Socializing at the Biergarten
If you're in Munich between the first sunny spring day and the last fading light of a Bavarian-style autumn, head for one of the city's celebrated beer gardens (Biergarten). Our favorite is Biergarten Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten. Traditionally, beer gardens were tables placed under chestnut trees planted above storage cellars that kept beer cool in summer. Naturally, people started to drink close to the source of their pleasure, and the tradition has remained. It's estimated that, today, Munich has at least 400 beer gardens and cellars. Food, drink, and atmosphere are much the same in all of them.
Enjoying Munich's World-Class Music
The city is home to outstanding classical music; notable are the Bavarian State Opera and the Munich Philharmonic. Prices are affordable and the selection is diverse. The season of summer concerts at Nymphenburg Palace alone is worth the trip to Munich.
Nude Sunbathing in the Englischer Garten
On any summery sunny day, it seems that half of Munich can be seen letting it all hang out. The sentimental romantic founders of this park surely had no idea they were creating a public nudist colony. Even if you don't want to take it all off, you can still come here to enjoy the park's natural beauty.
Snacking on Weisswurst
Munich's classic street food, Weisswurst ("white sausage") is made of calf's head, veal, and seasoning, and is about the size of a hot dog. Smooth and light in flavor, you eat it with pretzels and beer -- nothing else. Weisswurst etiquette calls for you to remove the sausage from a bowl of hot water, cut it crosswise in half, dip the cut end in sweet mustard, then suck the sausage out of the casing in a single gesture. When you learn to do this properly, you will be a true Münchner.
Getting Away from It All at the Hirschgarten
For a glimpse of what Munich used to be, flee from the tourist hordes and traffic to the Hirschgarten, or "Deer Meadow." A "green lung" between Donnersberg Bridge and Nymphenburg Park, the area has been a deer park since 1791. In 1890, the largest beer garden in the world was built here, seating 8,000 drinkers. The Hirschgarten remains Munich's most tranquil retreat, a land of towering oaks, chestnuts, and beeches, attracting lovers of the great outdoors -- and those who like to pack a picnic lunch or enjoy an open-air game of chess.
Exploring Trendy Haidhausen
For decades, this district on the right bank of the Isar River was known as a blue-collar and low-rent sector of Munich. In the 1970s, however, hippies and artists created a cross-cultural scene that made Haidhausen, not Schwabing, the hip place to hang out. Today, it is the place to see and be seen -- especially if you're a Schickimicki (a club-going Bavarian yuppie), a person who dresses only in black, or one of the Müeslis (European granolas). The place to go is one of the bars or cafes around Pariser Platz or Weissenburger Platz. Take the S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof or Rosenheimerstrasse and get with it!
It's called the biggest keg party in the world. Münchners had so much fun in 1810 celebrating the wedding of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen that they've been rowdying it up ever since for 16 full days from September 21 to October 6. The festival's tent city is at the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, and the Middle Ages live on as oxen are roasted on open spits, brass bands oompah you into oblivion, and some 750,000 kegs of the brew are tapped. There are even tents where Bierleichen (beer corpses) can recover from drunkenness, listening to soothing zither music.
Seeking R & R at Olympiapark
Site of the 1972 Olympic Games, this 296-hectare (731-acre) park and stadium is a premier venue for various sporting events and concerts. You can swim in one of the pools, and you'll find jogging tracks, gyms, and even an artificial lake. To cap off your visit, take the elevator to the top of the Olympiaturm for a panoramic view of Munich and a look at the Bavarian Alps. In summer, free rock concerts blast from the amphitheater, Theatron, by Olympic Lake.
Going from Vie de Bohème to Schickimicki in Schwabing
In fin de siècle (end of the 19th c., or Belle Epoque) Munich, Schwabing was the home of the avant-garde. Artists, writers, poets, and musicians of the era, including Thomas Mann, called it home. Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), the Blue Rider painters, and Richard Wagner made this area the cultural capital of Europe before 1914. A revival came in 1945, as new cultural icons such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder arose. Schwabing lives on, although today it's gentrified and populated by fashion editors and models, along with what have been called "swinging aristocrats." Although you might come here to walk in the footsteps of Wassily Kandinsky or to see where Paul Klee or Rainer Maria Rilke lived and worked, you'll also get exposure to Schickimickies. Walking, strolling, shopping, and people-watching are the chief activities today.
Soaking Up the Wittelsbach Lifestyle
Northwest of Munich lies Nymphenburg Palace, an exquisite baroque extravaganza surrounded by a 200-hectare (494-acre) park dotted with lakes, pavilions, and hunting lodges. It was the summer home of Bavarian rulers. We prefer to visit in summer, when outdoor concerts are on, or spring, when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Go inside the palace for a look at the painted ceiling in the Great Hall. In such works as Nymphs Paying Homage to the Goddess Flora, Bavarian rococo reached its apogee.
