A Visit To Munich
by Charles N. Barnard
I am in Munich again — Munchen, city of monks and Gothic courtyards,
of a sky-piercing Olympic tower and its view of snowcapped Alps, of fountains
both torrential and trickling, of high-fashion, of contrasts — somberly
tolling cathedral bells and the oom-pah-pah burlesque of brass bands, stately
royal palaces and nudist areas in public parks, steaming breweries and hushed
museums, haute cuisine and pigs' knuckles, absurdly playful Rococo decorations
and high-tech architecture.
How does a visitor organize such a city or comprehend it? Is this Munich the most cultured, most elegant
burg in Germany — the nation's unacknowledged capital — or is it, deep in its genes, a capital of kitsch and
corn? Is it, as the Prussians to the north used to say, a coarse, beer-belly town — or is it a city of books and
laboratories and universities? Should it be honored as a royal seat, home of a seven-century Bavarian
dynasty — or remembered as the spiritual womb of National Socialism, Hitler's "city for a thousand years?"
Or is it none-of-the-above?
Now that I am arrived, Munich dazzles me with rich images but confuses me with its contradictions. Can
any outsider ever reach both arms around this kaleidoscope and say, "I've captured you, Munich, I
understand you now!"
Spin the wheel, I am here to try.
I came to Munich once as a child, with my Mama, in those innocent days when German toys were more
sought-after than any others, and I left with a wind-up Marklin train set that always emitted a faint scent of
lubricating oil from its precision gears. I came to Munich again, many years later, to see a former
concentration camp called Dachau — a place of deepest shame that Muncheners correctly, though perhaps
irrelevantly, assert is 14 miles away in another town.
Then, one more time, I arrived in the city on a fast train, and German friends, carrying red roses, met me at
the Hauptbahnhof and drove me directly out to the storied Bavarian countryside.
In other words, I have never really been in Munich before.
Where, then, to begin understanding this city? With a brief history? In the eighth century, monks settled
here on the banks of the Isar River and established a village that was called Munichen — "by the monks'
place." In 1158, a Bavarian Duke moved in on the monks, fortified the town and turned it into a commercial
center. A century later, the city came under the rule of the Wittelsbach family, a ducal dynasty that would
eventually become a royal line. After World War I, Munich experimented briefly with a radical socialist
form of independence. Hitler arrived in 1923 and intended eventually to make the city the capital of Nazism.
After that, the world remembers.
Which means, of course, that Munich — and Bavaria — are much older than the nation called Germany that
was created in 1870 and of which they became a part. The language here differs from other spoken German
— "very much dialect," as they say in these parts, heavy on the vowels, not like in Berlin or Frankfurt or
Hamburg. And I see that Muncheners wear very-much folksy dress, too — Lederhosen, Dirndl dresses,
velvet jackets, and funny felt hats. Bavarians dress this way not just on holidays or in parades, but on any
day they feel like it.
Munich is Germany's stepchild, the local people will tell you with perverse pride; Munich is very much
Bavaria. You are also required to understand that the Freistaat (freestate) of Bavaria — one of the 11
Lander (states) that make up the Federal Republic — cherishes its history and keeps its own ways and
therefore is Bavarian before it is German.
"Gemutlichkeit, you mean?"
"Yes, that and more."
So I embark on discovering what makes Munich so singular — city
of sorrow, city of elegance, city of history, city of self. "And what
do you mean, "more?" How else are you different? "It's being in the south,
partly," am told. "We are softer here, more sentimental. There is a whiff
of Italy that blows in and a little of Austria . . . .
Arriving here at midmorning in autumn, you encounter a quiet airport —
no lines, no anxiety — plenty of baggage carts, many porters, a
quick, professional look at your passport, a swift exchange of dollars
for Deutsch Mark, a clean, new Mercedes-Benz taxi purring to the hotel.
Everything click, click. Very first-world.
"You came for Oktoberfest, perhaps?" (Was it my American-tourist face?)
"But you are here, you may as well see it."
"Yes, I want to."
