Veritas – Munich: The treasure chest of Bavaria
This city is about much more than its annual beer fest. It is home to some very wealthy citizens, some world-class galleries – and a museum dedicated to potatoes.
There are still good reasons to visit Munich, even after Oktoberfest. Or especially after Oktoberfest, depending on your perspective. First, because Munich’s citizens have inherited from the former ruling Wittelsbach family a legacy of centuries of wealth creation. This dynasty ruled Bavaria from 1180, calling Munich home until Ludwig III abdicated in 1918. Second, the city’s cultural inheritance means its galleries and museums are overflowing with riches. Start your cultural visit at its three major galleries.
The Alte Pinakothek boasts rooms full of gigantic works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Goya, among others. Its collection of Hans Holbein – still lifes and portraits – rank among the world’s best. The gallery ends at the age of Pissarro and Degas, roughly where the Neue Pinakotek, just across the road, begins. Other Old Masters there include Gauguin, Klimt and a lovely landscape by Bonnard. Spare at least two hours for each gallery.
If later, figurative and conceptual art is to your taste, cross one more road to Pinakotek der Moderne, which transports you from Pablo Picasso and Max Beckmann to Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Downstairs is transport of the physical kind: it doubles as a design museum with gleaming car chassis.
There are also plenty of Old Masters at the Residenz, the central home to Bavaria’s former rulers since 1508. It has housed royalty from Spain and Greece, as well as a Pope. One of its owners, Maximilian I (a prince-elect of the Holy Roman Emperor), built a wing of lavish rooms in 1611 solely for imperial visits. The emperors never appeared – a shame, given the ornate inlaid furniture and ten enormous wall tapestries made for these “Steinzimmer” rooms by Dutch and French craftsmen.
King Ludwig II, arguably the Residenz’s best-known owner, planted a tropical forest – glassed in on the roof and complete with a river and palms – before he returned to his forest retreat, Neuschwanstein Castle. That is an easy day trip from Munich. The Residenz’s treasury collection is breathtaking. Recover from all this with a hearty German meal – Eisbein (pork hock) or Schweinebraten (roast pork) are favourites – at eateries such as Augustiner Restaurant and Zum Franziskaner.
Munich is certainly not just heavy meat and steins of beer. Elegant dining is available at Mark’s in the Mandarin Oriental (Neuturmstraße) and The Grill (Lenbachplatz). Also, wander through Allois Dallmayr, on Dienerstraße which since 1700 has been serving deli items such as caviar and crayfish. Greet the live lobsters in its fountain.
This shopping complex sells bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Margaux for anything up to €1,500. For a similar price, if you prefer, Herrmann Souvenirs on Neuhauser Straße will sell you the world’s largest hand-painted beer mug. Max Krug next door has intricate cuckoo clocks for about as much. If you choose the mug, buy a pair of Lederhosen (for the men) or a Dirndl (for the ladies) each for about €200. Dress and visit Munich’s Bier & Oktoberfest Museum (Sterneckerstraße). It traces the roots of the festival, now held in September’s warmer weather, back to the wedding celebrations in 1810 for Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, who was once a potential bride for Napoleon.
Other Munich museums celebrate hunting, ancient Egyptian artefacts and potatoes (Kartoffelmuseum). Another celebrates Munich’s most famous product, the BMW (language tip: “Wieviel kostet denn ein rotes Kabriolett?” – “What will the red convertible cost me?”)
If your dream car is not there, visit Mercedes Benz’s “sound lounge” on Residenzstraße. Marvel at the comforting “whumpf” as a Mercedes door closes. Still not satisfied? Aston Martin’s showroom is just three doors up.
The number of luxury car salons, top-end jewellers and designer clothes (Perusastraße and Theatinerstraße) and art dealers (Maximilianstraße) attests to Munich’s wealth. Unlike at London’s top-end stores, one senses it is Germans, not Asian and Middle Eastern shoppers, doing the buying.
Munich’s riches are also on show at the ballet, opera house and city theatre, all on Max-Joseph-Platz. Tickets range from €7 to €200, and are often available on the day or from www.staatsoper.de. This year’s performances include Les Contes d’Hoffmann for opera and The Nutcracker for ballet. La Traviata, Das Rheingold/Die Walkure, and Madama Butterfly come out in early 2012.