An American Couple in Delft
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Writing this piece about Munich has been difficult. On one hand there is the "light" Munich which is a beautiful place filled with people and shops and food and beer halls, and on the other is the "dark" Munich which is very dark, indeed. Knowing some of its recent history, it was at times difficult to deal with, and even some of the "light" spots have some dark smudges.

Munich is a big city, no doubt about it. Both in population and in size, it's only a little smaller than Philadelphia but it doesn't have the "big city" feel to it. There are local ordinances prohibiting buildings from being taller than the church spires so there are no skyscrapers. The center of Munich is the New Town Hall (or Rathaus which is a great name for local government!) built in 1904 at Marienplatz. It's next door to the Old Town Hall, a 15th century building, which was almost completely destroyed in World War II and has since been rebuilt. The whole area around Marienplatz is pedestrian only. It became so during the Olympics in 1972. The shopkeepers at the time raised the roof because, they said, their businesses would go down the tubes with no vehicular traffic. They were overruled, probably by the occupants of the Rathaus. Today the place teems with almost 10,000 shoppers per hour and shopkeepers have now wised up and ask for their streets also to become pedestrian only. The rats seemed to know what they were doing.

After the war, German cities were faced with questions about how to rebuild. Some chose to wipe away everything and start over but Munich chose to rebuild what was there and looks more like an "old" German city.

Near our hotel we found the Church of Johnny Unitas. I suppose it's not that Johnny Unitas but that's what it said. Or maybe it's Joanne Unitas. Here's the front of the church and the name is enlarged in the upper left of the picture.

We had lunch one day in the Viktualien Markt (sic) not far from the Marienplatz. This is an outdoor market with lots of stands to buy produce, crafts, and, of course, ample quantities of schnitzel and beer. You could spend hours in this small area just watching people and sampling the wares. In fact, one night when Lynn was otherwise engaged, I came back here for a cheap and nourishing dinner. And more beer.

The most famous beer hall in Munich is the Hofbräuhaus. The place is enormous and covers many floors of the building. It's been there for more than 400 years. They have a live band playing what's called oompah music. (We were there on a raucous Saturday night without the camera so the video is from a quiet Sunday morning at 10 a.m.) The tables are picnic style holding five to seven on a side depending on the size of the tuchases involved. Don't look for a table where you can sit alone; just squeeze into any available spot. Everyone else at the table is immediately your friend. The beer here is their own brew and one buys it in liter mugs. That's a little more than a quart. The mugs are substantial, too, which they have to be. People make toasts about every other minute and there's a lot of clanking of mugs together but these things never break.

There is a little gender discrimination going on in the Hofbräuhaus. The ladies' room is not equipped, as the men's room is, with a vomitorium. Yes, a vomitorium. The thing is a big sink, like a tub next to a washing machine, made of stainless steel with a wider than ordinary drain. I didn't see it put to use but in a place that serves 10,000 liters of beer a day in liter sized mugs, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see that the thing serves its purpose.

There was an old man, about 85 if he was a day, sitting next to Lynn. Being at least a tiny bit tipsy, he went on and on and Lynn finally interrupted and said she spoke only English. "English!" he said. "Okay!" And then he continued on. A German man across the table asked if we understood the old guy because he didn't. He told us there are countless German dialects and this guy was speaking something unknown to him. The next day we saw the old guy at an outdoor café with two younger (than him!) woman, maybe in their 50s. We wondered if they understood his sweet-talk or if they were just amused.

The Hofbräuhaus is one of the places I referred to as "light" with some dark smudges. This is the place where Hitler started to address large audiences. Munich is where the Nazis began to take power and even after Hitler became Chancellor, the capital of Germany was Berlin but the home of the Nazi party remained in Munich. One day we walked a few blocks northwest of Marienplatz to an area near Königsplatz. This was it. There was Fuhrerbau, Hitler's Munich headquarters which today houses the city's College of Music. Across the street was the building that contained the party headquarters. This building is also currently used but the greenery around it seemed overgrown and the place had an evil feel to it. Most of the Nazi buildings in the area have been razed. Across the street from Fuhrerbau is an open area on Königsplatz. Recently, Paul McCartney and others have performed concerts there but in the 30s this was the area in Munich used to burn books. It rained as we walked back to the hotel. I was glad.

There was one more thing, from a recent historical perspective, to see in the Munich area, about 15 miles north in what is today a very pleasant and reasonably affluent 'burb. I have heard about this place, and others like it, all my life but as unpleasant as the idea of going there was, I had to see it for myself.


See all my pictures of Munich.

See videos from Munich.


© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008