“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 TWO / Start your day with a breakfast at Café Luitpold at the Palmengarten, one of the most venerable of the traditional coffeehouses in town. From the endless list, choose a local favorite—the Brezen-breakfast with huge Bavarian pretzels and two eggs—and dine with bankers grabbing a quick coffee on their way to work.
From here, walk up Brienner Strasse and turn right onto Barer Strasse to one of the world’s finest museum complexes, the Alte & Neue Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne. The first of these fascinating art museums, the Alte Pinakothek, was built for the art collections of Bavaria’s dukes, electors, and kings. All three museums are worth a visit. Start with the Alte, with its German, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian masterpieces from the 15th through 17th centuries.
Then cross the street to the Neue Pinakothek, housing 4,500 paintings and 300 sculptures from the 18th century to the art-nouveau era. The sleek Pinakothek der Moderne, which opened in 2002, is the latest—and a controversial—addition, with classic and avant-garde modern art.
Next, head northeast on Türkenstrasse into the heart of Schwabing. This art and university quarter is lively and bohemian. Spreading around its two main thoroughfares, Ludwig- and Leopoldstrasse, are charming art-nouveau villas, now university institutes and dorms, lined with street cafés and cheap eateries. Just a few steps away to the east is the Englischer Garten, a sprawling, 920-acre park where thousands of locals flock in summer to play soccer, have picnics, and stroll about—and many of them get completely naked in the process. These “Nackten vom Englischer Garten” have long been a nuisance to city officials, but stubborn, liberal-minded Munich locals and nudists have resisted all attempts to prevent them from disrobing when the first spring rays caress the park.
Fortunately for visitors, everybody has to be clothed inside the city’s beer gardens, so enjoy a cool Weizen, Starkbier, or lager at the Biergarten im Englischer Garten at the foot of the Chinese Tower, a wooden replica of an Oriental pagoda (on Sundays, an oompah band plays Bavarian folk tunes on the ground floor). Don’t drink more than one mass (a mass is about 1 quart of liquid food, as beer is called here); you still have some walking to do. Continue south from the park along Königsstrasse and Strauss-Ring to Maximilianstrasse, the city’s most elegant shopping boulevard, with all the top German and international designer labels.
From the boulevard’s western end, take a cab to the Deutsches Museum, in southeast old town. The world’s largest technology museum presents 17,000 exhibits on a range of sciences—physics, chemistry, astronomy, music, mechanics, air and space exploration, mining, telecommunications, shipbuilding, and microelectronics. It may look like a paradise for nerds, but the life-size models are a thrill and will awaken the child in you. Pick up a floorplan or you’ll get lost in this tech nirvana.
By now, you have quite an appetite, so take a cab to your hotel and change into something suitable for one of the world’s finest gourmet temples, Tantris. Chef Hans Haas prepares unbelievably tasty works of culinary art with a thrilling mixture of French, German, and Asian influences. Later, dance off the calories at P1, still the poshest dance club in the country. There’s often a queue waiting to get in, but nicely dressed couples usually make it past the doormen.
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