Text and photos by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,
Hundreds of thousands head to world’s biggest beer festival in Theresienwiese, Munich every year. This year, Oktoberfest started on Sept. 16 and runs through Oct. 3.
The first Oktoberfest was held in October 1810 in honor of the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Later, the festival was moved to September because of the relatively warmer weather.
According to the official Oktoberfest web site, this year’s festival will feature 16 small and big beer tents that can accommodate 119,000 guests.
While it could be tempting to go and sample all the different German beers, be prepared to open your wallets. Oktoberfest organizers said the average price of beer this year has gone up 2.55% from the previous year. Beer is sold by the liter mug, which is called mass, and would now cost between €10.60 and €10.95 (around P645 to P666) each.
But there’s more to Munich than just beer. Here’s a few things you shouldn’t miss in Munich, whether you’re going for Oktoberfest or any other time:
The first stop on any visit to the Bavarian capital is always Marienplatz. The pedestrian-only area is filled with shops, restaurants, street musicians and, of course, hordes of camera-toting tourists.
Munich’s main square gets its name from the column topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, who is considered the Protector of Bavaria.
The New Town Hall, which houses the city council and the mayor’s office, dominates the square. The neo-Gothic building is famous for the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, where a carillon chimes as colorful figures come out to dance at 11 a.m. and noon every day. A 5 p.m. performance is only seen from March to October.
The Glockenspiel tells a tale of a wedding, including a joust by knights on horseback, and ends when the cock crows. It’s still a delight to watch, and it’s hard to resist clapping after the short show.
If you squint hard, you can spot Münchner Kindl, a statue of a child wearing a monk’s outfit and holding a book, at the top of the New Town Hall. The symbol of Munich can be found on souvenirs all over town.
For a 360-degree view of Munich, I went up the New Town Hall tower. A ticket is only €2.50, but the views of the city are priceless. Luckily, at the time of my visit (around 4 p.m. on a Friday), I had the entire viewing deck practically to myself.
Nearby is the city’s oldest church, St. Peter’s, which also has a tower. But be prepared to climb 306 steps to reach the spire, and there’s no elevator.
Next to the New Town Hall is a relatively newer-looking building with green spires, ironically called Old Town Hall. The original Old Town Hall was destroyed during World War II, and has since been rebuilt. The New Town Hall, on the other hand, was spared during the bombings, and even became the headquarters of the US military in 1945.
SMALL-TOWN MARKET FEEL
A stone’s throw away from Marienplatz, you can find a small open-air market called Viktualienmarkt. A blue-and-white striped maypole towers over the stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, lebkuchenherz (gingerbread heart), and other locally made products. But the main draw is the beer garden, with kiosks serving alcoholic beverages, and picnic tables.
This is a good place to sample the city’s famous white veal sausage, the weisswurst. An order usually comes with two sausages, a pretzel, and a sweet Bavarian mustard called süsser Senf. Weisswurstis eaten peeled, and often with a weissbier (white wheat beer).
It’s good to remember that in Munich, beer is usually served in one-liter glasses, although some kiosks sell beer in 500-ml glasses. A refreshing option during the hot summer months is Radler, a mix of equal parts beer and Sprite or lemonade.
Since it’s an outdoor market, the stalls require a deposit for the plate and beer glasses. Don’t worry though, you get a deposit token which you can exchange for cash when you bring the plate and glass back to an attendant.
Munich is inextricably linked to the rise of the Nazi movement, although it can be easy to walk around the city and forget that a dark past lurks behind the beautiful old buildings.
One hot afternoon in early July, I joined the “Hitler and the Third Reich Munich Walking Tour” with around 25 other tourists from the US, Finland, Mexico, and Hong Kong, among others.
Our tour guide, Keith, led us to buildings where Adolf Hitler made speeches, and where Nazis gathered in this city once named the “Capital of the Movement.”
The popular beer hall Hofbräuhaus is where Hitler gave his first major speech in 1920, while a building that now houses an Apple reseller’s store is where Hitler attended party meetings.
The walking tour was very informative, with our tour guide making history come alive with his stories. However, Munich seems like a city still coming to terms with its past. Some Nazi-era buildings remain standing, but memorials for victims of Nazi violence appear to be far and few.
