Heavy rain blurs the soft beauty of the Englische Garten below, and swells the swift streams that curl down from the Alps and wriggle through this city park. Herr Edelmann, wearing a long, satin robe, stands by the window, talking of how calming the garden is, how on most afternoons its myriad still lifes can exorcise the stresses of what economists have come to call the German miracle. How this garden never fails to make him think of Berlin past: of an Imperial Berlin he never knew but envisions as having been filled with lean and monocled Prussian faces, high-stepping horses, the Tiergarten full of roses and fair, blonde, leaping little girls; of a Berlin of the '30s that he remembers as being the gayest and most kinetic city in Europe.
Ah, he sighs, a city for the gods—until R√∂hm's troopers began marching, began to extinguish its spirit. Edelmann then suggests that it is a day fit for Wagner; "What day in Germany isn't tit for him." he adds. The music fills the apartment, and one's eyes move through the living room that groans with antiquity: first editions, an 18th-century Dutch primitive, a 13th-century Gothic stable lantern, a small clock made just before the French Revolution, all of it the harvest of a lifetime spent passionately stalking civilization. Now the pursuit, says Edelmann, seems to have slowed down for him, and much of what he loved in the world seems gone. The cities that once moved him lie in dolorous ruin, and the Philistines are amuck. "I gather comfort," he says, "from the fact that I live here in Munich. The greatest city in Get many. It is all that old Berlin ever was."
Certainly no other city in Germany more deserves the dubious prestige of the coming Olympics. Munich, a third of which was bombed nearly to dust in World War II, now stands as a celebration of the rebirth of a people, and its national prestige soars above all others. Though the word "parvenu" is often used by some Prussians to describe Munich, what other city even threatens us position? Berlin is a political sentry and a shopwindow toward the East. Bonn is a town hall, a place where politicians try to talk to each other. Frankfurt's soul has been destroyed by heavy occupation, the sinister frontier mentality in Cologne is abrasive, and Stuttgart has a German version of the Klondike atmosphere. As for Hamburg, always evoking senatorial grandeur, it prefers to mind its own prosperous affairs and does not hold with public display.
So with a continence of factors—geography, the influx of a colorful subculture and the Bavarian tendency toward tolerance—Munich has become the center, the secret capital of Germany. Or Paradise on the Isar. That is what Edelmann calls it, though he is not certain it will ever be the same after the barbaric intrusion of the Olympics. For the present, however, he will defend his turgid phrase, claiming that he is in good company by recalling the prose raptures of Thomas Wolfe on Munich and the word Thomas Mann used to exalt the city—incandescent. Adolf Hitler was as effusive. He wrote: "There was a love that possessed me for this city, more than any other town I knew. almost from the first moment I arrived. A German city!" Edelmann grimaces, falls silent, then agrees there is a macabre irony in the fact that Hitler, and the scenes of his rise to power, are the largest tourist magnet in Munich; Hitler a tourist attraction when the architecture of Munich alone has been, he says, "The kings' notebooks of travel!"
May 21, 1972
Yet, before all else, the name Munich is an emotive one, awakening images of chilling political abuse and infamous events like Neville Chamberlain's squalid pact for the surgery on Czechoslovakia. All of that past is here: the Fuhrer's mountain aerie at nearby Berchtesgaden; the Hofbr√§uhaus beer cellar where Hitler used to speak and where the party claimed one of its first martyrs, a comrade who was hit in the head by a flying beer mug during a brawl with Communists: the B√ºrgerbr√§u beer cellar, now festooned with Coca-Cola signs, where he started his Putsch that was aborted by rifle fire—enough to send Hitler in flight and Goering to safety behind a stone lion that is still there; and finally Dachau.
The people of Munich are not oblivious to what went on here, but the questions, the prosecution by their own young, the ceaseless flow of tourists to Dachau and all the other places, have left them empty behind a second skin. If pressed, they stubbornly try to refute the popular "notion," as they will term it, that Munich was the cradle of Nazism. They point out that Munich was the only place that threw Hitler into jail. They insist that Hitler gained his power in Prussian Berlin, that his electorate strength came from East Prussia, Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein. Look at the speeches of Cardinal Faulhaber, the bravery of the students and their teacher—the "White Rose" resistance—that held out hope for German redemption.
