Off Duty: Munich
The capital of Bavaria will dispel many of the preconceptions you may hold about Germans, says Mark Rowe
Monday 06 August 2007
Forget the annual beer-swilling pilgrimage that is the Oktoberfest: Munich is a delightful city that presents the business traveller with time on their hands with a clutch of world-class museums, wonderful open spaces and uncontrived beer halls.
The capital of Bavaria will dispel many of the preconceptions you may hold about Germans: perhaps being as close to the Latin south of Europe as the industrial north has loosened the blood a little. Either way, this is a relaxed city full of parks and pleasant boulevards often graced by architecture on a grand scale. Getting around is easy: many of the sights can be seen on foot, while you will find the network of trams and metro cheap and reliable. Munich, home to BMW, also appears to have more cyclists than any city other than Amsterdam: watch where you step, for many pavements resembles thoroughfares, divided between pedestrians and two-wheelers. An added bonus for those on tighter expense accounts is that prices are almost always extremely reasonable. One day, someone will tell Munich's restaurateurs that they could get away with charging 25 per cent more for their wares - until that day, just keep the secret to yourself.
For comfort and atmosphere, book the mid-19th century Bayerischer Hof, at Promenadeplatz 2-6 (00 49 8921200; www.bayerischerhof.de). The Mandarin Oriental, at Neuturmstrasse 1 (00 49 89 290980; www.mandarinoriental.com), has a stylish presence in Munich, with rooms in this neo-renaissance property adorned with antiques and the option of laptops loaned for free. The Charles Hotel, at Sophienstrasse 28 (00 49 89 544 5550; www.charleshotel.de), part of the Rocco Forte group, is due to open on 4 October and is expected to feature the chain's characteristic five-star opulence and grandeur.
To regenerate your cultural batteries, head for the Alte Pinakothek ( www.alte-pinakothek.de), one of Europe's great art galleries, housed in an extraordinary free-standing Florentine palazzo. The collection amounts to a roll call of Europe's grand masters, from Raphael to Memling, Breughel and Velazquez. Afterwards, gravitate towards the picturesque, if tourist-popular, Marienplatz, which is essentially the heart of the city. This sprawling square is lined with buildings that are pleasing on the eye, often topped with statuettes, including the new town hall and Peterskirche, formerly a Romanesque basilica. To the north of Marienplatz lies the glorious Residenz ( www.schloesser.bayern.de), the former seat of Bavaria's ruling dynasty, the Wittelsbachs. Its imposing exterior is matched inside by a collection of riches and architectural styles. Nearby is the Hofgarten, whose pleasant, manicured grounds make for a restful place to find a bench and pass a dozy hour or two amid a backdrop of water fountains. This area, from Marienpaltz to the Hofgarten, is a serene place to explore on a late summer's balmy evening when the sun's rays lend many of the buildings a soft golden hue.
Munich does fine dining as well as anywhere in Germany. The two-Michelin starred Tantris, at Johann-Fichtestrasse 7 (00 49 89 36 19590; www.tantris.de/cms/index.php), within a curious church-like building, has been serving outstanding French cuisine since 1971. For more traditional fare, steer clear of the Hofbrauhaus and its oom-pah-pah artifice and you will find that Munich is distinguished by visitors and locals eating cheek by jowl. For the standard Bavarian fare of bratwurst and the trimmings of pickled cabbage and dumplings, washed down with a glass of locally brewed Paulaner, head for Augustinerbrau, at Neuhauser 27 ( www.augustiner-restaurant.com), to the west of Marienplatz. For something more demanding of your tastebuds, take a 20-minute stroll down attractive Sendlingerstrasse to Karawanserei, at Pettenkoferstrasse 1 (00 49 89 54 541954), an outstanding Persian restaurant.
For casual drinkers, you may prefer to sidestep Munich's nightclubs, which are often sticklers for dress codes at a time of day when you may wish to leave the formal clothes back at the hotel. Instead, a scientific exploration of some of Munich's finest beer houses is more likely to help you unwind. Head for Paulaner Brauhaus at Kapuzinerplatz 5 ( www.paulanerbraeuhaus.de), which has a pleasant garden and launches a new beer every Thursday.
The crown jewels of Munich's tourist attractions take on a more literal interpretation than many other cities: head for the Schatzkammer ( www.schloesser.bayern.de), home to the Bavarian crowns and coronets. Part of the Residenzmuseum (but requiring a separate ticket), the Schatzkammer has an almost sepulchral atmosphere, with bejewelled crowns, bracelets and statuettes resting behind heavy velvet curtains.
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