Germany A-Z: Munich (2)
One day in Munich can be very different from another. A day’s wandering north of Max-Joseph-Platz presents an alternative experience to the old town centre.
With their palace and their imagination, the ruling house of Wittelsbach, masters of Munich for more than 700 years, impressed themselves on the area with monuments on another scale. The opulent Residenz palace is a conglomerate of eras and styles built up by many rulers from late in the 14th century. The resulting complex has 130 chambers and eight courtyards, including the extraordinary arcaded Grottenhof.
For visitors, the Residenz is now a sprawling museum of many highlights. The vaulted Renaissance gallery the Antiquarium, with its classical sculpture, rich interior and size, was a museum in itself when completed in the 16th century but its magnificence was soon employed for banquets. The long line of the Wittelsbachs can be met in portraiture in the Ahnengalerie,
World War II air raids wrought bitter destruction on the Residenz and the long recovery process demanded an exhibition to itself. The ornate Cuvilliés-Theater, once an adjacent opera house, was moved to the Residenz and almost fully reconstructed after bombing. It, like the palace treasury and the coin cabinet, can be visited separately.
The long Renaissance west facade to Residenzstraße is guarded by four Wittelsbach lions – the snouts on the escutcheons are touched by visitors and passers-by for luck.
The 19th century king Ludwig I, one of the chief palace builders, had a keen sense of his ancient Wittelsbach inheritance and his pride in Bavarian and German achievement permeates the buildings and artworks he commissioned, while elevating Munich to a city of international rank.
Odeonsplatz, site of a former city gate, is surrounded by the Residenz, the Hofgarten (a garden in Renaissance style with later Neoclassical additions) and the martial-Romantic monument the Feldherrnhalle (a commission by Ludwig). This setting was bound to become the scene of drama: the first Nazi coup attempt in 1923 ended here in gunfire. After Hitler finally won power, the SS were assembled on the spot to swear personal allegiance to him and made a habit of night rallies on the square, held sacred for the Nazi lives that were lost.
Yet today it is the resistance to Hitler that is commemorated nearby. On the north side of the Hofgarten is a black marble memorial to the Weiße Rose group of Munich students, led by Sophie and Hans Scholl, executed in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi material.
On the other side of the Odeonsplatz, the very Italian Baroque and Rococo Theatinerkirche St Kajetan, another royal commission, had a long history of redesigns and became the burial site for several Wittelsbach monarchs.
West of the Odeonsplatz is Königsplatz, the Neoclassical showpiece of Munich, surrounded by the art halls of the Glyptothek and Staatliche Antikensammlung and set off by the Propyläen, commemorating Greece’s war of independence of the 1820s and 1830s.
Further north on Ludwigstraße, Ludwig patronised the Ludwigskirche, showing a mixture of Romanesque forms with Neoclassicism and Byzantine shapes. Its design was copied internationally but its interior is no less impressive, dominated by the Last Judgement by Peter von Cornelius, one of the world’s largest murals at almost 20m high.
Spanning the street in the university precinct is the triumphal arch of the Siegestor, a belated dedication to the Bavarian army’s role in victory over Napoleon. The quadriga on top, fashioned with Wittelsbach lions, crashed to the ground during heavy air raids but was restored and the gate no carries an inscription on the south side, urging peace.
East of the Siegestor, the parklands of Englischer Garten spread along the river Isar where the Wittelsbachs formerly kept hunting grounds. Its name was inspired by the free layout fashionable early in the 19th century. It is perhaps better known now for nude sunbathing in one area and the popular summer surfing wave at the Eisbach bridge, but its true significance comes from being one of Europe’s earliest public parks, studded with follies and pavilions.