“MUNCHEN LEUCHTET” — Munich glows—wrote German author and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann in celebrating the city he called home. Munich is a magical place. A mild climate and laid-back style make it one of Europe’s most charming cities. The past 20 years have seen Munich become one of Germany’s most prosperous, as well. Major corporate headquarters in the automotive, banking, entertainment, insurance, and high-tech industries fuel a trendy social whirl of mercurial, self-made entrepreneurs and entertainers sometimes mocked as the “bussi-bussi” society for the airy kisses they often bestow. And then there are the genuine, salt-of-the-earth Bavarians, dressed in lederhosen, white shirts, and Gamsbart hats. Regional pride starts with a love of their language —a gravelly dialect hardly understandable even to fellow Germans—and ends with a devotion to beer. This proud capital of Bavaria is the world’s unofficial beer capital, with a vast array of beers on tap, from the famous wheat-based Weissbier to powerful dark bocks. All are brewed strictly according to the world’s oldest law regulating food—the 1519 Reinheitsgebot, which allows only water, hops, and barley to be used. Bavaria and its capital seize any opportunity to set themselves apart from the rest of Germany—just as Texas might in the U.S., Scotland in the United Kingdom, or Alsace in France. That independence harks back to one of Germany’s oldest noble families, the Wittelsbacher, who turned Bavaria into a separate kingdom in 1806. The city is celebrating the 200th anniversary of that “free state” status with exhibits and festivals throughout the year. This is the perfect time to see how magical three days in Munich can be.
Author Jürgen Scheunemann Photography Mirjam Bleeker
DAY ONE / Awake in the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, a quiet hideaway near downtown and the city’s finest Old World hotel. Its cozy yet grand lobby and elegant rooms reflect the congenial, relaxed spirit of Munich. Take in the city below as you breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant.
On your first day, explore the heart of old Munich. Take a leisurely, 10-minute walk toward the turrets and towers of the Neues Rathaus. This playful city hall, a neo-Gothic fantasy version of a medieval palace, stages one of Munich’s favorite shows every day at 11 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m., when colorful wooden knights, farmers, court jesters, and maids dance around just beneath the tower clock to the tunes of the bells.
The square in front of the city hall, the Marienplatz, is the heart and soul of Munich and is always crowded. In summer, people cool their feet in the water of the Fischbrunnen, a popular meeting spot.
Walk north on Weinstrasse and take a left on Schäferstrasse toward the twin towers of the 15th-century Frauenkirche, the city’s most famous church. When it was built, the archbishop could not afford Gothic spiral towers, so he ordered a cheaper design and started a trend. Today, most Bavarian churches have onion-shaped domes. Spend a moment exploring the chapels with their beautifully carved altars before heading back into the city.
Take one of the pedestrian shopping streets and then busy Dienerstrasse to another Munich tradition, the Dallmayr delicatessen, a gourmet food store and one of Europe’s best coffeemakers. Have lunch and people-watch at the bustling counter. The fresh fare ranges from hearty Bavarian sausages to lobster and oysters.
After lunch, walk north on Diener- and then on Residenzstrasse, to the Residenz, the former home of Bavaria’s ruling family, the Wittelsbacher. This 130-room palace, built and redecorated over four centuries, is one of Europe’s grandest and a powerful reminder that, until 1918, Bavaria was an independent kingdom. You could easily spend three awestruck days here, but a full afternoon is enough for the must-sees. The Renaissance Antiquarium is a hall, 223 feet long, with a magnificently painted barrel vault, dazzling stucco allegorical figures, frescoes, and paintings. The Treasury harbors the crown jewels of the Wittelsbacher.
Beauty and vanity are also the setting of your dinner at The Lenbach, one of the city’s “in” spots. Set in the historical Bernheimer Palais on Lenbachplatz, this restaurant was designed by British architect Sir
Terence Conran. A catwalk called Vanity, illuminated in bluish hues, cuts through the dining area. The Lenbach invites you to consider the seven deadly sins—at least the exquisite Asian-German fusion sampler of appetizers called “Seven Sin’S.”
“See and be seen” is a game played by many Lenbach guests, but the pros go to the Bayerische Staatsoper, where, every night, Munich society holds court. A performances here is guaranteed to be top-notch, be it a Wagner opera or a Beethoven symphony. Dress for the occasion and enjoy the drama on, and off, stage. Round off the evening with nightcaps at Schumann’s Bar am Hofgarten, one of the top bars in Germany. Owner Charles Schumann, who models for Hugo Boss, imbues this spot with his elegant style. Late at night, take a leisurely stroll back to the hotel across the downtown area with its historical, illuminated buildings and churches. You’ll sense Munich’s enchanting glow.
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