Munich in the build-up to Christmas is a magical city. Travel editor Neil Sowerby enjoyed the whole Christmas Market scene but found much, much more to divert him on a weekend break.
Glockenspiel in the Rathaus1 Glockenspiel at the Neue Rathaus
I’d travel to Munich just to see the Glockenspiel. This automated tableau dating from 1908 and high on the town hall facade features 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. Each day at 11am (extra times in summer) it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century. The top half tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V, who also founded the Hofbrauhaus, and features a joust with life-sized knights on horseback. This is followed by the bottom half and second story: Schäfflerstanz (the coopers' dance), celebrating perseverance in plague times and performed every seven years by human dancers, too, during the Fasching Carnival. At the end of the show, a small golden bird at the top of the Glockenspiel chirps three times.
Antiquarium In The Residenz2 Residenz
This former palace of the Bavarian kings bears traces of many eras and the whole trip round is a tiring excursion except for tapestry and gilt junkies. Still it houses two must-sees – 1750s Rococo gem the Cuvillies Theatre, the finest in Europe, and the mind-blowing Antiquarium, whose 225ft barrel-vaulted length hosts a Renaissance phantasmagoria of frescoes and grotesque sculptures.
Oldest church in the city (13th century) combines Gothic, Baroque and Rococco, but the best bit is the cityscape view from its Renaissance tower. You have to climb 302 steps to get there, though.
Albrecht Dürer Self-Portrait4 Pinakotheks
Within 100m of each other in Munich’s Museum Quarter, The Alte, Neue and Moderne Pinakothek galleries cover the entire history of art. If you have to choose one, let it be the Old Master-packed Alte. Rubens fans will lap up the fleshy surfeit of their huge collection. Among rival delights are Cranach, Hieronymous Bosch, Breughel, Rembrandt and Durer’s incomparable ringleted self-portrait.
Adolf Friedrich von Schack was a 19th century Munich literary figure, who collected paintings where the Romantic message was often as important as the medium. Even his own gallery’s catalogue says “his poetry is no longer read”, but the artworks shed a light on a particular German sensibility, particularly the Arnold Bocklins. Off the beaten track. Loved it.
Chinesischer Turm6 Englischer Garten
Head north from the Schack and you hit Germany’s largest public park – 922 acres of trees and trails and a substantial lake, the Kleinhesseloher See. We fed the ducks and quaffed Paulaner Weisse at the lakeside Seehaus beer garden after much joyful rambling, taking in the park’s big photo opportunity, the Chinesische Turm (Chinese Tower).
7 Schloss Nymphenburg
Think Versailles, Schonbrunn, Blenheim. Nymphenburg’s in that league. A trek out of town, but the vast landscaped grounds offer everything from Baroque follies and grottos to 300-year-old trees in a nature reserve. The former summer palace itself is a harmonious melange of buildings packed with centuries-old bling. Stand-out is the Rococo hunting lodge called he Amalienburg.
Ohel Jakob Synagogue8 Jewish Centre
Dachau, movingly preserved, is an easy day trip from Munich. In the city itself the Jewish Centre in St Jakobs-Platz celebrates the faith’s survival here post-Holocaust. The Ohel Jakob Synagogue, inaugurated in 2006, is an uncompromising post-Modernist structure that stands out amid the mellow re-construction of central Munich.
9 BMW Welt (BMW World)
The Germans are inordinately proud of technical achievements (let’s call it the Vorsprung Factor). This museum close to the Olympic Stadium celebrates a car brand that does very well for itself. Our city guide suggested we hang out at the BMW delivery line to enjoy watching lucky new owners’ joy. We said: “Nein”.
10 Oh and the Oktoberfest
Missed it again. Every October over 16 days of heroic excess some 6m thirsty visitors flock to the Theresienwiese to consume 5m litres of beer, 200,000 pairs of pork sausages and 200 spit-roast oxen. I’d go to see the legendary, original Flea Circus in operation. Small pleasures, me.
Neil Sowerby stayed at the Louis Hotel, Viktualienmarkt6, 80331 Munich (+49 89 411 190 8-100, www.louis-hotel.com). Room rates vary from 195 euros a night to 450 euros for one of the market view rooms. You could easily spend up to 80 euros a head with wine in the Japanese restaurant Emiko. Be assured, it’s worth the splash-out. The hotel is a member of Design Hotels (www.designhotels.com), a worldwide guarantee of cool lodging.
Munich’s official tourism website:www.muenchen.de/int/en/tourism.html
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