But move out of the deep shade of history, suppress a feeling of wariness, and you will come upon a city worthy of world recognition. A city conceived and nurtured by a most unusual royal family, a city that in spite of the Bavarian character, with its earthy preferences and loud aversion to change, has a heady international flavor. It is more than a city where a mad king once lived, or a city that swims in beer and erupts each year into the animalism of the Oktoberfest, or a city of dirndls and the comic, florid faces of men wearing leather shorts. It is more than the city that some have come to look upon as a sort of erotic cornucopia in the Alps, canopied by a Mediterranean sky. It is a city that exists for people, one that promotes the novel idea that life can, indeed, be worth living in an urban area. If decay ever threatens, and surely it will, Munich has the vigor to shake it from its tough old bones.
The third largest city in Germany (1,300,000) and slightly over 800 years old, Munich was founded in a manner expressive of the Bavarian personality. The Duke of Bavaria, Henry the Lion, was annoyed with the Bishops of Freising, whose greed was wrecking an ancient route for salt traders. The traders had to pay a heavy toll to cross the river bridge at F√∂hring—that is, until the duke decided to burn the bridge down and build a new one several miles south at a tiny village called Munichen. The duke's action is a typical Bavarian response to arguments of the blood, or nettlesome provocation; no diplomacy, pure clout. Anyway, the new bridge lured more traders than ever before and Munich was on its way, though not much really happened to the city until about 150 years ago when it was exposed to the vision and taste of Wittelsbach rule.
To say that the Wittelsbachs were peculiar is understatement, but to merely dismiss them all as hopelessly psychotic is injustice. Few rulers have left their mark so indelibly on a place as the Wittelsbachs did on Munich during the 19th century.
The first third of that century was dominated by Ludwig I, whose ambition was to bring the light and warmth and culture of Italy and Greece to Munich. He was a man of persistent will, a careful builder who was rigidly cautious with money; long after his abdication he remarked that he never had owned an easy chair or a dressing gown. However, that abdication was forced when the adventuress Lola Montez danced across the stage of Munich politics and into the heart of the aging king. His subjects were appalled, eventually rebelled, and Lola, toward the end, faced an angry mob in front of her house and pelted it with bonbons. Soon after, the king, who was thought to be crazy, stepped down, and his son Maximilian II was crowned.
Ludwig left behind him a vastly changed Munich. Gone were its webs of tortuous streets and lanes. He had given the city air and light by creating broad, imposing Streets and open spaces, dignified by stately buildings and monuments. Ludwig's son continued his work. Like his father, Maximilian was a builder and city planner. He shared his father's intense desire to improve the life of his people and move Bavaria into the first rank of German culture, but he lacked his father's pertinacity. He was a quiet, melancholy man, much influenced by the North, so much so that he married, of all the princesses available, a Prussian. After that, no one seemed to care too much for Max. But his contribution to life in Munich was not minimal. His main interest was science, and to satisfy it he once more turned to the North; Hamburg and Berlin were soon bereft of their scholars. He died prematurely, leaving the Bavarian throne to his son, 18-year-old Ludwig II.
The Fairy Tale King—"He had the beauty of a tall woman"—was not a problem right away, but he soon became one. His love for the sorcerer Richard Wagner and his music seemed to deprive Ludwig of his good sense. The people began to compare Wagner to Lola Montez, and Ludwig, who could never abide the yeast odor from the breweries anyway, spent most of his time away from Munich. Then Wagner married, and the King was never the same again. He took to building one private dream castle after another, and he became fond of going up to the new rooftop of his Residenz in Munich to a brilliantly lit pool. There, dressed as Lohengrin and standing up in a boat made in the form of a swan, he would float about to the strains of a full orchestra. Eventually, Ludwig's extravagance nearly busted Bavaria. The people were told that he was insane and, accompanied by a doctor, he was sent to Lake Starnberg. One evening they found the drowned bodies of Ludwig and the doctor; there were finger marks around the doctor's neck and a bruise from a blow over his eye.
As does the influence of Pericles on Athens and that of Lorenzo de Medici on Florence, the effect of the Wittelsbach kings on life in Munich persists. Their buildings, their wide, graceful streets, each designed by a single architect, make the city one of the beauties of Europe. Their patronage created an atmosphere in which the arts breathe freely, and imbued the people with a pride in them. Even now when you ask them about Munich's cultural impact in the last 25 years, they are direct and immodest; it is as if they were talking about a pennant race. They will reply: London is steady, Paris has declined, Rome's cultural insignificance is notorious, New York has cracked up, Tokyo offers only gigantism and even San Francisco—a city they think somewhat similar to Munich—is on the wane. No city, they conclude, has advanced as much as theirs.
Without question, culture floods the streets of Munich. It has one of the most beautiful and best opera houses in the world. The legitimate stage is impressive. Theaters are all over the place, ranging from boulevard houses to marionette shows and literary cabarets, a German specialty. There are three symphonic orchestras plus the renowned Bach orchestra and choir, and public museums are in abundance, the best being the Alte Pinakothek, with a varied selection of old masters, and the Bayerische National-museum, with its complete collection of arts and crafts. The average M√ºnchner seems to wear all of these cultural medals across his breast, which after a while becomes tiresome. It is a harmless self-indulgence, not unique in Europe, where people seem to try always to picture-frame their cultural sensitivity, but the habit often makes Americans feel as though they have just stepped out of a first-rate restaurant where they have eaten their peas with a knife.
After a few hours of this cultural overkill, one yearns for escape, a healthy slug of pleasure, and it can be found easily in the eclectic nightlife of Munich, beginning with the restaurants that encompass nearly every cuisine in the world. Four of the best: Humplmayr, for elegance; K√§fer, maybe the greatest delicatessen anywhere; the Maximilian Stuben, for its international range of excellence; and the Osteria Italiana, notable for its fresh vegetables and the quality of its salad and spinach, a place where the vegetarian Hitler used to entertain. "He loved spinach," says an old hand there. There is also the Hofbr√§uhaus, an exhausting joint where the rabble is at play amid awful and relentless march music, and thick beer runs over the tables. Here drinking is done by the numbers, feel are stamped, and the humor is gross. "What are they laughing about over there?" a stranger may ask, and learn that the wheezing and chuckling have been occasioned by one of the crowd's boasts of his girth and his wonderful beer belly.
Beer and Bavarian food, it is a combination that lends credibility to those joke postcards showing overripe Bavarians trying to squeeze into giant beer mugs. There is something serious about a Bavarian meal; one approaches it—as the people there tend to do—with grim-ness. The food itself seems to lack gaiety. It comes in massive portions and its deadweight quality does not provoke glibness or a lightsome air, but rather an urge to plunge into the murky depths of German philosophy. A main dish is the pig, served in its own gravy, with potato dumplings, accompanied by a limp salad of cut lettuce, soggy tomatoes and highly salted white radishes. Close to this in favor are the town's famed sausages, the most ubiquitous being Weisswurst, a creation of veal flecked with parsley that is sold hot and eaten by shoppers with their fingers. That Munich women are a sleek, high-fashion contradiction to those depicted by Rubens is the second German miracle.
The first, German prosperity, seems to use Munich as its showcase. Before the war, the city was primarily the administrative center of a rich rural hinterland and a junction of trade routes intersecting the continent. After the war, a diversity of businesses, looking for safety under the umbrella of American occupation, moved to Munich, and the result is that a glossy affluence now heavily overlies the city. For all the German's reputed affection for bank accounts, money seems to move briskly in this town, and you cannot miss the shimmer of prosperity. It is everywhere. In the windows sparkling with diamonds and emeralds and the latest in fashion. In the department stores, which are big and ambitiously stocked. In the rows of Ferraris and Maseratis outside discoth√®ques and restaurants. In the calm look of the waiter at K√§fer who has just added up a $100 luncheon tab for two. It is also visible in the high price of prostitutes and the growing incidence of bank robberies.
