Pending Berlin's full recovery from its long period of division, MUNICH is the German city which most has the air of a capital about it. Even though it has never ruled over a territory any larger than the present-day Land, the grandiose palaces from Bavaria's era as an independent kingdom give it the appearance of a metropolis of great importance. When this is added to a remarkable postwar economic record (courtesy of such hi-tech giants as the car manufacturer BMW, the aerospace company MBB and the electronics group Siemens), and to its hard-won status as the national trendsetter in fashion matters, it's easy to see why Munich acts as a magnet to outsiders. Students flock here to study; the rich and jet-set like to live here, as do writers, painters, musicians and film-makers, while foreign nationals now make up more than a fifth of the population. Munich's other, more familiar face is of a homely city of provincially minded locals whose zest for drinking, seen at an extreme during the annual Oktoberfest , is kept up all year round in cavernous beer halls and spacious gardens.
The city is something of a late developer in German terms. It was founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, the powerful Saxon duke who for a short time also ruled Bavaria, as a monastic village ( Mönchen means monks) and toll-collection point on the River Isar, a Danube tributary. In 1180, it was allocated to the Wittelsbachs , who ruled the province continuously until 1918 - the longest period achieved by any of the nation's dynasties. Munich was initially overshadowed by Landshut, though it became the capital of the upper part of the divided duchy in 1255. Only in 1503 did it become capital of a united Bavaria, and it remained of relatively modest size until the nineteenth century, when it was expanded into a planned city of broad boulevards and spacious squares in accordance with its new role, granted by Napoleon, as a royal capital. Hitler began an even more ambitious construction programme in accordance with Munich's special role as Hauptstadt der Bewegung "Capital city of the (Nazi) Movement"; thankfully, only a part of it was built, surviving to this day as a reminder of this inglorious chapter in the city's history.
Despite its cosmopolitanism, Munich is small enough to be digestible in one visit, and has the added bonus of a great setting, the snow-dusted mountains and Alpine lakes just an hour's drive away. The best time of year to come is from June to early October, when all the beer gardens, street cafés and bars are in full swing
Heart of the city and its Altstadt is Marienplatz ; the pedestrian centre fans out from here in an approximate circle of one square kilometre. This is tourist and shopping land, with all the city's major department stores, the central market,...
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