April 12, 2020

Munich, Germany

Jun 2010

Munich is the capital of Bavaria province in Germany; and the third largest city in Germany (after Berlin and Hamburg).

Munich has an area of 310 square km (about half of Singapore); population of 1.2 million (a fifth of Singapore); and an economy of $ 120 b pa (a third of Singapore).   About 40% of the population are foreigners.

The city took severe bombing in WW2 (90% of downtown and 50% of city were destroyed by end of WW2).  Munich was rebuilt after the war in a way that preserved and restored its glorious past.

The best place to start a tour of Munich is from Marienplatz, a large city square with the City Hall ("Neu Rathaus") on one side and a column for Virgin Mary ("Mariensaule Column") in the centre.   The city hall has a highly decorated facade.  At set times,  a clock plays a tune ("Glockenspiel") with bells ringing out; figures making merry, fighting, or dancing; and a golden bird chirping at the end of the chime.

Neu Rathaus (New City Hall) in Marienplatz

Close to Marienplatz is St Peter's Church ("Peterskirche").  St Peter's dates back to XII century and is an important landmark.  If you climb up the 300 steps, you get a good view of Munich's skyline.  In IX century, a group of monks settled at the site of St Peters and set up a monastery.  The city was named after the monks.  (Munich means "by monks").

Peterskirche (St Peter's Church)

Quite next to St Peter's Church is the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady ("Frauenkirche").  The two towers of Frauenkirche with onion domes are a symbol of the city.  Since no new building can be taller than the towers, the towers are visible from most parts of Munich.  The Church can provide standing room for 20,000 people (and in XV century could accommodate all the residents of Munich within its portals).

View of St Peter's Church, Church of Our Dear Lady, and New Townhall

View of Cathedral from a shopping street

Marienplatz was, in the past, protected by four gates in four directions.  Three of them survive.

The Western gate (Propylaea) has a large public square.  Though it was named Karlsplatz (after an unpopular official), locals prefer to call it as Stachus (after a beer hall around the corner).  These days even metro stations use the name Stachus.  Stachus sports a water fountain in summer and an ice rink in winter with space for people to sit around and relax.  When we were at Stachus, teenagers were rushing into the fountain to get wet in some sort of a "dare" game.  Infectious fun pulled several dads and moms too in.

Stachus Fountain

The Karlstor gate (adjacent to Stachus) opens into Neuhauser Strasse (start of the pedestrian zone into old town) with several boutique shops and luxury brand stores.

Neuhauser Strasse

The Karlstor gate wall has nice statuettes facing Neuhauser.

Karlstor Gate Wall statues

Isartor, the eastern gate, too has shopping streets with the Old Town Hall as backdrop.

Isartor, with the Old Town Hall as backdrop

Munich has several impressive museums; all located around Konigplatz:  Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, Pinakothek der Moderne, Glyptothek, and a bit farther, Deutsches Museum.


Alte Pinakothek is an art gallery that dates back to 1836; one of the oldest art galleries in the world.  It houses the exceptional collection of Wittelsbach dynasty (that ruled Munich for over 740 years until 1815). The collections cover XIII century to XVIII century.

Alte Pinakothek

The Neu Pinakothek, as the name suggests, is the New Museum with about 400 paintings and exhibits of XIX century.  The museum houses one of the ten Sunflowers (the third in the original series of four) painted by Van Gogh.

"Wisdom" by Romain de Tirtoff

Van Gogh's Sunflower.  One of the ten by the painter.  Third of the Four in the First Series.

The Pinakothek der Moderne houses paintings of XIX century.

Glyptothek is a collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.  Glyptothek dates back to 1830.  The most famous of its collections is the Barberini Faun (Drunken Satyr), a truly outstanding rendering of human body in three dimensions.

The Deutsches Museum, located on an island, is one of the oldest Science museums in the world.

Deutsches Museum, oldest science museum in the world

The Olympic Park of Munich, where the 1972 Olympics were held, would be more remembered for its politics than its sports.  This is where elven athletes of Israel were killed by Palestinian Black September Group.  The Olympiaturm (Olympic Tower) in the park provides a spectacular view.

