“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 THREE / It was a long night, so sleep late and then enjoy a Bavarian breakfast at the spot where locals go after a night on the town, the Viktualienmarkt.
Viktualien is an old Bavarian word for “victuals,” and the freshest, finest, and most authentic Bavarian food is still offered in the maze of stalls scrambled beneath a giant May tree. Have breakfast at any of the numerous eateries. The food will be quick and hearty. (Go ahead, try a Weizenbier with those delicious sausages.)
After breakfast, head to the central train station. Today, you’re traveling out of the city to the dreamland of the eccentric Bavarian King Ludwig II, who ruled from 1864 to 1886. Board any of the regional trains to Schwangau for a two-hour-and-20-minute trip through the rolling foothills of the Alps. You’ll be spending the afternoon on an absorbing tour, so after you get off the train, fortify yourself with lunch at the Schlossbräustüberl or its beer garden. Have the delicious roast pork in a dark-beer sauce, with dumplings and sauerkraut.
The highlight of the day awaits at Schloss Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig’s picture-perfect palace. You may have seen copies of it (the one at Disney World is quite good), but standing in front of the original is the experience of a lifetime. The castle does look kitschy, and tourist groups from around the world stampede through its rooms. But you will nevertheless feel the spirit of this romantic king. The castle includes a magnificent throne room and endless niches and grottoes. Ludwig was obsessed with building costly palaces, eventually racking up extensive debt. With foreign banks threatening to seize his property, the government had him declared insane and deposed him in 1886. He died immediately afterward under mysterious circumstances. Despite his tragic life, Ludwig II is one of the most popular of all the region’s kings.
After Schloss Neuschwanstein, take the train back to Munich. A long day of travel calls for complete relaxation. Walk over to the Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s premier beer hall and Bavarian restaurant. Despite its worldwide fame, the 400-year-old Hofbräuhaus remains an authentic local favorite. This is the place to mingle with Bavarians. Five-thousand regulars have personal mugs stored along the walls. Stammtische, reserved tables for regular groups, have funny names like “second home” or Stammtisch der g’mioatliche’n Samstagsrunde (“regulars’ table of the cozy Saturday circle”).
The boisterous atmosphere, the loud oompah march music, the friendly but tough waiters, hearty food such as Schweinshaxe (pig’s knuckles), and the beer that flows late into the night make this one of the world’s greatest venues for entertainment. You’ll quickly make friends.
Tonight, leaving the Hofbräuhaus and walking back to your hotel, you’ll surely feel the magic of Munich. Take some of it home, until you return. u Jürgen Scheunemann, a native German and longtime writer for HEMISPHERES, loves Munich for its Weisswurst and beer. He has worked for leading German newspapers and writes for Fodor’s and Dorling-Kindersley travel guides.
The city is great year-round, but early summer and fall are the best times to visit. In May (when the beer-garden season officially begins), the leafy trees, the lush parkland meadows sprinkled with colorful flowers, and the dry, gentle air make for a perfect scene. Throughout the year, locals and visitors alike enjoy the Föhn, a weather phenomenon unique to this area: warm, gentle southern winds that come down from the Alps. Fall brings magnificently clear air, with increasing rain in November and sometimes heavy snow from December to March, which guarantees perfect ski conditions just a few hours away in the mountains.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Munich climatological details, visit weather.com.
The international Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport is a 40-minute train ride (take S-Bahn S8) from the central station or Marienplatz in downtown Munich. The Munich Tourism Board has offices at the airport, inside the town hall, and at the central train station. The safe, clean public-transport system has metro, train, bus, and tram lines throughout the city. The various München Welcome Cards offer discounts on travel and many sights.
Olympiapark Stadium (Metro U3 Olympiazentrum; Tel: 49-89-179-08-0)
After a day of sightseeing, try the swimming pools, streetball and beach volleyball courts, and climbing equipment on the stadium roof.
Bavaria Filmstadt (Bavariafilmplatz 7, Geiselgasteig; Tel: 49-89-64-99-23-04)
Children will love taking a look at television and movie production at this fascinating theme park. Legoland Germany (Legoland-Allee 1, Günzburg; Tel: 49-82-21-700-700-211) This park outside the city is a dreamland for younger kids.
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