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Munich is the cosmopolitan capital of Bavaria. It’s home to world class museums, sprawling parks, beautiful baroque palaces and the entire city is steeped in history. While Oktoberfest tends to be the first thing people think of doing when they visit Munich, there is so much more to the city than it’s famous beer festival. Take a look below:
City Center Munich
Marienplatz is the central square in downtown Munich, and the canvas behind some of the most iconic images of Munich. The square became the city center in 1158, and is named after a memorial statue of the Virgin Mary memorializing the end of the Swedish occupation of Munich originally constructed in 1638. The central square has been home to markets, public gatherings, tournaments and served as a community space for hundreds of years. Now it’s the bustling home of shoppers and tourists as they make their way through the capital city of Bavaria. In December, the Marienplatz is the site of the Munich Christkindlmarkt, a series of stalls and booths feature Christmas fare and food.
Neues Rathaus & Glockenspiel
Marienplatz hosts the Neues Rathaus, or new town hall. The Rathaus contains the rooms and administrative offices for city council and local government. Constructed between 1867 and 1906, the town hall was damaged during WWII and received restoration and reconstruction work in the years after. The tower of the Rathaus features the famous Glockenspiel, a clock which plays music and turns through a wheel of interesting Munich characters, recreating the 1568 tournament for the marriage of Duke William V and Renata of Lorraine. The “Schäffler” dancers on the lowest tier of the Glockenspiel are said to be luring Munich citizens back out of their homes after the plague hit Munich in the early 1500s. The Glockenspiel plays everyday at 11AM and 5PM. The Rathaus also contains a memorial room to the two World Wars and the Ratskeller, a restaurant.
In the midst of Odeonplatz, stands a monumental building. Likely you’ll see tourists and locals gathering on it, and more often than not a photographer or two capturing photos. It’s a popular photo opportunity in Munich, but it’s history is a bit darker.
Originally constructed by King Ludwig I of Bavaria between 1841 and 1844 to honor the army, the site is more famous for its links to Hitler and the Nazi Party. It was here that a brief skirmish ended the attempted Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 which landed Hitler in prison and dealt a blow to the burgeoning Nazi party.
When the Nazi party took power in Germany in the 1930s, the site was dedicated to the members of the Nazi party that had died in the earlier rising. It was here that newly inducted Nazi soldiers swore their oath of allegiance to Hitler and memorial events commemorating the dead and wounded were held.
German citizens were required to give the Nazi salute as they passed by. An alley behind the monument served as a passageway for those who refused to do so, earning it the nickname of “dodger’s alley”.
Just north and a short walk from Marienplatz is the the Residenz. The Residenz was the Munich residence of the Wittelsbach family. They were the monarchs who ruled Bavaria from 1180 until the end of World War I – over 700 years! Originally built in the late 1300s, it’s also the largest palace in Germany with hundreds of rooms. 130 to be exact (see a layout of the palace here)! In addition to the rooms of the king and queen, the palace also has its own church and ornate theater.
Munich has a number of gorgeous churches downtown including the Frauenkirche, the towering Gothic cathedral that is symbolic of the Munich skyline. The Frauenkirche is also the resting place of many of the Bavarian princes, going all the way back to Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, known as “the Bavarian” who died in 1347. The cathedral was built in late-Gothic style in the 15th century by Jörg von Halsbach, when the previous church could no longer hold the parishioners of the burgeoning city of Munich. A trusted architect for the city, Halsbach had already built the Alte Rathaus, or Old Town Hall.
The Devil’s Strike
Legend has it that when the architect told the devil that he’d built a church with no windows, the devil decided he wanted to see for himself. Standing in the church, he jumped with joy when he observed he could not see any windows. Moments later when he noticed that the windows were merely obscured by the massive pillars he flew into a rage, stomping his foot and trying to blow the church down. He wasn’t successful, but his imprint in the floor and breeze visitors feel at their back is the lasting memory of his attempt.
