May 2013
More photos here

Tuesday 30th April

I know that this is not going to make for a gripping narrative but all went tediously smoothly, travel-wise. My last pre-flight email reminder from easyJet had said that I MUST check in online, which seemed a bit of an exaggeration, but no - from today everyone has to check in on line as only bag drop (aka The New Check in) is available at the airport. This was a bit surprising, but progress through the new big automated hall of gates and security went without a hitch. I was hoping to check out the new and supposedly spiffy Kobo Aura HD ebook in the W.H.Smith, but the NEW models in store at the airport were all old models, darnit.

So, skipping all the smooth progress, the train from Munich airport takes us, with no need for interchange, all the way to the Marienplatz station, a short stroll from our hotel, the Mercure Altstadt, and we check in. The room is big enough, has precisely the right number of hangers, free and strong wifi and tea-making equipment (aka a kettle). Perfect. Also being central but in a quite quiet side street makes for a room where you can have your window open.

We make for the Prince Myshkin in the evening, a very well- reported veggie restaurant. It's a bit big and arty, and I have the worst (rocket and parmesan) pizza ever. But Jane liked her creamy asparagus soup, weird spinach and ricotta gnocchi, (like balls of s&r stuffing) and her tomato salad, despite my accidentally adding an odd prosecco element to the dressing on the latter. The evening stroll after, though, saw us finding a promising-looking ice cream parlour, called Schuhbeck. This promise was born out by a tub of two flavours - pine nut and strawberry with cardamom. They also had pickled gherkin flavour. I think we'll be going back there during this coming week, quite often. Back to the hotel, to ask the guy on the desk if tomorrow or Monday is a May Day holiday. (We'd spotted a maypole.) Tomorrow is the holiday, it turns out, which puts paid to our intention of getting straight down to some gallery-going.


Wednesday 1st May

More advantages with my hotel room, in comparison with recent rooms stayed in - firstly plenty of well-positioned electric sockets, for charging and computer-using (and lots of network sockets too, which are a bit of a relic now, given the ubiquity of wifi). Also pillows which aren't flat and/or hard, church bells which ring nearby at a decent time and a silent-piped bathroom. As to the breakfast...all the usual meats and cheeses, good bread, and for me a choice of mueslis (I mixed the fruit and the Caribbean ones with a sugar-puff garnish), fresh pastries, and the orange juice comes from a large self-service juicing machine which spits out orange-peel halves. And very good coffee too. So, a happy man ventures forth to explore, familiarise and see a few churches. This being an advisable thing to do as the holiday means that the shops and galleries are all closed.

To the Michaelskirche first, which has mostly been run by Jesuits and which has an interior highly decorated and populated, but not too goldy (see right). Saints Cosmas and Damian's heads are here, but the reliquary is only opened on feast days. There's also access to the crypt under some boards to the right of the apse, and an atmospheric crypt it is too. It has a grill in the ceiling which offers the souls below access to the church. Also impressive back upstairs is a memorial to Eugene Beauharnais, which has a bit of a Canova look to it. Somewhat surprising is a tondo said to depict the Japanese Jesuit martyrs crucified near Nagasaki in 1597. Who knew?

Walking towards Karlsplatz took us by, and into, the Bürgersall (Citizens' Hall). It's a more colourful but smaller church, where going through the front door presents you with the crypt, and the main church is up stairs to left and right. There was a sparsely attended service going on up there. This church is a little later and more baroque-seeming than the Michaelskirche, not least because of its colourfulness (see below right). There's a good deal of more modern decoration here too. The crypt actually describes itself as the lower church, and consists of a nave and two aisles dominated by some oddly diorama-like polychrome wooden statues of the stations of the cross. Father Rupert Mayer's remains are buried here, and there's a museum devoted to this Jesuit pastor who was part of the Resistance during the Nazi period, and later canonised.

Some strolling in the sunshine took us through Promenadeplatz which has two statues, the plinths of which have been made into shrines to Michael Jackson and his monkey Bubbles - they get one plinth each. I'm not kidding! See the photo, right - Bubbles' shrine is just beyond MJ's. Not the most bizarre thing I've ever seen, but pretty darn close.

