There’s usually only one thing on people’s minds when they head to Munich in October. Knocking back litre after litre of quality German lager is great, but as you lie in bed wondering whether the experience was worth the hangover, remember that you’re in a city that has over eight hundred years of history, so you might find a little more to do in Munich beyond the beer tents.
There’s usually only one thing on people’s minds when they head to Munich in October. Knocking back litre after litre of quality German lager is great, but as you lie in bed wondering whether the experience was worth the hangover, try to remember that you’re in a city that has over eight hundred years of history, so you might find a little more to do in Munich beyond the beer tents.
First things first. It would be rude not to dip your toe in the Oktoberfest pool while you’re in Munich at this time of year. The celebrations date back a couple of hundred years to a royal wedding. The fields in which they celebrated were renamed after the bride, Terese, to the imaginative name Theresienwiese (meaning Terese’s field), often shortened to Wiesn, which remains the local word for the festival. Nowadays the festival actually begins in September, partly because the festival was so good they just had to extend it. Moving the start dates forward slightly also allows for longer nights and better weather, which in turn creates better spirits among the people.
Perhaps you have your reservations about going. Maybe you won’t like the Bavarian beer, maybe it will be too cold for you, or you might be worried that you pay all this money to travel to Munich only to have reserved a seat next to Paris Hilton. Well, in 2007 Paris Hilton was banned from attending the festival forever because of her appearance promoting her new brand of canned wine, which organisers said ‘cheapened’ the event. So that should alleviate at least one of your worries.
Be sure to book your seat in one of the tents in advance as you will struggle to find a seat otherwise, although you can usually find something outside (especially if it’s raining!). The tents are vast, and the people happy. Seas of smiling faces topped with Tyrolean hats and bottomed with lederhosens dance on benches to Bavarian brass music while struggling to handle the massive steins full of beer. Last year festival-goers managed to put away over seven million litres of the golden stuff.
The atmosphere should be sampled by all at some point. Even if beer isn’t really your thing, it’s a great day out; there are even a few rollercoasters, though this probably isn’t advisable post-beer tent. In any case, the festival only encompasses the first week or so in October (given that it actually starts in September), so what are you going to do if you arrive too late to join the party?
The residents of Munich, understandably, don’t want their city to be known solely for the Wiesn. Historically, the Prussian kings were occupied with growing their armies in Berlin (not, as the joke goes, up their sleevies), while the royal family in Bavaria were interested in creating an artistic and scientific community. Indeed, many composers such as Mozart, Wagner, and Strauss (among many others) all lived in Munich at some point, and a group of esteemed artists named Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider) was established in 1911. Today we can see the fruits of this movement in Munich’s museum quarter, The Kunstareal, home to Lenbach Haus which showcases some of the works of Da Blauer Reiter, although they are often loaned out for other cities to enjoy. Also in the area you’ll find The Pinakotheken, a collection of three art museums with works spanning from the 15th century to the present day. The Glyptothek houses classic Greek sculptures in its equally impressive building. Elsewhere in the city you’ll find many more museums to keep you busy for weeks. One notable mention is the City Museum of Munich, which serves to quench your thirst for local history
Needless to say, the city’s reputation as a centre for arts and culture isn’t disputable. It’s also Germany’s centre for aerospace and software, earning its stature as a high-tech city and economic powerhouse. This status is highlighted when visiting the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology. Petrol heads can receive a tour of the BMW plant and museum to further acquaint yourself with the inner workings and history of this global brand.
Speaking of history, Munich was the hotspot for extreme politics after WW1, eventually giving rise to the Nazi party. Because of its importance in this movement, Munich was often referred to as the Hauptstadt der Bewegung (Capital of the Movement). An informative yet chilling three-hour tour exists in which you can explore the darker side of Munich’s streets. You can also take a trip to Dachau, Germany’s first forced labour camp, to take a haunting tour of the cells and gas chambers of WW2. If this hasn’t sated your appetite for war history, Nuremberg is a couple of hours away by car where this beautiful city that became a centre for Nazi party rallies can be visited as a day trip.
Back in the city centre and to something a little more relaxing: a visit to a baroque-style, sixteenth century hall in the city centre that goes by the name of Hofbräuhaus. There’s only one thing to do here (besides admire its high ceiling decorated with renaissance art). Drink beer. Apparently, in the 16th century, the Duke of Munich hated the local beer so much he ordered a brewery to be built, and the Hofbräuhaus beer hall is where it was, and still is, drunk by locals and tourists alike. If you’ve missed the Oktoberfest, you can still grab yourself a nice traditional stein of Bavarian beer.
