By Richard Carroll
Attention readers: The dates for the passion play referenced in this column are subject to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.
Munich has endured the passage of time. Standing tall with a welcoming smile, the Bavarian city retains a youthful exuberance, a vitality that tickles the heart. Here in the massive English Garden Park it's possible to meet the skilled river surfers who line up on either side of the fast-moving Eisbach River to share their dexterity on a standing wave that is rippling with a sense of humor. In tandem with the surfers, on hot summer days bikini-clad women demonstrate that fashion can happen with only a few threads of cloth and a floppy hat with a fluttering ribbon.
Founded in 1789, the world's largest public park stretches the length of Munich with an impressive 48 miles of jogging, cycling and walking paths, a lake to cool the day, a Japanese tea house, Greek temple, Chinese pagoda and four beer gardens. While the design is similar to an English country garden, here nude sunbathing is allowed.
The park is a respite within a city jammed with traffic that always seems to be moving with a positive rhythm, not unlike a classic ballet dancer who adores jazz and integrates the two into a passionate dance of the future. Domenico Zoccali, chief concierge at the family owned Eden Hotel Wolff, said, "I explain to the guests, we're neither a city nor a village but something in between. We have culture and art and a booming nightlife, and Munich is also the gateway to the northern edge of the Alps and Oberammergau and the passion play. I tell guests to see the heart of downtown you have to walk. The pulse of Munich is the sense of history with the great churches, historic museums and architecture."
Zoccali is spot-on: Munich is ranked third worldwide in a survey measuring the quality of life. Pedestrian walkways and large plazas in concert with cycle paths adjacent to the roadways are found throughout the city, and cyclists seem to be everywhere.
In Munich, a strange marriage of beer and high culture somehow works. Long noted as the beer capital of the world, Munich is home to some 20 working breweries and reportedly 1,000 beer gardens of all shapes and size. On a Sunday, families enjoy their favorite garden by laying out their cutlery on a tablecloth used only at the beer gardens and dining among strangers with camaraderie and conversation while sipping a frothy beer or two.
This is also a city noted for classical music, having hosted Mozart, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss and a host of other world-renowned composers, musicians and writers. The Bavarian National Museum is ranked among the world's finest, housing 1,600 treasures from the Baroque and Rococo periods in 12 elaborate halls. It shares the majesty of the courtly world in one of the most innovative and momentous museum buildings of its time.
Matchless art and culture continue in the illustrious Munich Residence Museum, circa 1623, the largest city palace in Germany with 10 courtyards and 130 rooms, perfect for the seat of the rulers who governed Bavaria in the 17th century and beyond. Opened in 1920, the palace museum showcases paintings, tapestries and furniture from the 16th century. Adjacent is the elegant Cuvillies Theatre, where Mozart once performed.
Marienplatz, or St. Mary's Square, entrenched in the center of Munich since 1158, is the city's foremost square. None of the towering monuments surrounding the square is more impressive than the tower of the New Town Hall, where each day at 11 a.m. and 12 and 5 p.m. the treasured Glockenspiel performs the "Cooper's Dance" to a large crowd. Originally enjoyed in 1517 to celebrate the end of the black plague, the "Cooper's Dance" has long been a Munich staple.
Nearby is the Viktualienmarkt, a marketplace with a 200-year history of presenting food stalls, farm fresh fruits and vegetables, a colossal selection of cheese, piles of freshly baked bread and a huge beer garden. Church bells ring at noon, a perfect notice for a lunch of small bites in the beer garden.
Munich is an ideal destination from which to make a visit to Oberammergau in 2020. The wood-carving village 42 miles southwest of Munich opens its arms to thousands of visitors from throughout the world every 10 years (the calendar falling on decimal years). An all-volunteer cast of 2,300 village residents performs the historic Passion Play in gratitude for the demise of the black plague that in 1633 ravaged the village and caused the deaths of an estimated 75 million to 200 million people across Europe and Asia. The first passion play was performed in 1634, and today in the relaxing 4,500-seat theater it's an unforgettable production.
WHEN YOU GO
The passion play will be performed May 16 to Oct. 4,, 2020. Check for tour offerings such as CroisiEurope's 2020 European River Cruise schedule, which includes Oberammergau's Passion Play. The seven-night cruise from Budapest to Munich also operates in reverse: www.croisieuroperivercruises.com.
For more information: www.germany.travel and www.passionplayoberammergau.com
Richard Carroll is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The elaborate Bavarian State Opera House overlooking Max-Joseph-Platz.in Munich, Germany, has hosted some of the world's great composers, including Wagner and Mozart. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski.