Some Americans on whirlwind tours of Europe make it a point to visit the classic cities such as Rome, Paris and London while stationed in Europe. But many overlook one of the truly great cities not so far from home — Munich.
Bavaria’s capital may have a reputation as home to the ever popular annual bout of debauchery known as the Oktoberfest, but the city offers a wealth of other attractions. Palaces, historical buildings, museums galore, cozy beer gardens on every corner and miles of green areas that provide a variety of sightseeing and relaxation opportunities.
If indeed your heart is set on the annual Oktoberfest, which features 14 huge beer tents and a host of carnival rides that attract visitors from all over the globe, this year’s festival runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4. Rather than traveling by car, hop the train or catch a ride with your local USO to avoid parking problems and the risk of mixing drinking and driving.
But keep in mind that you needn’t wait for the Oktoberfest to enjoy the ambiance of Munich. Besides overflowing with culture the city has a lively student section, Schwabing and the Universität, a bustling shopping district up and down the Kaufinger Strasse, more amiable beer halls than any other German city and a park featuring miles of biking trails, beer gardens, lakes and playgrounds.
Munich is also the richest museum city in all of Germany. Like the Louvre in Paris or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Munich’s Alte and Neue Pinakotheken feature a treasure trove of old and new masters in painting and sculpture. Youngsters will enjoy hours of exploration in the Deutsche Museum, a technological showcase similar to the Ben Franklin Museum in Philadelphia, Pa. History buffs might want to delve into Bavarian history at the Bavarian Historical Museum.
Of course there are also the glass-domed stadiums of the 1972 Olympics. Hop on the U-Bahn at Marienplatz for a ride out to the Olympiazentrum to marvel at the skeleton-like glass constructions. If you’re lucky, you may visit on one of those days when a festival of some kind is being celebrated featuring live music, refreshments and more.
Founded in the 12th century by Henry the Lion, Munich quickly became a center for commerce and royal households. As the capital of the Duchy of Bavaria-Munich in the 13th century, many grand households were constructed leading to the city becoming an imperial city in 1338. In 1806, as the capital of Bavaria, the city was home to Germany’s first state constitution.
Among the many highlights of Munich is spending some time wandering through the 900 acre Englischer Gartens. Weather permitting, visitors can join the natives in biking or inline skating through the vast park area.
Completed after the Thirty Years War in the 18th century, the Englischer Gartens is the perfect place to rest your feet after sightseeing. Enjoy a Frisbee toss on the grass or lunch at one of the many beer gardens scattered throughout the park. One of the popular center’s of Munich is the Chinese Pagoda area in the park where one can sample local Bavarian culinary fare such as ribs and radishes, sided by a huge fresh pretzel and washed down with a liter mug of Bavarian brew. Join the hundreds of tourists and natives sitting at long outdoor tables enjoying the live music of a traditional oompah band.
There’s plenty more to do and see in Munich including visits to its many noted churches, climbing up the tower of the old Town Hall at Marienplatz and listening to its glockenspiel, trekking out to Nymphenburg Castle (a palace modeled on Versailles), sampling goodies at the Viktualien Market or simply strolling along the cold, rushing Isar River. Catch live music at a club in Schwabing or go shopping for bargains at one of the city’s flea markets.
In August, visitors can head out to the Olympic park area to enjoy art, handicrafts, fun and games. The Arts and Crafts Holiday Academy in 2003 is situated around the Olympic Lake and also features a mini sailing regatta. A Summer Festival in the Olympia Park featuring open-air theater, live rock and jazz music takes place through Sunday.
Gateway to the Alps
Another great thing about a visit to Munich is that it is not far from some of Germany’s most picturesque countryside. A short drive or train ride south from the metropolis takes one into the heart of the Alps to a host of scenic villages such as Murnau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen or to the many lakes, castles and monasteries in the area.
For more information on Bavaria and its capital, stop by your local library and pick up a reference book or visit http://www.muenchen-tourist.de/englisch/index_e.htm.