An inescapable linkage. The annual 16-day international beer bust and
county fair seems both Munich's pride and Munich's embarrassment: "Even
when we are sordid, we are good at it," one citizen says. Statistics are
recited with a wry, contained smile, a blend of apology and of boast:
almost six and one half million Oktoberfest visitors last year (and more
every year); Six million litres of beer drawn from barrels; 84 oxen roasted
whole on the spit; 152.025 pairs of pork sausages; dozens of amusement
park rides, old and new; 54 shooting galleries; 34 games of chance; one
flea circus . . . .
"You will see all you want of it in an hour," a smug critic says. "Did you know they have special tents
where all the drunks and lost children are allowed to sleep?"
I do not search out the Bierleichenzelt (beer-corpse tent) or the one for verlorene Kinder. I look instead for
the big, noisy, happy gatherings where everybody goes to eat barbecued chicken and grilled sausages and
salted, thin-sliced white radishes and to drink beer — or wine — and sing songs and merrily slap their shoes
in the unashamedly-ridiculous dance called Shuhplattler.
And then I ride on a very old roundabout (merry-go-round), called Krinoline, now in its 60th consecutive
season, and I share a seat with an elderly Munich lady wearing her finest Bavarian outfit. She smiles a bit
self-consciously, as if two old timers such as we should perhaps not be taking such a silly ride on such a
silly old machine. She says a few words and a friend translates. "We start out in life as children and then
we are children again."
Oktoberfest is a misnomer; the great civic party is about over as October
begins each year. It was pushed up to sunnier September because October
often brings omens of winter from the Bavarian Alps, 35 miles south —
gray skies, mist, rain, even snow. October also brings a widespread melancholy,
it seems, for this is the almost-end of Munich's other great, ongoing
love affair with the outdoors — the beer garden season. When I arrived
on the cusp of fall, I didn't understand at first why the Muncheners I
met seemed so preoccupied with each day's weather. Then someone explained,
"The heart of every Bavarian lies in the beer garden. As the season draws
to an end, we become anxious and sad."
What better place to begin to know Munich, then? I find one of the city's 36 major beer gardens (there are
many others combined with restaurants) and sit at a sunny table under green and russet chestnut trees and
spread out my maps and guidebooks. The Hirschgarten happens to be the largest of these leafy retreats,
seating over 7000 on summer nights. Today there are no more than a hundred of us sitting among the
thousands of jumbled-tumbled tables and folding chairs. Grandmothers from the nearby Nymphenburg
district who have brought their lunches, some chess players in Lederhosen (the leather pants), some
students with books, some lovers discovering each other. Gray squirrels play with fallen chestnuts; children
roll hoops through dry, cinnamon-colored leaves on the gravel paths. It is a scene I will find recreated and
preserved in the art museums; generations of Bavarian painters have tried to capture the elusive
Gemutlichkeit (cordiality) of the beer gardens in all seasons, all lights and all ages.
My overflowing tankard of golden, foaming beer arrives in the grasp of an overflowing waitress and with
the traditional benediction, "Gruss Gott" (God's greeting). This standard measure of beer called a "Mass,"
equals approximately half a U.S. six-pack, costs a little more than $4 these days and is served as seriously
as communion. If you have an appreciation for good suds, nothing ever tasted better.
Guidebook Munich is daunting, I find. The best local edition lists merely 160 "places of interest" and
doesn't seem to exaggerate. Tourist maps of the city are also densely annotated with important landmarks.
How to simplify? How to organize?
"How long do visitors usually stay here?" I ask.
"Two days average, not more."
"What do they do, where do they go?"
The answer is a list: one million, four hundred thousand a year visit the Deutsches Museum of technology;
a million-three go to the zoo; one million elevate to the top of the Olympic tower; one million visit the
former concentration camp at Dachau; six hundred thousand take a movie-studio tour a la Hollywood.
These are the Big Five.