Alte Peter, or The Church of St. Peter (directly translated as Old Peter) is one of the oldest churches in downtown Munich. A precursor to the church stood in roughly the same location starting in the 700s. By 1158, the St. Peter was founded, and by 1181 expansions were already underway under the direction of Otto I. The church that stands in central Munich today, is much changed from its original version. In addition to multiple additions and updates, much of the church was destroyed in a fire in the early 14th century and had to be rebuilt. The interior of the church feautures a high alter designed by Erasmus Grassmer, focusing on St. Peter. The bell tower of Alte Peter can be climbed for sweeping views of downtown Munich and the surrounding area – if you’re willing to climb the 299 steps to the top.
Asamkirche, also known as the Church of St. Johann Nepomuk is decorated in bold baroque style. Built between 1733 and 1746. The church earned its name from it’s architects, the Asam brothers. While the outside of the church is rather understated and the church is rather small, the interior is wild and otherworldly, taking on a life of its own.
St Michael’s Church
The burial place of kings, more than one Wittelsbach ruler is buried in this church. Built in the late 16th century by William V, Duke of Bavaria, the church was intended to be a symbol of the Counter Reformation. For a small fee, visitors can travel into the basement and see the burial chambers of the famous Wittelsbachs kings, including King Ludwig II.
Theatinerkirche (The Theatine Church of St. Catejan)
A Catholic church built in the mid-to-late 17th century, it was erected by the Elector of Bavaria as thanks for the birth of their child, the heir to the Bavarian throne. The church features high-Baroque style, and the towering white columns and ceilings bear a stark contrast to the dark wood benches beneath. A number of the Bavarian royal family are buried in the church.
Munich Points of Interest
The garden was created by Sir Benjamin Thompson in the late 18th century, when the current ruler, Prince Charles Theodore directed its creation. The prince had an unpopular reputation as someone who had refused to move to Munich and had offered to trade Bavaria for other territory in Europe. In order to appease the public, he completed several public projects like the garden.
Sir Thompson had been born in Massachusetts and served on the side of British Crown during the American Revolution. This experience with the military left him with the belief that military garrisons should be given civilian work to do during peacetime, like gardening and agricultural work. The Englischer Garten, placed on a portion of the former hunting grounds of the Wittelsbachs, was a proposed example of this.
The English Garden is a massive park just north of the Residenz and downtown Munich. The Isar River stretches alongside and through the park, creating a quiet retreat in the middle of the otherwise buzzing city. There are several restaurants dotting the park in addition to a massive beer garden. The park is as popular with locals as it is with tourists, and many come to spend their lunch break or an afternoon in the park.
Surfers. Yes, in the middle of downtown Munich. (Maybe if you’re feeling adventurous you can add this to your list of things to do in Munich?) You can watch the surfers catching the waves on the Isar River. There are performances in the park in the summer as well as pedal boats that can be rented at the Seehaus on the lake.
King Ludwig I had the gate designed and built in the 1850s as a dedication to the Bavarian Army, then still an independent state. The gate was heavily damaged during WWII and was only partially restored. The gate now stands as a monument to peace.
Hofbrauhaus & Beer Halls
If you’re looking for the German beer hall experience – with massive liter-sized single serving beers, gregarious chatter and the sounds of an oompah band rolling through the background, Munich has a host of options to choose from. It doesn’t have to be Oktoberfest to get the atmosphere you’re looking for.
The famous Hofbrauhaus hosts more tourists than locals, but has the kind of reputation that’s hard to resist. If you prefer something a little more authentic but still tourist friendly, the Augustinerkeller or Lowenbraukeller are your best bets. Either way – have a massive beer, a pretzel, and if you’re there early enough in the day – get yourself the famous Munich Weisswurst!
National Theatre – Bavarian Opera House
If you’re interested in seeing the opera, orchestra or ballet perform while you’re in Munich, the National Theatre is the place to do so. It’s located off of Max-Joseph-Platz and has a stunning neo-classical facade.