16 December 2009

Day 1: Munich

Yesterday was actually two days . . . the eternity of the long European flight. Thank Odin I was riding First Class, the first time I’ve ever gotten the premium treatment. (I can thank my mother’s company for racking up the frequent flier miles to allow this.) The biggest benefit was actually off the plane, where I got to bypass the nightmare lines at passport control and go straight to the elegant lounge complete with immediate passport check-through, free beverages, and a cellist and violinist entertaining the guests. I did not want to go down to get my luggage and then struggle onto the S-Bahn, I just wanted to relax here and fall asleep.

Its snowed earlier today, but the Germans deny that it did. Just flakes floating around in the air, not snow. For the morning, I went with my sister and Diego to his doctor’s appointment in the suburb of Gauting. Last week, poor Diego tripped while running with a toothbrush (message here, kids) and punctured the back of his soft palate. Although it seems to be healing well, Colleen brought him to the doctor today to check on the healing, and the news was good.

We then headed into Munich proper, emerging from the S-bahn station into Marienplatz, the center of the city and a place I’ve come to know very well—except this time, it was in full Christmas Market mode. Immediately upon coming up from the S-bahn, I was overwhelmed with the aroma of the roasted chestnuts that are one of the specialties of these markets.
Christmas markets are ubiquitous in Germany during the Solstice season: every town square is filled with booths selling toys, hats, dolls, bratwurst, curios, and hot drinks. The Marienplatz market is one of the largest in Munich, although the largest in all of Germany is in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). We moved out of the market and went to one of the popular beer halls, Schneider Weisse, built in 1878 and which is famous for its Weiss beer. I had a Helles beer instead, since I’m not fond of Weiss beer. After this, we went to another of the Christmas markets: one inside the Kaiserhof courtyard of the Residenz, and heavily Alpine themed, with some creepy animated dioramas. I got a cup of the traditional hot spiced wine concoction, Gühlwein, which challenges the taste buds with a swarm of different flavors. The center of the market had a live performance by a famous local choir of sailors, who broke into an English-language performance of “Sailing, Sailing, Over the Bounding Main.”

After Colleen went back home with Diego (who wouldn’t have much tolerance for museums), I went into the Residenz itself. I’ve visited this palace of the Wittelsbach dynasty before, but was eager to see it again. The Bavarian royal family lived here for four hundred years—although re-loacting to the Nymphenburg Palace during summer. Most of the expansion of the Residenz happened under Duke, later Elector (a reward the Emperor gave him for his loyalty during the Thirty Years War) Maximilian I (1597–1651) in the early seventeenth century.
I took the longer tour of the palace this time, and saw most of the 130 rooms on public display. Tragically, many of the rooms had to undergo extensive reconstruction after bombing during World War II, and a recurring theme of many of the rooms is the lost artwork on the ceilings. This tour of the Residenz had an eerie feeling to it . . . the darkness outside from winter leaving the rooms in dim shadows with the indirect lighting, and the drifting sound of holiday music from the Christmas Market floating muffled through the walls.

The most impressive sight of the Residenz is the Antiquarum. Duke Albrecht V (1550–1579) had this room built to house his collection of—what else—antiquities. It’s a massive baroque domed hallway that is one of the most stunning sights in Munich. As I write this now, I’m sitting in the echoing hall, looking at the busts of Roman emperor seated along the wall and reading the many Latin incriptions on the arches. The one in front of me reads: IVSTITIA ETIAM HOSTIBVS DEBETVR, “Justice is owed even to enemies of the state.” I love that knowledge of Latin comes in handy even in a Germanic country.

My other favorite room in the Residenz is the Ancestral Hall, a narrow corridor with both walls filled with portraits of members of the Wittelsbach Dyntasy and their consorts.

I’m back now at Colleen and Armin’s home, having fun with jet lag and watching Diego open his Advent Calendar.