Somehow the statistics don't tell me what I want to know or what I expected to find. Movie studios and
revolving restaurants? Where are the works of the famed Munich artists, Lenbach and Kandinski? How do
I find the creations of the Royal Dwarf, Cuvilles, who became the Royal Architect? Where are the music
halls of Schubert and Mozart? The palaces of the Wittelsbachs? (Easy now, they're all here, you'll find
them, they're just not on the hit parade.)
There are no statistics needed for the Marienplatz. It is simply the city's picturesque central square, a
commercial and touristic crossroads, the place where, at 11 each morning (and at noon and 5 p.m. in
summer), the famed 1904 Glockenspiel under the New City Hall clock revolves through its five-minute
musical performance. Thousands of faces (and cameras) tilt upward as the 43 bells of the carillon begin;
soon the life-size, enamel-on-copper figures of knights-in-armor execute their halting, herky-jerky joust.
This is followed (on another carousel) by the twirling-turning folk dance of the barrel-makers.
I find the handsome little Cafe Glockenspiel on the fifth floor of a building facing the city hall. Just before
eleven, a waitress opens large windows so we can better hear the Glockenspiel's music-box-like
accompaniment from our eye-level perch. I order a coffee and a piece of Englischerkake. It is easy to fall in
with this, one of Munich's traditions: if you have a few minutes on your hands, or if you meet a friend on
the street, pop into the nearest café or delectable konditerei (pastry shop) and — touch of Austria — have a
coffee and some small, sinful bite like a marzipan pig or a brandy torten. There are many tempting places
for such dalliance, but perhaps the most extraordinary is Dallmayr's, "the millionaire's delicatessen," just a
few steps from Marienplatz. There is a café-restaurant above street level — if you can pull yourself away
from the Roman-orgy food displays and the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee on the ground floor.
The Marienplatz is only slightly less busy when the Glockenspiel isn't clanking around. Flowers tumble
from the city hall balconies; heraldic flags add the white-and-blue or black-and-gold colors of Munich and
of Bavaria; mimes, jugglers and musicians provide an almost perpetual street theatre (their occupation-time
of any given public space limited by the police) and everyone crosswalks in all directions on the one million
square feet of city pavements which were taken away from automobiles and converted to pedestrian zones
beginning in 1966.
I have a somber thought over coffee: Almost all that I can see around this stage-set medieval square — and
much of Munich beyond — was destroyed by the aerial bombings of World War II. Yet today, every
red-tiled roof and painted facade is intact, every decorative carving and gargoyle in place, every clockface is
gilded, every bronze or marble fountain repaired, every spire and stepped-gable restored. One wonders:
How? And even, Why?
Somewhere in almost every church or public building a visitor finds
framed photographs documenting what it looked like in 1945 after 75 Allied
air raids, 60,000 blockbusting bombs and 50,000 incendiary fires. The
caption words are always the same: "Nact der bombardierung . . .after
the bombing." The aging, sepia-tone photos are all the same, too: they
show a silent, graveyard city where a few surviving walls stood like headstones
and twisted girders raged against empty sky as if they were tormented
Twelve million metric tons of once-elegant Munich were eventually bulldozed together and trucked off to
the suburbs, a tragic cargo of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo fragments, the shards of centuries.
(So much for the madman's thousand-year city.) This historic rubble was mounded up to form rolling hills,
then disguised with grass and landscaping. In time, the mass graves healed; the hills became parks; children
fly kites from the 200-foot summit of Olympic Hill today.
The last forty years for this proud, independent Munich have been devoted to an obsessive, passionate
self-restoration. While other nations agonized with new wars, Munich struggled only with the ravages of an
old one. The nineteen forties did not happen! Everything, everything would — must — be put back as it
was: every Baroque tower, every Rococo cherub. Munich would not rise anew as a city of glass blocks,
Munich would be the old Munich again. If there was anything left of a building, the building was restored;
if there was nothing left, it was rebuilt in every detail — museums, opera houses, town halls, churches, the
cathedral, even some of the dishonored buildings of the Nazi era. Result: Munich today is the Munich of
the Thirties — the 1930's, or even the 1830's, 1730's, 1630's. Choose your century, it is all here, it is now
almost intact again.
