Monday, June 20, 2011

Munich: Home Of The Monks

Arrived in Munich, Germany (above) on Tuesday, June 14 after a full 24 hours of travel from Eugene via Amsterdam. Two days later, my daughter Gina arrived from Poland "on holiday" following the conclusion of her tour of duty in Radom teaching English.

Munich is the capital of Bavaria -- one of 13 German states -- and the third-largest city in Germany. Founded in the 8th century by Bendictine monks who were drawn by the area's fertile farmland and its proximity to Italy, the city of 1.3 million inhabitants derives its name from the medieval "munichen," or monks.

Officially sanctioned by the government in 1158, the city prospered at first but was hit hard by the bubonic, or "black," plague in 1349. After 150 years, the epidemic subsided and local residents celebrated their good fortune with a ritualistic dance called the "schafflertanz."

The performance is now repeated every seven years but is reenacted several times daily by the little figures of the "glockenspiel" (left), a carillon in the city center. A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a freestanding bell tower or belfry of a church or other municipal building. The device consists of at least 23 bronze bells, which are played in a series to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord.

In the 1800s, Munich experienced an explosion of monument building with the creation of spectacular architecture and wide Italian-style boulevards (below). However, when King Ludwig II ascended the Bavarian throne in 1864, his many grandiose projects bankrupted the royal house and threatened the government's piggy bank.

In a odd twist of irony, many of those projects -- including numerous castles, palaces, museums and opera houses -- now contribute greatly to the economic heartbeat of Bavarian tourism.

Munich has experienced tough times, but the last 100 years have been particularly difficult. WW I practically decimated the city by starvation, and the Nazis rose to power in the Bavarian capital. Allied bombing missions nearly wiped Munich off the face of the earth in WW II (more than 80 percent of the city was destroyed). The 1972 Olympics began as a great celebration of German democracy but tragedy struck when 17 people were killed in a hostage shootout.

Today, however, the city thrives as a great metropolis and world village. During Oktoberfest, more than six million visitors flock from around the globe to hoist a glass of beer to this compelling city; it's a hip spot with a mellow attitude that somehow manages to coalesce spectacular alpine scenery with a Mediterranean joy of living.

A delightful combination of the past and the present, Munich is a city of lederhosen and laptops.

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