36 hours in Munich

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 17, 2024

36 hours in Munich
Paintings at Alte Pinakotek, which houses a significant collection of Old Master paintings and is one of the oldest galleries in the world, in the museum quarter of Munich, April 4, 2024. Shedding its reputation as the conservative Bavarian capital, Munich is emerging as a younger, laid-back hub that’s balancing tradition and innovation in unusual ways. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)

by A.J. Goldmann

MUNICH.- Munich is giving Berlin, its longtime cultural rival, a run for its money. Shedding its reputation as the conservative Bavarian capital, Munich is emerging as a younger, laid-back hub that’s balancing tradition and innovation in unusual ways.

Look to the Schlachthofviertel, a rapidly evolving cultural district centered on an active slaughterhouse (yes, really) that’s sprung to life with nightclubs and bars (including one in a decommissioned ship) and a beautiful new home for the Volkstheater, one of the city’s main playhouses. Head to the Isarphilharmonie, an ultramodern new concert hall, to hear some of Munich’s top musical ensembles, including the splendid Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which turns 75 this year. And if you’re visiting in the summer, don’t miss the Munich Opera Festival, which is nearing its 150th birthday.



3 p.m. | Amble through a park

Start by getting to know Munich’s beloved central park. From Odeonsplatz, a 19th-century square, stroll to the Hofgarten, a manicured park surrounded with hedges and crowned by an elegant central gazebo. From there, cross into the rambling Englischer Garten, which is larger than Central Park in New York. Wave to the bathers bobbing in the Eisbach, the freezing human-made river that snakes through the park, and watch the daredevil surfers who ride its waves.

You can stop for an inaugural pint at the beer garden next to the Chinese Tower, a five-story wooden pagoda; take a boat out on the placid Kleinhesseloher See lake; or visit the hilltop Monopteros, a 19th-century replica of a Greek temple that was built for Bavarian King Ludwig I.

5 p.m. | Confront a dark past

Germany’s culture of commemoration, seen in its willingness to examine the crimes it committed during World War II, makes the country unique. The Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism, which opened in 2015 at the site of a former Nazi headquarters, charts the history of Nazism in Munich, the birthplace of the movement. It traces the rise of the party and Adolf Hitler, including his failed but deadly coup, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, in 1923, while describing the persecution of Munich’s Jewish population, which numbered roughly 12,000 before Hitler’s rise to power, and the city’s postwar reckoning with its Nazi past.

A temporary exhibition (through July 28) examines right-wing terrorism in postwar Germany to the present day, including the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing and the 2016 attack at a Munich shopping mall. (Entry, free.)

8 p.m. | Try new Alpine flavors

Get a taste of modern Bavaria at Der Dantler, one of a new crop of restaurants injecting Alpine cuisine with Asian accents. The restaurant, in the former working-class neighborhood of Giesing, has a casual, hole-in-the-wall vibe; friendly and attentive staff; and, in the evenings, a frequently changing five-course menu (105 euros per person, or $112) with ambitious preparations of regional produce. A recent dinner included a tender saddle of veal in jus, served with schupfnudeln, or German gnocchi, and roasted carrots coated with preserved lemon and a spicy macadamia crunch. Vegetarian and pescatarian options are available. The wine pairing (56 euros per person) is a great way to get to know the menu’s German and Austrian bottles, including some adventurous natural wines. Reservations required.


10 a.m. | Indulge in brunch

Weisswurstfrühstück is a time-honored German tradition in the south: A pair of boiled veal sausages, eaten with sweet mustard and a chewy pretzel, washed down with beer. It’s the Bavarian breakfast of champions. Try it at Drei Mühlen, a restaurant that gets its sausages from the area’s best-known butcher, Magnus Bauch. Drei Mühlen recently raised its prices, but even so, its weisswurstfrühstück remains an unbeatable deal at 6.55 euros (which includes a half-liter of Augustiner lager beer). It’s a bustling locals hang, especially on weekends, so you might end up sitting at the cramped bar. Reservations recommended.

For vegetarians, Café Zimt und Trallala, around the corner, bakes some of the best croissants in the city and not-to-be-missed franzbrötchen, a sticky, flaky, cinnamon-and-butter pastry (2.80 euros each).

