The Age of Napoleon

Except for distant rumblings on the western horizon and the hope it gave to Bavaria's liberals, the effects of the French Revolution weren't immediately felt in reactionary Munich. All of that changed, however, with the rise of Napoleon. In 1799, French troops laid siege to the capital. The Bavarian court had already fled to the safety of their villas at Amberg, where they realized that they had to capitulate to Napoleon's overwhelming forces and side with the French dictator against their brethren in other parts of Germany. On the first night of occupation, in June 1799, French officers enjoyed a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni in the Residenz's royal theater.

To reward his Bavarian vassal, Napoleon more than doubled the territory controlled by Bavaria (at the expense of Franconia and Swabia), thereby tripling the size of its population overnight. Bavaria was eventually made a kingdom, and in 1806, Napoleon personally conducted the coronation of Max IV Joseph as King Maximilian I.

A final irony was when the territory formerly controlled by the bishop of Freising was swallowed up by the new Bavarian nation created by Napoleon, and the bishop's administrative headquarters -- now no more than a ceremonial shadow of its former power -- moved into the heart of its old "enemy territory" (the destruction of Freising's bridge over the Isar had led to the original founding of Munich) -- downtown Munich.

Toward a Modern State

The new king's son, Crown Prince Ludwig (later, Ludwig I), gets the credit for establishing what is now the most famous autumn festival in the world, Oktoberfest. Originally designated as a Volksfest, it was scheduled, along with some horse races, as a sideshow of the crown prince's wedding in 1810.

Beginning around 1820, with the gears of the Industrial Revolution already starting to turn, the first foundations of a modern state were established. A Bavarian constitution was drawn up, and Munich became the seat of a newly founded Bavarian Parliament, designed to afford the citizenry more clearly defined legal rights. Not all Münchners were happy, however -- they were attached to their roster of religious holidays, complete with complicated processions and relief from workaday cares, which the new constitution swept away.

"The Athens of the North"

Crown Prince Ludwig, inspired by an idealized version of ancient Athens, made enormous changes to Munich. The old city walls were demolished, with the exception of a small stretch that still runs parallel to the Jungfernturmstrasse. The city moat was filled in and redesignated as the Sonnenstrasse, and new neighborhoods were designed with formal parks and gardens. The prince wanted the Munich equivalent of a triumphal promenade, and commissioned the street that has been known ever since as the Ludwigstrasse.

In 1821, the Frauenkirche became the official cathedral (Dom) of the archbishops of Munich and Freising. In 1826, the university was transferred from the town of Landshut to Munich, bestowing on the Bavarian capital the status of intellectual centerpiece.

The Notorious Lola Montez  -- The sensational career of Lola Montez (1820-61) was hot copy in the newspapers all over the world during her lifetime. A woman who behaved as she pleased in the Victorian age, her liaison with Bavaria's king, Ludwig I, led to his forced abdication. She was born in Limerick, Ireland, as Eliza Gilbert and grew up in India. An outstanding beauty with jet-black hair and alabaster skin, one admirer wrote of her, "Mrs. James looked like a star among the others." Her marriage to Lieut. Thomas James had broken up in scandal (both she and her husband frequently cheated on each other, but she could never divorce him, because she couldn't find him to serve papers to), and she was forced to leave India. She went to Spain and then to London, where she reinvented herself as the dancer Lola Montez. Though she was a mediocre performer, her erotic "spider dance" catapulted her to notoriety. Subsequently, she went through dozens of lovers, including pianist Franz Liszt and novelist Alexandre Dumas.

When Lola arrived in Munich in 1846, she was refused an engagement at the Hof Theatre. Fighting her way past security guards, she stormed the palace of Ludwig I and demanded an audience with the king. Barging into his chambers, she slit the front of her dress open. Upon looking at her body, Ludwig asked his security guards and his chief aide to leave his chambers. Thus began one of the most romantic and scandalous royal adventures of all time. Although married to Princess Therese of Saxonia since 1810, the old, deaf, yet romantic Ludwig came under Lola's spell.