The Marienplatz is a historic square in the city where tournaments and markets were held. Today, it still hosts some of the famous German Christmas markets, and is largely commanded by the New and Old Town Halls. The Old Town Hall, originally documented in 1310, is largely reconstructed after being bombed in WW2, but retains some of its Gothic architecture. The most famous feature of the (not so) New Town Hall, which started construction in the late 1800’s, is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Every day at 11am and 5pm the Glockenspiel chimes and two elaborate shows of life sized figures in enacted. One is a jousting tournament in honour of Duke Wilhelm’s marriage (the same duke who founded the Hofbräuhaus), the other depicts a dance, said to be danced through the streets of Munich to symbolise perseverance through hard times. The Schäfflertanz dance is now performed every seven years by tradition, with the next one being in 2019.
To get the highest view of the city head to Frauenkirche, where you can climb the (almost) 100 metre tower for a view over Munich and distant Alps. The city prohibits the construction of buildings over 99 metres, so you can be sure to have the best view from up the Munich Cathedral. These laws seem to constantly be under debate, so get there before Munich becomes Manhattan.
Another building worthy of note is The National Theatre. It, like many other buildings, was destroyed in the war and later rebuilt, but that wasn’t the first time it’s been reduced to rubble. In the cold temperatures of January 1823, which froze the water pipes of a city, a fire broke out in the theatre. The rumour is that the firefighters turned to another plentiful liquid in the city – beer. Unfortunately, beer is quite tasty, so the efforts were slowed somewhat by rescuers trying to extinguish their sorrows as well as the flames. Consequently, much of the building was destroyed.
Explore the sprawling Viktualienmarkt for all imaginable foods and flavours, with independent market stalls offering the best street food Germany has to offer, including an ice cream stall with some questionable flavours. Viktualienmarkt is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of the city centre, while grabbing a quick bite to eat. Elisabethmarkt is another charming little market, but smaller and with less tourists. The typical Bavarian food you’ll find will be a veal based sausage or some sort of pork based sandwich, but non meat eaters of the world never fear. The vegan movement is growing, and traditionally meat-heavy cities such as Munich are catering to the change. You’ll find an array of decent vegan restaurants to spare you ordering the salad and the establishments dominated by meat dishes.
Nymphenburg is a baroque palace which served as the main summer residence of the former rulers of Bavaria. It is surrounded by a beautiful near 500 acre park and hosts a few museums which are open to the public, along with the palace itself. The park is split down the middle by a canal with lakes on either side, which makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll.
The English Garden is a larger, arguably more famous area to take your ice cream for a walk. The park comes complete with a Japanese tea house (which performs regular Japanese tea ceremonies), and a Chinese tower located next to, you guessed it, a beer garden. What would your afternoon amble in a Munich park be without a tipple? Wandering along the park’s canals, you may come across a sight you’d not expect in a city, hundreds of miles from the sea. Surfing. One of the streams creates a standing wave, which surfers line up to ride. No you haven’t had too much to drink. Probably.
You can walk around the countryside of Bavaria and seemingly stumble into grand castles every few yards, and indeed the most Disney-esque of these is within a two hour drive of Munich. Neuschwanstein Castle was, in fact, the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle, and it’s easy to see why. This fairytale fortress with soaring towers overlooks the sweeping countryside and Alpsee lake, providing a view not to be missed. King Ludwig II was apparently intent on building a castle in this location since childhood and built the Neuschwanstein Castle from his personal funds. His obsession with the works of Robert Wagner explain the artwork depicting the heroes from Wagner’s operas. A guided tour of the castle is available where you’ll learn more about ‘The Mad King’ and his mysterious death.
And finally, of course it’s also worth mentioning the little football club, Bayern Munich, who currently dominate the German league each year and occasionally win themselves a European cup/champions league. If you don’t manage to catch a game, you can still visit the stadium and have a tour of the country’s top side.
Take a week or so in Munich, Oktoberfest or not, to explore its beer, museums, history, beer, surrounding beauty, local charm, and its beer. A city to keep the museum enthusiasts enthusiastic, the beer drinkers drinking, and the history buffs… buffing, in the midst of Bavarian bliss.