11:30 a.m. | Stroll along a river

After you’ve polished off your beer, head to the Isar, the river that flows through Munich. Cross the Wittelsbacherbrücke bridge and walk along the dirt paths on the river’s grassy bank. A bold, decadelong rewilding project, completed in 2011, widened the Isar here, purified its waters and added a series of gravel paths along the banks. Watch (and maybe even join) the courageous swimmers carried by the strong current around the Weideninsel, a small island that emerged during the rewilding.

To keep exploring the banks of the Isar, walk south, past the lovingly maintained Rosengarten, whose flowers are just starting to bloom. You will soon reach the Flaucher, a series of pebbled beaches connected by an elevated walkway that are popular with both nudists and families who barbecue (they keep to their separate shores).

12:30 p.m. | Trace a star’s steps

The years that Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury lived in Munich (from 1979 to 1985) made him a local hero and one of the city’s gay icons. Visit some of his haunts around Gärtnerplatz, a circular plaza, like the nearby Deutsche Eiche, now a hotel and restaurant with a stunning rooftop terrace. (He was also an habitué at Pimpernel and Ochsengarten, two still-operating gay bars and nightclubs on the neighboring Müllerstrasse.)

Mercury bought an apartment with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin on Hans-Sachs-Strasse, a quaint street lined with prewar buildings. There, find Alva-Morgaine, a delightful wunderkammer (or cabinet of curiosities) of one-of-a-kind fashion, like 1920s flapper dresses. Around the corner is GötterSpeise, a cocoa emporium with a creative assortment of hot chocolates (4 to 6 euros).

1:30 p.m. | Snack at a market

If the Englischer Garten is the lungs of Munich, then the Viktualienmarkt, one of Europe’s best outdoor food markets, is its stomach. Try the heavenly pressed sandwiches at Luiginos Bio Feinkost, which include a pastrami-cheddar melt or grilled eggplant, chevre and spinach (from 6.90 euros); or head to Caspar Plautz, a potato merchant that serves stuffed baked spuds (from 7.50 euros a plate).

If the weather is inclement, duck inside the templelike Eataly directly next door for a slice of focaccia (from about 6 euros). For dessert, try the freshly fried schmalznudels — Bavarian doughnuts — at Café Frischhut (from 3 euros) or the decadent cakes and pastries at Lea Zapf (from 4 euros). The house-roasted coffee at the Kaffeerösterei Viktualienmarkt might be the best in town.

3 p.m. | Learn of an art figure

Der Blaue Reiter, or the Blue Rider, a group of expressionist artists that coalesced in Munich in 1911, is arguably the city’s greatest contribution to 20th-century art. In boldly colorful works, the Blue Rider artists used modern painting as a conduit to the spiritual. The Lenbachhaus Museum, in the city’s central Kunstareal, or museum quarter, boasts the world’s largest collection of paintings by the group, whose members included Wassili Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Paul Klee.

The trove exists because of Gabriele Münter, a distinctive and prolific painter who was also Kandinsky’s lover (he eventually left her to move back to Russia). In 1957, when she turned 80, she donated more than 1,000 works by herself, Kandinsky, Marc, Klee and others to the museum. (Entry, 10 euros.)

5:30 p.m. | Eat a pre-theater meal

It’s easy to miss Conviva im Blauen Haus, an unassuming restaurant behind the Münchner Kammerspiele, one of the city’s three publicly funded theaters. The restaurant, with industrial lighting and long wooden tables, doubles as the theater’s canteen and employs people with mental and physical disabilities as cooks and servers. Prompt and attentive service ensures that everyone — actors and audience members alike — gets to the show on time. A recent evening menu featured osso buco on saffron risotto, Iberian pork loin with king oyster mushroom and potato strudel, and sea bream with artichokes and fennel purée, all in the 20 euros range.

7 p.m. | Go to an opera

Germany is home to more than 80 opera companies, and the Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera), which traces its history back more than 350 years, might be the country’s finest. It has a reputation for a varied operatic repertoire, often presented in avant-garde productions. Locals love to get gussied up for performances at the company’s grand main venue, the nearly 2,000-seat Nationaltheater. Germany’s lavish public subsidies mean that there are tickets for every budget, including over 300 standing-room tickets for under 20 euros.

