Munich (München), Germany

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Munich is the capital of Bavaria, in the south of Germany. On the River Isar, it is Germany’s third most populous city after Berlin and Hamburg, and is a major industrial centre.


Founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, in 1255 Munich became the residence of the Wittelsbach family who dominated urban affairs until the twentieth century. Under them the city was greatly enlarged, and areas that had been destroyed by the great fire of 1328 were rebuilt by Ludwig the Bavarian during the fourteenth century. By 1503 Munich was established as a wealthy trading centre with a population of 13,500. It was declared the capital of the duchy of Bavaria.

Continued outbreaks of plague decimated the population. Despite the Protestant reforms of Martin Luther that swept through Germany in the sixteenth century, Munich remained Catholic and Protestants were persecuted. During the 30 Years’ War, Munich was invaded by Swedish troops and in 1632 surrendered to King Gustav Adolphus.

The city’s freedom was bought from the Swedes but Munich then fell under Habsburg rule from 1705 to 1714. However, the eighteenth century saw Munich’s Golden Age with an explosion of Baroque and Italianate architecture. During the nineteenth century, the city’s prosperity continued when, under Napoléon’s reorganization of Europe, Bavaria was elevated to the status of a Kingdom with Munich as its capital. The marriage of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig I to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese in 1810 was celebrated by a horse race that evolved into Oktoberfest (the famous annual Bavarian beer festival).

In 1818, Bavaria became the first German state with a written constitution. Under King Ludwig it expanded rapidly into a major cultural and artistic centre. Many of the city’s most famous landmarks (including Königsplatz, Alte Pinakothek, Ludwigstrasse and the Königsbau and Festsaalbau sections of the Residenz) were built at this time. Ludwig I’s grandson was the ‘mad’ King Ludwig who ruled from 1864–86. His obsessive programme of building castles and palaces throughout Bavaria depleted the city’s coffers before he was declared mentally unfit to rule. He and his doctor were found drowned in Lake Starnberg.

His brother Otto’s regent, Prince Luitpold, embarked on another programme of enlargement and expansion. By the turn of the twentieth century Munich had 500,000 inhabitants and was Germany’s second city. After World War I, runaway inflation and political in-fighting provided Adolf Hitler with a natural home for his extreme politics. In the 1920s National Socialism was founded in Munich and its party headquarters established there.

The Munich Pact, under which the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland was ceded to Germany, was signed in the city in 1938 by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. The treaty marked the last chance of appeasing Hitler and its failure made war inevitable. Badly damaged during World War II, the city was largely rebuilt after 1945.

Modern City

Munich today is a thriving city with a strong local economy based on such industrial giants as BMW, Bayer pharmaceuticals and MAN (automotive and truck producers). Other important industries include processed food, beer and precision instruments. Franz-Josef Strauss Airport is the country’s second most important air transport centre after Frankfurt. Munich is southern Germany’s most important rail hub (the main station is Hauptbahnhof) and is on the route of several important Autobahnen (motorways). Within Munich there is an efficient zone-based transport system run by the MVV, which incorporates the S-Bahn (surface trains), U-Bahn (underground) and trams and buses.

Places of Interest

The square of Marienplatz, in the centre of the old town, is the heart of Munich. Located in the middle of the square is the Mariensäule (Mary Column), erected in 1590 to celebrate the removal of the Swedish forces. The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) is covered with gargoyles and statues and houses the famous Glockenspiel (carillon). The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) was completely rebuilt after World War II. St Peterskirche was the city’s first parish church in the eleventh century but the current gothic building was begun in the thirteenth century.

Other leading tourist attractions include:
  • The Residenz, the home of the Wittelsbachs, begun in 1385 and now home to the Residenz Museum (displaying treasures accumulated by the Wittelsbach family);

  • The Schatzkammer (Treasury), which houses a collection of jewels and precious objects from the tenth century onwards;

  • The Altes Residenztheater (Old Residence Theatre; also known as the Cuvilliés Theatre);

  • Schloß Nymphenburg, a large palace which houses several museums including the Marstallmuseum (housed in the former stables), the Nymphenburger Porzellan Sammlung Bäuml (a porcelain museum), Museum Mensch und Natur (a natural history museum), and Botanischer Garten (the Botanical Gardens);

  • Alte Pinakothek, Munich’s most important art gallery containing works by Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Dürer, Rembrandt and Rubens;

  • The neighbouring Neue Pinakothek, which houses works from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries by artists including Van Gogh, Klimt, Cézanne and Manet;

  • Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology;

  • BMW Museum, located behind the headquarters of the car manufacturer;

  • The Olympic Village, built for the 1972 games.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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