It has been years since we have been to Munich Germany. While we were once here (decades ago) for the Christmas Market, the closest we came to Octoberfest was a breakfast beer at the Hofbrau the morning of the day Octoberfest was to open (before we had to leave for the airport).
We rectified that gap in 2019 when we spent several days in Munich around Octoberfest. But not all of our time was spent at the festival. We spent time exploring the city.
Munich Old Town Tour
We took a Sandeman’s walking tour of the somewhat inaccurately termed Old Town. It is inaccurate since much of the area was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt with structures that replicated the previous structures. This lead to such ironies as the beautiful, 1908 Neo-Gothic New Town Hall having been built for decades before the Old Town Hall, a 16th-century structure that was destroyed in the war and rebuilt after it.
Our tour began in Marienplatz, the city’s main square home of 2 city halls.
The new one (called Old Town Hall) is the famous Glockenspiel. The clock has two scenes—one representing a royal wedding celebration with a joust (between a Bavarian and an Austrian knight) and the other a celebration of coopers (barrel makers) in honor of a celebration that commemorates the end of one of the city’s plagues.
St Peter’s Church
Next was St. Peter’s Church. The oldest of the city'[s many Catholic churches was founded in 1158 before the city even existed. A visit here led to an ultra-brief overview of the history of the city, from the initial settlement by Germanic and Celtic tribes, through the Roman and the Holy Roman Empire that brought monks to Christianize the then small population. The city was named Munchen after these monks. The city grew on the basis of its control of and capturing tolls from a river crossing through which salt was shipped (from Salzburg).
Then to Viktualienmarkt or Market Square. This section of the city was designated as the city’s food market when the market outgrew its initial home in Marienplatz. The square, which is still home to the city’s primary food market, also houses prepared food stands, the city’s blue and white-striped Maypole and a large government-owned beer garden (which rotates its beer offerings among the city’s six breweries).
The beer theme continued to the nearby Platzi square with a stop at Hofbrauhaus, the largest and most popular beer hall in the city—a position it has held since this royal brewery was first opened to the public in 1828. The lovely Platzi, and its neighboring Phisterstrope are among the most atmospheric areas in the reconstructed Old Town.
Then to the upscale commercial Maximillian Street, named after the 19th-century King of Bavaria. The National Theater and the huge Munich Residenz. The residenz is a castle that was originally built in 1385. It served as home to House of Wittelsbach, the royal family that ruled Bavaria (first as a Duchy, and later as a Kingdom), to 1871 creation of the Republic of Germany. It has been a museum since 1920.
Just to the side of the Residenz is home to the Felderrnhalle (an 1841 loggia built to commemorate the Bavarian army) and the lovely Theatine Church, often called the White Church due to its lovely white interior. Built in the mid-17th century, the Baroque-style church with an elaborate Rococo façade has become one of the principal symbols of the city.
The square is also home to a more ominous site in the city’s history. The cobblestones of Viscardigasse, a small alley of the square is marked by with a jagged line of gold. This line marks the violent end of the two-day (November 8 and 9, 1923) Beer House Putsch, where Adolph Hitler and a band of his small Nazi party faced off against a squad of police in a failed attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government. The event nominally ended when a battle left 16 Nazis and 4 police officers dead and a number wounded. Although Hitler himself escaped, he later turned himself in. Charged with treason, the trial provided the opportunity to espouse his views to a national audience, gaining him greater recognition across Germany. He was sentenced to five years and served only one in prison, where he wrote his manifesto, Mein Kampf.
When Hitler became chancellor ten years later, he declared the spot a place of tribute to the 14 Nazi martyrs who died and his soldiers forced everybody who passed it to salute the dead. People who refused to salute, or who purposely went out of their way to avoid the site, were arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp (which we visited on a previous trip). The gold line now serves as a silent tribute to those who suffered or died at Dachau and to those who chose their own paths to avoid having to salute the Nazis.
The tour ended nearby in the lovely, 17th-century Hofgarten (Royal Garden) behind the palace. It has at its center the lovely pavilion for the goddess Diana.
From the garden, we walked through a series of parks (Poet’s Garden to the huge English Garden) where we had dinner at the pretty Chinesisher Turm Beergarden (see Munich Restaurants below).