Other than the bank jobs and a lucrative traffic in drugs, crime is not too visible in Munich; for instance, plain old homicide is not much in evidence. It is dope that is the main concern in Munich, and the traffic grows with the inflow of students from all over Europe. The problem is concentrated in Schwabing, a longtime bohemian quarter where Lenin used to live. It is an encampment for anyone: girls of every ethnic origin looking for modeling careers and lounging in the chic Citta 2000; dropouts and AWOL American soldiers; professional opium smugglers from Turkey, knife-carrying procurers from the Vienna underworld and suave "aristocrats" peddling poor copies of one painter or another. The laborers, the thousands who form the subculture that has grown in Munich since the war, like to nest in Schwabing, too, seemingly just to be in the thick of it all.
This subculture, plus the students, adds intrigue and chaos to fringe politics in the town. The Students crash into each other across the ideological lines of Mao, Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and desperado political groups—always natural to Munich—lurk in the subculture. So much so, it seems, that for a long time Munich was known as the spy capital of the world. That is no longer true, one is told. The number of spies and the quality of the espionage have dropped, and more drugs are sold than information at the Europa Espresso. The only people industriously going at each other currently are the Croatians and the Serbs, the Arabs and the Jews. But, ah, once it was a sight to behold. The Ukrainian anti-Communists formed a state within a state in this district, until a Soviet agent bumped off its leader. A murderous gang of Yugoslavs plotted against Tito from here, and Bidault and other French terrorists found a haven in the town. None of this radicalism is evident in current Bavarian politics, which flourish contentedly in the mundane corruption of the machine.
Eccentric behavior and madness, though, never seem to agitate the Bavarians, and Munich has always offered a hospitable climate for mystics, do-gooders, Utopians, dreamers and street-corner histrionics. Bavarians resist change, but don't mind anyone talking about it. They are a tolerant people—a dangerous people, they think in the North, egocentric, emotional, tribal, too ready to listen to orators. Well, the Bavarians never did fancy old blood-andiron Bismarck, and went along with him only reluctantly when he shaped the nation back in 1871. They preferred the security of their cozy kingdom, a way of life that many would like to see return. TO HELL WITH THE OLYMPICS, car stickers read, GIVE US BACK OUR KING! As for the Prussians in the North, Bavarians want no part of their severity, their intensity, their inability to see color in life. The Prussians, they say, live to work. "We work to live."
The Prussians are now more than just a verbal target. Moving steadily down to Munich, they have become intrusive over recent years and their attitudes have effected change. "This is not the city it once was," says Erika Schmidbauer. "Ten years ago it was more colorful, more original, easy to take." Erika was once the most famous waitress in Munich, known for her coarse insults and the way she could balance four foaming beer mugs in each hand. She was an exact copy of the waitress often shown on Oktoberfest postcards, those with shrewd blue eyes and mouths with heavy lipstick. She now works at a tobacco stand in the train station where she grouses over the general erosion of her Munich and the spectacle before her: the "Hashish Express," packed and smelly, coming in from Athens and Istanbul; the buyers and pushers waiting for it; the petty thieves and fences; the young girls fresh from the country, eager for the promises of Schwabing and those who lie in wait for them.
"If I look at my life in this city 10 years ago," she says, "I have to say things have changed for the worse. With all these newcomers streaming in, from the Prussians to the guest laborers, the city has lost its mood. Lost its friendly mood, some of the feeling of living in one big village. Here in town the traffic has become unbearable. The air is so bad that I get bronchitis for weeks at a time. The prices go up every day. Once you could have a good time at the Oktoberfest for five marks. Now you need 50 marks, and the people seem so much more aggressive than they used to be. There also used to be more laughter in the streets. When I used to meet people, they would think, because I was overweight, that I was a jolly woman. Now they are so serious. Now it has become impossible to empty a big mug of beer in one breath without your neighbors looking as if they want to call an ambulance. They used to smile. Well, us old M√ºnchners are a minority now. I can see a day when this town will be like any other German city. Cold, hectic, no pleasure, out for whatever you have in your purse, and too busy surviving to care. I won't live to see it, and I won't mind that."