Ludwig indulged her every whim, bestowing the treasures of his kingdom upon her. In return, she catered to his sexual needs, including a foot fetish he had, as widely reported by his biographers. Lola was called "the Bavarian Pompadour," but Richard Wagner dubbed her a "demonic beast." Ludwig gave her the titles of Baroness of Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfeld. Her enemies (Lola was deeply resented in Munich) suspected that she meddled in politics; it was rumored that she virtually ran the Bavarian government. Public sentiment against Lola and her outlandish behavior was so powerful that it contributed to the Revolution of 1848 and ultimately to the king's abdication.

Fleeing to London in the wake of the king's abdication, Lola settled into her next adventures. By July 19, 1849, she'd married George Trafford Heald, scion of a wealthy, aristocratic family. There was a problem, however: She'd never been granted a divorce from Lieut. James. Learning that the state planned to arrest her on a bigamy charge on August 6, she fled first to Mexico, then to California, where she ended her days as a cigar-smoking, stage-strutting artiste who entertained miners during the California gold rush.

An amazing life came to an end when she retired, found religion, and devoted the rest of her life to helping wayward women. She died in poverty in Brooklyn.

Bourgeois Munich

By 1840, with a reported population of around 90,000 residents, Munich had been made into a neoclassical gem with a distinct identity. Munich's first railway line was laid in 1846 -- the foundation of a network of railways that soon converged on the city from all parts of southern Germany.

Initially a supporter of liberal reforms, Ludwig I gradually grew more and more conservative as his reign went on. In 1832, he began a campaign of censoring the press, repressing student activism, and stressing his role as an absolute monarch, casting himself in a romantic and heroic mold. Münchners considered his affair with actress and dancer Lola Montez even more odious than his rigid politics. All of this came to a head in the revolt of 1848. In a series of lurid events, Ludwig flaunted his affair with Lola so publicly that the fabric of the Wittelsbach dynasty itself was threatened. As the scandal raged, Ludwig was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Maximilian II.

Maximilian II continued the building programs of his father, established the Bavarian National Museum (1855), and played a role in encouraging writers to settle in Munich. One of these, Paul Heyse, was the first German to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Maximilian built an avenue (the Maximilianstrasse) in his own honor and held a series of competitions among architects for the design of such public buildings as the Regierung (Administrative Building) and the Maximilianeum (Bavarian Parliament Building).

Maximilian's role in the promotion of science, industry, and education made him one of the most enlightened despots of the 19th century. When he died in 1864, the administration of many of his programs was continued by what had developed into a massive governmental bureaucracy. The new king, Ludwig II, unfortunately, was not so beneficial to Bavaria.

Romantic Bavaria & the Dream King

Rarely has the king of a nation so despised the citizens of his capital city as Ludwig II did the Münchners. Trouble began shortly after the new king ascended the Bavarian throne in 1864 at the age of 18. The king had become the patron of Richard Wagner, and four of Wagner's operas -- Tristan und Isolde (1865), Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1867), Das Rheingold (1869), and Die Walküre (1870) -- made their debuts in Munich. One of the many visions of the composer and his royal patron was the construction of a glittering opera house. However, this project, and its estimated cost of 6 million guilders, found little support and led to the collapse not only of plans for the hoped-for opera house, but also of the friendship between the king and the composer. A spate of arrogant public outbursts by Wagner (newspapers published his statements that the citizens of Munich had no artistic imagination) led to the composer and his lofty romantic ideals leaving Munich forever.

Although viewed as hopelessly eccentric, a bizarre member of a family riddled with other mental aberrations, Ludwig seemed to captivate an age obsessed with Romanticism. Although his mania for the building of neo-Romantic castles and palaces far from the urban bustle of Munich helped bankrupt the treasury, he rarely meddled in the day-to-day affairs of his subjects and was consequently considered an expensive-to-maintain but relatively unthreatening monarch.

Actually, the lack of interest in politics on the part of Ludwig II is one of the factors that helped Bismarck, from his base in Prussia, arrange the unification of Germany in 1871. The unification transformed Berlin into the capital of a united Germany and stripped Bavaria of its status as an independent nation, a designation it had enjoyed since Napoleon's time. Some historians maintain that Bismarck induced the unstable king to give up his independent status by secretly subsidizing the building costs of his fairy-tale castles. Because the castles, especially Neuschwanstein, have brought billions of tourist dollars to the German nation ever since, he probably made a wise investment.

In 1886, the Bavarian cabinet in Munich stripped the 40-year-old Ludwig of his powers. A few days later, Ludwig's death by drowning in Starnberg Lake led to endless debate as to whether his death was prearranged because he planned an attempt at a royal comeback. His heir to the tattered remnants of the Bavarian throne was a mentally inept brother, Otto, whose day-to-day duties were assumed by a royal relative, Crown Prince Luitpold, who wore the much-diminished crown until 1912.

The only vestige of Bavaria's imperial past that remained was the designation of the local postal network and railways as "Royal Bavarian" (Koeniglich-Bayerisch). The Bavarian monarch was allowed to retain his position as figurehead during a transition period when real power flowed toward Berlin.

Munich forged ahead in its role as an economic magnet within a unified Germany. In 1882, Munich began electrifying its streetlamps. Three years later, public transport was aided by a network of streetcars. And scientist Max von Pettenkofer, who discovered the source of cholera in contaminated water, was instrumental in the installation of a city water supply that was hailed as one of the best in Germany.

Artistic Ferment

Toward the end of the century, Munich became a center of creativity and artistic ferment. In 1892, the Secession movement was founded as a protest against traditional aesthetics. In 1896, the magazine Jugend helped define Munich (along with its closest rival, Vienna) as a centerpiece of the German Art Nouveau movement, Jugendstil. In 1902, a Russian expatriate, Lenin, spent a brief stint in Munich, publishing a revolutionary magazine called Iskra. Schwabing, once a farm village, then a summer retreat for the stylishly wealthy, became an icon for the avant-garde, the home base of satirical magazines whose contributors included Thomas Mann (who spent many years of his life in Munich), Rainer Maria Rilke, Hermann Hesse, and Heinrich Mann. In 1911, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, later joined by Paul Klee, founded the Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) group to promote and define the role of abstract art.

World War I & Revolution

World War I (1914-18) led to more bloodshed and greater disillusionment than Europe had ever known. Hunger was rampant in Munich even in the war's early years, and by 1918, social unrest was so widespread that a rash of demonstrations, burnings, mob executions, and brawls between advocates of the left and right became increasingly frequent. On November 7, 1918, more than 10,000 workers mobilized for a mass demonstration, ending at the gates of the Wittelsbachs' hereditary stronghold, the Residenz. To the rulers' horror, their guards were persuaded to join the revolutionaries, causing the dynasty's final scion to flee Munich under cover of darkness. The event marked the end of a dynasty that had ruled longer than any other in Europe.

The next day, Munich was declared capital of the Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern), an independent revolutionary people's republic, led by the Revolutionary Workers Council. The conservative, so-called legitimate Bavarian government went into immediate exile, and Kurt Eisner, an articulate political leader who was much less radical than many of those who elected him, ruled briefly and tempestuously. Within a few months, he was assassinated on Munich's Promenadeplatz. Power shifted in a rapid series of events between centrists and leftists and ended in a horrendous blood bath when troops, sent by Berlin in 1919, laid siege to the city as a means of restoring the status quo.

The Rise of Hitler

Conservative reaction to the near takeover of Munich by revolutionaries was swift and powerful, with long-ranging effects. After the events of 1919, and the humiliating terms of surrender imposed upon Germany at Versailles, Munich became one of the most conservative cities in Germany. Combine that with staggering inflation and a deep distrust of any Prussian interference from the despised city of Berlin, and Munich, unfortunately, became a kind of incubator for reactionary, anti-Semitic, and sometimes rabidly conservative political movements.

