Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Olympic Glory

Above Munich – Day 10: Built for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, the Olympic Stadium has been the venue for some of the biggest games in German football history. Although the Olympic tower gives a view from high above the stadium, this vantage point was taken from the panoramic hillside directly across from the stadium. (I had used the shot from the Olympic Tower during an earlier post, and it gives me an excuse to talk about how nice this viewing point is). Be sure to stop at the beer garden on your way up the mountain, and on a clear day enjoy stunning views of downtown with the Alps in the background. As a matter of fact, the stadium itself was constructed to imitate the Alps with its sweeping canopies of acrylic glass and vaulting steel cables. In addition to the famous football matches (this was home to FC Bayern until 2006), the stadium has hosted some of the biggest names in music, including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Window Dressing

Above Munich - Day 9: Overlooking the Ratskeller courtyard restaurant is no less than 50 gargoyles, in the inner courtyard of the rathaus. During the Summer, the Ratskeller opens its patio as a beer garden, as you have lunch or dinner within the gothic masterpiece. As intricate as the façade of the building is, the inner courtyard is surrounded with gothic tower, peaks, and faces from the past. Within the walls are what seem to be endless government offices, including the office of the mayor, Christian Ude. You will also find intricate stained glass outlining Munich’s rich history. As for the gargoyles, you will find them on many medieval buildings throughout Europe. The term itself comes from the French word gargouille – or throat, representing the gurgling sound of water, as gargoyles are generally used as water spouts.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gothic Munich

Above Munich - Day 8: I find this perspective amazing, as you see 20 or so of the gothic spires that surround the Altstadt. Munich underwent a revival of gothic arts in the 15th century, as it leveraged funding from the Salt trade that went through Munich. It was this time that the Old Rathaus (in foreground) and the Frauenkirche was built. Of course, everything you see in the photo was rebuilt in its original state in the 1950s, after being destroyed in WWII. In fact the tower was specifically destroyed in order to make room for tanks to enter Marienplatz. And it was 18 years later that the city council decided to rebuild the tower at 56 meters high. The building has seen many historical events over the years, including the first smallpox vaccinations in 1805, election of the National Assembly, and the initial recognition of Adolf Hitler. Today, the building is home to Munich’s toy museum.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Delivering on a Dream

Above Munich - Day 7: Not sure if you’ve ever noticed but the Church of St. Ludwig (located on Ludwigstrasse) has one of the most amazing rooftop mosaics in Bavaria. The fact is, few people notice this as it is not readily visible from the street. In addition, the façade of the church continues to be quite under-stated with a bad need of a white wash. But inside, and on top, this church is a gem. Apparently, the church was built with plans to decorate the rooftop, but it was decided NOT to decorate, mostly because of high costs. So several years ago, the church brought this original dream to life by leveraging wealthy benefactors to design and decorate the rooftop. And inside, you will find the world’s biggest altar fresco – of the Last Judgment, which was originally meant to rival the work of Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel. I don’t anticipate writing off the Sistine Chapel any time soon, but it may be worth the glance.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Munich's Downtown Domes

Above Munich - Day 6: I’ve shown the iconic double onion domes of the Frauenkirche many times, but never quite this close up and personal. This photo, of course, was taken of the North dome (which is currently under construction and the taller of the two – by only 12 cm) from the viewing point in the South tower. Although the church was constructed in 1488, the domes were not added until 1525 – and they overlook Munich at 109 meters – the tallest structure in Munich (defined by law). Originally, the towers were built to have spires, modeled after the Cologne Cathederal, but the design was changed because of lack of money. Instead the two domes were built during the Renaissance, and although they are mismatched stylistically with the rest of the building, they have become a landmark that symbolizes Munich.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Space of Sport, Sights, and Slaughter

