Munich (München, pronounced Mewn-shin, in German), the capital of Bavaria, is a town that likes to party. Walk through the Altstadt (Old City) on a sunny day or a balmy evening and you’ll see people sitting outside, in every square, drinking, eating, and enjoying life. And there is a lot of life to enjoy in this attractive city, which seems to epitomize a certain beer-drinking, oom-pah-pah image many people still have of Germany (an image, by the way, that makes most Germans laugh or cringe). The beer and oom-pah-pah is definitely here—you’ll find it at the famous Hofbräuhaus and other beer halls—but suds and songs sung in swaying unison are only one part of Munich. The other part is rich, cultured and sophisticated, with a kind of proud, purring prosperity that supports the arts on a grand scale and appreciates the finer things in life (such as the BMWs that are produced here). In addition to having several world-class museums, it can lay claim to having the richest cultural, gastronomic and retail life in southern Germany. It’s softer and not as gritty as Berlin or Hamburg, at least not in its lovely and lively inner core, where church bells chime and the streets are paved for people, not cars.
Historically Catholic, and associated with the Italian Counter-Reformation, Munich’s (and Bavaria’s) architectural legacy includes exuberantly decorated baroque and rococo churches and palaces of a kind rarely seen in northern Germany (one notable exception being Sanssouci palace outside Berlin); and grand neoclassical monuments and buildings from the time of Ludwig I (1786–1868), who wanted to make his capital city a “new Athens.” (Much of the city had to be rebuilt after World War II bombing, however.) Munich’s wholehearted embrace of traditional feasts and festivities is also aligned to its Catholic heritage, and it’s these seasonal events that still bring Mǖnchners together and make visitors feel welcome. The kingdom of Bavaria, created by Napoleon in 1806, lasted until 1918, and a sense of that privileged royal past still lingers in Munich. But this is also a city where it’s a tradition to share a communal table in a beer hall and enjoy the company of complete strangers.
Think of Munich as the capital of Gemǖtlichkeit, that not-quite-translatable adjective that means something between cozy and good-natured. Once you visit, you’ll understand why it’s long been called Germany’s “secret capital”—the place where most Germans would live if they could.
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