The last church of the morning was the Theatinerkirche, dedicated to St Cajetan of Thienne, founder of the Theatine order. The interior was pale and looming but fully decorated, similar to the Michaelskirche only bigger. I have to say I was taken with both these churches for being baroque but airy and relaxing (see right), where some heavily decorated baroque churches can sometimes leave you breathless. Like the Michaelskirche we paid
2 each to go down into the crypt, but this one was less impressive and atmospheric, but still had lots of dead emperors, and their children. All three churches also provided little guidebooks which matched and were equally well-written and interesting.

To the Rathous for some lunch in the basement Ratskeller restaurant in surroundings very historical. I had a tasty something called Käsepätzle, which was cheesy pasta bits topped with fried onions with a tomato salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Jane had pasta with asparagus. It only remained to find the yummy Schuhbeck ice cream place from last night (mango with chilli and bounty for me; honey and ginger for Jane) and return to the hotel for a rest, passing all sorts of May Day jollity.

In the evening we walked up to Leopoldstrasse to see the reported art nouveau buildings, but didn't find any. We did find hoards of Bayern Munich fans, though, sitting outside bars and not being at all rowdy - presumably there was a game locally, or not. We walked back through the English Garden, which was good for reviving green smells and dogs.



Thursday 2nd May

The day dawns dingy and noisy, but at least the noise (of distant banging) started after I woke up. A day to make a start on gallery-going, then, and to revel in the shops being open again. We found a (closed) branch of the twice-tested wonderful ice cream shop in a relentlessly shiny shopping mall near our hotel last night, but too near for two flavours to be finished before we get back, maybe.  To breakfast, and then the Alte Pinakothek (Old Art Gallery). Jane had 'done' the place last year so she decided to give the modern art museum a visit. But I'd only just reached the Memlings when I felt a presence - Jane - the modern art museum, after much circling and following signs, had turned out to be closed, until September, with no notice until you reached the door, and no word on their website. Poor show, we agreed - almost Italian in its disorganisation.

The Alte Pinakothek gives good Northern Renaissance, with Memling, Dieric Bouts and Rogier van der Weyden giving of their best. Some good Dürers  too, especially his Christ-like portrait, of course. The Italians start well with small works by Giotto and Gaddi, some nice Fra Angelico predella panels and a wonderful little Masolino Virgin and Child. The Filippo Lippi Annunciation was away being seen to, unfortunately, but Ghirlandaio's panels for a high altarpiece in Santa Maria Novella in Florence where a joy to see, finally. Perugino's Vision of Saint Bernard and a Botticelli Lamentation impressed unusually too, the latter being a rare, for me, serious religious Botticelli. Some good Titians and Tintorettos were followed by much middling Dutch stuff and three huge rooms of huge Rubens bodies. He's far from a favourite of mine, so I skipped through to the room with two rather good big Tieplolos (one better, and later, than the other) which also had a likeable darkish Barocci. The best bits of Dutch art were in a small room which had a Ter Borch painting of a boy defleaing his dog, a small Saenredam and a Carel Fabritius self-portrait - a corner well worth the trip. Oh, and a small painting of a woman reading in a darkened interior by someone called Elinga was spiffy too. I'd say that this gallery is a well-worthwhile visit for us connoisseurs, but that there is little here that's famous and unique - the Northern renaissance stuff, including the Dürers being the most essential. My audioguide packed in at this stage, so going to swap it was taken as our cue for lunch. This was taken in the gallery cafe and consisted of toasted bagels with cream cheese and tea. Mine was a plum and marzipan fruit tea, which was surprisingly tasty, as fruity teas are often more smell than taste, I find.

The after-lunch session took in some fluffy French stuff, (including Fragonard's semi-pornographic Girl with a Dog) and some Guardis and Canalettos, but returns were diminishing so we decided to buy some postcards (and a pencil rubber shaped like the Dürer bunny) and head back for a rest. The trip back provided me with a slice of fruit cake with cherries, almonds and sultanas (helpfully wrapped in corrugated paper, which made a good impromptu plate, see photo) and some chocolate. Art, cake, chocolate, and rubber rabbits -  life is good.

On our pre-prandial evening stroll we found the Asamkirche, but it had closed at 6.00. We will return, tomorrow probably. We asked at the hotel for a good Italian restaurant locally and came up trumps with the Bella Italia. Jane went for the vegetable-topped pizza but I ordered one with tomato and garlic, and got a pizza topped with just tomato paste and garlic - no cheese. Odd but good. At one stage I saw a waiter mixing up some pasta in a large bowl for a distant table. It turned out it wasn't a big bowl but a large hollowed-out parmesan. Not seen that before. My somewhat minimal pizza did mean that I undoubtedly deserved an ice cream, though, and this time it was almond honey and coconut.


