Munich isn’t one of Germany’s more well-known cities, at least in America. Most Americans are only familiar with the cities they’ve heard mentioned on the “Hogan’s Heroes” TV series (like Berlin and the hilariously named Düsseldorf), or the cities that inspired delicious foods (like Hamburg and Frankfurt). Munich had a moment of fame in 2005 with the movie of the same name by Steven Spielberg. But not many people watched it.
München, better known to English-speakers as “Munich,” is the Bavarian city infamous for “The Beer Hall Putsch,” a failed effort by the early Nazi Party to seize power (and not a 1920s swing-dance craze like it sounds). It was Hitler’s first attempt at “professional dictatoring,” and it did not go well.
Hitler’s botched revolt — which I can only imagine went off hilariously like an episode of Hogan’s Heroes — resulted in Adolf’s immediate arrest and a 5-year prison sentence, of which he only served a paltry nine months. That PR disaster should’ve been the end of his political career (and the Nazi party) but, as we all know, Hitler wasn’t a quitter.
Still, don’t hold this one, inauspicious “claim to fame” against München — it happened a really long time ago. Visiting the city these days, you’d be hard pressed to know that this quaint, old world hamlet was once the political breeding ground for the 20th Century’s biggest a-hole.
Among its lesser known accolades, München is the third largest city in Germany. It’s located in the southeastern state of Bavaria so it’s the country’s warmest city, too. And that might explain why its 1.5 million citizens — who, despite being German — seem so happy all the time.
Either that, or maybe it’s all the beer.
München is home to Augustiner-Bräu Wagner KG, the local brewery first founded back in 1328. Its tasty Lagerbier Hell — which strictly adheres to the Bavarian Purity Law — consists solely of water, barley malt, hops, and a 5.2% kick in der kopf.
True to all those time-honored German stereotypes and cliches, München was awash with public drinking, day and night — in fact, every restaurant and bar we visited sold us either beer or wine. Whenever we asked. At all hours of the day! It was disgraceful (from what we can remember).
The food wasn’t bad either. Most of my meals consisted of Augustiner Beer, pretzels, and some form of cured, cased meat and meat by-products. Despite knowing about sausage’s carcinogenic super-powers, we nonetheless threw our better judgment out the window and didn’t skimp on the stuff — the grilled bratwurst was particularly delicious. (Fun fact: The human body can process a surprising amount of sausage without serious organ failure.)
One of München’s culinary treats was the much-touted, yet boiled Weisswurst (or “White Sausage”), a traditional Bavarian sausage made from minced veal and fresh back bacon. The sausage arrives in the very water they boil it in and looks fairly disgusting (see photo), but when you remove the sausage casing (because you’re not supposed to eat it), it becomes even less appealing.
By far, the pretzels were the culinary standout — without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. They reminded me of the bagels we had in Montreal, Canada, which are even better than NYC bagels (yes, yes, it’s heresy, I know). Unlike the horrid American pretzel — one of which contains 20% of your RDA of sodium and Type 2 Diabetes — German pretzels are more like a delicious kind of bread, so we cargo-loaded like we were about to summit the Alps.
When we got tired of eating like Germans, we ate like Italians. With München only a 30-minute drive south to the Alps and another 30 minutes to Milan, Italian was the next nearest local cuisine. Unsurprisingly, Italian restaurants were everywhere. We had lunch at Lady Tigella, and dinner at il Grappolo (try the Amarone) and L’Osteria; all three were pretty good considering the chefs were probably named “Heinrich” or something.
Yet cuisine wasn’t the only outside influence you could see in Munich. Given its 900-year existence and close proximity to other European countries, it was inevitable that other forces would storm across the Bavarian border and impact the city’s skyline.
There were lots of architectural similarities to other European cities but, not being an expert on the subject of architecture, I have no idea which way the influence flowed: Did the Germans influence the French? Or vice-versa? Munich’s massive, multi-block buildings certainly reminded me of building’s I had seen in Paris, France, while a few of Munich’s Eastern Bloc eyesores reminded me of buildings I had seen in Detroit.
