Munich: Baroque Splendor and Beer Gardens

Munich is more than Oktoberfest - the Bavarian metropolis is oft cited in international surveys as one of the best cities to call home in the entire world.

Munich - City Hall Enlarge image Munich - City Hall (© ZB - Special)

At the tender age of 20 I spent a summer in Munich and can attest to its many charms, from lush parks featuring fun beer gardens to beautiful baroque churches to some of Germany's best art museums.

At the heart of the city lies the Marienplatz square, named after the Mariensäule (Marian column) at its center, with the Old and New Town Hall. The latter's tower contains the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Crowds of tourists routinely gather to witness this adorable daily spectacle, which occurs more frequently during the summer months. The Glockenspiel, which consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures, chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century.

Nearby are many other major attractions, including the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), the city's most famous church. Another stunning church located near the Marienplatz, on the Odeonsplatz, is the Theatinerkirche. This was always a personal favorite of mine. I visited it time and again during my summer in Munich. The reason? Most European Baroque churches feature lavishly painted and/or gilded interiors. The Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan (Theatine Church of St. Cajetan), by contrast, is totally unembellished in this manor. Upon entering the church, you are struck by the interior's unbroken pristine white ornate stucco decoration, punctuated only by a great black pulpit. The overall effect is simply breathtaking.

Munich - Asamkirche (Asam Church) Enlarge image The richly detailed Baroque Asamkirche - which is officially called the St. Johann Nepomuk church - was built by two brothers (Cosmas Damian Asam and Egid Quirin Asam) from 1733 to 1746. (© dpa - Report)

Also well worth seeking out on any visit to Munich is the Asamkirche, a little Baroque gem that dates back to the 17th century. The Old Residence Theatre (Cuvilliés-Theater) is also a must-see architectural treasure in Munich.

Among the city's myriad great art galleries - including most notably the grand Old and New Pinakothek museums - is the Lenbachhaus, which is perhaps my favorite museum in the entire world. Even if you know nothing about German Expressionism or the Blue Rider Movement, you will more likely than not fall in love as I did with the Lenbachhaus. The art on display there - including the largest single collection of Kandinsky's in the world - is literally heart-stopping (at least to anyone who even remotely appreciates art). The Kandinsky works, for instance, are displayed in chronological order to great effect, whereby his gradual projection from representational depictions of mythical Russian themes and landscapes to total abstraction is clearly documented.

The works of other artists affiliated with the early 20th-century Blue Rider movement - including Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Alexei Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin and Paul Klee - are also well represented here to great effect. (The first time I saw Franz Marc's Blue Horse I at the Lenbachhaus I literally almost had the wind knocked out of me. This is a must-see museum for any art lover. It reopens after renovations in 2013.)

Munich Sunset Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Munich and its residents - both real Bavarians and the "Zugereiste" (transplants) - are justifiably proud of their beautiful city and its eclectic cornucopia of cultural and nocturnal possibilities, ranging from the legendary P1 disco to the always-booked Munich Opera. They are also fond of Munich's much-beloved hearty culinary traditions, the most famous of which is the Weisswurst (white sausage). And they have a friendly rivalry of sorts with Hamburg, the grand Hanseatic dame of the north, as to which of the two cities is really home to the most chic and cultured folks in Germany. (Berlin, by contrast, is more likely to score points as the biggest hipster magnet in the country. Just imagine a bunch of alternative youngfolk in Brooklyn, dress them in slightly more form-fitting eurowear - und voila - you have the Berlin hipster type!)

But Munich clearly has no need to compete with Hamburg, Berlin or any other German city for that matter. Even if it were not home to the Oktoberfest, the world's largest annual "Volksfest" (folk festival), it would still be a really fun and exciting place.

The city's proximity to picturesque lakes, countryside ideally suited to hiking and cycling tours, dramatic castles, most famously "Mad" King Ludwig's fairytale Neuschwanstein castle (immortalized by Andy Warhol and Walt Disney), among other attractions, also enhances its endless appeal.

Weißwürste and a pretzel © picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb Enlarge image Bavarian Weißwürste (veal sausages) and a pretzel are a traditional mid-morning meal in Bavaria. (© picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb ) Foodies will moreover delight at the Viktualienmarkt, a daily gourmet food market in the heart of the city. Oh, and its soccer team (Bayern Munich) is consistently the best in the nation, and BMW (which stands for Bayerische Motorwerke/Bavarian Motorworks) is based here, including a pretty nifty museum that is a real treat for automobile fans. Munich also boasts some of Germany's sunniest weather, a thriving economy, a low crime rate and - like most German cities - an excellent public transit system.

Just watch out - if the thought of coming across TOTALLY NAKED strangers sunbathing or strolling about in BROAD DAYLIGHT freaks you out - when you set foot in the lush Englischer Garten (English Garden), the city's expansive "green lung," anytime the mercury starts to rise. If you stumble upon any of these avowed nudists (who are tolerated by authorities within the confines of the park), then you've seen some of the English Garden's famous "Nackerten" (that's Bavarian for "naked folks"). You might feel more than a tad flustered. They, by contrast, won't even break a sweat.

By Karen Carstens for Germany.info

MUNICH FAST FACTS

Population: (around) 1.42 million

Federal State: Bavaria (Bayern)

Area: 108.83 square kilometers (42.02 square miles)

Tourism: Munich is the second most popular German city travel destination after Berlin.

Economy: Munich, the economic center of Bavaria and southern Germany, is home to luxury carmaker BMW.

Food and Drink: Munich is famous for its beer and many beer lovers consider it to be the world's "beer capital." Among the food items it is famous for are "Weisswürste" (white sausage), which are served with giant soft pretzels and mustard.

History: Munich, the capital and largest city in the German southern state of Bavaria, was founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, the duke of Saxony and of Bavaria. It is located on the Isar River north of the Bavarian Alps. Munich is the third largest city in Germany, behind Berlin and Hamburg. Munich hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics. Today, the Olympic Park serves as a popular tourist destination, as does the BMW museum.

Source (facts and figures): various, including muenchen.de

Munich

City Hall Munich