The first visible clues are the tall flags fluttering outside many of Munich’s municipal buildings which display the number ‘850‘.
A group of monks who built a monastery by the river Isar established the City of Monks, or Munichen, but it was Duke Henry the Lion who in 1158 rather cunningly destroyed an existing bridge over the Isar to divert commercial traffic to his own bridge in order to collect taxes from the then lucrative salt trade.
Now exactly 850 years on, Munich is no old man but is a modern metropolis of 1.3 million people, and proclaims itself as Germany’s safest, and wealthiest, city.
The motto for this year’s big birthday celebrations is ‘Building Bridges’; bridges to bring diverse peoples, and visitors too, together.
Transport remains leading edge in this part of Bavaria. A direct S-Bahn train takes visitors from the modern airport to the city centre in 45 minutes.
As with other German cities, there are a myriad of fast and regular U-Bahn and tram routes, making travel flexible and convenient. Once checked in, check out the pedestrian streets to get your bearings, whilst savouring the distractions of culture, history, art, parks and the sights.
Munich offers something for everyone. There are immense ecclesiastical buildings such as the Frauenkirche with its landmark twin onion-domed towers, and Peterskirche with its views of the city and the Alps.
The old and new Pinakothek Museums house one of the finest European art collections, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
The Victualienmarkt began life as a farmers market but has graduated to become a gourmet shopping area.
Maximilianstrasse is Munich’s own luxury mile of prestigious shopping. The Hofbrauhaus is conveniently both a brewery and one of the city’s leading and oldest tourist attractions.
Relive the 1972 Summer Olympics with a visit to the Olympic Park and ascend its 290-metre high tower. When it becomes too much, make for the expansive English Gardens and relax in some of the 900 acres of city centre park.
Munich is no small beer, in fact the brew was described as ‘liquid bread’ by our tour guide.
The monks first brewed strong beer to survive the long Lenten period without any ill effects – beer didn’t break their fast.
You can be sure of great beer because Munich’s 1516 beer regulations are the oldest written food laws in the world and they decree that beer is made to this day from water, barley and hops, whilst Weissbier is brewed from wheat.
Munich’s beer gardens are open from spring to autumn and are ideal places to down a cold litre of Augustiner from the oldest brewery (1328) – named after the ever sober Augustinian monks. If you cannot wait, go direct to the open-air Airbrau beer garden between Munich Airport’s two terminals.
A final reason to visit Munich now is the increasing importance of Munich Airport, which is the second biggest airport in Germany and the 8th biggest in Europe.
There are 1,200 flights weekly, making Munich an ideal gateway to destinations in India, Asia and China. 90pc of Lufthansa’s Dublin passengers transfer to onward connections in the airline’s global network.
Their new summer Dublin-Munich route allows Irish long-haul passengers to make speedy onward connections (as short as 35 minutes) via the gleaming Terminal 2 used solely by Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners. Duke Henry the Lion could never have imagined that his city would become such a leading air bridge for so many travellers in the 21st Century.
Take a tram or bus to the Nymphenburg Palace, the Baroque summer residence for the Bavarian princes. Walk in the 200 acre gardens and visit the rooms of the Palace. Don’t miss the exhibition of the playboy King Ludwig I’s ‘Gallery of Beauties‘; 36 portraits of the most beautiful ladies of his era, noting that ‘Spanish dancer’ Lola Montez was really one Elisa Gilbert, an upwardly mobile lady from Co. Limerick.
Stroll from Karlsplatz along the pedestrianised shopping streets of Neuhauser and Kaufingerstrasse. Divert into posh stores like Uberpollinger or the 5 floors of Karstadt Sports. Note that shops remain closed in Germany on Sundays. Pause in an open air café and enjoy a busking string quartet or dancing troupe. Arrive at the Marienplatz at 11 am, 12 am or 5 pm to catch the ten minute musical Glockenspiel carillon with jousting knights and pirouetting Cossacks providing some revolutionary entertainment. Finish your walk with some fine dining at the Ratskeller cellar restaurant located beside the tourist office, where up to 2,000 mostly locals enjoy authentic hearty Bavarian dining. Leave room for the speciality Apfel Strudel desert.
Time your visit to coincide with some of the events of the 850th birthday celebrations, which include street festivals, theatre events, artistic shows, performances by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and more. The event information is on www.muenchen850.de. As the official literature says ‘This is the Party of the Year’.
The annual Oktoberfest Beer Festival is Munich’s biggest event, drawing tens of thousands of visitors over a three week period. Note that the festival ends, not starts, in October – this year it runs from 20th September to 5th October. The festival officially begins when the Mayor of Munich cracks open the first cask and announces ‘The barrel is tapped.‘ 100,000 guests can sit in the 14 beer tents to down specially brewed beer, along with Bavarian food. Book your hotel early and find the best beer tent before noon. If you like to plan ahead and seek further birthday celebrations, the Festival will be 200 years old in 2010.
Munich is home to BMW; Bayerische Motoren Werken, or Bavarian Motor Works, so it is not only a car manufacturer, but is also a statement. The architecturally stunning BMW Welt is where 250 customers collect their new motor each day. There is a shiny museum showing the history of the manufacturer from motor cycles to 7-series saloons, plus a gift shop, making this perhaps The Ultimate Driving Museum.
FC Bayern Munich are the current German Bundesliga champions. Check their fixture list before your visit to get Klose to Oliver Khan, Ribery, Toni and others at the futuristic 69,000 seater Allianz Arena. The stadium is used by another Munich club, TSV 1860 Munchen, and it is unique because the exterior façade flexibly lights up in blue and white or in red and white, depending on which of the two teams is playing.
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