Regardless of the inspiration source, you can see fine examples of architecture styles from many different centuries and many different countries throughout the city:
The Gothic Frauenkirche cathedral, with its iconic twin towers, is the tallest building in the inner city because the Bavarian king decreed it — probably so some condo development wouldn’t block his primo views of downtown.
The Neo-Gothic New Town Hall houses the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a weird diorama of mechanical figures acting out stories from German history three times a day that likely involve burning forest witches and eating lost step-children, though we never actually saw it in action.
The Peterskirche Church (aka, St. Peter’s Church) is a hodgepodge of every architectural style known the man — Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and H.R. Giger. Its construction and subsequent renovations look like they were overseen by some priest with a cocaine habit and ADHD.
The Münchner Residenz, where the Bavarian royal family somehow “got by” with only 130 rooms and ten courtyards, is completely insane — during the hour we spent touring it, we only saw half of the place and we ran the whole way (until security tasered us). Honestly, you couldn’t imagine a larger structure.
Luckily, you don’t have to imagine a larger structure, because those crazy Bavarians built one. In 1664, they started construction on the Nymphenburg Palace as a “summer place” for the King. Apparently he had serious Memorial Day parties, because the place spans 2,000 feet in width and occupies 400 acres of land. Gott im Himmel!
Architecturally, München has it all (for better or worse). Yet despite its impressive past, the city isn’t trapped by it. Today, Munich is a delightful mash-up of old world charm and high-tech industry. In fact, it’s the “Silicon Valley” of Germany because Adobe, Cisco, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Oracle, and others are helping to send property values soaring straight through the solar-paneled roof. (€4,000 per sq. meter!)
As a thoroughly modern city, München has reliable and punctual public transportation that saved us from shockingly expensive cab rides. We took the S-Bahn S8 train from the airport for €8 (vs. €60 for a cab ride!) and bought a Day-Pass for the MVV tram for another €6 and took it all over Munich — it’s a very walkable city, but not after 11 Augustiners.
If you want to save even more money — and you lack the gene for self-preservation — you can ride bicycles like the locals. Germans drive on the correct side of the narrow, twisting Medieval roads, but the average tourist’s odds of getting nailed by a BMW still seem dangerously high. BMWs are so common around town, you’d think the company was based here! (What? It is? Oh. Well, that certainly explains the BMW Museum.)
Yet despite the dangers, bicycles are nonetheless wildly popular in Munich. And, for reasons I could not fathom, they’re also frequently left unlocked — riders simply abandon them along the sidewalk and streets as if they were shopping carts. I don’t know why people don’t just steal these free bikes, but I imagine its because Germany still has Medieval laws on the books and a bunch of fully operational dungeons.
One of the more popular — and eminently safer — places to ride a bike in Munich is the Englischer Garten (or “English Garden” for you twits). With almost 50 miles of trails, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the world. We walked around inside a bit and saw the man-made waterfall, but somehow completely missed the freaking 7,000-seat beer garden! Luckily, we had already managed to hit two of the Top Ten beer gardens: the Viktualienmarkt and Augustiner Keller.
The beer garden is such a quintessential German experience that it’s hard to believe that they’ve only been around for two hundred years. In 1812, Bavaria’s royal booze-hound, King Maximilian Joseph I, decreed that both beer and food could be served together, forever blurring the line between bars and restaurants.
As such, the German beer garden is the direct descendant of such fine establishments as Hooters (Thanks, Max!). Truly, beer gardens are one of Germany’s finest traditions. And they almost entirely make up for the whole lederhosen thing. I said, almost.
Over the course of our whirlwind three-day stay in Munich/München, we found a lot to like about the place:
The people couldn’t have been nicer — nobody once gave us crap about not speaking their needlessly long-winded tongue-twister of a language. The food was amazingly good considering it was predominantly sausage-based. The beer was top-notch (we certainly drank enough of it to know for sure). And the city itself was beautiful, inviting, and yet surprisingly absent of vomit and urine.
All in all, I’d have to highly recommend the place. Everyone should visit the city of München, Germany — even if you’re not on a business trip.