After having lived in Munich for three years, while traveling extensively throughout Germany, I can safely say that Munich is a little ‘kingdom’ unto itself and Münchners wouldn’t have you think otherwise. They will tell you that they are Bavarians first, and Germans second which, historically speaking, is of course true.
It is by far the cleanest and safest place I’ve ever lived, due in part to the reality that every Münchner was a born police officer. They love a good rule and they will be the first ones to tell you if you have violated one, whether it is an actual written rule, or one they made up on the spot. At first glance, Munich appears to have a very laid back atmosphere, but if you get too relaxed and accidentally set a pinky toe into a bike lane, the bike bells will ring, fingers will be pointed, and German profanities will be shouted. No one enjoys being publicly shamed and as a result, people generally walk a tight rope and follow the rules in Munich. For a list of other things worth noting before coming for a visit, check out my O’zapft Is! : A Munich Commentary article.
With that said, Munich is a geographically blessed city making it easy to take day trips to the Alps, the neighboring blue crystalline lakes, and quaint Bavarian towns such as Augsburg and Garmisch. The Bavarian countryside is absolutely breathtaking and the amount of days there that I felt such an intense gratitude for my surroundings far outnumbered days spent anywhere else thus far. The public transportation in Munich is the best I’ve seen and between their biking system and public transport, there is absolutely no need to have a car while visiting. Their extensive train system makes it possible for you to get anywhere in Germany with ease.
After WWII, there were three schools of thought in Germany regarding architectural reconstruction and Munich went largely with the traditionalist school of thought, allowing it to maintain its European charm, which many of us foreigners come in search of. Many of Munich’s German counterparts went with a more modern approach to reconstruction, and while it may be functional, it doesn’t hold the charisma and grandeur quite the way the architecture in Munich does.
The city itself has strict zoning and height restrictions, which limit construction in the city center from being more than 99m high, so unlike many metropolitan cities, Munich retains its quaint ‘village’ feel. It was one of the most thoroughly rebuilt cities in Germany after WWII thanks to the efforts of historic preservationists, the municipal government and its local citizenry. Many war-damaged buildings were saved from demolition and restored to their prewar form and as a result Munich is one of the best preserved of all German cities.
Munich is also a city rich with festivals and seasons and hosts one of the world’s top parties. The festival season starts every year in the middle of September with Munich’s infamous Oktoberfest, which goes until the first week of October. At the ‘Wies’n’, revelers pack tents clad in traditional clothing and consume liter-size ‘Maß’ beers while standing on benches and singing Bavarian hymns for hours on end. It’s a real party and certainly worth checking out for yourself. Less well-known seasons and festivals are the seasons that revolve around food, such as mushrooms and asparagus and the summer Forest Festivals that are dotted throughout Bavaria. The only ‘quiet’ time Munich truly experiences is during January and February when everyone rests and gets ready for the next go-round.
Munich has a bounty of attributes, but when it comes to its beer garden culture, the city in unrivaled. It has over 180 beer gardens spread across the city that vary in size and style and this is where, I think, Munich truly shines. German monks, who created cellars in the ground to keep their beer cool during the summer months, were the first ones to start beer gardens. To help keep the temperature in the cellars cool, they covered the ground with gravel and planted chestnut trees on top due to their dense canopies. Over time, people began bringing picnics to these areas under the chestnut trees and beer gardens started. You are still allowed today to bring your own picnic to Munich’s beer gardens and this is where you will find almost every Münchner on a beautiful afternoon. The summer vibe in Munich is insurmountable and I strongly urge you to find a spot on your bucket list for this enchanted land. You’ll be glad you did.
For a list of what to do and see while you are visiting, click here.
My recommendations on…
Best Beer Gardens in Munich
Max Emanuel Brauerei
The White Rose by Inge Scholl
Weekend in Munich by Robert S. Wistrich
Ruins of War by John A. Connell
This is Munich by Miroslav Sasek
Munich and Memory by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld