Tourists throng Marienplatz (Mary’s Square), and many group themselves around a guide to the city’s most popular attractions. Listen to the questions this year, and you’ll hear mostly German. That’s a change from when I was last in Germany before the pandemic.
Before the virus, Munich had the most international tourists in the country. State statistics say tourism today exceeds even the numbers before the pandemic, and it’s mostly Austrians, Swiss and especially Germans. The number of Russians is down; the number of Americans is about the same.
Beyond the old city’s main sights, life is happening on Marienplatz and its feeder streets. Above, a “Russian” street band performs on glitzy Neuhauser Street for tourist contributions.
The buskers, from individual guitar acts to small bands with a piano, often attract a swaying, clapping crowd. They should. For 20 years, they’ve been personally vetted by the head of the city information (tourist) office, who believes music can affect the way people see the city.
Acts have to pass muster on three songs to make sure they’re not going to go on endless repeat of a single tune. If they pass, they get a permit and a map of the streets where playing is allowed.
But even a dead silent act such as a human statue can earn a spot on the Marienplatz.
Some acts stick around for months. Others disappear seemingly overnight.
Buskers have to get a permit in a handful of other German towns, but this is the only city I know of where they have to audition to sing and maybe sell a CD.
Since the 1400s, Munich residents have been washing out their wallets in the Fischbrunnen (Fish Fountain) in front of town hall. The ritual is supposed to help ensure that the people’s wallets are filled again in the coming year.
Apparently, the superstition has stuck, as the mayor and the city’s chief financial officer joined in the washing this year.
Fountain season starts here in April. Most fountains are boarded up for the winter to protect them from condensation, frost and contamination. By now, cool water is bubbling out of 200 city fountains. The Fischbrunnen stays open year-round.
The Kräutlmarktbrunnen, a few steps away, isn’t old. It dates to about 1972. But the water is clean enough to drink, and lots of people fill their drinking bottles here as they pass through the city center.
Munich claims to have about 700 fountains, but apparently many are private or the water isn’t drinkable. The city says 100 more are coming, at least partly in response to atmospheric overheating and summer days in the 90s.
For a decade, I’ve been watching Munich’s main square through the webcam on the side of the Ludwig Beck department store on the edge of the Marienplatz. A wide-angle, high-resolution picture from the webcam is updated every five seconds or so. Click on the link above to try it yourself.
The store’s named for a tailor, who made buttons, ribbons, cords, trimmings and epaulettes with such skill that he was made a royal-court supplier.
Years ago, it seemed there were more pigeons than people around city hall, but today you don’t find as many pigeons — or their toxic droppings.
It may be that at this time of year, the square is so crowded with tourists that the birds can’t land. But it also may be that there aren’t many roosts in the area any more. If you look closely, you can see thin nets, iron spikes and electric wire that guard roof edges and carved figures on many of the famous buildings here.
The city estimates its pigeon population is about 100,000, about half in the city center. Munich has tried shootings, electric charges, falcons and other means to disperse them, but those efforts are limited by animal protection laws.
The city has both a pigeon advocate and a city hunter, and that about sums up the attitudes of the people. People who throng the main town square either feed the birds or shoo them away. At home, residents pay pigeon-defense companies to keep the birds away or they build homes for the birds on the roof.
Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) is named for a woman. And the Theresienwiese (Therese’s Field), where the Oktoberfest is held, is named for the princess who became Bavaria’s second queen. But apparently 90% of Munich’s streets are still named for men.
This comes up periodically because a city department is directed to report to the city council about it. In 2004, council started naming streets after women in proportion to their number in the city.
But check back in 700 years. A local newspaper noted that at the current rate, it will take that long for the gender-ratio of street names to roughly match the gender-ratio of residents here.