective ruler, Munich increased in wealth and size and prospered until the Thirty Years’ War. It was occupied by the Swedes under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) in 1632, and in 1634 a plague epidemic resulted in the death of about one-third of its population.
The third Wittelsbach who left his mark on the community was Louis I, king of Bavaria from 1825 to 1848. Louis planned and created modern Munich, and his architects established the city’s characteristic appearance in the public buildings they designed. The 19th century was Munich’s greatest period of growth and development. Protestants became citizens for the first time in what had been until then a purely Roman Catholic town. The city’s population of 100,000 in 1854 grew to 500,000 by 1900. Munich’s cultural importance in Europe was enhanced when Louis II, by his championing of the composer Richard Wagner, revived its fame as a city of music and the stage.
The rule of the Wittelsbach dynasty finally ended with the abdication of Louis III in November 1918, and, in the aftermath of World War I, Munich became a hotbed of right-wing political ferment. It was in Munich that Adolf Hitler joined the Nazi Party and became its leader. The beer cellar where he held meetings that led to the Beer Hall Putsch (“rising”) against the Bavarian authorities in November 1923 can still be seen. In World War II Munich suffered heavily from Allied bombing raids, which destroyed more than 40 percent of its buildings.
Germany’s third-largest city is home to over 80 museums covering everything from technology and cars, to ancient sculpture and… potatoes! Many museums are shut on Mondays, and the best day to visit is on a Sunday when all state-run museums are just €1. If you’re visiting in August, try and time your trip with the “Long Night of Museums” where one ticket will get you into almost any of the city’s museums until the early hours of the morning.
One of the impressive neo-classical buildings of Königsplatz is the Glyptothek. This beautiful building claims to be the only museum in the world dedicated solely to ancient sculpture. Rather than hiding its exhibits away behind glass, you’re free to wander amongst them, and get up close with the past. Far from being a stuffy traditional museum, it feels like an art gallery and prides itself on interesting modern twists – they currently have modern replicas of key statues carved from wood with a chainsaw. Your entry ticket will also get you into the State Collection of Antiques in the building opposite, and it’s just €1 on Sundays.
Museum Brandhorst only opened its doors in 2009, but has already become an established part of the Munich art museum trail. Rather than packing the hyper-modern building full of exhibits, the museum has wide open galleries and vast white walls. Its permanent exhibitions include works by modern art icons such as Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys, and Andy Warhol, including his “Marilyn” portrait. Make the most of €1 entry on Sundays, and avoid Mondays when the museum is closed.
Munich’s most famous museum also claims the title of the largest science and technology museum in the world. Each year, 1.5 million people come to discover its 28,000 exhibited objects on everything from amateur radio to nanotechnology. Though you can’t always count on English translations for many of the displays and captions, most exhibitions have strong visual elements, and there’s a host of interactive presentations such as the lightening show and stereotypical wacky scientists with foaming test tubes. Accept that you’ll only be able to cover a fraction of it, and decide which of the 35 sections you’d like to see before you visit.
The Museum of Five Continents
This grand museum on Maximilianstraße was Germany’s first ethnology museum. Its collection of over 200,000 objects is spread over a daunting 4,500 square meters (48,438 square feet), and includes the world’s oldest kayak and a great collection of Buddhist statues. To make it a bit easier to navigate, it’s divided by geography and even plays the music of that region softly in the background. The Asia sections are particularly popular with visitors. Tickets are only €5, or €1 on Sundays. Children under 15 can visit free of charge.
State Collection of Egyptian Art
Despite covering over 5,000 years with its collection, this museum prides itself on presenting its ancient relics in an easily digestible way – quality over quantity. The building is worth seeing in itself; set below ground with bare concrete walls, large halls, and even custom neon lights, it manages to be modern and interesting, yet match its contents perfectly. If your German is good, you can go along to one of their regular lecture on ancient Egyptian culture. If not, do not fret, the museum also provides tours in English on their multimedia guide.
Must-see might be a strong statement for this shrine to an everyday carbohydrate, but the potato museum definitely takes the prize for Munich’s most random museum! Spread over eight rooms, it includes strange potato statues, a specialist potato library for scientists, and an Andy-Warhol-esque visual tribute to this humble vegetable. In 2006, the museum expanded to cover Pfanni who had a monopoly on Munich’s potato production in the 60s. Even if you don’t leave with a greater appreciation for potatoes, the good news is that entrance is free!
This museum is a reminder of a past that Munich all too often tries to sweep under the carpet. More than a collection of Nazi documents, it focuses on the history of anti-semitism, racism, and other forms of racial prejudice. Its blank white walls and hushed library-like atmosphere mirror the seriousness of its content. It’s almost entirely text-based exhibits to the extent that reading stools are provided to save your legs – make sure you take one, you’re bound to spend longer here than you intended.
Not technically one museum, the Pinakothek family of art museums includes three sites divided by the type and time of the artwork. At 127 m (147 ft) long, the “Alte” Pinakothek was the largest gallery in Europe when it was built in the 19th century; it contains work from the fourteenth century, including Rembrandt’s self-portrait. The “Neue” Pinakothek has the slogan “from Goya to Picasso” and is a 450-strong collection of 19th-century artwork. Finally, the “Modern” Pinakothek brings together four collections of art, architecture, and design all under one roof. Whether you prefer the classics or something more abstract, there’s a Pinakothek for you.
Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, is held annually in Munich, Germany. The 16-day party attracts over 6 million people every year who consume 1.5 million gallons of beer, 200,000 pairs of pork sausage, and 480,000 spit-roasted chickens during the two-week extravaganza. While the event reinforces stereotypical images of beer-loving, meat-loving Germans dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, visitors to the annual event come from all over the world. Oktoberfest is in fact one of Munich’s largest and most profitable tourist attractions. It brings over 450 million euros to the city’s coffers each year. The folk festival has given its name to similar festivals worldwide that are at least in part modeled after the original Bavarian Oktoberfest. The largest Oktoberfest held outside of Germany takes place each year in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada, where a large ethnic German population resides. The largest such event in the United States is Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in Ohio, which boasts half a million visitors each year.
History of Oktoberfest
The Oktoberfest tradition started in 1810 to celebrate the October 12th marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities which were held over five days on the fields in front of the city gates. The main event of the original Oktoberfest was a horse race.
Anniversary celebrations were held annually thereafter that eventually became larger and more elaborate. An agricultural show was added during the second year. In 1818, a carousel and two swings were set up for the revelers. Such amusements were few in the first decades of the festival, but party-goers were amply entertained by the tree climbing competitions, wheel barrow and sack races, mush eating contests, barrel rolling races, and goose chases. By 1870s, mechanical rides were an expanding feature of the festival and in 1908, the festival boasted Germany’s first roller coaster. When the city began allowing beer on the fairgrounds, makeshift beer stands began cropping up, and their number increased steadily until they were eventually replaced by beer halls in 1896. The beer halls, like the beer tents of today, were sponsored by the local breweries.
The festival was eventually prolonged and moved ahead to September to allow for better weather conditions. Today, the last day of the festival is the first Sunday in October. In 2006, the Oktoberfest extended two extra days because the first Tuesday, October 3, was a national holiday. Over the past 200 years, Oktoberfest was canceled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war.