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Munich: Walking Tour 1

The Historic Center

Start: Frauenkirche.

Finish: KɆnigsplatz.

Time: 2 1/2 hours, not counting shopping or any visits inside places mentioned here.

Best Times: Daylight hours during clement weather.

Worst Times: Monday to Friday from 7:30 to 9am and 4:30 to 6pm, because of heavy traffic.

With a history spanning centuries of building and rebuilding, Munich is one of Europe's most architecturally interesting cities. Postwar developments have marred Munich's once-homogeneous look, but in rebuilding their city after the war, Mɒnchners tried to respect tradition as much as possible. If you, like the ordinary visitor, have time for only one walking tour, make it the historic center. This tour will take you through the monumental center of Munich, the point where the city began before it branched out in all directions. Even though all of Munich covers 311 sq. km (120 sq. miles), the section covered on this tour is the best for walking around.

To launch your tour on foot, you can first take public transportation, either the U-Bahn or the S-Bahn to Marienplatz, the very heart of Munich -- comparable to what Times Square is to New York City. After leaving the subway stop, the tour of the historic center begins to the immediate west, where you'll see a dignified cathedral with impressive brickwork.

1. Frauenkirche

This cathedral was begun in 1468 on the site of a much older church and was completed after 20 years. The majestically somber building is capped with twin towers. In spite of massive bombings, these towers escaped Allied bombardments during World War II. They now serve as landmarks on Munich's skyline and have also become a symbol of the city.

After admiring the towers' design, walk southeast along any of the pedestrian alleyways radiating away from the rear of the church. In a couple of minutes, you'll find yourself in the most famous medieval square of Munich.

2. Marienplatz

In the center of this square, a golden statue of the Virgin Mary (the MariensȨule) rises above pavement that was first laid in the 1300s when the rest of the city's streets were a morass of mud and sewage. On the square's northern boundary sits the richly ornamented, neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New City Hall), built between 1867 and 1908 as a symbol of Munich's power. On its facade is the famous Glockenspiel, the mechanical clock that performs a miniature tournament several times a day. At the square's eastern border, beyond a stream of traffic, is the simpler and smaller Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall), which was rebuilt in its present form in 1470 after fire destroyed an even earlier version.

From the square, walk south along Rindermarkt, encircling the masonry bulk of the:

3. Peterskirche

This church's interior is a sun-flooded fantasy of baroque stucco and gilt. Completed in 1180, the church was built on the foundations of a Romanesque basilica erected around 1000. St. Peter's is the oldest parish church in Munich, and for many years, it was the only one. If you have time, you can explore the richly decorated interior. Otherwise, on a walking tour, you might settle for a view of the impressive Gothic facade, which was constructed between 1379 and 1386 after a fire destroyed the church in 1327.

Walk around the outside of the church to the back, where you'll find the sprawling premises of one of the best-stocked food emporiums in Europe, the:

4. Viktualienmarkt

Known as "Munich's stomach," this is where you can snack, have a beer, pick up the makings of a picnic, or just observe the ritual of European grocery shopping.

At the northern end, at the corner where streets Rosen Tal and Im Tal meet, rises the richly ornate baroque walls of the:

5. Heiliggeist (Holy Ghost) Church

Originally belonging to the 14th-century Hospice of the Holy Ghost, a medieval order flourishing in the 1300s, this is called a Gothic "Hall Church." It was built on foundations laid by another structure in the 12th century, and the church was completed in 1730. Except for the church, the other hospice buildings were demolished in 1885. Architects at that time added three bays on the western facade of the church, giving it a neo-baroque facade. World War II bombs brought much destruction, and only the original choir, buttresses, and north wall of the nave remain intact. The rest of the building is a reconstruction.

From here, cross the busy boulevard identified as Im Tal and walk north along Maderbraustrasse (within a block it will change its name to Orlandostrasse and then to Am Platzl). Here, look for the entrance to the most famous beer hall in Europe, the state-owned:

6. HofbrȨuhaus

For the moment, note its location for an eventual return.

Now, walk northwest along Pfisterstrasse. To your left are the walls of the:

7. Alter Hof

This palace was originally built in 1255, and once served as the palace of the Wittelsbachs, although it was later eclipsed by even grander palaces. Since 1816, it has housed the rather colorless offices of Munich's financial bureaucracies.

On the opposite (northern) edge of Pfisterstrasse rise the walls of the:

8. Mɒnzhof

Built between 1563 and 1567, this building has, during its lifetime, housed, in turn, the imperial stables, the first museum north of the Alps, and (1809-1986) a branch of the government mint. Today, it's headquarters for Munich's Landmark Preservation office (Landesamt fɒr Denkmalschutz). If it's open, the double tiers and massive stone columns of the building's Bavarian Renaissance courtyard are worth a visit.

Pfisterstrasse funnels into a broader street, Hofgraben. Walk west for 1 block, and then turn right (north) along Residenzstrasse. The first building on your right will be the city's main post office (Hauptpost), and a few paces father on you'll reach:

9. Max-Joseph-Platz

Designed as a focal point for the monumental avenue (Maximilianstrasse) that radiates eastward, the plaza was built during the 19th century on the site of a Franciscan convent in honor of Bavaria's first king.

At the north edge of the plaza lie the vast exhibition space and labyrinthine corridors of one of Munich's finest museums, the:

10. Residenz

Constructed in different stages and styles from 1500 to 1850, the Residenz served as the official home of the rulers of Bavaria until 1918. Restored and rebuilt in its original form after the bombings of World War II, the complicated site contains seven semiconcealed courtyards, lavish apartments that have housed foreign visitors like Elizabeth II and Charles de Gaulle, and museums that include the Residenz Museum, the Treasure House of the Residenz, the richly gilded rococo Cuvilliȳs Theater (1753), and the Herkulessaal, a concert hall noted for its baroque decorations.

