October 22, 2018

Two-Hour Munich Monuments Walk

Munich can be a tough-go. A lot of travelers use it as a home base for getting to Salzburg, Neuschwanstein, Dachau, Nuremberg, and other World War II sites. Munich itself gets bogged down by tourists at the end of September for the annual Oktoberfest, but this expat does not really recommend you waste your time, money, or energy on the Munich version unless you want to be rampaged by millions of other drunk tourists. The better - and much more authentic, populated by jolly Germans - "Oktoberfest" parties are found elsewhere, but that's for another post on another day.

München. It's not one of my favorite European cities, but it does grow on me each chance I get to spend the day there. I am happy to say I finally have a reasonable and interesting two-hour loop to get acquainted with Munich's history and identity that I know I will continue to enjoy taking my friends and family on for many years to come.

No matter the season, just dress for the weather - especially your shoes - and join the Germans and tourists milling about the streets of Munich. Most European cities are best met on foot, and Munich is no exception!


The most efficient plan if you're coming from out of town is to begin at the Munich Hauptbahnhof no later than 10:30 in the morning. If you're already in town somewhere, grab a quick pastry or pretzel breakfast in one of the lovely Deutsch bakeries, and make your way by foot or via subway to Marienplatz. Our day begins here, in the heart of Munich, at 11:00. Wait for the huge Neues Rathaus clocktower to strike 11:00, and the dancing and jousting figurines to come to life in the giant version of a traditional German cuckoo clock. The whole "show" takes about ten minutes. I recommend turning off your phone and just watching the figures with your own two eyeballs and use your memory to experience it. Then you can laugh off the rest of the tourists who are glued to their phones, creating a video they will probably never watch again!


From Marienplatz, we will sidle our way toward the Altes Rathaus which now houses the Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum). If you look up to your back right, you will see a tower with people overlooking the square. It's not very expensive (€3 in 2018) to climb the 306 steps of St. Peter's Church up to the "Alter Peter" balcony, and totally worth the amazing views over Marienplatz.

Whether you climb the tower or not, it's definitely time for an eclectic snack at the Viktualienmarkt. This market may not technically be a town square, but, as far as I'm concerned, it's my favorite platz in Munich! Over 200 permanent stalls are selling fresh goods, from fruits and vegetables, to Spanish meats and French cheeses. You can find nearly every kind of hot, cold, sweet, healthy, caffeinated, smooth, alcohol drink possible and build an entire meal to enjoy at the open outdoor picnic tables. There are even restaurants that will bring you ready-made meals if the task of putting together a picnic is a bit too daunting!


Taking the roads just east will bring you to Isartorplatz, with the beautiful Isar Gate as the centerpiece. From here, you can opt to wind back northwest to take a peek at the traditional royal beer hall, Hofbräuhaus, or continue east to walk along the river Isar. St. Luke's Church is a gorgeous brick building that is wonderful both up close and from across the river. Either way, get yourself to Maximilianstraße and turn right. Cross the bridge over the Isar to arrive at the base of Maximilianeum, covered in beautiful ivy and housing the Bavarian State Parliament.


You are now in the Park Maximiliansanlagen and free to wander northward as you please! Eventually, the paths will guide you to the Friedensengel - the stunning golden angel monument to peace. Take a moment on the viewing deck here to consider this was built in the 1890s to commemorate the peace they had experienced since another Franco-German war in the 1870s. The tensions between European countries had been mounting for several hundred years before the World Wars broke out and transformed the entire global landscape.


Take the Luitpoldbrücke back across the Isar to arrive at the very cool Eisbachwelle, where real surfers are really surfing on an everlasting wave in a river setting. It's much more popular in the warmer months, but still possible to find surfing enthusiasts braving the chill in their heavy duty wetsuits as long as the water is not frozen!


Hopefully, you have enough free time to wander north deep into the Englischer Garten, and maybe you can even find the beer garden at the Chinese Tower. There is plenty in the park to see and do, and more restaurants and snack stops, if you want to continue in Munich's largest green space. However, usually at this point I take my tour out of the wooded area and back into the city at Siegestor, because I love all arched monuments. This "mini-platz" is also typically graced with some kind of artistic display and makes for a unique statement of current culture against the backdrop of a huge sculpture from the 1800s.

Heading southwest will take you to the museum section, where you can spend a rainy (or snowy) afternoon browsing the arts in Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, and the Pinakothek der Moderne - in that order - before you end up in Königsplatz. Other museums in this area cover the following topics: architecture, minerals, multimedia, sculptures, Egyptian history, natural history, geology, graphic arts, photography, and more!

By way of Karolinenplatz, take Brienner Straße until it dead ends into Odeonsplatz. Here you'll find a grand stage area where Hitler himself made speeches, right between a large Catholic church, Theatinerkirche, and the traditional Munich Residenz city palace of the Bavarian royals. Off the southeasterly corner of the square, you can find an assuming door to the quiet restaurant Pfälzer Residenz Weinstube. There's no German beer here - only wine! - but you can find great prices for great German meals and step back in time for a little while.

Stepping out of the wine hall, go left to soon arrive at the opera area in Max-Joseph-Platz. The square is very pretty, and just imagine it filled with expensive cars bringing their fancy occupants to enjoy the latest German opera or ballet performance. You can also still enjoy these fun events, and come in whatever level of formality you like!

Start making your way east toward the two large green onion-shaped domes of Frauenkirche, Munich's version of Notre Dame. It's usually under a little bit of scaffolded construction, but still an impressive church with a quiet and shaded square in front of the entrance. Take the shopping street of Neuhauser Straße to head back toward the train station and into Karlsplatz for another castle-like city gate.


If the Theresienwiese (the German equivalent of their fairgrounds, where Oktoberfest is held, as well as the winter festival Tollwood and several other events) is hosting something, do go! It's bound to be fun and crazy, and at least worth a walk-through. Head due south from the Hauptbahnhof to find it, and it can be hard to miss with Ferris Wheels and high-flying rides piercing the skyline.


The other way to end your tour is to stay north of the Hauptbahnhof by foot, or take the S-bahn train to stop Laim to get to Schloß Nymphenburg, where you can finish your day in royal style.

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