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Today, Munich's position as the centerpiece of southern Germany conveys at least the illusion that life here is more easygoing, sunnier, and emotionally richer than life in the foggy and wind-swept Teutonic cities along, for example, the Baltic. As such, Munich continues to captivate the imagination of Germans as a place less reactionary, and less conservative, than German-speaking counterparts farther north.

That notion is only partially true. Despite new influences from virtually everywhere, and a proud role as high-tech capital of Germany, Munich continues to be permeated with the spirit of the bourgeoisie that helped mold it during the 18th and 19th centuries. Consequently, although some aspects of Munich are boldly innovative and experimental, the city is at the same time defiantly reactionary and proudly opposed to new ideas. Munich's avant-garde and its reactionary elements coexist, not always comfortably, and with very little of the indulgent laissez-faire and resigned world-weariness that's more obviously prevalent in such places as Berlin.

At least some of Munich's modern-day smugness derives from the comforts, prestige, and economic power it has enjoyed since the end of World War II. This tends to be bitterly resented by residents of cities farther east, which enjoy almost no hope of ever, in their lifetimes, achieving the prosperity that bourgeois and sometimes complacent Munich attracted partly as an accident of its geography. In Munich, what you see is what you're likely to get. This flies in direct opposition to the more frenetic, more cerebral, more innovative, and more (dare we say it?) hysterical Berlin, where the rigors of reuniting the two Germanies occasionally border on the surreal.

There's a lot of room for economic creativity and trading profits in the dynamic tension that surrounds modern Munich, a fact that's been rapidly developed since the end of the Cold War. Although traditional trade patterns throughout the Cold War positioned Munich as the gateway between northern and southern Europe, the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1989 opened fertile markets in the east, as well. Unfortunately, although the collapse of the Soviet regime did indeed reinforce the role of Munich as a center of postindustrial technology and trade, it initiated stiff competition in the touristic sphere, as well.

In the bad old days of the Cold War, Munich was the end of the line, about as far east as most mainstream tourists cared to go during their explorations of the Continent. Rather disturbingly in the eyes of tourist officials, Munich today seems relegated to the status of stopover on the way to more exotic cities such as Berlin, Budapest, and Prague.

Today, Munich boasts many laurels and superlatives. Its academic infrastructure, with more than 100,000 students, is the second largest in Germany, with a distinctly urbanized and cosmopolitan flavor. Greater Munich (third-largest city in Germany) has more heavy industry than any other city in Germany and, at least in theory, the possibility of more jobs. It has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other city in Germany, and civic boosters claim, not without justification, that Munich is the most beautiful city in the country. Its museum of science and industry (Deutsches Museum) is the largest of its type in the world, and the Gasteig Center, completed in 1985, is a model for other symphonic halls throughout Germany.

The city recognizes 14 official holidays, more than any other city in Germany, and this is a remnant of medieval traditions when almost a third of any calendar year was devoted to religious holidays.

Cynics, many of them envious residents of Berlin, Hamburg, or the aristocratic Rhineland, claim that the only thing that really motivates a native Münchner is an aggressive pursuit of leisure time. Although that's probably not true, Munich offers more options for leisure than anywhere else in Germany, including a setting that is the most conducive in the world to beer drinking. It has some of the finest theaters (more than 60 that are legitimate, many others that are less so) and German-language repertory companies, with performances that are usually packed. By some standards, it's also the most expensive city in a reunited Germany. But despite its schizophrenic ambivalence -- part class, part kitsch -- and the encroachment of urban sprawl, Munich manages to retain many aspects of an Alpine village. Fortunately for urban claustrophobics, there are many verdant parks, and the open spaces of the Bavarian and Austrian Alps lie within about an hour's drive.

Modern Munich contains a lot of elements designed to amuse and divert. A visitor can while away the time pursuing sports and cultural activities, or simply sit for hours in beer halls and taverns that are, on the average, more authentically folkloric than those within any other metropolis in Europe. Even if you don't happen to be Bavarian, or even German, you can still enjoy some of the most deeply entrenched traditions about beer drinking, and its attendant social rituals, of anywhere in the world. Six major breweries are based in Munich, as well as entire industries devoted to supplying the pastime's accessories. Not least of these are rehearsal halls and recording studios for the oompah bands that help make beer-drinking rituals so delightful.

Drawbacks in Munich include the same kinds of things residents of New York or Paris complain about: impossibly high rents, urban stress, and urban anonymity. And despite the jovial facade, there's a rising incidence of urban crime and -- something Munich has always seen a lot of -- civil unrest.

Fortunately, Munich today offers a wider range of personal choices and different types of lifestyle options than ever before. As you'll learn, modern Munich is more than folkloric kitsch, although two or three steins of beer go a long way toward helping its citizens ease any pain that's involved while forging the city's new identity.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.