München, Germany (Munich)

München, oh München, you crazy devil you. (Note: Munich has a lot of history so this is only cliff note version…)

Talk about a city that knows how to party, get things done, and show their visitors and inhabitants a good time. After the intensity they’ve been through, though, I think the people of München deserve the mass amounts of liter beer mugs that litter the pubs of Munich’s center: Marienplatz.

As the largest city of the Bavarian state, and the 3rd largest of Germany, Munich sits on the banks of the Isar river. The capital of Bavaria since 1506, Munich was not even documented until 1158 when it is assumed to have been formed. The term comes from the Old German “Munichen” which translates roughly to “by the monks.”

“Guelph Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, had built a bridge over the river Isar next to a settlement of Benedictine monks—this was on the Old Salt Route and a toll bridge.” (Wikipedia) In 1175 Munich was granted city status, and when Duke Louis IV was elected King of Germany in 1314 he allowed Munich the salt monopoly that would sustain the city’s income.

Now, despite its previously (famous) gothic aesthetic, Munich became the center of renaissance arts in the 16th century.  One particular art seemed to be greatly appreciated (though not at all renaissance–depending on who you ask): brewing. The infamous (to beer and German culture lovers) Hofbrauhaus was built in 1589 by Wilhelm V. Thanks, Willie. We will forever appreciate your contribution.

Quick recap for the next 300 years: Catholic League founded, bubonic plague, baroque life comes out of the closet. On to more important things: The Kingdom of Bavaria. Sounds regal, right? It only lasted ~100 years before it collapsed at the death of Ludwig III. In 1806, when this kingdom was formed, though, Munich stayed the capital and was even honored with the movement of the Ludwig Maximilian University (now AKA University of Munich) in 1826.

As the first World War broke out, Munich came to know great political and social unrest. In 1916, three bombs fell on Munich in a French air raid. Just two years later, the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig III, made a bold decision to get the hell out of Dodge and fled with his family in Nov. 1918. The Bavarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in Feb. 1919, but quickly put down by the Freikops. And, not long after, Hitler attempted (and failed) to revolt against the Weimar Republic in 1923. Ten years later (1933) National Socialists took power of Munch and the first concentration camp was built in Dachau, just 10 mi. outside of the city. From this rise of the social party, Munich was later called Der Hauptstadt der Bewegung or the “Capital of Movement.”

By the end of WWII, Munich had been victim to 71 air raids leaving the city in utter shambles. In 1945, though, the city was rebuilt to replicate its original city grid and, in ’57, Munich’s population surpassed the 1 million mark. Yet, just as the city had finished rebuilding from destruction and psychological damage, the 1972 Olympic “Munich Massacre” occurs. (Read more in the Olympic Park article.)

Yet, despite all of the tragedy the city has faced over the centuries, it has restored itself to become one the world’s largest technological epicenters. According to Mercer HR Consulting, Munich ranks in the top 10 cities with the highest quality of life. It is sweetly named “Toytown” by American-speaking inhabitants, and “Millionendorf” in German, translating roughly to “village of one million people.”

The natural habitat of well-heeled power dressers and lederhosen-clad thigh-slappers, Mediterranean-style street cafes and Mitteleuropa (add: “Middle Europe”) beer halls, high-brow art and high-tech industry, Germany’s second city is a flourishing success story that revels in its own contradictions. If you’re looking for Alpine clichés, they’re all here, but the Bavarian metropolis sure has many an unexpected card down its Dirndl. -Lonely Planet


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