The Marienplatz is the heart of Munich and the site of its most important historic buildings. The square is dominated by the Neo-Gothic Town Hall featuring its famous Glockenspiel, both built in the 19th century. The Glockenspiel delights visitors when it chimes the hours every day at 11am, 12pm and 5pm with its 43 bells, accompanied by moving clockwork figures that display vignettes from Munich's history. The Town Hall has a tower that can be accessed by a lift. The centre of the square - which was once a vibrant farmer's market - features a statue of the Virgin Mary after which Marienplatz was named. Visitors can also explore a toy museum in the Old Town Hall on the square, and the Frauenkirche, Munich's cathedral, dating from the 15th century.
Munich's massive Olympic park complex was constructed for the 20th Olympic Games in 1972, but remains a marvel of modern engineering. Its main stadium is a like a massive tent, which can seat close on 70,000 spectators, topped by the largest roof in the world, extending for 720,000 square feet (66,890 sq metres) and made of tinted acrylic glass.
The roof collects rainwater which is used to fill the adjacent Olympic lake. Tent roof tours (with or without an abseiling option) are on offer. Visitors to the site can enjoy a spectacular view from the revolving restaurant and observation terrace which tops the 950-foot (290m) high Olympic Tower. Near the tower is the BMW Museum, which displays the history of Germany's famous automobile manufacturer. Far from being a remarkable 'white elephant', the park is still in constant use as a lively leisure and recreational centre for the city; on more than 200 days of the year it is the venue for rock and pop concerts, sports events, exhibitions and trade fairs.
About five miles (8km) from the city centre, accessible by tram and bus, is the interesting Schloss Nymphenburg, originally a summer home for the Munich aristocracy. The palace has been expanded, altered and fitted with various eccentricities by succeeding owners over the centuries since building began on it in 1664. Today it is a delight for tourists who revel in exploring the villa and grounds. Inside there are some interesting frescoes in the main hall. An arcaded gallery features a collection of 36 provocative paintings ordered by King Ludwig I showing the most beautiful women of his day. The surrounding park has some surprises too, with some interesting pavilions hidden among the English-style gardens. There are also collections of Ludwig's elaborate coaches on display, and a porcelain museum.
Munich's art museum houses one of the most important collections in Europe on two floors of a large neo-classical building. Nearly 1,000 paintings are on display featuring the work of the greatest European artists from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Highlights include works by Dutch and Flemish masters, as well as the Italian masters such as Botticelli and Titian. The gallery is massive, consisting of dozens of rooms, and requires a great deal of time to explore thoroughly.
The fairytale castle built by King Ludwig II (known as 'Mad King Ludwig' until his death in 1886) has become the trademark of the German state of Bavaria, with its Gothic wedding-cake tiers and towers. Day tours to the castle are available from Munich, or self drive via Garmisch. From the parking lot there is a steep half-mile (one km) climb to the castle, but one can ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The interior of the castle is as extravagant as its outer aspect, particularly the King’s apartments, which are decorated entirely with hand-embroidered silk, elaborate wall and ceiling paintings, and carvings.
The name Berchtesgaden is most closely associated with Adolf Hitler's country house, but it is in fact a delightful Bavarian alpine village with ancient winding streets and a medieval marketplace, popular as a side trip from Munich. Hitler's holiday house, the Berghof, is actually at Obersalzberg about half a mile (2km) up the Kehlstein Mountain.
Afternoon bus tours to the Fuhrer's playground can be undertaken from the tourist office in the village, but there is little to see besides some underground bunkers which are open to the public. Most tourists, however, do delight in visiting the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle's Nest, a remarkable building perched precariously atop the mountain, which was originally commissioned by Martin Bormann as a 50th birthday present for Hitler. The notorious Nazi leader seldom visited it because of his fear of heights.
Today it is the site of an excellent Bavarian restaurant and provides breathtaking views at the end of a stunning winding mountain road. The town of Berchtesgaden itself has some interesting attractions, besides its 16th-century architecture and enticing inns. There is a small wood-carving museum at Schloss Aldelsheim which can be viewed on a guided tour offered on weekdays at 10am and 3pm. Wood sculptures, Renaissance furniture and some art works are worth seeing at the Konigliches Schloss, which was originally an Augustinian monastery. The most fun to be had, however, is in the salt mines to the east of the town, which offers guided tours. Visitors wear protective clothing and ride on wagons to the mine, then explore the mine on foot and ride miner's slides, finishing with a trip on the salt lake ferry.
The tours run daily, all year round. The mine has been in operation since 1517. Berchtesgarten also boasts a world-class ice-skating rink, the Eisstadion, which is sought after by winter sports enthusiasts in the winter months, along with the skiing opportunities in the surrounding area.
Dachau Memorial Site
About 10 miles (16km) to the northwest of Munich on the Stuttgart Autobahn is the town of Dachau, once a quiet artists' community that became the site of the first notorious Nazi 'death camp', where thousands of perceived enemies of the Third Reich were imprisoned, starved, and killed between 1933 and 1945. The camp has now been turned into a memorial museum to the prisoners (67,000 were liberated alive by the US Army on April 28, 1945). The museum contains three memorial chapels. The Lagerstrasse, the main camp road, still exists lined with poplar trees but only two of the original 32 barracks that lined it remain, having been rebuilt to illustrate the conditions endured by the prisoners. The original kitchen, laundry and shower block is now a museum containing exhibits, photographs and documents depicting the persecution of Jews and other prisoners.
One of the most beautiful lakes in the Bavarian Alps, Chiemsee boasts two islands and is lined with resorts. It can be reached by train from Munich in an hour, or by road via the A8 Autobahn. Visitors can take a steamer cruise around the lake from Prien on the west shore to explore the islands in the lake. Frauenchiemsee is the smaller island, site of a quaint fishing village with some colourful traditional customs, and a Benedictine nunnery known for its liqueur. The larger island, Herrenchiemsee, bears one of King Ludwig's famous fairytale castles. This one was never completed, but was intended to be a replica of the palace of Versailles. The centre of the palace still stands, complete with a splendid hall of mirrors and surrounded by gardens and woodland. It is an extremely popular tourist attraction with its gaudy splendour.
To experience the best of medieval Germany, hundreds of visitors drive, bus or cycle their way along the Romantic Road, a 180-mile (290km) route between Munich and Frankfurt that links together a string of quaint, well-preserved walled towns dating back a thousand years or more. The towns en route have banded together to market their attractions and ensure Romantic Road travellers are well informed and accommodated. Bicycles can be rented at any train station along the road, and tourist offices along the route provide maps and information. Best known of the towns on the Romantic Road is Rothenburg in the Tauber River Valley. Other favourites among the cute towns are Dinkelsbuhl and Nordlingen.
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