From Glockenspiels to bratwurst, and lederhosen to the local bierhaus (beer hall), Munich, and the surrounding Bavarian region, are the quintessential images we conjure when we think of Germany. I really didn’t know what to expect at all from this city, but it has been an exceptionally pleasant experience. The old center is quaint and clean, and the locals are friendly and helpful, and the food is traditional. Justin just piped up behind me and said, “Munich is our favorite German city!”. Ironic, because this is our first stop in Deutschland… but he just added that “you wouldn’t say that about a city you didn’t like…”. Fair enough.
The amazing thing about Munich is that most of it was leveled by Allied bombs in World War II. Like many of the other cities in Germany, Munich had a choice: either they could bulldoze what remained and start new (as Frankfurt did), or they could faithfully rebuild the city as it had been. The citizens of the city voted by a small margin to rebuild, and thank goodness for that because it really is one of the most charming cities I have been to. But it hasn’t been easy. Reconstruction and restoration is still underway, albiet being wrapped up, 65 years after the last bombs fell. For example, the grand chapel at the Residenz (the royal palace complex) was only finished in 2003 and is still only the brick structure, with none of the details or artwork yet finished, as shown by these before, after, and current photos.
In some ways it is hard to believe the buildings we now see are not the originals, but are rather reconstructions faithfully based on the originals, all possible thanks to detailed pictures taken by the Nazis before the bombs fell.
I have to say, it doesn’t really get more Bavarian than that picture above. Ok. Lots to talk about so here we go. Our first day we arrived in the morning by train and headed straight for the BMW Welt and Museum. We had booked a tour of the museum and factory which was pretty outstanding, and I have to say, those robots they use to weld together and build the cars are unbelievable. We were strictly prohibited from taking any video or photos, but I found this video on youtube here that you can check out if you want to see more. This video is from a different German BMW plant but it’s more or less the same sort of production.
The Museum was rather informative as well. For example (and I suppose this is common knowledge amongst BMW fans), I learned that BMW actually began as a aircraft engine manufacturer! This engine broke altitude records in it’s day, going to 10,000 meters in 1919. This is particularly astounding considering the Wright brothers first history flight had only taken place 16 years prior.
However, the Treaty of Versaille, signed weeks after that flight, prohibited Germany from making aircraft and aircraft engines, and all BMW’s aero-engine development assets were confiscated by order of the Allied Control Commission. Thus, the company turned to motorcycles as a place to develop engines, and the rest is, as they say, history. Here are some pictures from the museum.
We also had some fun at the BMW Welt, which is a showroom and distribution center for BMW all housed in a architecturally acclaimed building. Visitors are allowed to sit in the cars, browse the expansive gift shop, and watch brand new BMW owners see their ordered vehicle for the first time. It’s quite the exclusive process. Customers are brought down a set of stairs that overlook the cars that are to be picked up, and as they stand there, a car on the floor is lit up with a spot light and it starts to rotate on a turning platform. That vehicle is their shiny new beamer. A photographer is present to catch the moment and then the owners take a victory lap around the track before heading out onto the street to drive away.
We simply had some fun sitting in some of the cars, picking out the ones we would want to own in some distant dream world.
It does kind of look like the blur of a propeller. However, it is not true! The blue and white check are in fact the colors of Bavaria, and being a Bavarian company, this was simply symbolic of it’s local heritage.
Talk about Bavarian. The food here is quintessentially traditional. Who knew I would like bratwurst and pretzels so much! But really, we did actually have a good experience, although I have to say, the potato dumplings are a little strange. Rather gelatinous, if I do say so myself.
