Sunday, August 28, 2011

A great day for a walking tour

10 hours of sleep after a full day of traveling and adjusting to a 6-hour time difference was exactly what we needed to recharge our energy levels. After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we set out to explore Munich. First stop:  the Neues Rathaus, an imposing Gothic structure built between 1867 and 1909 to house the city government, topped with the much-loved 260’ tower that contains a carillion. We caught the 11am show when the 43 bells chime for almost 15 minutes, while 32 life-size statues rotate to the music. First, the top half of the carillion rotates in a circle, telling the story of the marriage of a local duke, complete with a joust. The crowd roared in approval when the Bavarian knight won the joust, tipping the Lothringen knight off his horse.

Next, the figures on the bottom half of the carillion perform the coopers’ dance, based on a story from the 14th century. In order to entertain and boost the spirits of people ravaged by the Plague, the coopers danced through the streets. The story and dance today symbolize perseverance and loyalty through difficult times. At the very end of the show, a small golden bird at the top of the carillion chirps three times, and the crowds dispersed.
Lured by even more church bells chiming, we walked around the various cobblestone-lined plazas to St. Peter's Church, the oldest parish church in Munich. It was dedicated in 1368, built on the site of an 8th century church. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to climb the 360 stairs to the 14th story of the church tower, said to provide the best view of Munich. Munich prohibits construction higher than 358’ in the old part of the city, which means that the church towers and steeples reach higher into the skyline than any other structures.
View of the Frauenkirche from St. Peter's tower
While I climbed the tower, Mike figured out how to get to the Frauenkirche, a gothic church dating from the 15th century that is a Munich landmark. Even with the cost savings by building out of brick instead of stone, money ran out and the domes at the top of the two towers weren’t finished until 1525. Putting Byzantine-style round domes on top of a Gothic cathedral doesn’t make much sense, but it worked financially and today it’s a symbol of Munich.
King Ludwig I's crypt inside the Frauenkirche

View of the Neues Rathaus from St. Peter's tower

Looking toward the new city center

We wandered down a side street, and ended up on the huge, open plaza in front of the Residenz, the home and  seat of government by Bavarian dukes and kings for 500 years. Begun in 1385, wings were added through the 1880's as various rulers wanted to put their own stamp on the complex. We didn’t go inside, but walked through several courtyards and admired the architecture.
Just past the Residenz we walked through several smaller plazas lined with imposing buildings, including statues and fountains memorializing several dukes and kings. Mike couldn’t resist stopping by  a Mercedes showroom to see the 2010 F1 race car.

We peeked briefly inside the Theatinerkirche, built in the late 1600's, because Sunday morning services were being conducted. The outside is unassuming, but the inside is filled with stucco decorations in the Italian high-Baroque style, covering every surface of the walls.
Mike loved the Siegestor, or "Victor Gate" with 3 huge arches large enough to drive through, built in 1852 in the style of the Arch d’Triumph in Paris to glorify the Bavarian army. In fact, a large statue of a Bavarian king, driving a chariot with four lions. Normally chariots are powered by horses, but since the lion is the symbol of Bavaria, it makes sense to see chariots with lions in this part of Germany.  The inscription along the top reads:  Dem Sieg geweiht, vom Krieg zerstört, zum Frieden mahnend, which translates to:  "Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, reminding of peace" and today instead of glorifying war, commemorates peace.
Our eventual goal was the Englischergarten, a 1000 acre park created in 1787 in the center of the city that reminded us of Central Park in NYC because of the winding paths for bicycles, folks on rollerblades, walkers, and horses. We followed the sound of a Bavarian oom-pah band to the Chinese Tower, home of a large outdoor beer garden packed with people enjoying the warm late summer day. 

We enjoyed lunch outdoors in a sea of picnic tables. Mike opted for Weisswurst, but I was sausaged-out and chose a salad and cheese plate with crusty bread.
Then it was time for more walking:  through the park to the Isar river which winds through Munich. We followed a shaded walking and bike path along the river, emerging street-side at the Luitpold bridge.  Throngs of locals were out with kids and dogs, sunbathing on the rocky banks of the river, and even wading across the more shallow parts of the river to claim a spot on the rocks in the middle of the river itself.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and time for a nap, so we headed back to the hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Munich without a definite plan or destination, admiring the architecture, turning down interesting-looking side streets, and window-shopping. This was our last full day before meeting up with the motorcycle group tomorrow afternoon, and we’re ready to get on the bike!

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