14 July 2007

Day 17: Munich–Starnberg

The “dance” in Starnberg didn't have any actual dancing; at least, no dance floor. It was an outdoor concert with an excellent swing band done in the style of Benny Goodman’s great band of 1938. In fact, the band only played pieces from the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert: “Don’t Be That Way,” “Loch Lomond,” “Life Goes to a Party,” and “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing).” Excellent stuff, but no place to dance and no female dancers. So I made do with Colleen and Melanie, and the both followed well and everyone had a good time.

Today, I decided to split off from the rest of the family. They planned to go to the picturesque town of Garmisch and make a hike through a gorge. I felt I had seen enough Bavarian country towns; I felt I had to explore the magnificent museums of Munich much more than I had so far. My interests lie that way, and the rest of the family has a limited tolerance for art museums. So I took off on my own.

First stop, a church I had bypassed earlier: Asam Kirche. Named after the two brothers who designed it in the early 18th century, this small church nestles between the other buildings on Sendlinger Tor Straße. It’s insanely Baroque. Extreme Baroque. Crazy Baroque. How does anyone preach in something so ornate? Wouldn’t the bishop spend most of his time saying to the congregation, “Wow, is this one doozy of a church or what? Those suckers in Colorado Springs and their mega churches: nothing. We got us a rococo monster right here!”
So, then using my newfound skills navigating the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, I zipped up to the museum district, which is near Königsplatz and the Propyläen, the massive gate built by architect Leo von Klenze in 1862 in imitation of the approach to the Acropolis in Athens. Inside the inscriptions are all in Greek. I’ve mentioned the gate before, but this was the first time I really explored it. Here’s a photo:
The area around the Propyläen has a classic design unlike the more crowded central areas of Munich. Here stands most of the major art museums, and my destination was Munich’s most famed art museum, The Alte Pinakothek. King Ludwig I started construction in 1826 and finished the initial building in 1836 to house the extensive art collections of the Wittelsbachs. Many European museums have based their designs on the Pinakothek. It was an amazing experience to walk through it: the collections here must be second only to the Louvre, especially in the department of Flemish art. The audio tour has an excellent design with headphones and great detail about the paintings. I immediately ran into a Hieronymous Bosch, then proceeded to Albrecht Dürer’s legendary Christ-like self-portrait. There are also works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Hans Holbein the Elder, Matthias Grünewald, Titian, Rembrandt, and van Dyck.

The true star of the collection, however, is Peter Paul Rubens. The museum has gathered more Rubens paintings into its collection than anywhere else in the world. The painting of his that most impressed me was the action-packed Lion Hunt from 1621. Ruben’s Honeysuckle Bower painted with his first wife for their wedding is a touching portrait of love. Holy Family is a beautifully subdued and realistic view of Madonna and Child that contrasts with the more grandiose versions you see in museums from earlier periods.

However, my favorite painting in the museum is an enormous canvas by Albrecht Altdorfer, The Battle of Issus, dated 1529. A huge battle vision, with uncountable soldiers, and a “cosmic” view of the landscape in the background. The picture in the book I bought from the museum cannot do justice to the actual painting. Breathtaking. Sorry that you have to see it so reduced:
I spent two hours in Alte Pinakothek. I left very hungry, and decided I would finally grab myself a hardcore American lunch. I went to the Hard Rock café, located across from Hofbräuhaus. It took forever to get served, but that bacon cheeseburger was sumptuous.

Now, back to the museum area, jetting back on a combined U-Bahn and S-Bahn trip, to the Museum of Antiquities. They were closing in half an hour, so I got a nice reduced rate. I didn’t need much time there, because all the signs are in German and there’s no audio tour so it’s a bit tough to understand exactly what each exhibit is. I still got to behold some great Grecian art and artifacts from the Mycenaean Age, well over 3,500 years old. I love Mycenaean archaeology, and the Germans were the first to explore the field. Thank you, Heinrich Schliemann.

Back home, arriving at Colleen and Armin’s house at 6:30 p.m., in time to head out to another biergarten to meet some more of Colleen and Armin's friends. The weather was so pleasant that we stayed for a long time in the outdoor tables. I've come to like Ruß’n, a Weißbier mixed with a lemon soda, and we had Paulaner brand, which Reed has decided is his favorite. Still not a beer fan, but this Ruß’n stuff is quite refreshing and not too heavy. (Update: I think I prefer the Radler, which is the Hellesbier mixed with lemon soda.)

The rest of the family enjoyed their trip to the gorge, and everybody is fully worn out after an extremely full day. Cuba seems to be getting better at walking.

Amazing to think that the trip is almost over. However, I'll admit that I'm eager to get back home.