Friday 3rd May

A bit blurry this morning, having stayed up until 1.00 watching the last three episodes of Broadchurch on my tablet. Marvellous stuff, but one mystery remains: near the end she goes home to get some clothes and spots a slug on her living room floor and squishes it. What was that all about? And the internet tells me that the Schuhbeck ice cream joint I've been raving about is part of a huge foodie empire involving many restaurants, shops and even cookery schools run by Bavaria's celebrity chef, like the German Jamie Oliver. Which takes the edge off my enthusiasm a bit.

This morning we're off into more churches. To the Asamkirche first, after yesterday evening's disappointment, and disappointment rules, as there's now a sign up saying the church doesn't open today until 1.00. Swearing quietly we move on to the Frauenkirche, which, despite being big and tall and pale, was also dingy and uninteresting. I was very unsmitten, to say the least. All the sideways-oriented side chapels have metal-grill gates, mostly firmly closed and so you can't even get in and look closer at the paintings which look, that word again, dingy anyway. It's odd to say but I also felt the church was too tall inside - a proportion thing maybe.

Oh well, in such moods there's nothing for it but to go and look at architectural drawings. The Kunsthalle had an exhibition dedicated to Karl Friedrich Schinkel, a fave architect of ours, and the subject of a fine exhibition at the V&A in the 80s if my memory serves. He came from Berlin, as did almost all of the exhibits in this very impressive and unsmall exhibition. Although an architect Schinkel also did impressive paintings, imaginary views and theatre set designs, all of them with a strong flavour of the classical and the monumental. He had a thing for the classical and ruins, but his drawings and views always buffed up his sources and made them look restored and fresh. My only complaint would be the lack of models, odd for an exhibition devoted to an architect. There was only one, in fact. Duly revived and stimulated we decided to go for some further reviving in the gallery cafe. Jane had the asparagus soup, of course, and I had a mozza-tom baguette, lightly toasted. For cake I plumped for the dampfnudel, a typical local pastry which my guidebook describes as a dumpling with a vanilla-caramel sauce. Imagine my surprise then in being served a light sponge with a vanilla sauce topping, sprinkled with cinnamon. The overall effect was like a light Chelsea bun covered in vanilla custard. And lovely.

The guidebook had also recommended a classical record shop nearby called Zauberflote so we went to check it out. It turned out to be a shop with very much too much stock for its floor space, resulting in new releases in different categories piled high on desks and tables. I got the nice man to show me the Early Music piles, this being my current thing, and found two CDs of Renaissance instrumental music new to me, and reader I bought them. They were rather expensive, but you've got support such small local specialist shops, haven't you? Returning to our hotel we decided to check out the Asamkirche again, and the door was open! But it only gained you entry to the vestibule area at the back of the church. A pair of large locked iron gates prevented entry into the actual church, so you could see enough through the bars to know that you really wanted to get in and have a look around, but you couldn't. Fingers crossed next time we try we'll be able to reach the final stage of this build up of anticipation.

Our evening walk was a bit short this evening, due to a late start, so it just consisted of finding and looking around Saturn. This being a shop like we don't have in the UK anymore, with huge stocks of DVDs and CDs and much electrical gadgetry. This hardware/software mix actually never really fully existed in my country, and even Fnac in France seem to be diluting this model more than somewhat with hardly any CDs now. Back to the Bella Italia - I had the parmesan, rocket and cherry tomato pizza and so - finally -  got to tuck into a real and proper-topped pizza after recent oddities.

The Asamkirche Frustration (which is NOT a Robert Ludlum novel).
Last night's locked door (above) and this afternoon's
 gazing through the locked iron gates (below). Maybe next time?

Saturday 4th May

To the Residenz this morning after trying the Asamkirche again, and finding it open! Sat in, soaked up and enjoyed it in all of its jaw-dropping baroqueness. Bought the booklet too, and discovered that  the tongue of St John of Nepomuk, to whom the church is dedicated, is here. It's called the Asamkirche for Egid Quirin Asam, the stuccoist responsible for its building.

