Starting September 18, Munich will once again be celebrating - when the next Oktoberfest beer festival opens. It’s a good reason to visit the capital of Bavaria, but certainly not the only one. The city has a lot more than beer to offer.
Munich simply has everything that makes a big city liveable: a centre with many churches and imposing buildings of various architectural styles -- baroque, gothic, classic. It has a whole array of museums, theatres and concert halls. There are expensive shopping streets.
And naturally, there’s Schwabing, the district of university students, street cafes, bars, bookstores and boutiques. But in recent years its position as an entertainment area has been surpassed by another nightlife area, the Glockenbach district.
Nor can it be forgotten: Munich is a green city. Numerous parks such as the famous Englischer Garten, or meadowlands along the Isar River running through the centre of the city, provide Munich’s residents with fresh air and relaxation.
And on the warm summer evenings, locals and tourists alike head to the more than 80 chestnut tree—covered beer gardens around the city.
An especially fortunate development, according to Munich Mayor Christian Ude, was that, after the huge destruction of the World War II bombing raids, Munich rebuilt its historic centre along the old contours and kept to the original height of buildings.
The city did not go the route advocated at the time by many an urban planner urging that Munich should be re—invented to accommodate the automobile. Now, the authentic reconstruction of such buildings as the Old Town Hall, Sankt Peter Church and the royal residence has proven to be the right idea.
Where in other cities commercialisation marched forward to conquer city centres, Munich’s planners created room for religion, for outstanding architecture and culture.
The last unfinished business in the central-city area was the construction of a synagogue and Jewish community centre a few blocks away from the lively Marienplatz square.
The site — the location of a synagogue destroyed in the Nazis’ “Kristallnacht” rampage against synagogues, Jewish homes and stores around Germany in 1938 -- had lain dormant and undeveloped for decades after the war.
The Ohel Jakob (Jacob’s tent) synagogue, with its rough travertine stonework an architectural reference to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, is a further architectural highlight in central Munich.
Munich last year meanwhile opened yet another eye-popping structure, the Museum Brandhorst, in the Maxvorstadt area near the Isar River.
Behind its spectacular face of 36,000 ceramic louvres of 23 different colours, is a major collection of modern art works by, among others, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Josef Beuys, Bruce Nauman and Georg Baselitz. In the first year after its May 2009 opening, it drew 350,000 visitors.
Those attending this year’s Oktoberfest should also plan to visit the city museum with a special exhibition devoted to the 200 years of the festival. With 800 items on exhibit, the show illustrates how the festival evolved from a Bavarian event with monarchical influence into becoming the world’s largest beer festival.
Right away, at the entrance to the exhibition, visitors are informed that the Oktoberfest was not created by some royal decree by the king, but rather was the result of an initiative presented by private citizens to celebrate the forthcoming October 12, 1810 wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese.
It was a horse race organized by citizens’ militias as a side-show event which really launched the enthusiasm for the festival. The euphoria was so great that the grounds, after the Crown Princess Therese’s wedding, were soon afterwards dubbed the “Theresienwiese” (Therese’s field). To this day, another reference to the Oktoberfest is simply the “Wiesn.” “What’s nice about the Oktoberfest is that it has been celebrated on the same spot for 200 years now,” says Florian Dering, curator of the special exhibition running through October 31. The Theresienwiese grounds still have the same oval shape from the original horse racetrack.
And something else pleases the exhibition’s creator: “Since the end of the Second World War, it has always been the same elements which have determined the programme: the parade of the horse-drawn beerwagons of the breweries, the traditional folk costume and marksmen groups’ parade, the farming fair, and the October marksmanship competition.” And that the Munich mayor, opening the Oktoberfest exactly at noon, traditionally taps open the first wooden beer keg with the call, “Ozpaft is!” -- it’s tapped.