One of these was the NSDAP (National Socialist Workers Party of Germany), of which Adolf Hitler was a member. Hitler's early speeches, as well as the formulation of his ideas as written in Mein Kampf (My Struggle), were articulated in Munich's beer halls, including the famous Hofbräuhaus, where meetings were often held. Many members of Hitler's inner circle (including Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring) were from the region around Munich, and thousands of the dictator's rank and file originated from the city's long-suffering, endlessly deprived slums.

Under its reactionary civic government, Munich's cultural scene degenerated -- anything racy or politically provocative was banned, and many creative persons (including Bruno Walter and Berthold Brecht) left Munich for the more sophisticated milieu of Berlin.

After Hitler came to power as chancellor in Berlin, there was little opposition in Bavaria to the National Socialists, whose candidates swept the city's elections of March 5, 1933, and whose swastika flew above city hall by the end of the day. By July 1933, it was painfully obvious that anyone who opposed the all-Nazi city council was deported to Germany's first concentration camp, Dachau, on Munich's outskirts.

The headquarters of the Nazi Party was established on the corner of Brienner and Arcis streets, later to be the site of the 1938 signing by Neville Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini, and Hitler of the Munich Agreement. Around the same time, a torture chamber was set up in the cellar of what had always been the city's symbol of power: the Wittelsbach Palace. Hitler himself even referred to Munich as "the capital of our movement," a statement heard then, as now, with great ambivalence.

Beginning in 1935, vast sums of money were spent on grandiose building projects that followed the Nazi aesthetic. In 1937, a Nazi-sponsored exhibition, permeated with anti-Semitic, xenophobic references, Entartete Kunst (Denatured Art), mocked the tenets of modern art.

Jews then began to be persecuted in earnest. The city's largest synagogue was closed in 1938, the same year that Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"; Nov 9, 1938) resulted in the vandalism of Jewish-owned homes and businesses across Germany. Despite the persecution, some 200 Jews managed to evade the Nazi net and were still alive at the end of World War II (though the city's prewar Jewish population had been more than 10,000). After the war, Jews returned in very slow numbers to Munich because many had long-rooted family ties with the Bavarian capital.

In 1939, a Marxist attempt to assassinate Hitler as he drank with cronies in a Munich beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller) failed, and Germany (and Munich) continued the succession of aggressions that eventually led to World War II and the destruction of much of historic Munich.

World War II & Its Aftermath

Resistance to Hitler was fatal. Nonetheless, a handful of clergymen opposed the Nazi regime. One notable opponent was Father Rupert Mayer, who was imprisoned for many years at Dachau, Germany's first concentration camp. Built in 1933 in Bavaria, Dachau became a model for other death camps, as thousands upon thousands of "undesirables" were murdered, often in the most brutal fashion there. When Allied troops, in May 1945, liberated the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp, they found that the priest from Munich had been transferred there and was still alive at the end of the war. Mayer has since been beatified by the Catholic hierarchy. Other heroic resistance came from the Weisse Rose (White Rose) coalition of university students and professors. At the risk of their lives, they published secret leaflets calling for the downfall of the Nazi regime. The White Rose leaders, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Willi Graf, and Hans Huber, were later arrested and beheaded.

By the war's end, almost half of the city's buildings lay in rubble, many having been blown to pieces as early as 1942. Most of Munich's Renaissance and neoclassical grandeur had been literally bombed off the map, a fact that's easy to overlook by modern visitors who admire the city's many restored monuments.

Munich paid a high price in the blood of its citizens: About 22,000 of its sons died in military campaigns, and the civilian population of the city was reduced by almost a quarter million before the end of the war.

The Postwar Years & a Folk Hero

The tone was set after the war by the city's mayor, Thomas Wimmer. He was much beloved by Münchners, and his weekly meet-the-people sessions, when anyone could talk to him personally, made the people in the street feel he was really their representative. His call to clean up Munich met with overwhelming response -- the rubble was assembled into decorative hillocks in the city's parks.

Unlike other German cities, Munich was able to unearth the original plans for many of the demolished buildings, which were tastefully restored, even if at astronomical expense, to their original appearance. Today, the city's historic core is surrounded by the same church steeples and towers as in the past.

As capital of the Federal Land (state) of Bavaria within the Federal Republic of Germany, Munich took up its new role as focal point for trade between northern and southern Europe. Manufacturers of computers, weapons manufacturers, publishing ventures, fashion houses, movie studios, and companies such as Siemens made Munich their base. The city boomed, with a population that numbered over a million before the end of 1957. As home to BMW (Bayerisches Motoren Werke), Munich is at least partly responsible for Germany's image as home to Europe's fastest drivers.

As the city's population exploded in the 1960s, sprawling masses of concrete suburbs were thrown up hastily, designed for ease of access by cars. Older buildings were demolished to make room for yet another Munich building boom.

The obsession with rebuilding and modernizing at any price was halted when the then-mayor of Munich paid an official visit to Los Angeles. Munich's press gleefully reported that the automobile-dominated society of L.A. so horrified him that he introduced a new emphasis on historical preservation. Since then, active participation by historic-minded groups has encouraged careful renovations of older buildings.

The 1972 Summer Olympic Games were meant to show the entire world the bold new face of a radically rebuilt Munich from the premises of the innovative Olympic City. However, the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes, and the collective murder of 11 of them, revived recollections of the past and left behind ambivalent memories.

Modern Munich

The traditional stereotypes still exist in Munich. Men on occasion wear lederhosen, at least at Oktoberfest, when the ladies put on their dirndls. They drink as much beer as ever in the beer halls and gardens, and the oompah bands are heard through the night.

But Munich -- competing with Berlin -- is also the country's headquarters for high-tech industry. Some local industry leaders are concerned that Berlin, as the capital of a reunified Germany, could also shift trade and power to the north and east of Germany. However that's not likely to happen soon, if ever. Munich is rather firmly entrenched in the industrial market and is a base for such worldwide industries as the electronics company Siemens and the car manufacturer BMW. Munich is actually more prosperous than Berlin, and as the home of three universities, the city has both a vibrant cultural scene and a bustling nightlife.

On the larger political stage, in a close election in 2005, influenced heavily by voters in Bavaria, Angela Merkel became the first woman to govern modern Germany and the country's first leader to grow up under Communism in the Soviet-occupied East. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party finished just one percentage point ahead of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's center-left Social Democrats, with neither party getting a majority.

In the election of September 2009, Merkel held onto her post as chancellor, making her one of the longest-serving leaders among Europe's major powers, though her victory was muted by Germany's rising budget deficits as a result of the global economic crisis. Her Christian Democrats formed a new center-right government, triumphing over Social Democrats, who fared badly in the election.

In a union with the pro-business Free Democrats, Madam Merkel strengthened her hand in Germany, and in the next year or so may begin to enact the kind of liberalizing economic plans she proposed when she first ran for chancellor.

As an example of the changing times, Ms. Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, is joined by the first openly gay vice chancellor and foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who shepherded his Free Democrats to their strongest showing ever. All of this is occurring in a country that once sent homosexuals to the concentration camps and the gas chambers, along with Jews and Gypsies.

Munich believes in keeping up to date with changing travel patterns. In decades gone by, Bavarians were traditional and many of them homophobic. Although pockets of that still exist, Munich has blossomed into one of Europe's most gay-friendly destinations. Gays and lesbians by the thousands are moving from the countryside into Munich, and gays and lesbians from abroad make up about 10% of the tourist revenue.

As Germany, with Munich as a major player, went into the uncertainties of 2011, it still boasted the third-largest economy in the world and continued to be a European Union power player.

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.