The Residenz's big hugeness means you buy various tickets covering the different bits. We kept to the Museum ticket, which covers the state rooms, basically. Not being big on crowns and stuff we figured we didn't need to visit the treasury, and the Cuvillies theatre only opens in the afternoon, by which time we figured we'd be knackered. And we were. Just the museum/state rooms takes a good few hours even if, like us, you skip a lot of the porcelain and silver. Lots of rooms and decoration to admire, though, including, and especially, the Antiquarium (see photo right) a lovely long long room in a renaissance style and the multi-coloured marble riot of the Private Chapel of Maximilian I (see below right). There's also a room with a spectacular trompe-l'œil ceiling (see below) and some odd and interesting ceiling paintings by Peter Candid, an artist discovered earlier in our trip, who became court painter here after a trip to Florence.

Lunch at the Kunsthalle cafe again. I thought that I was going to try something different today, until a mystery word turned out to be the German for turkey. So I had the same as yesterday (a mozzarella and tomato panini) but this time it had mustard in it. Not a combination I would have thought of, but one which I now recommend. For cake I had a slice of sacher torte which oddly I'd never had before, even in Vienna, but which I now hope to have again, and often.


In the evening we made for the Trinity Church, which has ceiling paintings by Cosmas Damian Asam, the brother of the chap responsible for the Asamkirche, but only managed to get into the behind-the-iron-gates vestibule, like with the Asamkirche, and peer in and up. Looked interesting, and cross-shaped. Another church we walked to had a service starting, so after finding some old city wall (see below right) and a brief bookshop visit, we made for the Ratskeller in the Rathous where we went on the first day. I had the asparagus risotto, with a tomato sauce, which was most yummy, and my first autonomous ordering of an asparagus-based menu item.



Sunday 5th May

Today we'd planned to do our duty and visit Dachau concentration camp, but the fleshy pleasures of the Nymphenburg Palace weakened our resolve. A fifteen-minute ride on a number 17 tram took us almost to the gates. Our immediate vicinity on the tram also contained two dogs, one small and white and one large and brown and we encountered these dogs, and their owners, many times during the day, as you do. The blue sky and sunshine encouraged getting straight down to exploring the garden pavilions - a joint ticket gets you access to all four pavilions and the coach museum and the house. They're all sweet and worth a visit, even if they mostly tend towards the rococo and rampant chinoiserie. There is a mock-ruined chapel, though, which is actually a grotto, and a strange big bath-house. The gardens themselves are big on trees and short of flowers, seemingly going more for the Germanic forest effect than gardeny prettiness. The state apartments are a bit modest after the Residenz yesterday, but include the grand audience hall and King Ludwig's Gallery of Beauties. The latter is a room full of 36 paintings commissioned by the King of the beauties of Munich, from all walks of life, because, we are old, he thought that beauty was a sign of moral purity, or some such guff. We'd embarked on the state rooms after finding the restaurant in the park heaving and with no free tables, so the short time it took was a godsend for our empty bellies, soothed by a couple of cream-cheese-filled pretzels. And later a piece of Hawaiian coconut sponge, to go with my tea as I type this prior to my deserved Sunday doze.


In the evening we went to find the art nouveau buildings of Leopaoldstrasse again, this time cunningly equipped with a book of walks, called Only in Munich, which has a walk devoted to them. But it turns out that they are all pretty far from Leopoldstrasse. We took a U-bahn up to Freiheit, and then it's a walk west along Herzogstrasse and south down Romerstrasse need the book really. But the houses are pretty marvellous, and worth the (pretty long) walk. For some pics see below right, in the entry for Monday. The one furthest below is especially odd - the house all looked like the right-hand side once, it seems, until the left-hand side was modernised, and the building became the most bizarre mixture of styles you've ever seen in the one house.  Back to the Bella Italia, which was very unbusy tonight, for the parmesan, rocket and cherry tomato pizza, again, it's so nice. I am not a boozer, although I do like tasty beer, but I have been having one with every meal this holiday, because this is a fine town for draught weissbier (wheat beer) and it's my most favourite. Cheers.