Spending an Afternoon in the Botanischer Garten
If you're not a plant lover, you'll be converted here. Laid out between 1909 and 1914 on the north side of Nymphenburg Park, it's one of the most richly stocked botanical wonders in Europe. You can wander among the 22 hectares (54 acres) and some 15,000 varieties of plants; a highlight is the Alpine garden with rare specimens. In late summer, the heather garden is a delight.
Checking Out Market Day at Viktualienmarkt
The most characteristic scene in Munich is a Saturday morning at this food market at the south end of the Altstadt. Since 1807, Viktualienmarkt has been the center of Munich life, dispensing fresh vegetables and fruit from the Bavarian countryside, just-caught fish, dairy, produce, poultry, rich grainy breads, moist cakes, and farm-fresh eggs. Naturally, there's also a beer garden. There's even a maypole and a statue honoring Karl Valentin (1882-1948), the legendary comic actor and filmmaker. Even more interesting than the market produce are the stallholders themselves.
Rafting Along the Isar
Admittedly, it doesn't rival the Seine in Paris, but the Isar is the river of life in Munich. If you can't take in a country walk in the Bavarian Alps, a walk along the left bank of the Isar is an alternative. Begin at Höllriegelskreuth and follow the scenic path along the Isar's high bank. Your trail will carry you through the Römerschanze into what Münchners call the Valley of the Mills (Mühltal). After passing the Bridge Inn (Brückenwirt), you will eventually reach Kloster Schäftlarn, where you'll find -- what else? -- a beer garden. After a mug, you'll be fortified to continue along signposted paths through the Isar River valley until you reach Wolfrathausen. Instead of walking back, you can board a raft made of logs and "drift" back to the city, enjoying beer and often the oompah sound of a brass band as you head toward Munich.
Taking a Dip at Müller's Public Baths
Müllersches Volksbad, at Rosenheimer Strasse I (S-Bahn to Isartor), is one of the most magnificent public baths in all of Germany. This is no dull swimming pool but a celebration of grandeur, fin de siècle style. Karl Hocheder designed this Moorish/Roman spectacle between 1897 and 1901, an era of opulence. When the baths opened, they were hailed as the most modern in Europe, surpassing all but those in Budapest. Completely renovated, the baths today have a "gentlemen's pool" with barrel vaulting and a "ladies' pool" with domed vaulting. There are also sweat baths and individual baths for those who like to let it all hang out -- but in private. Alas, the Zamperlbad, or doggie bath, is no more.
Spending a Night at the Hofbräuhaus
Established in 1589 by Duke Wilhelm V to satisfy the thirst of his court, the Hofbräuhaus is not only the city's major tourist attraction but also the world's most famous beer hall, seating more than 4,000 drinkers. In 1828, the citizens of Munich were allowed to drink "the court's brew" for the first time, and it turned out to be habit-forming. A popular song, "In München Steht ein Hofbräuhaus," spread the fame of the brewery. To be really authentic, you drink in the ground-floor Schwemme, the historic beer hall considered the heart of the Hofbräuhaus. Here, some 1,000 beer buffs down their brew at wooden tables while listening to the sounds of an oompah band. More rooms, including the Trinkstube, a restaurant for 350, are found upstairs, and in summer, beer is served in a colonnaded courtyard patio with a lion fountain. The waitstaff, in Bavarian peasant dress, appears carrying 10 steins at once. Pretzels are sold on long sticks, and white Radis (radishes) are cut into fancy spirals.
Favorite Bavarian Experiences
Boating on the Königssee
A romantic poet would praise this lake, near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, for the forest-covered mountains that surround its cold, deep, dark waters. The baroque chapels and fairy-tale hamlets on its shores supplement its natural grandeur. The boat you ride will be powered by very quiet electric motors, so you can hear the extraordinary echoes that bounce off the rock faces.
Hiking in the Bavarian Alps
In summer, Alpine hiking is a major attraction in Germany. Hikers can observe a variety of wildlife, often including endangered species. Two of the best areas are the 1,240m (4,070-ft.) Eckbauer peak, on the southern fringe of Partenkirchen, and the Berchtesgaden National Park, bordering the Austrian province of Salzburg.
Ascending the Zugspitze
If the gentle inclines of the Harz Mountains or the Thuringian forests aren't dramatic enough for you, ride the cable car from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the top of Germany's tallest mountain, 2,960m (9,700 ft.) above sea level. The view from the top is suitably panoramic, and you'll find an appealing aura of German-ness that comes from the climbers and trekkers who fan out across the hiking trails.
Experiencing a Bavarian Spa
In Germany, the question isn't whether to visit a spa, but rather which spa to visit. Each resort has its own virtues and historical associations and can supply a list of the health benefits associated with its awful-tasting waters. Whatever your choice, you'll emerge more relaxed and with a greater appreciation of German efficiency and sensuality. The most famous spa in the Bavarian Alps is Bad Reichenhall, 135km (84 miles) southeast of Munich.
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