Munich teems with history, beauty, and fun

Flying into Munich on a sunny morning is a wonderful way to junk your jet lag. As our Lufthansa widebody made its final approach, the image that first awakened my sense of anticipation was color. Everywhere below us were bright red roofs, steep and gabled and flanked by beautiful grasses. Row houses and tall ``gingerbread'' houses were interspersed with different shades of green -- parks, sports complexes, and soccer fields.

It was impossible to look on that scene and not share in Munich's communal gift to the world: an irrepressible joy. No wonder this city of 1.3 million rose from the ashes of World War II as if it had not been nearly leveled and almost matter-of-factly resumed its 800-year place as an ebullient and beautiful European center of art, Bavarian culture, and German industry. In every sense of the word, Munich lives.

Some impressions that, for me, help to put Munich into perspective: itinerant students from countless countries lined up in their sleeping bags one night in the giant Hauptbahnhof, the central railroad station; the exquisite rococo beauty of the 18th-century Cuvillies Theater; the cumulative religious and artistic impact of the superb collection of 14th- to 17th-century masters at the Alte Pinakothek; the vast scope and serene beauty of the Nymphenburg Palace, its satellite chateaus and grounds; and the River Isar, which is bordered by beautiful greenery such as the English Garden -- Europe's largest city park, according to the tourist office.

Along the river is a fascinating ribbon of Munich life: sunbathers and swimmers in summer or skaters and alpine curlers in winter.

A feeling of fun pulsates through the central city's pedestrian walks. Lined with smart shops, restaurants, sidewalk caf'es, and pubs, they provide an endless parade of ogling tourists, tolerant Bavarians, and punk-dressed mimes and minstrels.

From the vast Karlsplatz, an intersection crossed by a million people each day, it's a quick walk to Marienplatz, the city's heart, where tourists congregate at 11 a.m. daily (and in summer at 5 p.m. too) to watch the world famous ``glockenspiel'' do its five-minute show on a tower of the Neues Rathaus (the ``new'' city hall).

A walk through the central city's pedestrian zone is a good introduction to Munich's pleasures. The city map is well done, and you can get one at the Hauptbahnhof tourist office (8 a.m.-11 p.m., and Sundays from 1-9:30 p.m.). While there, pick up any of several guidebooks on various areas of interest along with a 24-hour subway ticket (or multi-day pass, if you'll be there for a while).

That will get you just about anywhere you want to go via Munich's vast, efficient underground and surface transportation system.

The modern subway, reflecting a mutual respect among citizens, has an honor system for paying fares and no graffiti on the walls.

The city walk provides intriguing with its views of Munich's famous churches: St. Peter's (11th century), St. Michael's (1597) with its exemplary German Renaissance barrel vault and royal crypt of the 600-year Wittelsbach dynasty, and Frauenkirche (1488), the late-Gothic landmark of Munich with its familiar twin ``onion-topped'' towers.

Just minutes away is Max-Joseph Platz, the National Theater (sold out almost every night in opera season), and the massive complex of architecture and art of the Residenz. This was Bavaria's seat of royal power from the 16th to the 19th centuries, where the Ludwigs and Maximilians pursued their acquisitiveness for great art.

Here in its treasury and elegant museums are artworks, jewels, and coins encompassing 10 centuries, a famed porcelain collection, and royal rooms.

The architectural styles here, as in so much of Munich, mirror the three centuries of its building -- renaissance, baroque, and rococo -- as well as classical, an architectural ideal that was a passion of Bavaria's great 19th-century king, Ludwig I.

But don't tarry too long anywhere, for Munich has 31 museums -- featuring everything from ancient Egyptian art to Kandinsky, from Bavarian culture to science and technology.

You must choose carefully, and we haven't even discussed music to be heard in the city that gave Wagner and Richard Strauss their big breaks.

There are four symphony orchestras, the Bach Chorus, and countless concerts to feast upon (except in late August, when the musical pace slackens).

A highlight of the summer season is the opera festival ending usually in late July. But vying for attention are the Ballet Festival, concerts at the Nymphenburg and Schleissheim palaces and in the Brunnenhof fountain courtyard of the Residenz. Oh, to be fortunate enough to hear Mozart in that incomparable, rococo-adorned Cuvillies Theater off the Brunnenhof Court!

Festivals are a way of life in Munich, whether it's the revelry of the world famous Oktoberfest, Fasching (the winterized version), or the summer festival in which Munich's love of flowers, art, and music hold sway.

You'll have to go to Schwabing -- Munich's equivalent of Greenwich Village in New York and the Left Bank in Paris. It's a grand mixture of students, shops, caf'es, pubs, and discotheques.

Olympic Park makes a great trip with children (as does the zoo), and the 80,000-seat stadium features frequent Saturday soccer matches.

One-day trips to outlying special attractions include the famous castles of Ludwig II (Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiensee) and, on the grimly educational side, the World War II concentration camp, Dachau.

When you think about it, Munich with its teeming love of art, beauty, and enjoyment is a model of the way cities and city life should be.

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