Above Munich - Day 5: The Square in town that held most of the major events in Munich’s history, Marienplatz or St. Mary’s Square, was the focal point for tournaments, markets, and executions. The square was originally known as Schrannen, but renamed as a way to ask Virgin Mary to protect the town from the Cholera epidemic (it didn’t work as Munich had breakouts in 1836, 1854, and 1873). The primary focus of the photo is the New Rathaus, built in 1909 and capped with a 79 foot spire (which you can also climb). In the foreground is St. Mary’s column, erected in 1638 to celebrate the end of the Swedish invasion, and flanked by four statues symbolizing the city’s overcoming of war, pestilence, hunger and heresy. The square is bordered by entries into the U/S-bahn stations. Finally worth mentioning is the famous Glockenspiel on the face of the Rathaus, where characters perform a dance that was performed in 1517 in Marienplatz to commemorate the end of the plague – unfortunately 300 years before Munich’s worst bouts with the plague in the 1800s. Today, it is the love of tourists from all over the world.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BMW's World

Above Munich – Day 4: I have posted this photo before, but I thought it was a good fit for the Above Munich theme. The photo (taken from the Olympia Dorf) shows the BMW Showcase facility (left) – BMW World, the flat BMW Museum with the logo on the roof, the BMW headquarters tower, and the sprawling assembly plant. Note that this is just one portion of their Munich facilities. The tower was built between 1968 and 1972 and was completed just before the start of the Olympics, but ironically had to take the logo off the façade to avoid any product placements – as the facility is directly across from the Olympic facility. This was also true of the fleet of sedans that shuttled athletes around during the games. The tower is meant to represent a cylinder head, while the museum is meant to look like a racing wheel. However, it is the BMW World that seems to get all the attention ever since it opened in 2007.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Capping off our Lady

Above Munich - Day 3: bit of detail from the roof of the Frauenkirche, one of the largest hall churches in Southern Germany. The interior was designed to hold a congregation of 20,000, despite the fact that when it was built in 1271 Munich only had 13,000 inhabitants. The two towers, not quite 100M high, were added in 1488, and were largely constructed using a 4 meter wide wooden elevator that worked by placing 15-20 men in the wheel running like human hamsters to hoist materials to the top. Today, your only way of getting to the top of the tower is via manned elevator – as the 500 year old steps have grown unusable. This particular place of the roof (pictured) was largely destroyed and collapsed during WWII, and was reconstructed to its current form.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gazing down Ludwig Strasse

Above Munich: Day 2. From this vantage point, you see all of the Northern side of Munich. This is the area that Ludwig I built, with the grand avenue named in his honor, between Odeonsplatz and the Siegestor. It begins at Odeonsplatz and the Theatine Church, built in 1663. Then you see most of the neighborhood of Schwabing. And finally, you see the sky scrapers built along the second ring road. The most prominent one is the Highlight Towers, completed in 2004 for the Fujitsu Siemens Corporation – which later became Fujitsu Technology Solutions – as a result of Fujitsu buying out Siemens share of the company. The towers were a landmark for modern architecture of Munich, with its towers at 113 meters and a bridge connecting the two towers.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Atop Alt Peter

Above Munich: Day 1. First of all, sorry for the recent Summer hiatus from posting while I’ve been travelling. Last Summer I provided a series of posts highlighting Munich history that is still visible today. This Summer, I thought I would share a completely different perspective of Munich – one from above. There are countless church spires and towers, and viewing points high above the city, and over the next week or two I’ll share some of those images. The first is a view of one of those towers – St. Peter’s church. You can see some of the tourists who climbed the 306 steps to the 92-meter viewing point. By the way, this was the only tower I found that still uses steps. You can cheat on all the other ones, as they’ve installed elevators. The church is known as Alt (old) Peter, as it is the oldest church in the city, and some say is the founding point of the city altogether. Even before Munich was founded in 1158, there has been a church on this site – one of the few hills in central Munich – dating back to the 8th century. A new Romanesque church was built in the 12th century, but destroyed by the great fire of 1327. The church you see today was dedicated in 1368 and the tower (pictured) was added in the 17th century.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


As with most places on earth, Munich residents were touched by the death of pop king, Michael Jackson. A make-shift memorial was set up across from the Bayershirhof Hotel in Promanadenplatz. It’s a small park encircled by tram lines on each side. I’m not quite certain why the memorial was set up here, but it stopped people passing by all day long.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Peace Arch

Often called Munich’s fourth gate (along with Sendlinger, Isar, and Karlstor), the Siegestor or Victory Gate is the only one outside the Altstadt and the only one with traffic driving around it. The stunning monument, at the intersection of Leopold and Ludwig strasse and at the dividing line between Schwabing and Maxvorstadt neighborhoods, was built to celebrate a WWII victory for Germany. Not only did that not happen, but the victory gate – as well as much of Munich’s Altstadt - was destroyed during WWII by allied bombing. Restoration took place during the 1950s, and renovation continues to this day. Today, the arch which was modeled after the Arc de Triumph in Paris and the Arc of Constantine in Rome, is most well known for the inscription on its façade: "Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, reminding of peace".

