Tourist visits to Munich typically focus on the center of town. That’s where you find the biggest draws, the Church of Our Lady and the new town hall.
The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is often discussed as the center of Munich. Every photographer wants a “different” photo of the Catholic cathedral. But narrow streets and multi-story buildings make it difficult to get far enough away to get the whole building in the frame.
In fairness, I should observe that the IAA did not put up a stage in front of any of Munich’s churches, as far as I saw.
That tower in front actually IS the center of town. If you see an Autobahn (highway) sign saying “100 kilometer (60 miles) to Munich,” it means to this tower.
The cathedral’s twin 325-foot-tall towers may be the most distinctive part of the Munich skyline; they have become a symbol of the city.
The church was built in the late 15th Century but was badly damaged during WWII and has been gradually restored. During evenings today, the huge church hunches in the shadows, its lights doused to help save electricity.
The cathedral is as grand inside as outside. From the entrance, you don’t see the stained-glass windows behind the pillars on the sides of the church.
Legend has it that the devil agreed to finance the church as long as it had no windows. When the devil spotted the stained-glass, he stamped his foot. Dad re-enacts at the famed “devil’s footprint” near the nave entrance.
The Frauenkirche is not actually on Marienplatz (Mary’s Square), the biggest central square. It has its own square, “Frauenplatz,” just steps away from Marienplatz.
Frauenplatz is a peaceful courtyard in front of the church, where people browse outdoor art and relax by a pond while small children play around the water. The pond is fed from Munich’s original moat from more than 800 years ago.
The Mariensäule (Mary’s column), capped with a golden statue of Mary, was renovated this spring, and it looks it. Natural stone cleaned, and bronze figure preserved.
It was erected in 1638 to thank Mary for protecting the city during three weeks’ of occupation by the Swedes during the Thirty Years War.
During WWII, the Mariensäule was housed in the cathedral, and during the Nazi period, people made silent protests during prayer in front of the statue. After the war, it was rebuilt in the destroyed city center.
New town hall
Marienplatz has functioned as the center of Munich since the area was settled by Benedictine Monks in the 700s. The square remained a market until about 1800, when the market moved to nearby Viktualienmarkt.
Today the Marienplatz is dominated by the Neues Rathaus (new town hall). The 328-foot-long New Town Hall is the seat of city government and the tourist office.
Fifty years ago, partly for visitors to the 1972 Olympics, the square became pedestrian-only.
Writer Ken Cline captured the scene from nearly the same angle a year earlier, when the Christmas Market was in swing.
Inside, the new town hall contains more than 400 rooms. Corridors, landings and stairs seem to repeat endlessly.
The new town hall is built around six internal squares. This is the garden seating of the Ratskeller restaurant.
One of the most famous features of the New Town Hall is the century-old, 280-foot-tall tower with the elaborate two-story glockenspiel “cuckoo clock.” Its carousel of figures comes out at 11 a.m., noon and at some times of year at 5 p.m. More than 30 nearly life-size figures act out a tournament reminiscent of events in the city’s Medieval history (the Bavarian knight never fails to overpower his mounted challenger).
If the carillon looks a bit smarter these days, it may be because of a recent restoration. The glockenspiel’s gears and rollers had become creaky and jerky with four decades of dirt and dust, so blacksmith artists toiled for months, sanding the gears and painting and soldering cracked copper figures.
Old town hall
The “new” town hall is one of those buildings that represents 900-year-old Munich, but it stems only from the 19th Century. City offices had been in what now is called the “Old” Town Hall (above). Munich’s population exploded in the 19th Century, and the city simply outgrew its old quarters.
The spired watchtower from 1175 was one of five city gates on the first defensive wall around Old Town. It was Munich’s main eastern gate until the city walls were expanded around the beginning of the 15th Century. Today, the 550-year-old Old Town Hall on the east side of the main square is used by city council.
The Old Town Hall contains a four-story toy museum filled with dolls, doll houses, trains, teddy bears, vintage Barbies, etc.
Near the base of the Old Town Hall stands the statue of Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. For the 20 years the statue has stood there, a rub of Juliet’s right breast was said to bring luck; placing flowers in her hand was said to bring love.
Today, the statue invites you to augment her reality. If you use your mobile phone on the QR code at the bottom of the statue, on the screen you’ll see Juliet surrounded by several Juliets wielding sword, shield or bow. The art, “#JulietToo, is by American (Munich-based) Tamiko Thiel and aims to raise awareness of a woman’s personal integrity.
Incidentally, the art claims that more than 90% of monuments in Munich are modeled on a man. Experience says that seems plausible.
Next: Mary’s Square