When I think of Munich, I think history, green spaces, and beer. And not necessarily in that order. To this, after spending 72 hours in Munich, I can add cycling and tennis. Not to mention museums, of which Munich is extremely well-stocked.
The primary purpose for my recent visit was to attend the BMW Open tennis, held annually in Munich. Myself and a few tennis-playing friends have a habit of going to one tournament a year, and this sustains our ill-founded belief that ‘one day we’ll be as good as these guys’. I also have a friend of long standing who has been a Munich resident for many years, so this was a good opportunity to catch up with him. He in turn volunteered to give the travelling group a ‘Munich tour’ when we were not attending the tennis tournament. Sorted.
It’s well known that Munich was the hotbed where Adolf Hitler rose to power, and as we walked around we were shown many historic monuments which had had particular significance for the emerging National Socialist movement in the 1920s and 30s. Munich is a great city for strolling around, and obviously (unlike Ireland) everyone obeys the ‘walk-don’t walk’ green man signs. However, be warned. There are cycle paths everywhere which criss-cross with the pavements. The city is flat, so ideal for cyclists. And they do NOT take any prisoners. I was almost mowed down on multiple occasions and began to feel more scared and wary while on the pavements than when crossing the roads.
And on those roads, the number of top-end BMWs, Mercedes and other luxury cars were a clear indication that there’s a lot of disposable income sloshing around Munich. The tennis was held at a club at the North end of the English Garden, which acts as a sort of N-S ‘green lung’ for the city (at least that’s how my guidebook described it). I was a bit surprised that the attendance at the tennis was sparse, but then the field is mainly German and Austrian players, with a few ‘top 20 players’ added in, so not the upper echelons of the sport. However the grounds were very easy to get around, accessible by public transport, and the sun came out and shone each afternoon which meant I got burned, having packed beanie hats instead of sun cream. The perils of travel at times of changing season were evident, as most of the clothes selection I had brought proved redundant. Next time I’ll get it right.
So apart from the tennis, the sense of history and the killer cyclists, what to see and do? In no particular order of appearance (it’s a bit of a blur) I’d mention the Neue Pinakothek (mostly modern paintings up to the Impressionists), the Design and Modernist Museum – aka Pinakothek der Moderne (even more modern paintings and iconic design objects like Volkswagens, portable typewriters and coffee pots), and parts of the Residenz (old palace that takes up a big block in central Munich). There are too many churches to mention, but my favourite would probably have been the small, perfectly formed and totally baroque Asamkirche. It’s a treasure trove of gilded cherubs, angels and some disturbing skeletons also peering down from on high. Beyond this, there are probably another dozen churches in central Munich, with the double-towered Frauenkirche the main city landmark and symbol. Not for the first time, I resolved to educate myself about the differences between, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance and so on. I will one day (he said confidently) be able to look at a church window and immediately go ‘Romanesque, obviously’. But I’m not there yet…
Back on the museum front, on the final day our guide took us to a recently opened museum near Konigsplatz which charts the inexorable rise of the Nazis with a particular focus on events in Munich. It’s huge, engaging, easy to follow, and – obviously – disturbing. It pulls no punches, and is located just beside the actual building where the premiers of England and France effectively signed away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938 in a doomed policy of appeasement. It’s called, deep breath, the NS-Dokumentationszentrum Munchen. By now my legs and feet had given up the ghost, so the only solution was to repair to the nearest beer garden and explore their range of products.
Effectively, Munich and beer halls or kellers are synonymous. People of all ages go there to drink, socialise and eat (more anon on that last part). The strict Bavarian laws on brewing mean that high quality is assured, and local brews predominate – effectively these are brewery-sponsored premium outlets. Most are equipped with enclosed gardens and chestnut trees which were just coming into bloom with their candle-like buds. We became especially fond of the Lowenbrau-keller, near Konigsplatz. But any are a very pleasant place to while away the time and watch the locals parade their lederhosen. The Hofbrauhaus is probably the best known to tourists, but for all that it’s mostly populated by locals. As for the food, it’s hearty cuisine (to say the least). Nouvelle cuisine may never catch on in Munich. So we ate large portions of pork, duck, chicken, mixed grills and wurst (sausage). And a few token vegetables on the side to cover the small patch of bare plate. Vegetarian hell.
A final word on the English Garden. It’s a huge city park with pleasant walks, lookout points, an iconic ‘Chinese tower’ and a surfing spot on the river where they have cleverly managed to create an artificial wave. Definitely worth a look. And at its southern end is the Bavarian State Chancellery with bullet scarred columns, facing the Hofgarten and the tomb of the unknown soldier. A nice place to ramble round and/or have a picnic, especially when the sun is shining.
So all in all, a great trip to Munich. There’s lots of very interesting and disturbing history, decent tennis, good food, a walkable city centre and more museums and churches than you can shake a stick at. Just look out for the cyclists and you’ll do fine. And you can always repair to the nearest beer-keller and reflect on the near-misses.