A Bavarian State Bank (BayernLB) building stands on the site of Wittelsbacher Palace, which was the Gestapo’s headquarters and later, a prison. At the building’s lobby, there is a display detailing the dark history of the site.
If not for the walking tour, I probably would not have found the “Square for the Victims of National Socialism.” Tucked away in a street near Odeonsplatz, the small square features a monument with an eternal flame in remembrance of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Nor would I have found the Viscardigasse, a small street with a line of faded gold cobblestones marking a pathway. The street is also dubbed Shirker’s Alley, since it was used as a shortcut to avoid passing in front of a memorial for Nazi heroes. The memorial had honored the 16 members of the Nazi party killed in the failed Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler required everyone to do the Nazi salute while passing the square, but some took the path on Viscardigasse instead to avoid doing so.
For a more comprehensive history lesson, visitors should go to Munich’s Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism, which was built on the former site of national headquarters of the Nazi party. The gleaming white cube stands in contrast to the Nazi-era building next to it, now the Munich University of Music and Theater.
For a glimpse into the lavish life of the Wittelsbachs who once ruled Bavaria, visit the royal family’s opulent palace — the Residenz. The Residenz Museum boasts of 90 gorgeously decorated rooms, banquet and reception halls.
The main building was built from 1550 to 1650, but air raids during World War II left it in ruins. While much of the building and the rooms have been reconstructed, the intricate decor, tapestries, chandeliers, and period furniture are enough to impress.
The oldest room in the Residenz is the Antiquarium, a long arched hall built around 1550. The hall is lined with busts of Roman emperors, while paintings of Bavarian villages fill its walls.
Among the Residenz’s apartments, the Rich Rooms, with their distinctive Bavarian Rococo decor, live up to their names. It’s easy to imagine decadent parties being held inside the Green Gallery, and the King waking up from the canopy bed before an audience at the State Bedroom.
But the richest of all the Rich rooms is the Cabinet of Mirrors, where you can have a bit of fun taking photos of the reflections that go on and on.
If you’re curious about what the Wittelsbach family looked like, the Ancestral Gallery features their portraits.
Meanwhile, the Residenz Treasury shows off the crown jewels of the Wittelsbach family. Among the notable pieces are the Crown of the Kings of Bavaria, the Statuette of St. George, and the Cross of Queen Gisela.
The Crown of an English queen, also known as the Palatine crown, was made around 1370-80. Sapphires, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls decorate the beautiful piece, which is said to be the oldest surviving crown of England.
A few hundred meters away from the Residenz is the Hofgarten, which was once the Wittelsbach’s backyard to the palace.
Luxury car aficionados shouldn’t miss a trip to the BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG) complex. BMW offers tours of its museum, showroom, and even the factory.
The tour of BMW’s Munich plant should be booked at least two months ahead. An individual ticket costs €9, not bad for a chance to see how a BMW car is made from the bodyshop to the paintshop.
For a deep-dive into BMW’s history, visit the BMW Museum. On display are around 125 of BMW’s cars, motorcycles, and engines.
A guided tour is available twice a day. A ticket, including the guided tour, costs €13.
The BMW-Welt, on the other hand, showcases the latest models from BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce, including electric vehicles. Entrance to the cloud-shaped glass and steel building is free.
BEER AND MORE BEER
No trip to Munich would be complete without going to a beer hall or a beer garden.
The world-famous beer hall Hofbräuhaus is probably the best place to enjoy an evening of Bavarian music, good beer, and a wide array of German dishes like schweinshaxe (pork knuckles) and hendl (roast chicken).
Hofbräuhaus’ original brewery was built in the same location in 1589, but the inn was only established in 1828. Its name, which means court brew (hof bräu) refers to the fact that it was once the official beer brewer of the royal family. Bombed during World War II, the beer hall was one of the first places in Munich to be rebuilt.
The beer hall is almost always crowded and noisy, with musicians performing live oompahpah music during lunch and dinner. But it’s not just tourists joining in the fun, as many locals can be seen wearing lederhosen and dirndls while knocking back big mugs of beer.
Beverage choices at the Hofbräuhaus include Hofbräu beer (around 5.1% alcoholic content), dark Dunkel (5.5% alcoholic content), and light Müncher Weisse (5.1% alcoholic content).
What better way to end a long day of sightseeing than with a hearty meal and an ice-cold beer? As Germans say, “Prost!”