Frauenkirche & Cathedral of Munich – Munich, Germany
One of Germany’s most beautiful cities is Munich, capital of the famed region of Bavaria. Munich is a city filled with stunning architecture. Its skyline is pierced with spires of churches and cathedrals and towers and its ground is laid with cobblestones. The city centre is filled with architectural wonders – palaces, halls, great houses, beer halls, churches, towers. In the above photo, the spire to the right is from the Cathedral of Munich, while the twin spires to the left are from the Frauenkirche. It is in the Frauenkirche where you’ll find a footprint indented in the floor. Legend has it that this is the Devil’s footprint – the builders needed help finishing the church and the devil offered his aid to finish it. From the front door, the columns form an illusion to block all of the windows so the Devil thought that it would be a dark, damp church and no one would want to go there. When he realised that the builders tricked him, he was so angry he stomped his foot down in anger – hence the imprint of a foot on a stone by the door. (A less exciting explanation could be a the footprint of the master builder himself). Whatever you believe, it makes a good story!
Pro Tip: Take the free walking tour of Munich as you’ll learn about this legend and more – a perfect introduction to Munich!
Neuschwanstein Castle Cloaked in Forest and Mist, Germany
Rising romantically out of the mist is the majestic white turrets of Neuschwanstein Castle. Somewhat reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm, of all of Germany‘s fairy tale castles, Neuschwanstein Castles wins gold for fairytale extravagance. In fact, the castle, built 1869-86 (though never completed) is generally credited with inspiring Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland, California! Commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and dedicated to composer Richard Wagner, the magical Neuschwanstein Castle is located a stone’s throw from the far more demure Hohenschwangau Castle, ancestral home to the royal family (though not good enough for ambitious Ludwig’s refined and ostentatious tastes). Instead, Ludwig required a more flamboyant residence in which to flex his power (not unlike the popes of the Avignon Papacy and their enormous palace). The completed rooms in Neuschwanstein are all elaborately carved, lavishly furnished and thoroughly gilded – and the swan motif giving the castle its name is everywhere. There are long, bejewelled corridors, dizzyingly vast courtyards and high flying turrets. Best of all, there’s even a mysterious grotto based on a German myth… inside the castle (not a joke…)! The grotto even once had a waterfall and rainbow-maker. The white turrets of this German fairytale castle are cloaked in thick mist and dark, silent forests crossed with forlorn paths (reminiscent of the Black Forest), making it easy to imagine a Disney princess or two locked in a tower, tasting a poisoned apple, losing a magical slipper or pricking her dainty finger on a spinning wheel here at Neuschwanstein. Though most German castles seem straight out of a fairytale (see Hohenzollern for another example), Neuschwanstein is certainly queen of all. Tip: due to the castle’s enormous popularity, visit off-season and go for a morning visit. Be sure to visit the nearby Hohenschwangau Castle, the royal grounds as well as the path that leads to the Marion Bridge for the famous view of the castle across the gorge! Keep in mind that sadly, there’s a strictly enforced no photography rule inside the castle…a shame, for the castle’s interior seems something that could only exist in Beauty and the Beast’s castle.
Don’t be put off by the long name! Hohenschwangau (meaning ‘High Swan Palace’) is an impressive castle in southern Germany, near the Austrian border. Though you may not recognise its name, you will most certainly have heard of (or seen a photo of) its magnificent next-door-neighbour, Neuschwanstein Castle (famous for inspiring Disney’s creation of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disney World, FL). In many ways, Hohenschwangau, while less jaw-dropping than its excessive neighbour, is much more authentic. Built in the 19th century by the Bavarian kings, it served as the childhood residence of the famous Ludwig II (the very same king who built the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein), and it is much more reserved in decor, riches, and style. There has been a fortress on the spot since the 12th century, which underwent many changes during its several hundred years of existence. Because of invasions from Austria, it was plundered in 1743, and due to hard times, the land was eventually sold in 1820, only to be bought back by the the next generation of Bavarian kings, Prince Maximilian II, who discovered some ruins while on a tour of his land. So inspired was he by the beauty and family history of the crumbling ruins that he spent the next 20 years bringing splendour and life back to Hohenschwangau. Of course, it was only inhabited for about a generation, as Ludwig built his own castle nearby, the celebrated Neuschwanstein, though that castle was never finished. Today, the two castles preside together over the valley and land that was so important to the old Bavarian kings.
It’s hard to put the words “Munich” and “quiet” in the same sentence. Usually, the name “Munich” brings to mind Oktoberfest, beer, drinking, and drunkards. It’s hard to imagine one visiting Munich any other time of year–or for any other purpose. Yet, those who do venture into the capital of Bavaria outside the Oktoberfest period will be pleasantly surprised. The city is beautiful, charming, and historic. In fact, the city is teeming with history, both good and bad. Take any one of the free walking tours available, and it seems as if every corner has a story behind it. From the monks that founded Munich, to the king who fled in the face of the formidable Swedish army (who later returned after the army was defeated, bearing the gift of the golden Mary now in the main plaza as way poor way of saying ‘sorry’), to the Crystal Night (the night when window after window of Jewish homes and stores were smashed), to the Holocaust and the Gestapo and the horrors that followed. In the central cathedral, you’ll find a footprint on the ground which common legend says is the Devil’s footprint after he was tricked by the church-builders; on the other side of the old town, you’ll find a church that was rebuilt halfway authentic, and halfway in concrete, with clocks painted on every side of the bell-tower (why one would need eight clocks, no one really knows anymore). Sure, the beer in Munich is fantastic, and be sure to visit a beer-hall while in town. But…just remember, there’s more to Munich than the Hofbrauhaus and the Augustiner breweries!
Many think that this building is a church. Many also think that the New Town Hall is actually the old one due to its Gothic (revival) style – but in both cases, the onlooker would be wrong. This is, in fact, Munich’s Old Town Hall, located on Marienplatz. And old it is! First records show it existed in the 1390’s (while the New Town Hall was only constructed in the 1800’s, though most believe it is from the Middle Ages due to its Gothic design). See those arches at the bottom (mostly hidden by the crowd)? They are actually tunnels, cut into the original building to make way for pedestrian and vehicle passageways, which unfortunately have altered the original floor-plan. Most people think of Munich only in conjunction with Oktoberfest, which is a shame – Munich is an amazing city with far more to see than just the Hofbrauhaus! Though of course, a pint here or there only adds to the city’s character…