Munich

Photo by kwan fung on Unsplash

Short History

Munich’s (German: Munchen) foundation dates back to 1158, with its name deriving from the monks of the Benedictine order. It quickly grew in importance due to its strategic location on the salt trade routes, receiving city status and fortification in 1175.

In the 13th century, Munich became the ducal residence of the Wittelsbachs, who ruled Bavaria for centuries. Its status elevated further in 1506 when it became the capital of the reunited Duchy of Bavaria and later the Electorate of Bavaria.

The 30 Years’ War (1618-1648) brought devastation, but the subsequent era of absolutism under Maximilian I saw Munich expand and beautify with Italianate baroque architecture.

The 19th century was a period of great change, with Munich becoming a center of German nationalism. The city played a significant role in the unification of Germany in 1871.

Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi Party, and a central location in Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power. The city suffered heavily during World War II, with significant destruction and loss of life.

After World War II, Munich underwent extensive reconstruction, emerging as a prosperous and inclusive city, which hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Geography

Munich is located in the southeastern part of Germany, within the state of Bavaria, where it serves as the capital. The city’s geographical positioning at the northern edge of the Alps influences its climate and relief. Munich is situated on the elevated plains of the Bavarian Plateau, with the River Isar flowing through its center, providing vital green spaces.

The climate in Munich is classified as oceanic, with a significant range in temperature between seasons. Summers are warm, with July being the hottest month, where temperatures can reach up to 24°C (75°F). Winters are cold and snowy, with January being the coldest month, seeing temperatures drop to as low as -3°C (27°F). 

Munich’s urban layout reflects a mix of historical and modern architecture, with the city center, Marienplatz, acting as the focal point. From here, the city expands into a series of concentric circles and radial roads, facilitating efficient movement and connectivity.

Population

Munich has a population of approximately 1.5 million residents, making it the third-largest city in Germany. Around 40% of its residents have a migrant background, mostly Turkish, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern.

Christianity remains the predominant religion, with a nearly equal division between Catholic and Protestant adherents. However, there is a growing number of Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist communities.

While German is the official language, many other languages are commonly spoken. Turkish, Arabic, Italian, and Greek are among the languages frequently heard, alongside English, which is widely spoken due to the city’s international business and academic communities.

Munich is known for its efforts to promote cultural integration and social cohesion. Numerous festivals, cultural events, and community programs are designed to celebrate the city’s diversity.

Main sights

  • Marienplatz: The central square of Munich, known for the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) with its famous Glockenspiel, presenting figures from Munich’s history.
  • English Garden (Englischer Garten): One of the world’s largest urban parks, providing serene landscapes, a Chinese pagoda, and river surfing on the Eisbach wave.
  • Nymphenburg Palace: A baroque palace that served as the summer residence of Bavarian rulers, surrounded by expansive gardens and notable for its Gallery of Beauties.
  • Deutsches Museum: The world’s largest museum of science and technology, located on an island in the River Isar, featuring interactive exhibits and historical artifacts.
  • Viktualienmarkt: An outdoor market offering fresh food, flowers, and delicacies, with a tradition dating back to the 19th century.
  • BMW Museum:  This museum highlights the brand’s historical journey through its innovative architecture, displaying a collection of vintage vehicles.
  • Olympiapark: Constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics, this park includes facilities for sporting events, concerts, and activities, with the Olympic Tower providing panoramic city views.

Food

  • Weisswurst: A traditional Bavarian sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon. It is usually flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger, and cardamom. The sausages are traditionally served with sweet mustard and freshly baked pretzels.
  • Pretzels (Brezeln): Bavarian pretzels are known for their distinctive knot shape, crunchy crust, and soft, fluffy interior. They are a common accompaniment to many Bavarian dishes, especially Weisswurst.
  • Schweinshaxe: A hearty dish featuring roasted pork knuckle. The skin becomes very crispy while the meat remains tender. It is often served with potato dumplings and sauerkraut.
  • Käsespätzle: This is the Bavarian answer to macaroni and cheese. Spätzle, which are soft egg noodles, are mixed with a generous amount of melted cheese and topped with crispy fried onions. 
  • Obatzda: A Bavarian cheese delicacy, Obatzda combines ripe camembert with butter, often seasoned with paprika, onions, and a splash of beer. It’s a popular spread for pretzels and a common feature in beer gardens.
  • Apfelstrudel: A popular dessert in Munich, this pastry is filled with tart cooking apples, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and breadcrumbs. It’s usually served warm, often with vanilla sauce or ice cream.

Fun facts

  • Surfing in the City: Munich is one of the few places in the world where river surfing is popular, particularly on the Eisbach wave in the English Garden, attracting surfers year-round.
  • Largest Public Festival: Oktoberfest, the world’s largest Volksfest, is held in Munich. It attracts over 6 million visitors annually who consume nearly 7 million liters of beer.
  • Beer Gardens: Munich is home to the world’s largest beer garden, the Hirschgarten, which can accommodate around 8,000 guests.
  • A City of Firsts: The first German railway, the Bavarian Ludwig Railway, opened in 1835, connecting Munich with Nuremberg.
  • Patron Saint of Beer: Saint Corbinian, whose emblem is a bear, is not only the patron saint of Munich but also considered a patron saint of beer.
  • The city has a tradition of “Stolpersteine,” brass plates embedded in sidewalks to commemorate victims of the Nazi regime, contributing to its historical memory.
  • Munich was the birthplace of the famous luxury car brand BMW, and the company’s headquarters are still located in the city.
  • Munich’s Englischer Garten is larger than New York’s Central Park, making it one of the world’s biggest urban public parks.