When Americans think of Germany, they are often thinking of Munich and
Bavaria. Bavaria is the home of the “typically German” lederhosen
and felt hats. It is by far the best city to visit inGermany.
Munich is has everything for the visitor including old churches,
near-by castles, German beer breweries, history, museums, parks,
etc. As an American, Munich is your “one-stop Germany”.
[photo of St. Martin Church in Munich by Johannes Meyer]
The city was founded in 1158 around a settlement of Monks.
The name Munich, or München, means “Monk City”. In 1175 Munich
became a city and was controlled by the bishops of Freising. In
1240, rule transferred from the bishops to Duke Otto I Wittelsbach and
the family ruled over Bavaria until 1918 (this is the same family,
different branch, that ruled over the Palentine region of Heidelberg
and Manheim). Building was a passion for the Wittelsbachs and
much of what you see today in Munich is a direct result of their
The most famous of the Wittelsbachs is King Ludwig the II. He took the throne at a young age and ruled between 1864 and 1886. Today he is often called, “Mad King Ludwig” because of his strange behavior and oddities. A beautiful man, most attention is drawn toward the way that he would eat dinners alone with a pretend Marie Antoinette, make a servant wear a mask because he was ugly, take sleigh rides in the middle the night, and build extravagant castles. He was a loner who would have made a better actor than a king. Much controversy surrounded his close relationship with Richard Wagner. Wagner’s operas were the inspiration for Ludwig’s castles, including the famous Neuschwanstein castle.
Though his oddity made him famous today, Mad King Ludwig can take much credit for
the formation of the current German Republic. After France had
attacked Prussia and was defeated, there was talk of a loosely formed
German confederation. King William of Prussia wanted to combine
all of the separate German states (of which Bavaria was one) into one
large republic. His family, the powerful Hollernzollerns (see
castle page), would be in charge. The goal for him was to create
a state large enough and powerful enough to be able to stand up against
the attacks of France at that time. But for King William to unite
Germany he needed support from the smaller states, particularly from a
southern state. He entered into negotiations with King Ludwig II
of Bavaria. Ludwig refused to leave his comfortable surroundings
to go to the negotiation table. Prussia could not unite Germany
without Bavaria’s help. Just when the plan to unite Germany
seemed ready to fail, a letter was drafted for King Ludwig II declaring
support for a united Germany under the reign of the
Hohenzollerns. The letter was delivered to King Ludwig II and, in
a change of mood characteristic of Ludwig, he copied the letter almost
word for word in his own hand, signed it, and sent it back.
Because of that letter 26 separate states lost their independence and
the German Empire was born. Ludwig became a national idol
After WWI Munich became a center of unrest and unease. In
November 13, 1918, after much public pressure and changing times, the
last of the Wittelsbachs, Ludwig III, gave up his throne and Bavaria
became a Republic under the leadership of Kurt Eisner.
The Republic did not last long. In February 1919, Kurt Eisner was
shot and the communist regime took over the city. The called it,
the Munich Soviet Republic. The regime changed hands quickly and
didn’t last long. In May, a group of White Army soldiers called
the Freikorps put down the communists. Though the republic was
restored, Munich became a hot-seat where Hitler and the Nazis were
capable of raising to power.
The Nazi’s, after taking control over Germany in 1933, proclaimed
Munich as the “capital of the movement”. Because it was such a
stronghold to the Nazi’s, Munich suffered much damage during
WWII. Most of the Residenz was bombed, the roof of the
Frauenkirche had collapsed, just to mention a bit. Over the
course of the war, Munich suffered 71 air raids.
After the war Munich had the option to bulldoze the city and start
over, or to rebuild. In a close election, the citizens voted to
rebuild the city. Using the photos that the Nazi’s had taken to
document the city and its treasures when bombing was evident, the city
was rebuilt to almost the same state as before the war.
Munich is a beautiful city and one of the most recommended places to travel to in Germany.
Note: Bavarians, though German, speak Bayrish which is a dialect
of the German language. Most Bavarians can speak “high German” as
well, but don’t be surprised if you have a hard time understanding