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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christmas Is the Season to Be Merry in Munich

Come to Germany in December, and you'd think it was the place that invented Christmas. And in some ways, you'd be right.

After all, didn't the Christmas tree arise from the medieval German custom of draping evergreen branches in the home with sausages and apples? And doesn't our image of Santa Claus stem largely from the pen of Thomas Nast, the 19th-century political cartoonist who was born in Landau, Germany?

One of Germany's most endearing Christmas customs remains the Christmas market, outdoor fairs where ornaments, toys and gingerbread burden stalls, and the bracing perfume of sizzling sausages and mulled wine laces the cold air.

German cities vie for the loveliest Christmas market, and certainly Munich is a leading contender. Christmas in Munich is also a time for music, when musicians perform the "Christmas Oratorio" by Bach and churches resound with carols.

There is more, of course, to Munich than the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. The city has some of Europe's finest museums, and picturesque neighborhoods, like the old Bohemian quarter in Schwabing, invite exploration. Alpine ski resorts lie at the city's doorstep.

After Christmas, Munich quickly turns to very different celebrations - the raucous and rousing merriment of Fasching, the Bavarian variety of Mardi Gras, that in 1999 officially starts Jan. 7 and ends Feb. 16, the eve of Ash Wednesday, when the women who tend the stalls at the Viktualienmarkt, the city's vast outdoor food market, perform their traditional Fasching dance.


The official start of the Christmas market, in the heart of the city at Marienplatz, was on Nov. 28, with the lighting of a 26-meter Christmas tree. The market closes at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Performances of Christmas music are given daily at 5:30 p.m. at the balcony of the Altes Rathaus, the Old Town Hall, on Marienplatz.

Midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Munich's splendid Gothic cathedral, the Frauenkirche, is preceded by music at 9:45 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served, so it's wise to be there at least a half-hour early.

Munich has also assembled a program of concerts and exhibits for the season. In the week before Christmas, the Munich Symphony will present a Christmas concert at 8 p.m. on Dec. 17 in the Prinzregententheater, at 12 Prinzregentenplatz, east of the Isar River, and at 4 p.m. on Dec. 20 in the rococo Peterskirche, or Church of St. Peter, just off Marienplatz. Tickets cost $16 to $45 (at 1.66 Deutsche marks to the dollar); call (49-89) 5481-8181.

On Dec. 20, Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" will be performed at the Philharmonie am Gasteig, 5 Rosenheimer Strasse, by the Munich Bach Orchestra. Cantatas Nos. 1 to 3 are at 5 p.m., and Cantatas Nos. 4 to 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets, which must be bought separately for each performance, cost $34 to $60; (49-89) 5481-8181.

On New Year's Eve, the Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Milan Horvat will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Philharmonie am Gasteig, at 5 p.m. Tickets: $17.50 to $71.

In December and January, the Bavarian State Ballet will perform the "Nutcracker Suite" by Tchaikovsky in the Bayerische Staatsoper, the national opera, at 2 Max-Joseph-Platz. Performances are Dec. 18, 22, 26 and 29, and Jan. 1, 14 and 17. Tickets: $6 to $67; (49-89) 2185-1920.

"Hansel and Gretel" by Humperdinck, also fun for children, will be performed at the Prinzregententheater on Dec. 10, 16, 17 and 18. Tickets: $18 to $45.

The expressionist paintings of Lyonel Feininger are featured in an exhibit ending Jan. 24 at the Gallery of Modern Art in the Haus der Kunst, 1 Prinzregentenstrasse. Another show there, closing Feb. 7, has the somber theme of "Night in European Painting" - with works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya and Caspar David Friedrich. Admission: $7.25 and $2.40 for ages 6 to 18, or $10.85 and $3.60 for both shows; (49-89) 2112-7115.

Lola Montez, the notorious dancer (buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn), whose affair with King Ludwig I of Bavaria was a factor in his abdication of the throne in 1848, is the subject of an exhibit at the Munich Stadtmuseum, 1 Sankt-Jakobs-Platz, through Jan. 31. Tickets: $4.80; (49-89) 2332-2370.


A quick walk through the center of town leads to some of Munich's most magnificent rococo churches, among them the Asamkirche, the Church of St. Peter, or Peterskirche, and the Holy Ghost Church. Of these, the Asamkirche is the most splendid.

Situated along Sendlingerstrasse, it is officially named for St. John of Nepomuk, the 14th-century Czech martyr, but is better known by the name Asam, for the brothers, star architects and sculptors of the Bavarian rococo.

