Things to Do in Bavaria
The site of six of Hitler’s infamous Nazi Party rallies sits southeast of Nuremberg city center, a vast tract of land covering 4.2 square miles (11 square kilometers) lying virtually untended a short, lakeside walk from the Nazi Documentation Center. The massive parade grounds and mammoth Modernist stadium, with its central focus on the stern, austere Zeppelin Grandstand, are slowly crumbling into dilapidation, and the German government is torn between knocking them down or preserving them as a reminder of the horrors of the Third Reich.Built by Nazi architect Albert Speer in 1933, the stadium was designed as a “cathedral of light” with floodlight reaching up to the sky. It became a backdrop for some of Adolf Hitler’s most notorious speeches, when millions of Hitler youth and Nazi sympathizers attended his political rallies and were whipped into a frenzy of hatred against the Jews, leading to the passing of the notorious Nuremberg Laws and ultimately to the Holocaust.
Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned as the private refuge for Ludwig II of Bavaria, but opened to the public immediately after his death in 1886. Now recognizable as the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle, Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular castles in Europe. The fairytale charm of Neuschwanstein Castle is also felt from the idyllic scenery of the Bavarian Alps. During the winter, some of the best views of the snow-capped mountains can be seen from the palace grounds.
The picture cycles in the castle were inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner, to whom the king dedicated the castle, and the corresponding medieval legends from his works. The throne room is magnificently decorated with frescos of angels, ironically the king died before the actual throne was built. Despite the medieval motif of the decor, the castle was actually outfitted with latest technology of the time with running water and central heating.
Towering over the Altstadt (Old Town) north of the River Pegnitz, Nuremberg Castle was once the most important in Germany, as it was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperors who virtually ruled over Europe for hundreds of years from medieval times. Begun in 1120, the castle has been extended, abandoned, remodeled and blown to pieces over the centuries before being completely restored to its original Romanesque and Gothic grandeur following Allied bombing in World War II.
The castle complex straddles the top of a low hill and resembles a small city behind its fortified walls, comprising several separate half-timbered palaces, towers, stables, chapels, underground cellars and courtyards all built of mellow sandstone and topped with red brick tiles. Of these, the Romanesque chapel and Imperial Apartments should be visited first as they are ornately decorated and contain a permanent exhibition on the Holy Roman Empire.
Located at the western entrance to the exquisite Hofgarten gardens, the Odeonsplatz is one of central Munich’s largest public squares, notable for its distinct Italian-style architecture. Taking its name from the 19th century Odeon Concert Hall that once stood at the head of the square (the remains of the building now form part of a government office block), the space still retains its creative streak, hosting a number of annual concerts, parades and city celebrations. At the top of the list is the Odeonsplatz Classical Evening, a grand open-air event held each July and drawing crowds of over 16,000 to watch performances by the prestigious Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and other world renowned classical acts.
Even if you don’t catch the square at its most atmospheric, the Odeonsplatz still offers a dramatic starting point to city walking tours.
Where can you find the best gourmet Bavarian delights? Munich's Victuals Market, Viktualienmarkt in German, is the place to find exotic fruits, fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, delicious hams, honey, and truffles.
Many of the market stalls in the Viktualienmarkt have been family-run for generations, and although the gourmet food featured here also means gourmet prices, you would be hard pressed to find better quality culinary delicacies. While in Munich, the Viktualienmarkt is the best place to shop for delicious Bavarian food to make for a picnic lunch at a nearby park.
More Things to Do in Bavaria
Famous for his delicate and anatomically precise etchings, woodcuts and prints, Albrecht Dürer was a Northern Renaissance artist who lived all his life in Nuremberg between 1471 and 1528. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the city became one of Germany’s most successful commercial centers and also the focus of a great artistic flowering. Dürer was at the heart of this creative movement, visiting the great Renaissance cities of Italy, regularly attending courts of European royalty and revolutionizing printmaking. His iconic works include The Apocalypse, a number of self-portraits, books on the human anatomy and many sublime animal prints as well as friezes for civic halls in Nuremberg and altar pieces in Prague.
The Albrecht Dürer House is a fachwerkhaus, a half-timbered townhouse with a steep wooden roof and of an architectural style seen all over Bavaria.
The Königssee Valley lies in the Bavarian Alps and its lake forms part of the Berchtesgaden National Park. At five miles (7.5 km) long and just 1.5 miles (1.7 km) wide wide, the serene, crystal-clear waters of the lake are the deepest in Germany. Königssee is encircled by lush Alpine valleys and snow-capped mountains – the highest of these is Mount Watzmann, which towers over the lake at 5,900 ft (1,800 m). The picture-perfect Alpine village of Schönau am Königssee sits at the head of the lake and in summer hundreds of day trippers pour in daily. The lake is popular for swimming in the pristine Alpine waters or pottering around in electric boats. The most popular lake tour is to the squat, rotund pilgrimage chapel of St Bartholomew, topped with dark-red onion domes and standing on a little promontory lapped by water. Next-door is the former hunting lodge of the Bavarian kings, now the quality restaurant Fischerstüberl and a lovely spot for eating lunch looking over the lake.
