Located to the north of the Bavarian Alps, on the River Isar, Munich (München) is a city that combines proud provincialism with international glamour. Founded by Duke Henry the Lion, in 1158, within a century, the city had become the seat of the Wittelsbach dynasty, who ruled the duchy, electorate and kingdom of Bavaria until the end of World War I. Their influence is evident in the concentration of grand Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and neo-classical architecture adorning Munich’s streets. Perhaps most importantly, the Wittelsbach’s patronage of the arts and extensive collections provided the basis for Munich’s world-class museums and galleries.
The city acquired the name München (home of the monks) from its first monastery, founded in the eighth century. Monasteries have since played an important role in the history of the city, not least by starting the beer brewing traditions for which the city has received worldwide renown. Successive rulers, detecting a profitable source of tax revenue, actively encouraged beer production as a means both of raising money and keeping the populace happy at the same time. Following recent mergers, the city’s six breweries have been reduced to four – Augustiner, Hofbräuhaus, Paulaner (who now own Hacker-Pschorr) and the merged Spaten-Löwenbräu. Beer quality is still based on the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Edict), introduced by the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV, in 1516, which forbids the use of anything other than the core ingredients of barley, hops and water in the brewing process. Drinking a foaming Mass of beer in one of the city’s beer halls or gardens is an essential part of the Munich experience.
The period between the wars represents the low point in Munich’s history and tends to be glossed over by tourist brochures. The city was the cradle of the Nazi movement after World War I and was the scene of Hitler’s first attempt to seize power – the infamous Beer Hall Putsch on 8 November 1923. Moreover, in 1938, the treaty that surrendered a large portion of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis was signed by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy in Munich – an act of appeasement that started the slide towards World War II. The city suffered intensive bombing damage during Allied air raids at the end of the war but the economic success of the post-war years has supported a comprehensive rebuilding and restoration programme, making the city the one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany.
The citizens of Munich demonstrate a cosmopolitan refinement as well as genuine passion for the region’s many traditions and tourists flock to the city for the world famous Oktoberfest, to indulge in an orgy of beer and revelry. The stereotypical images of lederhosen-clad Bavarians quaffing vast portions of beer and sausage might apply at this time, however, with a strong cultural scene, richly endowed art collections and excellent shopping, the city certainly has more to offer than just light entertainment. With warm summers accommodating lovely garden restaurants and open-air stages and snowy winters with romantic Christmas markets, Munich is a place to visit all year round.