MUNICH: Rainy days

Time to read:

6 minutes

In decades of visiting Germany, rain never forced me inside before for five days. Luckily, Munich boasts two of the Top 10 museums in Germany — the Alte Pinakothek and the Deutsches Museum — and the Residenz represents a whole series of museums.

One of the world’s foremost collections of works by old masters

The Alte Pinakothek, once the largest museum in the world, is a kind of work of art itself, as its neo-Renaissance look has been a model for galleries in Brussels, Rome and St. Petersburg.

Inside, it’s a popular destination not just on rainy days but on hot ones. The paintings need air-conditioning even more than we do.

Whole walls of masters’ paintings were a small portion of what the galleries held

The Alte Pinakothek holds the wealth-in-art collection of the Wittelsbach family, which ruled here for 800 years.

Virgin and Child, da Vinci (1452-1519)

It may be the most impressive collection of “old masters” works anywhere in the world.

About 700 paintings, from the 15th to the 19th centuries, grace the walls at any time from masters such as Dürer, Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Van Dyck and Rembrandt.

This time, about 200 works in the upper galleries had changed places. Instead of hanging arranged by date or country, they were clustered by theme, inviting visitors to see new connections among works that used to hang in separate rooms.

Deutsches Museum

The Deutsches Museum, the most visited museum in Germany, sits on a sandbar in the Isar River and maps the development of science and technology in Germany.

The Deutsches Museum’s fields from nanotechnology to reproduction, aerospace to hydraulic engineering will make your head spin.

Ongoing themes include natural sciences, materials, energy, production, traffic, mobility, transportation, communication, information, media, man and environment.

Model of Foucault’s pendulum

Every field boasts fully interactive exhibits, inviting young and old to push buttons, crank wheels and pull levers. About 1.5 million people visit the 28,000 exhibits each year.

Exhibits include the first motor airplane of the Wright brothers, the first photo camera of Louis Daguerre, the Faraday electric cage, the Joseph Fraunhofer telescope that founded astrophysics, a computer donated personally by Steve Jobs in 1985, the first laser and a vaccine ampule from Biotech. 


The museum tells the story of Fritz Menzer, who discovered vulnerabilities of the Enigma coding machine and helped develop an improved successor, the Key Device 41.

Mother and daughter try to crack code

Germans used the Enigma during the war, not knowing that its code had been partially cracked by the Allies at Bletchley Circle.

Five years ago, an intact example of Key Device 41 was found buried in a forest south of Munich. German forces had just started using it when time ran out on their war.

A personal favorite: A five square-centimeter circuitboard introduces you to “Sycamore.” A few years back, Google for the first time demonstrated how much quantum computers were superior to the best supercomputers.

Sycamore solved a task in three minutes that would have taken a million conventional processors 10,000 years to complete, and the tiny block of silicon rewrote the history of technology. Two years later, Sycamore was ready for the museum.

The newest exhibit — model trains — just opened. But this isn’t your dad’s Lionel set. The museum boasts nearly 500 square feet for 750 yards of track designed with the help of a track planner from Deutsche Bahn, the national railroad company.

One train on a scale of 1:87 is nearly 15 feet long. Trains are computer-driven to simulate real operations during a day. 

Since 2016, the museum courtyard has been a construction site. This time last year, the first leg of a museum renovation finished after six years. Nineteen refurbished exhibitions — model trains to nuclear physics, robotics to musical instruments — opened with it.

Renovation was divided into two phases, so half the museum would always be open. Now for Phase Two, the “old” part. That means the coal mine and the Faraday cage, perhaps the two most popular exhibits. They closed a year ago and will stay closed another five years.

The schedule and original budget of $400 million have fallen prey to a series of developments — huge increases in construction costs, asbestos, inadequate engineering, architectural bankruptcy.

Reductions in concept are being demanded. The beloved walk-in mine will need to be redesigned if it is to be reopened. Completion is estimated for fall of 2028, in time for the museum’s 125th anniversary. 


It just kept raining most of the first week we were in Munich. So we visited the Residenz.

The Residenz is the in-town palace of the Wittelsbachs. To me, it’s the “winter house.”

In the summer, the family would move out to the leafy environs of the summer palace, Nymphenburg, on the west side of town. Less than four miles away, but back in horse and carriage days, the distance must have represented more of a change. 

When I think of the interior of the Residenz, I think of pure decadence. The lavish spending displayed is in marked contrast to the way most of the people lived.

Finished in 1568, the oldest spaces in the Residenz became known as the largest and most extravagant Renaissance interiors north of the Alps. If you’re looking for details, you’ll find few in this blog. It’s been decades since I’ve been in the Residenz. I’ve been in no hurry to get back.

The gilded halls often were built to house the ruling family’s huge collection of antiques, books and classic sculptures.

Ancestors Hall

Successive dukes, emperors, princes and kings made grand statements in the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, and what began as a 14th Century castle for the Wittelsbach monarchs grew over several hundred years into a palace of 10 courtyards and 130 rooms.

The Residenz is the largest city palace in Germany. It’s a vast complex of museum and exhibitions about Bavaria’s history and plays host to classical concerts and music competitions. The three main parts are the Königsbau (King’s Building), the Alte Residenz (Old Residence) and the Festsaalbau (Festival Hall). 

A wing of the Festsaalbau has contained the Cuvilliés Theatre since reconstruction of the Residenz after World War II. The theater, ordered by Elector Maximilian Joseph III in 1753, may be the most ornately beautiful space in the palace. German royalty watched opera there.

Luckily just before the WWII bombings, most of the Theater’s ornate interior went into storage. After WWII, the Theater was rebuilt with the original woodwork. The beautiful Rococo theater is one of few surviving court theaters in Germany.

In the eastern wing of the Königsbau (King’s Building) is the Palace Treasury.

Over centuries, it has come to house everything from the royal jewels, pieces from the Middle Ages through Neo-Classical times (1700s on, inspired by Greek or Roman culture) and even items going back to ancient Egypt. 

The Hof

In the 18th Century, the garden of the Residenz, the Hofgarten, became the first public park in Munich. A central attraction is the eight-portal pavilion. Today, the pavilion is regularly used for tango dancing.

The flower-lined park also has other attractions.

Next: Goethe Institut


3 responses to “MUNICH: Rainy days”

  1. Ken Avatar

    This post is, for me, a reminder of two attractions my wife and I missed visiting in Munich: the Alte Pinakothek and the Deutsches Museum. I would liked to have seen the Enigma coder at the latter. Well, next time!

  2. Clint Swift Avatar

    The Deutsches Museum seems to have an inexhaustible supply of exhibits. How can you even know what the choices are at ny time? There’s an app for that. I go through it on my phone before I arrive so I don’t spend a lot of time on site trying to decide.

    1. Ken Avatar

      That’s a good idea. With some of these famous European museums, you don’t even know where to start.

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