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Diva Gazing

More than 14,000 opera fans attended the open air concert at Konigsplatz, featuring Russian Soprano Anna Netrebko and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The crowd wondered about rain, but were only greeted with the sun shining behind the temple at Konigsplatz - under the dark clouds. This viewer, like thousands others (myself included) lined the streets and parks surrounding Konigsplatz to listen or even get a peak (for the more resourceful pole climbers) of the Russian Diva. As mentioned several days ago, the tickets were quite expensive (300-700 euros), so students of the Musical college next to Konigsplatz (former SS headquarters) took full advantage of their schools proximity and camped out on the grass and along the surrounding walls. One woman even brought her own 5 step ladder so she could peer over the fence at the concert, but ended up frustrated by the number of people asking her if they could take a quick photo (again – me too). I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is just outside the grounds. The music is outstanding. Just bring a blanket, a bottle of wine, and a few friends and you are set.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beer Garden Maze

Just wait until you have a few beers. Then try to navigate through here. This scene is so common to Munich, and all that you see has been set for hundreds of years – the gravel (no cement), simple benches (no garden or plastic furniture), chestnut trees (no umbrellas). All of this was outlined in the 19th century in what Bavarians call the Beer Garden Decree. It’s no surprise that beer gardens originated in Bavaria. They started as outdoor establishments attached to breweries. All of the local breweries at the time would build caves into the banks of the Isar River (where this beer garden exists today) to keep the beer cool, as the Fermenting process needs to take place at 2-4 degrees Celsius. The beer gardens were so successful that over the past 100 years, it seems every restaurant in town has a beer garden or something quite similar to it. I’ve tried to find out how many beer gardens are in Munich, but it’s nearly impossible as many restaurants, cafes, businesses, and even schools have their own beer garden. Munich even has the largest beer garden in the world, the Hirschgarden with more than 8000 seats – all wooden benches of course. Fortunately, the rules for the visitor are not so strict: Get good food, a beer of your choice (as long as it’s Radler, helles, Weiss or dunkle – because that’s all that’s served in Munich) and simply…relax.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It’s a Hog-Eat-Hog World

Somehow just about anyone who walks through the pedestrian zone in Munich knows this statue, but not all that many people know why a wild boar is in the middle of the Altstadt. It’s because of Bavaria’s rich hunting and fishing history, and because somehow a beautiful old Augustinian church on the main drag of Munich – Neuhauser Strasse - was converted into the Museum of Hunting and Fishing (Jagd und Fischereimuseum). The museum has a huge collection of hunting and survival equipment, weapons, tools, and large scale stuffed animals in their natural habitat – in fact the world’s largest collection of stuffed animals with more than 500. You will also find the world’s largest collection of fish hooks, a 12,000 year old skeleton of a wild Irish stag, and ironically a 6.- foot tall North American grizzly bear. And to greet you at the door, it’s none other than a large catfish and this wild boar. Judging by the kids climbing over both of them – I don’t think it really bites.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Audrey Hepburn with a Voice"

That’s what they call Russian Soprano Anna Netrebko, who will be giving an open air concert July 10th. The entire area of Konigsplatz has been a buzz of activity for days. The city of Munich generally only does 1-2 concerts like this in Konigsplatz each year, so there are high expectations for the concert. Netrebko is quickly taking the opera world by storm, with a strong mix of beautiful voice and on-stage charisma. She was recently ranked number one in the London Times ranking of the world’s 20 best classical divas. She has been quite popular in Bavaria since her Salzburg concert several years back. She is actually coming off a break from touring after the birth of her first son. She will be performing with Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. With rain falling in Munich every day for the past 20 days (note covered stage) and ticket prices ranging from 250-700 euros, locals are cautious. But if it’s dry on Friday, come out and join me and the hundreds of others hanging out in the surrounding blocks. You can’t see much, but the sound is perfect.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