The ornate Schöner Brunnen is a landmark fountain in the cobbled Market Square (Hauptmarkt) of Nuremberg’s medieval Altstadt (Old Town). Created by local stonemason Heinrich Beheimby, it is a highly decorative, three-tiered masterpiece of religious imagery, adorned with 40 gaily colored, sculpted figures representing characters from the Holy Roman Empire.
At 62 feet (19 meters) high, the fountain has been restored several times over the centuries, and most of its original stone carvings are now preserved in the German National Museum (Germanisches Nationalmuseum). The wrought-iron fence that surrounds the Gothic fountain was designed by Paulus Kühn of Augsburg in 1587 and has a famous golden handle that must be twisted for good luck. The Market Square itself is lined with multi-gabled townhouses and the ornate façade of the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), the site of a daily food market, as well as the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market (Christkindlesmarkt).
The Hauptmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany is the city's main square, and it is located near the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Crowds gather here at noon to witness the clock's figures performing Männleinlaufen, or Little Men Dancing, up in the clock tower. One of the main features of the square is the Schönen Brunnen fountain with intricately detailed sculptures carved onto the sides. The church and the fountain were built in the 14th century and are important pieces of the square, although the fountain you see today is a replica. The original is held in the German National Museum for safekeeping. This is the city's main outdoor market where you can find fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, bread, flowers, crafts, and other local goods. Several cafes and restaurants are located on and near the square, and several pedestrian streets lined with stores connect with the square, making this a nice area to go shopping. In December you'll find Christmas markets set up in this square.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Alpsee and Schwansee lakes and close by the Austrian border, the magnificent Hohenschwangau Castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau) is a dramatic gothic fortress dating back to the 19th century. The sister castle to the world-renowned Neuschwanstein Castle (the famous blueprint for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle), Hohenschwangau is a popular stop on the German Castle Trail and is often visited on day trips from Munich or nearby Füssen.
Hohenschwangau Castle was built in 1832 on the site of the 12th-century Schuangau fortress and is celebrated for its striking interior décor, including a series of paintings by Domenik Quaglio depicting key events in German history. Built by King Maximilian II of Bavaria, the palace is notable as the childhood home of his heir, the future King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The former royal palace of the Bavarian monarch, the Munich Residenz is the largest city palace in Germany and is open to visitors to see its spectacularly adorned rooms and royal collections. The complex of buildings in the Munich Residenz contains 10 courtyards and the museum displays 130 rooms. The three main parts of the Residenz are the Königsbau, the Alte Residenz, and the Festsaalbau, which is also home to the Cuvillies Theatre.
Get a feel for palace life in the Residenz museum which features the collections of porcelain, silver, paintings, and classical antiquities amassed by the Wittelsbach monarchs. The Antiquarium's Renaissance collections is especially breath-taking. Step outside the elaborately decorated rooms to the beautiful Court Garden or check out the Treasury (Schatzkammer) for a display of the royal jewels, gold objects, and ivory.
Königsplatz was initially built to serve the urban notions of King Ludwig I, who wished to integrate culture, administration, Christianity and Bavarian military in one massive green space. The king opted for a European Neoclassic style based on the Acropolis in Athens. He even had two museums built in the same style; first was the Glyptothek, where he could house his sprawling collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, and second, the Bavarian State Collection of Antiques, which contains Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. King Ludwig I also commissioned the Propylaea, an imposing and austere gate which served as a memorial to his son, the Bavarian prince Otto of Greece.
Despite this architectural and urban prowess, the square is now infamous for being the place where the Nazi party held marches and mass rallies during the Holocaust. In fact, the national headquarters of the Nazi party, the Brown House, was located on Brienner Straße just off the square.
Which landmark particularly stands out in Munich's skyline? That would be the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady or Frauenkirche, the church featuring two onion-shaped domes on top of twin towers that reach 99 meters (325 feet). But it's not just the church's architecture that makes it stand out, by law no other tower can be taller or obstruct the view of this symbolic Bavarian building.
Near the entrance of the catherdal is the famous "devil's footprint". According to legend, the devil stomped his foot at this spot when he thought the architect had forgotten to put any windows in the church, before realizing the illusion. Enjoy panoramic views from the south tower and the art of Erasmus Grasser, Jan Polack, and Hans Krumpper that decorate the interior of Frauenkirche.
The oldest church in Munich, St. Peter's Church, or Peterskirche, is a Roman Catholic establishment built in the 12th century in the Bavarian Romanesque style. The interior of the church features the magnificent Mariahilf-Altar, Gothic paintings & sculptures, and a ceiling fresco. But even these beautiful works of art can't top the bizarre gem-studded skeleton of St. Mundita, who stares at visitors with false eyes and jewelled teeth.
From the spire of "Old Peter", as the church is known to the locals, are spectacular views of the oldest part of Munich. Remember to check the colored rings at the bottom, a white ring means the Alps are visible, making the hike to the top even more worthwhile. Although the spire was almost completely destroyed during World War II, it was fully restored with the traditional architecture.
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