Upcoming highlights include Romeo Castellucci’s densely symbolic take on Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” a new “Tosca,” directed by Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo, and the summertime premiere of “Le Grand Macabre,” directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, in honor of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s centennial.

10 p.m. | Hop aboard for a drink

Munich still lags Berlin when it comes to clubbing, but its nightlife has become much more varied over the past decade. One of the most unusual club venues is Bahnwärter Thiel, a cultural space in the edgy Schlachhofviertel district, just south of the center of town. The large outdoor area contains abandoned subway cars and sea freight containers, one of which contains the Kulturhaus, a club that attracts some of Germany’s best techno DJs. (Most concert tickets, 10 euros.)

A few blocks away is the Alte Utting, a bar and event space in a decommissioned passenger steamship perched above street level on a disused railway bridge.


10 a.m. | Meet the masters

On Sundays, Munich’s state-run museums charge 1 euro as entry to their permanent exhibitions. If you need to choose just one, head to the Alte Pinakothek, one of the world’s finest collections of European paintings, which is housed under the soaring ceiling of an early-19th-century building. Highlights include a richly varied assortment of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, which looks more stunning than ever after recent improvements to the skylights. More than 200 paintings in the main upper galleries have changed places as part of a recent reorganization that eschews traditional ordering along geographical and chronological lines in favor of a more flexible presentation.

If you have time to spare, cross the road to the Pinakothek der Moderne, home to 20th- and 21st-century art. Be warned, though: It will set you back another euro.

Noon | Head to the beer garden

Man does not live by art alone. After you’re done soaking in centuries’ worth of masterpieces, head over to the Königlicher Hirschgarten, one of the world’s largest beer gardens, founded in 1791. Find a spot in the main 7,000-seat area, which is self-service and has long, shared tables and Augustiner lager on tap. Sausages, potato salad and rotisserie chicken are king here, but the steckerlfisch, a whole grilled fish on a stick, is also a local delicacy. (Half-liter beer, 4.20 euros; beer garden food, 3 to 20 euros.)

After lunch, stroll through the nearby Nymphenburg Palace, the former summer residence of Bavaria’s ruling family. Explore the 445-acre garden and marvel at the palace’s vast main building, whose 2,000-foot-long facade is larger than that of Versailles (gardens and parks entry, free; ceremonial rooms, 8 euros).


The Englischer Garten is popular with locals during the warmer months.

The Lenbachhaus Museum has Germany’s most important collection of works by the artists of Der Blaue Reiter.

Bahnwärter Thiel has a vibrant techno club at its center.

The Viktualienmarkt is full of attractively displayed fresh produce and vendors selling street food.


Der Dantler gives a modern and refined take on Alpine cuisine in an informal atmosphere.

Drei Mühlen is where you can find the best deal on weisswurstfrühstück, a traditional Bavarian breakfast of veal sausages and a pretzel.

Café Zimt und Trallala is a bakery and cafe that makes exquisite breakfast pastries.

Deutsche Eiche is a gay-friendly restaurant and hotel with a lovely rooftop terrace.

Alte Utting, a decommissioned ship, is one of the city’s most unusual and most atmospheric places to have a cocktail.

GötterSpeise is an eye-poppingly colorful cocoa emporium.

Caspar Plautz, on the Viktualienmarkt, serves baked potatoes with a variety of stuffings.

Kaffeerösterei Viktualienmarkt is your best bet for coffee.

Lea Zapf makes decadent cakes and small pastries.

Eataly, in a cavernous indoor market next to the Viktualienmarkt, is a mecca for Italian products.

Café Frischhut makes local doughnuts called schmalznudels and other deep-fried delights.

Conviva im Blauen Haus is the place to go for a quick and delicious pre-theater meal.

The Königlicher Hirschgarten is a perfect place to enjoy local delicacies and have a pint with thousands of your closest friends.


Cortiina Hotel is sophisticated and centrally located. Rooms start at 289 euros, or $307.

Living Hotel Prinzessin Elisabeth offers a variety of tastefully furnished rooms and suites. Rooms start at 120 euros.

Hotel Mariandl offers elegant, rather old-fashioned rooms. Rooms start at 69 euros.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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