Monday 6th May

To the Neue Pinakothek today - the name of the gallery means 'new art' as in contemporary art when the collection, and the gallery, was being built. We have King Ludwig I to thank for the collection, as with the Alte Pinakothek.  I'll admit to no great knowledge of even the big names here, but there's some impressive (not to say jaw-dropping) stuff on show. Your progress around the gallery makes a figure of eight and goes up and down levels in a pleasing way. The gallery experience is in every way pleasant,  due to the impressive design of the building and some eyeball-resting little stone niches. The art begins with some yawn-inducing rooms of sub-Poussin classical landscapes but then settles into a constantly surprising roller-coaster of, for example, some fine, typical and memorable Casper David Friedrich paintings, through some weird subject-matter, on up to a big room full of mind-boggling huge history paintings that you can't help getting sucked into and want to know what's going on in. One memorable wall contained an autopsy (look, here's a white naked bosom!), some monkeys appreciating a painting, an ecstatic-looking woman gazing at a crucifix in bed and some young woman from classical myth getting resurrected (look, two naked bosoms!) I think I enjoyed this gallery more than the old art on Thursday because there the names were mostly famous but the paintings were not their best, whereas here you're looking at a much narrower range, nationally and in time, but you're obviously looking at the most telling examples, he said politely. And it was all so much newer to me.

Minds duly boggled we visited the gallery cafe for a statutory mozza/tom panino and a slice of oddly pale carrot cake (apologies for the oddly-composed photo, taken by Jane with her phone.) Afterwards we took in the special exhibition devoted to Johann Christian Reinhart, a painter whose paintings upstairs we'd found pretty tedious, but whose sketches, drawings and prints in the exhibition were pretty nice. (And yes I do appreciate how that 'his drawings are better than his paintings' comment is becoming a bit of an exhibition-going cliché, but here it's true.) The shop provided postcards (but not one of the Still Life with Asparagus), a guide in English, but not the full collection catalogue, of course, and a plush exhibition guide in German that I had to buy. And what subject would be of such interest that a catalogue in German had to be bought? You (probably) guessed it - 19th Century German painters of Venice.

We thought that we'd check out St Peter's church on this evening's walk, but when we got there a service was in progress. We waited at the back, seeing enough to whet our appetites, but various endings, at which points people were leaving, proved never to be final. We gave up, but we do have a few hours tomorrow morning before we need to go to the airport, so we may return. Ate asparagus risotto with Weissbier in the Ratskeller again, and went for a final ice cream from
Schuhbeck's - mascarpone fig and pear. And what with the long gallery visit, the church having a service on, and the evening rain, today I took no photos at all! Unprecedented.


See Sunday evening.


Tuesday 7th May

At breakfast there was a new pastry in the basket. It was small and Danish-pastry shaped with some of its filling paste oozing out, which looked dark like sausage meat, but turned out to be...cinnamon!  A good long morning in prospect, as our flight doesn't leave until 5.20, so we went back to the Peterskirche (St Peters), as our visit last night had been drastically limited by there being a service on. We arrived and sat and admired before exploring, but then realised that another service was due to start in 5 minutes. So a very rushed wander and photograph before we are stopped doing such things. I did get a photo of the creepy skeleton in jewelled robes in a glass coffin though (see right). So we left somewhat pissed off, but get soothed by the interior of the nearby Heilliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit). It's lofty but nicely proportioned and daintily and pastelly decorated by our new heroes, the Asam brothers (see far right). An uncommon curved ambulatory around the back of the altar and an ornate spiral staircase add to the positives, but a fragrant tramp sitting right by said staircase was a bit of a negative, I have to admit.

Looking in our guidebook for more church-visit action we found not one but two churches called St Anne's, facing each other. They're just beyond the ring road, and behind the impressive pseudo-gothic Bavarian Government building. The Annakirche (Parish Church of St Anne) is an absolute gem (see right and below). Built 1887-92 it's Romanesque in design and full of the best decoration, frescoes and mosaic work. This is one of those perfect churches where everything fits in and builds. Except for the organ, maybe, which made a bit too much of a (shouty) statement, we thought. 

Opposite is the smaller Klosterkirche St Anna (the Abbey church of St Anne) which was built 1727-33 and so was Munich's first Rococo church. It's oval in shape and decorated by the Asam brothers, in characteristically unrestrained fashion with, for example, bare-breasted smiling girly angels and putti playing hide and seek amongst sculpted fabric (see below right). A real and characteristic Munich treat for just before we made for the airport.


No real problems on the journey home, apart from some noisy and badly-controlled children, each accompanied by the usual pair of my-lack-of-parenting-skills-is-your-problem parents. It quite took me back to Stoke Newington. The traditional chip-shop return-home tea, and greeting from the pair of bemused cats, embellished this time by a dead mouse gift on the front room carpet. Nice.


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