Walk from Max-Joseph-Platz north along Residenzstrasse. Make the first left and walk west along Salvatorstrasse; then, within another block, turn right (north) along Theatinerstrasse. On your right you'll immediately notice an important Munich landmark, the:

11. Feldherrnhalle

This open-air loggia was designed and constructed by Friedrich von GȨrtner between 1841 and 1844. Von GȨrtner chose as his model the famous Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. King Ludwig I commissioned the construction of the loggia as a tribute to the Bavarian army. The bronze figures honoring Bavarian generals Tilly (1559-1632) and Wrede (1767-1838) were based on drawings by Ludwig Schwanthaler.

The two lions on the steps were the work of a sculptor, Ruemann, in 1906. Although Hitler's attempted putsch in Munich failed, along with the subsequent march to the Feldherrnhalle, the loggia later became a Nazi rallying point. Today, the Brown Shirts are replaced by street singers and musicians who hold out their hats, hoping for coins.

On the western (opposite) side of the same street (Theatinerstrasse) is the:

12. Theatinerkirche (Church of St. Kajetan)

Completed in 1690, this church's triple-domed, Italian-baroque facade was added about a century later by the Cuvilliȳs team of father and son. Its crypt contains the tombs of many of the Wittelsbachs.

Now, continue walking north, passing through Odeonsplatz, below which several subway lines converge. On the northeastern side of this square lie the flowers, fountains, and cafes of one of Munich's most pleasant small parks, the:

13. Hofgarten

Originally laid out for members of the royal court in 1613, this garden was opened to the public in 1780. Along the edges of the Hofgarten, as well as along the avenues radiating away from it, lie many opportunities for you to:

Take a Break

Do as the Mɒnchners do and enjoy the panorama of Odeonsplatz and the nearby Hofgarten. One particularly attractive choice is Cafȳ Luitpold, Briennerstrasse 11 (tel. 089/24-28-750).Rebuilt in a streamlined design after the bombings of World War II, it has, in the past, welcomed such cafe-loving habituȳs as Ibsen, Johann Strauss the Younger, and Kandinsky.

Now, walk westward along Briennerstrasse, through a neighborhood lined with impressive buildings. On your right, notice the heroic statue of Maximilian I, the Great Elector (1597-1651), rising from the center of:

14. Wittelsbacher-Platz

One of the most famous squares of Munich, Wittelsbacher-Platz evokes, for some, a grand hall. It's enveloped by palaces, most of which were designed by Leo von Klenze, including the 1820 Palais Arco-Zinneberg on the western side of the square. The 1825 Wittelsbacher-Palais, where von Klenze lived for a quarter of a century, rises on the north side of the square. Today, it is the head office of the Siemens Corporation. A monument in the center, an impressive neoclassical equestrian statue depicting Elector Maximilian I, is much photographed. Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), one of Denmark's leading sculptors, created this statue in 1830. Also in the center of the square is Wittelsbacher-Brunnen or Wittelsbach Fountain, the most celebrated in the city. It is another neoclassical work, this one by Adolf von Hildebrandt (1893-95), the noted sculptor. The most intriguing part of the fountain depicts a nude youth on a "water-horse" hurling a boulder.

Continue along Briennerstrasse until you see the gentle fork to your left, Sonnen Strasse. This leads into the verdant and stylish perimeter of:

15. Maximiliansplatz

This leafy square stands at the heart of one of Germany's most prestigious shopping streets, Maximilianstrasse. The street itself begins at Max-Joseph-Platz and runs to the east. Maximilian II wanted to create a platz and a street more loosely defined than the more rigidly designed Ludwigstrasse. Maximiliansplatz and Maximilianstrasse were conceived and designed so that shops, hotels, gardens, restaurants, offices, and public buildings could coexist side by side. Thus, the "Maximilianic style" was created, which is a medley of various styles with many elements from past architectural movements, such as Gothic. Shop at your leisure or plan to return later for a more in-depth sampling of this prestigious neighborhood.

For the moment, return to Briennerstrasse, turn left (west), and head toward the 26m (85-ft.) obelisk (erected in 1833) that soars above:

16. Karolinenplatz

This was the city's first star-shaped open space. Based on his model for the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, Karl von Fisher mapped out this square from 1809 to 1812. Although it doesn't match the radiance of its inspiration in Paris, it is nonetheless a landmark and an impressive square. But don't judge von Fischer too harshly when you see the square today. His uniform neoclassical look has been regrettably altered in the postwar era by buildings no longer in harmony with his original design. In the center of the square, Leo von Klenze placed an obelisk commemorating the 30,000 (or more) Bavarian soldiers who were lost in the ill-fated Russian campaign of 1812.

Karolinenplatz in the east is linked to KɆnigsplatz in the west by a wide boulevard, Briennerstrasse. After taking in the view of Karolinenplatz, continue slightly northwest and you'll come upon:

17. KɆnigsplatz

In the early 19th century, Crown Prince Ludwig (later Ludwig I) selected this formal neoclassical design from an architectural competition. Its perimeter is ringed with some of Germany's most impressive museum buildings, the Doric-inspired PropylȨen monument (west side), the Antikensammlungen (south side), and the Ionic-fronted Glyptothek (north side).

Once at KɆnigsplatz, you will be at one of the major subway stops of Munich, a 5-minute ride south to the Hauptbahnhof, where you can catch subways to most of the major sightseeing attractions of Munich, or even to attractions in Bavaria or in the suburbs of Munich.

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