“Dear sensibility! Source inexhausted of all that’s precious in our joys, or costly in our sorrows! Eternal fountain of our feelings! ‘tis here I trace thee and this is thy divinity which stirs within me…All comes from thee, great-great SENSORIUM of the world!”
-Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
After reading the quintessential “Grand Tour” novel in Comparative Literature this semester, I was inspired to finally make my first voyage to the European continent. This was also made possible by the arrival of one of my oldest friends from home; since he was studying abroad in London for the month of May, he decided to end his first trip abroad by visiting me in Scotland then accompanying me to Germany.
So between May 31st and June 4th we walked, read, and ate through nearly everything Munich had to offer. As this was my first trip to Europe, I was beyond excited to finally see some of the places I only thought were to be read about in books like A Sentimental Journey and other travel narratives.
Munich is unlike any other place I have experienced before. I have never really been to such an incredibly busy city in my life, especially one so open to tourists as Munich. I probably saw more people walking down Marienplatz than I have all semester in that blustery Scottish village. To say I was overwhelmed at first was a bit of an understatement. Not only the number of people, but the grandeur of each building as well contributed to this feeling. In Scotland, most of the architecture is pretty humble: stone cottages nestled in the mountains, whitewash flats half tumbling into the sea. Even the castles and churches in Scotland, believed to be the grandest examples of Scottish history and culture, seem drab and morose compared to the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of the kings of Bavaria.
Also speaking of architecture, I could detect a heavy Greco-Roman influence in a lot of the sculptures and accents around the city. Statues of what one could only assume are Pan, the god of nature, suddenly appear out of the thicket when walking a wee forest path, a goddess stands tall over the Oktoberfest fairgrounds, and the Hall of Fame consists of what appears to be Roman busts though the faces are of Bavarian monarchs. While Scotland is full of history, such history is often in ruins due to religious conflict or weather damage; here in Munich, the history is perfectly preserved, and has the air of being much older due to this Greco-Roman influence. The architecture and decoration of many of these buildings give a sense of a different kind of history entirely, one of an art-conscious society at the peak of its opulence. I have never seen anything like this before and I was in complete awe.
On our first full day in Munich, we toured the Deutsches Museum of Science and Technology. This museum is similar to the American Smithsonian in that one cannot properly visit every exhibit in just a day. While the arts student in me found some of these scientific and technological exhibits a wee bit boring, I did find joy touring the nautical exhibit in the museum. The museum boasted the complete history of maritime technology, starting with Southeast Asian dugout canoes all the way to modern pleasure, industry, and research vessels. As I was deep in Moby Dick at the time, I found the information on the whaling industry of particular interest. The other exhibits I found fascinating: the replica of Altamira Cave (a Spanish cave with some of the most perfectly preserved Stone Age paintings in the world), the music exhibit (who knew pocket fiddles were a thing?!), and astronomy.
The next two days were spent on day trips to Dachau and Neuschwanstein Castle, but those will be detailed in separate posts.
On our last full day in Munich we toured the Munich Residenz, the royal palace of Bavarian monarchs. As you are all aware by now, I have a keen fondness for castles which Scotland has been more than able to satisfy. However, Scotland does not have any royal palaces quite like this one. The very first room you enter is the Antiquarium, a great hall for the antiques collection of Duke Albert V. This hall reminds me of something that would be in Rome as a gathering place for politicians: Roman-esque busts of emperors line the hall, Latin inscriptions dance across the ceiling, and the marble flooring alone is enough to inspire awe. At this point I thought the rest of the palace would be small chambers with perhaps one or two tapestries in each. How could I know any different, as my experience thus far had been humble Scottish castles? Oh how wrong I was. Simply the wallpaper of each room was enough to study for an hour at least, so hopefully this gives you an idea of how sumptuous every chamber was. In one part of the palace every room had grand ceiling tiles painted in different themes, such as the star signs or the Greek deities of nature. However, in many of these rooms the main panels were missing or destroyed due to bombings in Munich in the 1940’s. Another interesting aspect of the Munich Residenz was the collection of antique Chinese porcelain, said to be the first imports of such into Europe. This collection was incredible, and it never occurred to me that I may see such faraway and exotic treasures in Munich, Germany. Also, as I had never seen real antique Chinese porcelain so close before, I think I worried the overseers as I practically had my nose pressed against the cases.
Besides all of these typical tourist sights, Munich is a bustling city that always has something going on. On the way to Gärtnerplatz we stumbled across the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market of food, beer, flowers, and other wee trinkets. I was so excited to finally experience my first European open air market, where all the food was incredibly fresh and the people as jovial as can be. In our evening wanderings we also stumbled across the Street Life festival that spanned all the way down Leopoldstraße. Though this festival was for the weekend we were in Munich only, it was amazing to see something a little less tourist-y and more on the local radar.
All in all, Munich was an incredible place. Though I am not really one for cities, Munich had so much to offer that, once I got the hang of it, I actually became quite comfortable. Perhaps one of my favorite places in Munich was the Englischer Garten, a public park that spans 1.4 square miles from the center of town to its northeastern limits. A lazy river wound its way through the park where we stopped to relax, a Greco-Roman style pavilion stood grandly above the park, and people of all ages came to relax. Since we visited the park mostly as an after-dinner walk, I found myself most at peace bathed in the bleeding Munich sunsets.
Originally written 7 July 2014