Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) is the heart of Munich. It is a large square, where most festivals and protest rallies are held. In 1638, Prince Elector Maximilian erected the Mariensäule (Mary’s Column) to give thanks for the relief of the city from the Swedish threat during the Thirty Years’ War. It has a statue of the Virgin made in 1590 by Hubert Gerhard on top of an 11-m (33-foot) Corinthian column.
The north of the square is occupied by the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). This Neo-Gothic (1867-1908) monumental building looks a bit out of place in Baroque and Rococo Munich but people got used to it. An elevator (i1.50) to the top of the 80-m (260-foot) tower is available on weekdays from 9 am to 4 pm, closing at 1 pm on Friday. Particularly popular is the famous carillon, with 43 bells the fourth-largest in Europe. At 11 am and noon, and summer at 5 pm as well, it plays a knight’s tournament and local dance with 32 life-size figures. At 9 pm, the night watchman and Münchner Kindl are blessed by an angel. The huge Ratskeller in the cellar is a popular restaurant – see Where to Eat.
At the east is the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), a Gothic building from 1474. It has a hall, still used for official receptions, above open arcades. The Rathaus was severely damaged duringWorldWar II but restored in simplified form. The Rathaus incorporated a former defense tower that now houses the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum), Marienplatz, which shows toys from the past two centuries.
Close by is the Alter Hof (Old Castle), Burgstraße 8, which was the castle of the Wittelsbach rulers from 1253 to 1474. It is currently used as local government offices but it is worth strolling into the courtyard to see the medieval oriel or bay window.
The Peterskirche (St Peter’s Church), situated on Rindermarkt, is the oldest church in Munich. It dates back to the 11th century but has style elements of almost every fashion since. Its main structure is a triple-nave, 13th-century Gothic basilica but the interior is mostly Baroque. It is 306 steps to the top of the tower for the best views of Munich and the Alps if the skies are clear (i1.50).
The nearby Viktualienmarkt (Victuals Market) has been in operation since 1807. It is a popular spot with all kinds of people from businessmen to blue-collar workers who grab a quick bite to eat or buy fresh produce. The market women are famous for both quick wit and zero tolerance – no self-service here. Do not fret if your school German does not reach – most non-locals will not understand much of what’s said either.
The nearby Hofbräuhaus is a legend too.
Three blocks southwest of the Marienplatz is the Münchner Stadtmuseum (Municipal Museum), at St.-Jakobs-Platz 1. It has an eclectic collection ranging from musical instruments and rare movies to puppet theaters and home décor. A star exhibit is the collection of 10 wood-carved, painted and gilded Moriskentänzer (Moorish Dancers, below) made by Erasmus Grasser in 1480.
Nearby, close to the Sendlinger Tor, is the Asamkirche (Asam Church), at Sendlinger Straße 32. The official name is St Johannes Nepomuk Church but nobody refers to it as other than the Asamkirche, named after the two talented Baroque master-builder Asam brothers. Both were multitalented, but Cosmas Damian (1686-1739) specialized in frescoes and his brother Egid Quirin (1692-1750) specialized in sculptures and stuccos. Their work decorated many Baroque churches in Munich and central Europe. They financed and designed the Asamkirche themselves, which helps to explain the harmony of the interior. It is over-the-top Baroque with no square inch left undecorated, but all beautifully integrated. It has been described as a combination of a fanciful grotto and a court theater, showing off the absolute skill of the two brothers and serving as a remarkable example of Bavarian Late Baroque. It is small, with only 12 rows of pews, but it has enough art to fill a cathedral.
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