Twice, late in the evening, I passed a craftsman working entirely alone on the restoration of one of the
cathedral's side doors. In many of the other churches, scaffolds still reach to the vaulted ceilings so artisans
can reproduce murals that were conceived centuries ago and lost to Britain's RAF. Curiously, a single,
unrestored ruin of the war still stands near the center of town with weeds growing from its roof.
Controversy about what to do with the shell of the former Army Museum has delayed its restoration, but
there is no question that it will be saved.
At the City Museum, a restored, Late Gothic building that dates to 1520, a collection of paintings, drawings
and photographs reflect the growth of the city as seen by its artists over the last century or more. The
exhibit is popular with older citizens who come to look nostalgically at scenes they may remember from
childhood, neighborhoods that are no more and devastation that was so great that only seeing the
photographs again can make the experience seem believable.
The city's art collections, royal crowns and relics, illuminated books, Greco-Roman statues, historic china
and glass, secular carvings, armories of ancient arms and armor, and awesome technical exhibitions are
evidence enough of the Bavarians' passion to collect, to restore and to preserve their past. Anticipating the
possibility of a Gotterdammerung in World War II, Muncheners transported all movable treasures and
even some architectural details to caves long before the first Allied bombers arrived. Now this trove is
returned to the light. (All but a reportedly vast collection from the cult of Nazi art which remains too
politically sensitive to exhume.)
I find myself wondering how to make all this, or some of it, mine. "There
are 49 museums, galleries and collections," an official source tells me.
But I count even more: museums of hunting and fishing, of theatre, of
applied arts, of ethnology, of coins, of puppets, of photography, of carriages,
of paleontology, of toys, of prehistory, of beer making, of fire-fighting,
of mineralogy, of porcelains, of graphic arts, of Egyptian art, of folk
music — and, yes, even a museum of chamber pots.
A museum-a-day plan would take almost two months if one did not sooner succumb to an overdose of
culture. I decide to begin with the obvious, the #1 tourist attraction, the place I have been warned can take a
week in itself.
The Deutsches Museum must surely be the world's greatest collection of technology,
a man-boy's wonderland — 16,000 items displayed in 43,000 square
feet of space and so many miles of walking through the endless (and endlessly
fascinating) exhibits that only a Sherpa could survive without collapse.
(There are coin-operated foot-massage machines for the weary.)
I spent a soaring morning just with aviation: a Wright Brothers plane, zeppelins, the first Messerschmitt jet
fighter, Wernher von Braun's first multi-staged rocket. An excellent chef's salad in the museum restaurant
for lunch and then the afternoon with motor cars — beginning at the beginning, inevitably: Karl Benz' first
automobile. "I'll come back," I say to myself as the museum closes at 5. "I must." After a day with Benz,
Diesel, Krupp, Siemens, Daimler, Otto, Maybach and Einstein, I am prepared to buy any product of
German engineering or technology that is for sale — and I remember that my Marklin train still runs! I had
forgotten how accomplished these people were/are at science and invention. I walk back to my hotel
wondering how the Japanese ever managed to get in the back door to Germany's laboratories.
Munich is a walker's town. Its cobbles gleam in the rain and its air is everywhere scented with the pungent,
all-nourishing drafts from the breweries' steaming malt-mash. The pace on the sidewalks is not New
York-frantic, Tokyo-automated, nor a Neapolitan stroll. Muncheners are no laggards, but a certain way of
life is also to be enjoyed. Young mothers in blue jeans take their infants on slow carriage rides in the parks.
Older ladies walking small dogs on residential streets carry on leisurely conversations with their pets.