If Erika Schmidbauer embodies the popular conception of her city, Erna Hanfst√§ngl endures as the representative of quite a different Munich. Now 86, she was once one of the true belles of the town, and artists often painted her, mainly choosing to depict her dancing, with her long blonde hair sweeping out upon a Nordic storm. She and her family were strong nationalists. Up until 1925, Hitler had been a frequent guest at her Sunday luncheons. She had been enamored of his Austrian hand-kissing, and her acceptance of him led to his progress in Munich society. After his Putsch failed, Hitler found refuge in Erna's house, an obligingness for which she was openly rebuked after the war.
Age has not diminished Erna's commanding appearance, a fact very much in evidence as she presides, at her Sunday salon, over one of the most Lucullan tables set in Bavaria. The salon is also notable for several old gentlemen often there, aged admirers, now either deaf or blind; Erna never married. She drives a red Opel coupe with racing stripes, is a patron to the young in the arts, some of whom live in her house, and generally relishes her role as a living museum piece. Lunch, though, no longer follows lengthy sermons on the virtues of the German nation.
"This city," she says, "wasn't and isn't like the nonsense peddled abroad to get the tourists to the Hofbr√§uhaus. I think of what my friend Richard Strauss once said. The real Munich developed not with, but against the peasant countryside. I wonder if all the young people who come to my house know how lucky they are. To be living in, and continually exposed to, one spot on this earth where there is such a levitation of spirit!"
Neither Erika Schmidbauer nor Erna Hanfst√§ngl would approve of Mathias Hoffmann, a nihilist and dealer in drugs who was weaned on the folksy clichés dear to Munich. As a boy, he dressed up for all of the celebrations in town—Fasching, the Oktoberfest, etc., but he now cringes when he thinks of those limes. He feels life in Munich is moribund, that Germany is a cursed nation and that Bavarians are comedians in a setting more unreal than a psychedelic dream. "I hate Munich," he says in his apartment near the university, where he lives under a false name. "Everyone is committed to love and cherish this place, but it is an artificial infatuation, all of it is based on a lie. Everybody here believes that the world ought to be like Munich to be a better place, but the fact is that the Bavarian mentality blocks progress. Beneath all the facade here, things are pretty bad. The housing alone is the most expensive in Germany. People have to spend a third of their income for crummy quarters. And that doesn't include the three to six Turks and Yugoslavs who are often stuffed into one room. The greedy landlords are making a profit that is higher than the luxury hotels. Just wait. After the euphoria of the Olympics, the economy is going to be in trouble. Then just look and see if you can find all that beer-hall happiness around here." Traffic, air pollution, creeping greed, everything but Munich's capricious weather found room in Hoffmann's diatribe.
Those who do complain about the weather usually focus on what are known as foehn days, which occur roughly 60 times a year. The foehn days are periods of high winds, an eerie texture of light and skies filled with silvery baroque clouds. On such days the Alps, which are 80 miles away, seem right on the edge of town. Like the Santa Ana wind in Los Angeles, the mistral in Southern France and the sirocco in Venice, the foehn seems to deflate people. Pulses quicken, anxieties rise, sufferers complain of fatigue, inertia and persistent headache. Husbands are apt to slay their wives, mistresses their lovers, and beer steins tend to fall on skulls when this mean wind blows.
So Munich is not all zither music, not all Gem√ºtlichkeit—the good life—for which it is renowned, but it does much more than merely continue to exist, as so many cities in the world seem to do. The city is alive, at once coarse and delicate. It is like two scenes that suddenly succeeded each other there one cool evening: a little girl with long, blonde hair languidly playing a harp near the window in a small, dim music shop; and then, the corner turned, there rose the immense shadow of a spike-helmeted general on a horse, a shadow thrown upon the pallid light of the wall by a statue. Two clicks of the shutter and they were gone. How reflective of Munich, one thought. But the town now seeks to mirror the best part of the German genius, forcing one to ignore the perverse side of that genius, to think of and remember only, say, the celestial mathematics of Bach.