This is one of those towns that seems friendly but isn’t.
It offers beer, but its heart is cold.
Personally, I like the real Munich better than the jolly stereotype. I like the incredible modern museums, the overly complex rules and regulations. (You should see the map of the transit system!) I even somewhat admire the lack of tourist hand-holding – yes, you can climb the Old Peter bell tower, but nobody is going to tell you it’s 306 steps to the top. Just start climbing (Implied corollary: If you have heart failure halfway up, well, find a way to get yourself back down).
All that oom-pah-pah stuff about Munich beer halls and jolly music? Well, it’s true enough on the surface. This is Bavaria, after all.
But I implore you, see more. Here’s a quick, nine-step rundown of a more balanced Munich:
Modern: Pinakothek der Moderne: My very favorite place in the city. The modern art museum, which opened in 2002, is really four museums in one. There are paintings by great German artists like Kandinsky and Macke, plus prints, drawings and sculpture. Then there’s the Neue Sammlung gallery. Devoted to industrial design of the 20th and 21st centuries, it contains everything from Eames chairs to the first iPod to a 1936 “Nocturne” blue glass radio made in Jackson, Mich. Absolutely do not miss this place. It’s worth it just for a look at the floor-to-ceiling illuminated, backlit, compartmentalized displays.
Old: Hofbrauhaus: The classic Munich beer hall, so of course you cannot visit Munich without setting foot in this place, no matter how corny it seems.
Modern: Brandhorst Museum: Just opened in 2009. From the abstract multi colored ceramic exterior to the interior filled with giant canvases, mostly by American artists Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, this museum is modest, of human scale, and wonderful inside and out. Have lunch in the pleasant cafe on the main floor.
Old: Alter Peter (nickname for St. Peter’s Church). Best photos of the Munich skyline come from the top of this 300-foot tower. An asthma-inducing climb, but just take your time and plod upward. You’ll pass eight giant bells.
Even though this church was reconstructed after World War II in the style of the 14th Century, nobody apparently thought to install a 20th-century elevator.
Modern: Bubble T Store. I had no idea what this was, but there was a line that snaked down the street night and day for this new shop at the Rindermarkt in Old Town. Turns out, the store opened in July and features trendy Pearl Milk Tea, a Taiwanese drink containing tea, fruit, milk and tapioca – about $5 a glass.
Old: Marienplatz and Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). Even if you are just strolling around, you will stumble upon this center of Munich that dates back centuries. The Rathaus was built in the 19th century but looks older and has a glockenspiel that plays three to four times a day. Munich’s free spirits use this as a gathering spot for causes – I saw vegan banners, a fire juggling show and a booth touting world peace.
Modern: The Schrannenhalle. This grain market was rehabbed into a trendy spot in 2005, but customers didn’t take to its mishmash of sales booths. It closed. It just reopened five months ago as a gigantic, rather upscale, delicatessen/food market. Crowded with people drinking wine, buying cheese and hobnobbing, it’s good for people-watching.
Old: Englischer Garten. Munich’s version of Central Park. Relaxing, sophisticated, pleasant, orderly, and in nice contrast to the frenetic city center and the crazy train station area. An added bonus: In summer, there is surfing on a stream and nude sunbathing.
Modern: The Apple Store. Oddly dropped into the picturesque Old Town, it’s been packed since it opened in 2008 as Germany’s first Apple magnet. At night it’s alit with silhouettes of shoppers on two floors. The store and all the customers inside could be transposed with the Apple Store in Chicago and I bet nobody would notice a bit, not even the people inside. Don’t go here. See a museum, climb a bell tower or nude sunbathe instead.