Coffee shops are always busy. By the banks of a canal behind Nymphenburg palace, I see a groundskeeper
mowing grass with the rhythmic, swaying strokes of a scythe. In the parks, I watch gardeners sweeping up
fall's leaves with the traditional twig brooms that have done the job for centuries. I think, gasoline-powered
weed-whackers and leaf-blowers would do these jobs quicker — but they would also shatter the spell of the
Munich's 400,000 bicyclists enjoy 1100 kilometers of officially dedicated bike lanes which parallel most
sidewalks (and sometimes have their own traffic signals). When, innocently, I once trespassed into this
space, a young man touched my elbow and gave me an earnest speech in German. When my eyes glazed
over with incomprehension, he stopped. "For BI-cycles," he said finally, gripping imaginary handlebars and
When it's time for drinking and eating, Muncheners like nothing better than
to get down all together in great, informal crowds — up to 7,000
together in the beer gardens, for example, a similar total in the largest
of the brewers' beer tents at Oktoberfest, thousands sitting together
under the vaulted gothic ceilings of beer halls like the popular Hofbrauhaus.
"It is our democracy," you are told. "We like it this way because it brings
us all together."
There are times when the togetherness of Mucheners seems a secret society, complete with its own flag,
handshake, choppy dialect and uniforms ornamented with boars' teeth, old coins and bunches of goat
whiskers. ("We like it when our people wear their traditional Bavarian costume because then we can
recognize them as one of us.") During the division of Germany into east and west, however, membership in
the "one-of-us" Bavarian society was diluted by many immigrants from Berlin and elsewhere. Lederhosen
are not as common on the street as they once were. Yuppies from the north do not wear loden-cloth capes
and white knee stockings; indeed, they laugh at such provincialism.
All the same, when some happy celebrant at Oktoberfest pays 50 Deutschmarks
for the privilege of leading the band in any one musical number of his
choice, he will likely choose Bayerischer Defilier, "our Bavarian national
anthem." And who will stand and cheer? Sixty percent of the people at
Oktoberfest are Muncheners. "It's our party that we give ourselves every
Bavarian restaurants usually operate on the same clubby, "our people" system. Six, ten or a dozen diners
may sit at one table. You enter these dark, body-heated establishments and search for your own space; no
hostess will seat you. Look for someone paying a check and pounce for his seat. Speak to the others at the
table or not, it's up to you. Read your newspaper alone or invent a scenario to go with the domestic quarrel
that the couple on the other side of the table is airing. Smoke any tobacco you wish without apology — but
don't ask for a no-smoking section.
Caution: you may see an empty table with a small, brass sign on it which says "Stammtisch." This is a table
reserved for the restaurant's old regulars. They will not want to find an outlander occupying their space.
It is possible, especially in the summer tourist season, to find other English-speakers
at your table, but off-season, probably not. Some menus have English subtitles
(blessedly), but most do not. Some Bavarian eateries take credit cards,
but most do not. Some waitresses in their abrupt manner and bosomy-front
costumes may speak a few words of English, but most do not. After my first
meals in Augustinerbrau and Hundskugel and Haxnbauer, I came to realize
two things: it's not such a bad system as it seems at first — and,
Munich, a small town with a big population (1.3 million), doesn't exist
for tourists anyway, but for Muncheners. It's their place, their system.
The restaurants and cafés are all full anyway; most do not depend on tourists.
You're welcome here, of course, but you're not essential. Tourism ranks
only sixth on prosperous Munich's economic ladder (after electronics,
chemicals, optical instruments, printing and automobile manufacture).
Choices for dining are not limited to traditional Bavarian or nouvelle
high-bracket. There are more than 5,000 restaurants in Munich —
Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Arabian, Argentinean and even
American food is available, not to mention scores of McDonald's and Burger
I conclude there can't be much wrong with a town where there are always four kinds of soup on any menu
— even if they are always the same four (liver dumpling, potato, pancake and goulash, all about $2). Also
plenty of good meat and potato dishes. Soon, I could not be lured back to the supposed splendors of
continental cuisine. "A mass please, fraulein — and vat is today's soup?"