Of course, Munich and the Bavarian region is also famous for it’s beer. Munich (or München, as it is called here), actually roots back to a meaning “by the monk’s place,” and Benedictine and Augustinian monks have been brewing beer here for centuries! The oldest brewery, Augustiner, has been around since 1328, and is one of six traditionally brewed beers in the city. All of them are very small, and have little to no exports outside of Munich, and a few of them only serve the beer in the hall attached to the brewery itself. Talk about a microbrewery! But Münchners are very proud of their traditions and of their reinheitsgebot, a purity law set in place in 1516 regulating the ingredients used in the making of beer. Any table you sit down at in the city will have cardboard coasters with the logo of the reinheitsgebot on it. How do I know all this you ask? We took a beer and brewery tour around town led by a Munich walking tour group, which was informative and fun. It culminated at a stop at the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. It is the world’s most famous beer hall, founded in 1589 by the duke of Bavaria. It was a royal brewery at the time and is now state owned. The restaurant and building now associated with the brew were built much more recently, with a big festival hall on the top floor. Here is where we finished our tour and enjoyed oompah music complete with a dancing couple in lederhosen and tradition dress, along with a whip demonstration to music. Essentially he cracked the whip in time to the music, which is impressive, but also pretty hilarious.
I don’t have a good way of loading the video that I took, but I found one here if you are interested. The fact that this is a form of entertainment is so funny to me…
And no, those are not actually our beers in the picture below, but I felt so much like Pippin when he finds out that the beer comes in pints at the Prancing Pony in the Lord of the Rings that we had to have a picture. Those mugs hold a full liter of beer and just made me feel very small. Instead we split a half liter between the two of us, which was much better.
I will say though that the beer is rather good, very light and not very bitter or hoppy. Justin bought two bottles of Augustiner to take home with him and enjoy some hot day in the garden this summer.
Here are just a few other pictures of the city and sights we saw.
Munich really was the cradle of the Hitler’s Nazi Party. They were concentrated here before their rise to power and at one time, Hitler was imprisoned here for attempting to overthrow the republic. Years later the Nazi party would call it the Capitol of the Movement, in reference back to the early days. Hitler held many rallies and marches in the city, this one being in the Konigsplatz, seen below.
It is hard to imagine that such a quiet and peaceful city once housed such destruction and withstood such attacks. I stood in this platz in particular trying to imagine what it would have been like to see storm troopers marching in high step and saluting their leader as they passed. It seemed terrifying and I was glad for the warm evening sun and for Justin’s hand holding mine. I might have given it a bit of a squeeze of reassurance.
I’ll leave the palaces we saw for another post, but I will mention our visit to Dachau. It was tough to see and read all the information about the completely abhorrent things that were done in that place of terror, and I can’t say I want to mention most of them. We were both very quiet for a time after we left, which, I suppose, is what a horror like the Nazi concentration camp system should instill in us all. Reflection on how could this have happened, and may it never be again. Dachau was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in 1933, originally to house political prisoners and opponents to the Nationalist Party. It was the longest run camp (12 years) and was the training ground and example for all the other camps through occupied territories. By the end of the war this tiny place meant to hold only 5,000 prisoners was crammed with some 30,000 people, many of whom were sick and weak, and the American army who liberated it were aghast at what they saw. We saw many pictures and read much information on what led to the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, and what life in the camp was like. I don’t even want to think of most of it but simply put it was hard labor with little food and rest and warmth, with beatings and extreme punishment for arbitrary accusations of resisting the SS, and constant fear of what might come next. The ‘games’ and tricks the SS guards came up with to instill fear in those who were encamped there were hideous, and I can’t imagine anyone even treating an animal with such brutality. Even worse were the medical experiments carried out on prisoners to test levels of extremes, such as what would happen in the case of low pressure for air force pilots, and how far is too far to survive in crashes into cold Atlantic waters. I don’t think I can say much more, but here are a couple pictures of the main camp site. There is not much left. The main barracks have been torn down and now only the rows of foundation footprints mark the places where the buildings stood, like long lines of graves. It is mostly a large gravel field with a row on trees like sentries marking the path to a memorial at the far end of the complex. Even in the bright summer sun it is a ghostly place.