There seems to be something going on every day during the Summer in Munich. I stumbled upon an open market set up in Hohenzollerplatz in Schwabing. The usual suspects were there – the craft sellers, the bakery, the bongo drums, and of course the beer garden. The platz is the center of this section of Schwabing. In the center of the platz there is a nice fountain, and it always seems to fascinate children as you can walk along the side without getting wet. Yet some decide to take the plunge (as pictured), and why not during one of the few breakthroughs of sun. This area is a great part of Munich, even without the market. It’s surrounded by bending residential streets, each with its own personality and altbau apartments – characterized by the large entry way and special character. It’s also right next to the Nordbad, one of the fun swimming pools around town.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Of course there wasn’t all that much to celebrate on fourth of July in Munich. You had your customary party at the Hard Rock Munich (I actually didn’t know there was a Hard Rock in Munich), and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys gave a big concert. The Democrats abroad also organized an event, most likely at a beer garden – which is more Bavarian than American – but hey…there was beer involved so perhaps we have more in common than we thought. And I suppose if you are an American living in Munich, you likely received a nice message from the American Consulate in Munich (as pictured here). I actually tried to take a more interesting photo of the building, but it’s one of the least attractive buildings in town, with the customary cement pylons surrounding it. With that said, it is the most efficient working American consulate in the world. Think American friendliness with German efficiency. We were told it would take 2 weeks for a new passport, which we then received amazingly in 2 days. Now that everything is done by appointment, it’s even more pleasant. The American consulate in Paris had an average of 200 people in it every time you entered. So I guess there is something for Americans to celebrate after all in Munich. As for the fireworks, you will have to wait til New years.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Roll Out the Red Carpet

For 25 years, Flimfest Munchen has debut films from around the world on screens around Munich. And 2009 was no exception, as the Flimfest sold a record 74,500 tickets, 17% more than 2008. Perhaps more people are going to the movies in a down economy. More than 200 films were shown, and sold out very quickly, even some of the lesser known filmmakers. I’ve posted several times about the English cinemas in Munich, but this is an example of films showing locally in the categories of American Independents, New French Cinema, Focus on the Far East, Latin visions. Winner for the best international show is announced tonight. In the photo, you can see one of the many venues around town, including the Deutsches museum cinemas.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Munich's Little Secret

With only 12 rows of pews, Asam’s Church is one of Munich’s smallest but most opulent churches. Take a look at these photos (panorama here), and you will see why. It’s spectacular! I’ll have to find another time to go inside. A wedding was occurring on this day, and many passers would sneak a peak of the bride in such a splendid setting. You can see in this photo the gold of the high altar, enclosed by four twisted columns. Above the high alter you will see an image of God in a Papal tiara, bending over the crucified Christ. The church was actually built in 1733 by two brothers (who lived next door) for their personal use, but the church later demanded that it be open to the public. The Catholic church’s real name is the Chruch of St. Johann Nepomuk, but everyone knows it by the brothers’ name – Egid & Cosmas Asam. The two brothers achieved one of the finest achievements in Bavarian late Baroque and rococo architecture, which was carefully restored in 1975. Today, the church and the home next to it, sit on one of Munich’s busiest shopping streets, Sendlingerstrasse.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Munich's Summer Fest

And today, cross the city for another Summer fest, a much larger one – Tollwood. Taking place at the foot of the Olympic hill this Summer fest runs through July 12th, and brings in top bands like Simple Minds; Foreigner; Amy MacDonald; Earth, Wind & Fire; and the Buena Vista Social Club. You will also find a mix of theatre, Salsa dancing, handcrafts, and kids play area. Of course, I’ve also described the festival as a bit of a hippy-fest with its all bio menu, but that’s a bit common in Munich as well. To its credit, for a town that often feels like it shuts down at 8 pm, the event is open til 1 a.m. Just one more example of how the city of Munich still utilizes its tremendous Olympic Park every single day.