It was difficult to decide which of the several world-class art galleries in Munich to visit, but time constraints limited us to one. Our choices included the Alte Pinakothek (according to Collins, “pinakothek” means “a place where works of art are displayed and stored,” and after all these posts about Germany you probably already know that alte means “old”), the Neue Pinakothek, the Pinakothek der Moderne, and a few other galleries whose names do not include the word “pinakothek.” We decided to visit the Neue Pinakothek, mainly to see several specific artists whose works are included there – including the German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.
The Neue Pinakothek isn’t all that new: it was created by Bavarian King Ludwig I and opened in 1853. It was bombed during World War II and like so many other German landmarks, has since been rebuilt. It contains what is considered one of the most important collections of 19th-century (particularly European) art in the world.
Only after we’d taken a streetcar to the museum quarter of Munich did we discover that the Neue Pinakothek is closed for several years (!) for renovations. Disappointed but undefeated, we decided to visit the nearby Alte Pinakothek instead. The Alte Pinakothek features Old Masters from the 14th to 18th centuries and is one of the oldest art galleries in the world. How bad could it be?
Much to our surprise and pleasure, we discovered that a lot of interesting pieces from the Neue Pinakothek are on display in the Alte Pinakothek while the former gallery is closed. We also learned that on Sundays, admission to galleries and museums is only one euro! How civilized is that?
The reduced admission price did mean that there were a lot of people lined up to get into the gallery, and the facility itself was very crowded, but it also meant that we had the opportunity to see a number of amazing pieces in the Alte Pinakothek collection that we would never have seen if the Neue gallery had been open. So it was a win, win.
The Munich Museum
Later that day, we returned to the older part of the city and visited the Munich City Museum (Münchner Stadtmuseum), a (mostly) fun review of arts and crafts and other artifacts relating to Munich history. There you can see replicas of the “Morris Dancer” sculptures which date from 1480 and are the most valuable pieces in the collection – too valuable to actually display, it seems.
According to the Stadtmuseum website, the creator of these figures, Erasmus Grasser, was described by his peers as a “disruptive, promiscuous and disingenuous knave,” but perhaps they were just jealous: he was the one who got the lucrative commission to create a heraldic ceiling design and several coats of arms for Munich’s new city hall as well as creating the dancer figurines. (The Museum’s website includes far better images of them than I was able to get through the glass display cases.) The original figurines were removed from their locations and put into safekeeping in 1931.
The Stadtmuseum does not ignore the fact that Munich is the city where the Nazi Party had its roots. An exhibition that traces the rise of National Socialism is located in an adjacent facility, with a separate entrance. It includes artifacts and uniforms from the Nazi era and extensive information on how the Nazi regime began in Munich.
The displays were difficult to look at, particularly as many of them called to mind what is happening in the United States right now.
Munich the Marvellous
Germany is a country made up of several distinctive regions. The architecture, cuisine, and traditions are quite different in Munich than they are in Frankfurt, Dresden or Berlin.
Munich is the capital of the state of Bavaria (in which Bayreuth is also located), and after a few days there, I had a much better sense of the meaning of the term “Bavarian.” It helped that we’d caught sight of a few guys in the altstadt wearing lederhosen, and later saw masses of fans of the FC Bayern Munich football team piling onto transit en route to a game. But it was something more basic – the look and the feel of the city – that made Munich such a delight, and utterly unlike any other place in Germany.
Even within Munich there are many different cultures and experiences. As I mentioned previously, the hotel we stayed in (The Mirabel) was located in a Turkish area. The hotel itself was very modern and very German, with a breakfast that would have pleased King Ludwig I or II. But one of our best meals was in a Turkish restaurant half a block away.
Munich is a lovely city and I wish we’d had time to see much more of it.