18 December 2009

Day 3: Munich

Museum trip, as I braved the coldest day of the year so far to venture into downtown Munich and its labyrinthine web of museums. I have previously visited two of its three major art museums, the Alte Pinakothek and the Neue Pinakothek, but decided against the Pinakothek der Moderne for this visit.

The first stop was the Münchner Stadtmuseum, the “State Museum,” housed in an old armory and which opened in 1888 to display the history of the city. The ground floor has exhibits from the medieval city, of which the most valuable objects are the “Morris Dancers,” figurines of Moorish-appearing performers that were sculpted by Erasmus Grassner in 1480 to adorn a newly constructed ballroom. The upper floors of the museum move through to modern Munich history (both the Beatles’ visit to Munich and Wagner’s connection to the city are covered with visual and audio displays). One of the new exhibits traces social changed in Munich through the 1920s until the Nazi takeover using the 1930 book Success (Erfolg) by Lion Feuchtwanger as the guide. This was a fascinating exhibit, which makes me wish I had read Feuchtwanger’s novel to see how it reflects Munich of the time. (The novel apparently has the same connection to Munich as Berlin Alexanderplatz has to Berlin.) Included in the exhibit was a copy of the first printing of Mein Kampf and a laser display over a map of Munich that allows you to trace to path of the Beer Hall Putsch and the murder of Kurt Eisner, the first prime minister after the end of the Wittelsbach Dynasty in 1918. Eisner’s murder by a right-wing extremist in February 1919 led to the culmination of the revolutionary movements in Munich post-World War I and the brief establishment of a communist government in the city—Räterepublik. None of the signs in the Stadtmuseum are in English, but the front desk gave me a booklet with translations of all the major plaques—and this certainly was a help understanding the Success “Revue.” I’ll have to see if I can find an English translation of this novel and read it.

After leaving the Stadtmuseum, I moved back to Marienplatz, had a mug of Gühlwein (which just gets better and better the colder the weather gets), then walked to the Augustiner Bierhalle, my favorite of the old beer halls in the city, to drink Radler and have the best Rote Reisenbratwurst (red sausage) I’ve ever tasted. Plus a big pretzel with honey mustard, but that almost goes without saying in Bavaria.

I then went to Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst München, the museum of Ancient Egyptian artifacts. The contents of the museum originate with the Antiquarium in the Residenz (indeed, the museum is housed in a section of the Residenz along the Hofgarten side) and the collections that Duke Albrecht V displayed there. King Ludwig I (died 1848) gathered many of the objects now on display, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that all the Ancient Egyptian artifacts were gathered into this single state museum. The objects range from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. The collection of artifacts from the famous 18th Dynasty (that of Akhenaten and Tutankhamen) is extensive and fills a large chamber. The most impressive object for me is an enormous papyrus of the Book of the Dead from the Ptolemaic Period, containing almost a hundred chapters. The papyrus stretches along nearly twenty feet of wall.

I emerged from the Egyptian museum from the back door and right into the same Christmas Market I was in on the first day, located in the Kaiserhof. I grabbed some more Glühwein and watched the current entertainment in the square: a traditional German hand puppet show for the children, resembling the British “Punch-n-Judy” performances. I couldn’t understand the story, except that there was a good puppet trying to catch a bad puppet, and both elicited advice from the crowd of cheering children. The kids were loving it.

I ambled out of the Kaiserhof and dropped briefly into the Theatinekirche, the Italian-style cathedral located on Odeonsplatz. When I came out, I walked up a street that put me in front of the major English-language bookstore in Munich, so I stepped in to see if they had an English translation of Success. Nope. When I next came upon an actual German-language bookstore, I found that Herr Feuchtwanger has quite a few books packed into the “Classics” section, and that Erfolg is a hefty-sized volume. I wonder how many Munich residents actually read this classic about their city.

And here is a mind-blowing fact I found out later in the day: Lion Feuchtwanger emigrated to the U.S. during World War II and from 1943 until his death in 1958 lived in . . . Pacific Palisades! Where I grew up, and where my parents still live. Weird. The most internationally famous of all Munich novelists lived in my Los Angeles suburb.

I also discovered that the Cornell Woolrich short story “Momentum”/“Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is called “Montreal Express” in the German translation. That must be some bit of German slang that I don’t understand.

I returned to Starnberg, and as I write this I am sitting in the restaurant Absofort, which is right beside where Colleen and Armin live. The Sauvignon Blanc is excellent.