Well fed and contented I continue, dutifully, to work my way through
some of the more important museums. The famed Pinakotheks, for example,
Old and New. These two collections alone make Munich one of the major
art centers of the world. Early Bavarian rulers, particularly the House
of Wittelsbach, were compulsive collectors. They scoured, bought, schemed
and bribed to acquire an unparalleled collection of Old Masters: Breughel,
Rubens, Van Dyke, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Raphael, Michaelangelo, El Greco,
Goya — they are all here in the Old Pinakothek.
The adjacent New Pinakothek (in a controversial postmodern building completed
in 1981) carries on with 19th and 20th Century works, including Warhol,
de Kooning and many of the French Impressionists.
I mix culture with commerce, the past with the present. The BMW museum, adjacent to the 1972 Olympic
village, is popular with visitors. It is housed in a soup-bowl shaped structure reminiscent of New York
City's Guggenheim Museum. The exhibit is high-tech and glitzy, traces the history of the BMW firm in
aviation, motorcycles and automobiles, makes some lofty stabs at 1980's-style techno-philosophy and
charges admission for the sort of visionary commercial message that General Motors used to give away
under the name "Futurama."
That reminds me — Bavarian businesses sometimes seem tightfisted
with amenities. Restaurants count every piece of bread you eat and charge
about 40 cents for each. Serve-yourself salad bars charge according to
the size of the plate you fill — and no seconds. Lavatories seldom
supply towels, only those despised hot-air blowers. My luxury hotel dispensed
a single sliver of soap and one modest bath towel per day. Newspapers
are not given to guests. Bars do not supply nuts, chips or popcorn —
not even pretzels with beer. Free matches are almost unknown in restaurants.
Credit cards are often accepted only reluctantly. And those poor unfortunates
who have to sleep it off in the Oktoberfest's beer-corpse tent will be
required to pay for a night's lodging in the morning!
Like all major travel destinations these days, Munich has shopping to please all tastes — from the absurd,
gross, even pornographic souvenirs around the Marienplatz, to the world-class luxuries of Maximillian
Strasse, a main avenue stocked for the up-market. I take a window-shopping stroll here one afternoon and
find Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuiton, Daks, Yves St. Laurent, Guy LaRoche, Hermes, Gucci — all the usual
suspects. I also discover that any lady looking for a classic Bavarian outfit could put together the basics
(skirt, belt, blouse and vest) at Resi Hammerer's specialty shop for $750. Add $550 for a tailored wool
jacket. (A male shopper who wants a matching Bavarian look can do the outfit — shirt, tie, belt, corduroy
slacks and wool sports jacket — for $700.)
The trauma of this investigation causes me to stop in at Schumann's bar, just off Max'strasse, for a
medication. It is a small, wood-paneled bistro, popular these days with the young movie crowd, minor
celebrities and those tourists who must always search out the latest "in" spot. Schumann's rejects all the
traditional decor of a Bavarian bar and, perversely it seems, serves an excellent selection of single-malt
Scotches and — a sacrilege to Muncheners — Guinness Stout!
"Young people don't go for all the old Bavarian stuff," you are told at Schumann's. "We don't sing the old
drinking songs any more — we don't even know the words. That was for East Germany, they used to sing
all the old songs."
Not all of Munich's renowned Bohemian lifestyle has disappeared in the
New Age, however. The Schwabing district, famous (if not notorious) as
the SoHo/Greenwich Village of Germany in the years between the World Wars,
has evolved from smoky cabarets into a solidly upper-middle class neighborhood
where political satire and starving-artist quaintness have given way to
good maintenance, high rents and gentrification. On summer evenings, a
visitor can still find a replication of the old atmosphere in sidewalk
cafés along Leopoldstrasse, however, and there remains some experimental
theatre and jazz in the area. In the small streets around Wedekindplatz,
once-humble secondhand clothing stores are now very chic, a few pubs have
turned more British than Bavarian (dart boards and pool tables and English
ales), some health-food shops still prosper, as well as a bookstore specializing
exclusively in what the proprietor calls "psychology, esoterica and New
Some say it was tourism that killed Schwabing. "Tourists drive genuine Bohemians away," you are told.
"They went to Haidhausen." So did I.
In the years immediately following World War II, the Haidhausen district, across the Isar River from
central Munich, was a poor neighborhood of small houses which had somehow escaped the worst of the
bombing damage. It attracted migrant workers who came from Italy, Greece and Turkey to help build the
S-bahn, U-bahn and the Olympic facilities prior to 1972. These worthies had no experience with, or
expectations of, indoor plumbing or central heating. Soon, Greek tavernas, pizza parlors and Turkish
grocery stores opened. Then all at once, "smart" Muncheners began crossing the river to find a new style of
nightlife. Haidhausen became "off-Schwabing."
Alas, the dynamic prosperity of Munich will not allow any district to remain
"off" for long. Even Haidhausen is now becoming gentrified and its many
old, small houses are being expensively renovated and equipped with bathrooms
and heat. Cafe Weiner Platz, once the cutting edge of counterculture nightlife
in the area, is now packed with a young, well-dressed crowd that eats
shrimp and pays with American Express cards.
Will there be an "off-off-Schwabing?" Of course. At this writing it is Geising, an even more remote district.
"Geising is the place now," a young woman assures me, "especially the Kaffee Geising."
It is late, but we go take a look at this place — and I find some old time "decadence" at last! No lederhosen
and dirndls here, but loud rock, punk hair, black leather and mini skirts worn with black tights and
above-the-knee boots. (One young woman is drinking warm milk and Asbach Uralt, the sweetish German
brandy. She has Bohemian runs in her thighs.) I wonder: Will Joel Gray, with his white face and pursed
lips, now come on stage to savage Helmut Kohl?
Munich is bigger than time, and mine is running out. Like any other tourist, I try, in my last days, to see
more than is enough. This leads me through an odd juxtaposition of activities and moods — feeding
monkeys during a wonderful, sunny afternoon at the zoo and then attending a Mozart performance in a
gilded, 18th Century opera house the same evening. Or being thoroughly disturbed by dozens of stunning,
leggy models at a fashion-show luncheon and then, in the evening, being caught breathless by the pin-drop
silence of a glittering concert hall that waits for the first notes of a Schubert symphony. Or strolling
through downtown pedestrian streets late at night and listening, on the hour, to great bells as they talk to
each other from tower to tower. ("They are our voices," a Munchener tells me, "we know each one by its
I reserve my last day for walking. Along the banks of the Isar. Through the teeming, pungent food stalls of
the outdoor Viktualienmarkt. Into the botanical garden — and on to the beautiful Italian villa that is now the
art gallery called Lenbachhaus.
In the broad, open space of the Konigsplatz, the classic, white-marble
temples of the Propylaea, the Glyptotek (Statuary Collection) and the
State Collection of Antiquities face each other across an expanse of green
lawn. Here was Hitler's favorite parade ground, a place to mass and strut
helmeted troops, military bands and swastika flags.
Just beyond, I have been told, was the Fuhrer's chancellery, the place where
Britain's Neville Chamberlain came, umbrella in hand, to achieve "peace
in our time" — in history's term, the Munich Agreement. The white
marble building is the College of Music now. Two damaged areas where bronze
Nazi eagles were torn from the facade have been conspicuously repaired.
I go in.
The sound of a student practicing the piano drifts down the marble hall. A broad staircase leads up to where
I want to go. On the second floor, Hitler's office, the great high-ceiling room with three tall windows and a
balcony, is now divided into three rooms, 105, 106, 107. There is a bulletin board cluttered with the kind of
notices one would see in any school. Class schedules, concert notices, a violin for sale, an ad for a pizza
restaurant. Peace in our time.
I walk out and away, down Breiner Strasse. At the end, before you come to the $75,000 coupe in the
window of the Mercedes-Benz dealership, a memorial stands on a plot of grass, a simple marble shaft with
a prison-cage at the top. Within the cage an eternal flame burns. An inscription, in German, reads "To The
Victims Of National Socialist Tyranny."
Under the protection of night, when the sounds of Munich's busy traffic die down, you can hear the
fluttering of the flame.
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