We wanted to take some time out from beer for museums. The Neue Pinakthek was closed for construction so we missed its collection of primarily 18th- through 20th-century European art. But we did visit the Pinakothek Moderne, for its 20th-century modern and early 21st-century contemporary collections.
The primary exhibit contained a broad survey of 20th-century art, overwhelmingly European. As expected, it focused on German artists. It began with turn-of-the-century Avant-Garde art, with an overview of Brucke Expressionism with its stark, angular shapes, distorted perspectives and subdued color with sharp contrasts (with a particular focus on our favorite, Ernst Kirchner) and the following, more internationalist, more abstract Blue Rider group (as with Kandinsky and Franz Marc).
It gave an overview of Cubism (Picasso, Gris and Boccioni) and the post-WWI return to neoclassicism (including Otto Dix and Franz Radziwill) and Walter Gropius’s multi-disciplinary Bauhaus School (including interesting works by Feininger and Klee), Surrealism (including Miro, Ernst and Germaine Richter) and the Nazi (Zeigler) and Degenerate Art (Baselitz) of WWII.
Post-war art was represented by artists including Francis Bacon, Abstract Expressionists including deKooning, Rauschenburg and Motherwell and more contemporary work by those including Andy Warhol and Anselm Kiefer.
The museum has separate galleries dedicated to works by artists including Max Beckman, Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Don Flavin and photo collections by a few primarily German photographers, including several of Bernd and Hille Becher’s industrial series.
The museum’s second floor, meanwhile, is devoted to ceramics (particularly Pre-Columbian and African) and the basement to industrial design, especially automobiles, motorcycles, furniture, and home appliances.
- Banyan is a Vietnamese restaurant. Our wonderful three-dish meal consisted of beef-based Pho Bo and lightly fried sweet potato roti filled with king prawns, spring onion and sesame, wrapped in lettuce and dipped in nuoc mam sauce. Even better was the flavorful, crispy clay pot rice with sugar snap peas, Thai asparagus, mushroom, zucchini, king prawn, chicken, and beef. Our wine was a 2017 Pincher Ried Klostersatz Federspiel Gruner Veltliner.
- Ratskellar Munchen is the atmospheric restaurant in the basement of the New City Hall. Our lunch consisted of a tough, but tasty roast sucking pig with gravy, Bavarian cabbage, a very good roast onion ravioli, and a good Nuremburg-style bratwurst with sauerkraut and ultra-mild grated horseradish. Tom started in on beer with a Helles lager while Joyce stuck with a glass of white Burgundy.
- Augustier-Keller is a huge, in-town beer hall where we had lunch along with a beer and for Joyce, a Chardonnay. The quite good game-based dishes were hazelnut-crusted wild boar schnitzel with spaetzli, red cabbage and broccoli; and braised venison ragout with cranberry sauce, red cabbage, and bacon-bread dumplings.
- Munchner Stubn was our final and least interesting Bavarian restaurant. We had a quarter of a grilled duck with red cabbage with apple, potato dumpling, and an all too salty duck sauce; and spinach dumplings with brown butter and grated mountain cheese. Our wine was a 2018 Muller Gottweiger Berg Zeigelt Reserve.
- Chinesisher Turm Beergarden is located in Munich’s English Garden, a huge, green space that is larger than London’s Hyde Park. The Beergarden is almost as large as the park, with outside seating for thousands of people. Our dinner was light and casual with an acceptable bratwurst, a pretzel, a Urbank bock beer and a Gruner Veltliner white wine.
- Sinbad is a popular, casual Mediterranean restaurant where we saw a couple of giant vertical rotisseries with huge skewers of kofta. This whetted our appetite for gyros. We partially satisfied our cravings with two acceptable gyros (one with kofta, the other chicken) and a dish of hummus. While the hummus and the very light pita bread with which it was served was very good, we were less impressed by the gyros. The meat was served in tiny pieces (rather than larger slices) and lacked the moisture and the taste to which we are accustomed.
- Babylon.1 is not actually a restaurant. It is a popular shisha and drink bar where we shared a hookah (with pistachio-flavored shisha) along with a couple of non-brewed drinks (in our case, a mojito and a glass of Pinot Grigio).