I’ve had a weird relationship with Munich.
The first time I was there, it was awesome. It was Oktoberfest and all boobs and booze. For a young, immature bachelor, probably no city in the world is better in September. I was staying in Salzburg though, so I didn’t get to fully take advantage of my time there (read: pass out behind a dumpster, which at the time I was backpacking around Europe and homeless, on a sabbatical from life, that option was always on the table).
The second time I was there, I was kind of just passing through. I stopped at one hostel, partied it up at some weird and empty Turkish night club with my hostel-mates. I was on my way from Strasbourg to Prague, and wanted to see a little more of the city, but it was cold, rainy, and foggy, and there wasn’t much to see in all that. I remember a park, and some vague outlines of a square and a church, but the fog was so thick that it could have been a church and it could just have been a bus terminal.
Neither time had I really seen Munich, and for a while that was my entire impression of the city. Big beer festival, Turkish night clubs, and foggy churches. To put it blunt, I didn’t really care much for it.
A different impression
Fast forward 10 years. Now that I’ve been living in Prague for some time, I’ve had to go to the city for one reason or another. A cousin was visiting one time and my parents were flying in and out the next. With all these visits, I’ve been able to slowly gather a different impression of the Bavarian metropolis.
When my cousin came in, we got the full old town experience.
We stayed at a hotel just in front of one of the old town gates. We had told him to meet us at the Hofbrauhaus, which apparently he had been at three times in a row and was glad for a fourth.
If it’s your first time to be in Munich, you have to go. We go every time now. The HB Haus is a famous den, having its roots in the 16th century as a party house for the nobility, opened by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V.
there's always live music at the Hofbrauhaus
When Wilhelm first took the throne, he had a problem. Bavarian beer sucked. The stuff was as thick as mud and tasted of the town where Luther was declared a heretic. Wilhelm had to save his country and do something. So he passed a law that no Bavarian beer would be crap swill. And this was the start of fine German engineering.
Wilhelm’s beer rocketed to popularity. He opened the Hoffbrauhaus so that he could share his delight with the nobility.
Wilhelm’s son, Maximilian I, had another serious problem. He didn’t care for the brown beer his father had improved the standards of. So he focused his efforts on producing fine wheat beer, and banned everybody else from making wheat beer, making an instant money making monopoly, but not doing much for the local beer scene outside of Hofbrauhaus.
the beautifully painted ceiling in the historic pub
Everybody’s favorite King of Bavaria, Ludwig I of Oktoberfest fame (though not mine, I prefer Ludwig II), had the hall remodeled and opened it to the common folk, and it’s been the same ever since, now being one of the most famous landmarks in history. Mozart wrote a poetic ode to the hall and got inspiration for an opera, Lenin visited it regularly when he lived around the corner, the Communists had their government’s parliament there, and Hitler staged his attempted revolution against the Commies, the Beer Hall Putsch, there which landed him in a stint in Landsberg writing his memoirs.
Yes, you read that right. Hitler started a fight against Communists in a beer hall. Interestingly, not much of that history is on display at the pub. Not sure why...
the Feldhernnhall, where the Beer Hall Putsch was stopped
At the Hoffbrauhaus, they only serve Bavarian food the Bavarian way. That means if you’re looking for some puny-American style-gluten-free-hold-the-breading-and-can-you-swap-the-potato-salad-for-carb-free-French-fries schnitzel, then you’re going to be out of luck. The place is always packed, so you might have to squeeze in and join some other folk during your meal. And know your food ahead of time. You can buy time and patience if you just order a beer first (there is one size, and that’s huge). Figure out what you want—follow what’s on the menu—tell the waiter. Now sit back, drink that beer, enjoy the live polka music and occasional groups of Bavarians dancing on tables.
If you’ve been to Munich before and are looking for something perhaps a bit quieter, but still Bavarian, then hit up an Augustiner pub. They’ve got several locations, but the original Augustiner Keller, which is where I visited on my second visit, is over next to the train station, and also not far is the first privatized location, the zum Augustiner. The food is perhaps better, and the beer is definitely better, it’s slightly less touristic, but it’s also not where Hitler staged his attempted overthrow of Communist Bavaria. If it’s summertime though, check out their epic beergardens for an afternoon gulp. The local Augustinians first started brewing their beer there in 1328, so they've a beer tradition nearly half as old as Jesus!
This last time we were in Munich, I decided we had to do something in the city outside of drinking beer. So I discovered the Alte Pinakothek, which is the first public art gallery in Europe, also founded by King Ludwig I. That guy loved the people. It’s in a museum district right near the train station, situated next to the Egyptian Museum and the Glyptothek, combined owning a nearly as impressive collection of stolen artifacts as the British Museum.
The Alte Pinakothek is much smaller than some of the more famous museums in Europe, like the Louvre, Hermitage, or Rijksmuseum. It, however, has a pretty amazing collection, packed full of Rembrandts and Rubens. I myself didn’t know how stylistically varied Rubens was, and after seeing this collection, I'm now following him on Instagram.
the Alte Pinakothek
The old town
There are some pretty awesome scenes in the old town, though much of it was left to bombs and flames in World War II.
A great way to tour the day would be to start with the Alte Pinakothek, and then walk over to the Japanese Teahouse, which was a gift by the tea school in Kyoto to recognize the Munich Olympics. It’s in the Englischer Garden, which is also a great spot for a walk.
Then pass the surfing wave on the Eisbach canal and continue to the Odeonsplatz. The Odeonsplatz was named for the beautiful concert hall called the Odeon, built by, you've got that right, Ludwig I. That dude literally built Munich. The residence of the royalty of Bavaria (which was not built by Ludwig, but he did live there) was also on the Odeonsplatz. Though both were thoroughly ravished during the War, the residence at least has been rebuilt and is now open for touring.
Hanging out at the Odeonsplatz
Continue on down towards the Marienplatz down the Theatinerstrasse. You'll see an epic monument to the Bavarian army, the Feldherrnhalle, also built by old Ludwig. This was where Hitler and his fellow beer brawlers had their last stand in a shoot out with the police.
Some great Munich tour and transit deals to get your started:
the back side of the Rathaus, from the Feldherrnhall
Continue on to the Rathaus. The Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall built in 1874, is the most iconic building in the city, and looks quite mistakably like a church. But don’t be fooled by its massive gothic clocktower. From here, it’s easy to get to either the Hoffbrauhaus or the Augustiner and train station. But for the sake of the tour, I’d continue up the route towards the train station.
the Rathaus (not a cathedral)
Where to stay
After staying in Munich at different places several times, I’ll have to say the best spot is the Hotel Muller. Not only were the rooms cheap yet gigantic, their in-room minibar was free. Which meant, by the time we left, it was also empty. But no worries, it’s restocked daily. The hotel is located just outside the Sedlinger Tor, making it almost a spitting distance to old town, though a bit more of a jaunt to the rail station.
The Sendlinger Tor
Have you been to Munich? What was your favorite part? I'm looking for more things to do there next time I'm in town!