Olympiaturm in Olympiapark

View from the top deck of Olympic Tower

Right next to the Olympic Park is the BMW museum and BMW Welt, the flagship store of BMW.  BMW (Bavarian Motor Works, Bayerische Motoren-Werke in German) is headquartered in Munich. The BMW museum has a futuristic design (but the locals call it the "Salad bowl").  It houses editions of cars, motor cycles, aircrafts, turbines, engines etc.

BMW Museum

BMW Welt

The Wittelsbach dynasty built several palaces in Munich city and its metropolitan area.

Schloss Nymphenburg (Palace of Nymphs) built in XVII century is an impressive one.  It was meant to be the summer residence of the royal family and fashioned after Versailles.  It is actually wider than Versailles.

Schloss Nymphenburg

Schloss Nymphenburg gardens

Schloss Linderhof (Linderhof Palace) was built by Ludwig II (ruled Bavaria 1882 to 1886).  Ludwig II commissioned three palaces at great cost.  Linderhof was the only one that was completed while he was alive.  (Ludwig used personal funds as against state funds to build his palaces and borrowed far beyond his means to build the palaces).  Linderhof is beautiful.

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Neuschwanstein was built in XIX century by Ludwig II inspired by the operas composed by Richard Wagner.  The location, near a gorge,  is awesome with spectacular view.  The palace itself is small (no royal court; just private chambers for royal family and rooms for servants).  Ludwig II moved in before construction but could only stay for just 11 nights in this dream of his.  After his death, to pay off his personal debts, the palace was opened to public.  Today it is a top attraction in Munich area; receives 1.3 million visitors a year (and on occasions more than 6,000 visitors a day).  (No, Richard Wagner could not see it despite copious descriptions in letters written to Wagner by Ludwig II.  Wagner died before the palace was constructed).

Does the palace look familiar?  Yes, the Cinderella Palace in Disneyland is fashioned after Schloss Neuschwanstein.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein

View from Schloss Neuschwanstein

Our next stop was a difficult one.  I wanted to go.  Was not sure whether my wife and daughter should come along.  They wanted to.  We took a cab and asked the driver to give us an hour at Dachau.

The driver, a German, told us that in order to understand German role in WW2, we should understand German sufferance after WW1.  We kept quiet.  We did not reply.

The majority's sufferance was real.  Loss of land.  Reparation payments.  Massive inflation.  Resultant poverty.  Above all, loss of pride.  A ruthless and brutal autocrat identifies a minority as a cause for this and whips up majority anger against minority.  The autocrat uses the democratic protocol to stage a coup and undermine the very democratic framework to perpetuate his rule.  The autocrat creates a boot power that is not subject to normal principles of law enforcement.  First the opponents were discredited.  Then denounced.  Then marked.  Then arrested.  Then treated brutally.  Made to work until death.  And given a final solution.  In concentration camps.

The Dachau concentration camp was the first of such camps started by Nazis.  Started in 1933; operated the longest.  Documented death:  32,000.  Undocumented death:  At least four times that number.  Prisoners held in the camp on the day when it was liberated:  30,000.

Heard of the hypothermia experiment?  I read about it first in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer.  A boy is forced to lie down naked on a block of ice until he loses consciousness.  After that a naked girl is asked to lie on top of the boy and excite him.  The number of minutes he takes to get back his consciousness is measured.  Then the experiment is repeated.  Until the boy dies.  This can only arise from:
(a) A belief that it is okay to punish a person for perceived suffering from a group he belongs to
(b) A belief that any level of suffering by the person is not punishment enough
(c) A belief that rules of moral behaviour do not apply in such punishments, and
(d) A belief that elimination of others is possible and will usher in a paradise

Dachau was everything we imagined it to be.

Prisoners made to sleep in three tier berths awaiting another day's torture or death

High wall, road patrolled by killer dogs, and a moat.  Took us a minute to cross.  They could not cross in years.

Three symbols of hope.  A slogan ("Never again"), a sculpture (folks trying to escape a fence) and the Cross in the sky (by two jets; not planned but quite symbolic)

Every autocrat who wants to make his country great again, who wants to right past injustices by taking revenge on minority, who thinks civil liberties, independent judiciary, and free press are a hindrance must be asked to sleep three nights in Dachau.

Then we can truly say "Never again" as the liberating angels from United States said on that glorious day in 1945.

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