Beverley Byrne checks out the Bavarian capital – green in summer, atmospheric in winter and buzzing with great museums and bars year round
Fun loving Bavarians love to make a song and dance about beer. Every year during Oktoberfest Bavaria’s capital, Munich, pays celebratory homage to the region’s beer, culture and traditional cuisine. Originally a festival marking the marriage of King Ludwig 1 of Bavaria to Princess Therese in 1810, Munich’s devotion to beer began centuries before. Even Munich’s name is beer related, deriving from a term meaning ‘by the monks’ who originally brewed beer to replace food during Lent. Their ancient ecclesiastical traditions live on in the city’s six main breweries, smaller specialist breweries and countless beer kellers.
Those monks may have made beer production into an art form but the city itself is a repository of artistic intent. From the visual arts to cinema, to music and literature, the city’s galleries, museums, theatres and festivals are evidence of the city’s creativity. Even my architecturally impressive hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, formerly a fin de siecle dance hall, displays an ever changing exhibition of contemporary art work.
My room, overlooking Munich’s snow cloaked pinnacles and cupolas, features Biedermeier style furnishings with bedding apparently created from the down of angel’s wings. Such heavenly comfort is enhanced by a complimentary mini bar containing, naturally, local Helle beer. Thoughtfully, home baked beer stein shaped biscuits are provided to take care of post brew munchies.
Japanese Peruvian funk
When it comes to gourmet dining, the hotel raised the bar to stratospheric levels when it opened Matsuhisa. The award winning brain child of celebrity chef, Nobuyiki (Nobu) Matsuhisa and long time fan Robert de Niro, it’s a combination of Beverley Hills meets Munich at the grass roots of Japanese Peruvian funk.
Each dish, presented straight from the theatrical open to public gawping cooking counter, is nothing short of performance art. Matsushisa is the culinary yang to the hotel’s sumptuous yin and about as far as you can get from sausage and sauerkraut.
Not that there’s anything wrong with sausage and sauerkraut. There are countless opportunities to fill your boots Bavarian style and rustically classy Spatenhaus an der Oper, overlooking the opera house, is a traditional meat lovers institution.
Munich’s famous food market, Viktualienmarkt is another gourmet paradise underlining the city’s partiality to meat, particularly pork. From pig’s heads and trotters to mammoth sausages which make our own British banger seem puny in comparison, everything but the oink is displayed in artistically arranged porcine homage.
The city’s gift for epicurean creativity isn’t surprising given its artistic legacy. Munich born Expressionist Franz Marc and his friends Kandinsky and Macke are just some of the revered artists celebrated in Lenbach Haus, one of the city’s exceptional art galleries. Ella at Lenbach Haus, the onlyMunich restaurant overlooking stately Königsplatz Square, also serves one of the most memorable saffron and lobster risottos outside of Italy. Admittedly, vegetarians and vegans may find this mainly carnivorous city a tad challenging but, as Munich’s monks discovered centuries ago, beer is food too!