The interior, which should be viewed in the early morning, when light streams in the enormous facade window, is an explosion of decorative splendor.

The Peterskirche, the oldest in Munich, contains a magnificent rococo altar and statuary, though its upper reaches are now hidden by scaffolding, as work proceeds on the re-creation of 18th-century ceiling frescoes by the artist Johann Baptist Zimmermann that were destroyed in World War II. Entry is free.

A short walk from the Peterskirche is the Spielzeugmuseum, or Toy Museum, on several floors that are reachable by a narrow, twisting stairway of a tower in the Old Town Hall. It features a delightful collection of 19th- and 20th-century playthings, with wood-carved figurines and windup Popeyes; the Barbie dolls include first-generation models from the 1950s. Tickets: $3, 60 cents for children; (49-89) 271-1969.

Another fascinating place for young and old is the Deutsches Museum of science and technology, 1 Museumsinsel on an island in the Isar River.

There are hundreds of exhibits, many of them mechanical, that illustrate mining and steel making, bridge building and computer technology. Press a button and watch a car being assembled. Admission: $6; (49-89) 21791.

If you decide on a day of skiing in the nearby Alps, trips are organized by several large sporting goods stores, such as Schuster, just off Marienplatz. Day trips by bus cost about $42, including lift ticket. Details are available at Schuster Treffpunkt Sport, 4 Rosenstrasse; (49-89) 237-070.

From mid-December, the Bundesbahn, the railway, also offers one-day round trips, with ski pass, to nearby ski areas such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Osterhofen. Tickets: $36 to $54; (49-89) 1308-5846.

For general information, the main tourist office is downtown at 1 Sendlingerstrasse; (49-89) 233-0300, fax (49-89) 2333-0233.

Where To Stay

Given Munich's excellent subway system, you don't have to stay downtown. But if you do, one choice is Hotel am Markt, at 6 Heiliggeiststrasse, a narrow lane behind the Church of the Holy Ghost. It offers 30 recently renovated if small rooms, and not all with bathrooms and showers. Doubles: $66 to $96; (49-89) 225-014, fax (49-89) 224-017.

In the center of town, and slightly more expensive, is the Hotel Excelsior, in the pedestrian mall at 11 Schutzenstrasse, which has 113 rooms comfortably furnished in a vaguely Alpine style. Doubles: $180 to $225; (49-89) 551370, fax (49-89) 5513-7121.

Budget: The Pension Agnes, 58 Agnesstrasse, about a 10-minute walk from a subway stop, has 26 rooms spread over several floors of an old walk-up on a tree-lined side street. Doubles: $62 to $65; (49-89) 123-9450, fax (49-89) 129-1764.

The Hotel am Goetheplatz, 33 Waltherstrasse, at the Goetheplatz subway stop on a line to Marienplatz, offers 20 simply decorated rooms that look out onto a tree-lined square. Doubles: $60 to $90; (49-89) 530-306, fax (49-89) 5303-0624.

Luxury: The Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, at 17 Maximilianstrasse amid elegant stores and restaurants, is the queen of Munich hostelry. A five-minute stroll from the neo-classical opera house and former residence of the kings of Bavaria, it has 318 sumptuous rooms with equally splendid bathrooms. Doubles: $307 to $487; (49-89) 21250, fax (49-89) 2125-2000.

Elegant, yet with more rustic Bavarian flavor, is the Bayerischer Hof, 2-6 Promenadeplatz, with Alpine antiques in its hallways and 409 rooms. Doubles: $287 to $407; (49-89) 21200, fax (49-89) 212-0906.

Where To Eat

Bavaria is largely pork-and-potato territory, which doesn't mean that it cannot be done imaginatively and tastefully. It is also serious beer country, and the favorite is Weissbier, a flavorful, cloudy type of brew taken in bulbous tankards of at least a half-liter in size.

Many restaurants have the character of beer halls, with noise, bonhomie and often music.

Elegant fare can be enjoyed a stone's throw from the Viktualienmarkt, at Grune Gans, which seats about 30 in a homey, dark-wood atmosphere at 5 Am Einlass.

Dinner for two - a first course of light potato pancakes with caviar of trout in cr?me fra?che followed by roast pheasant, cranberry sauce and champagne kraut, and by a desert of crepes filled with apple ragout - with wine, comes to about $90. Reservations required. Closed Sundays; (49-89) 266-228.

In the shadow of the cathedral, 9 Frauenplatz, is the justifiably well-known Nurnberger Bratwurst-Glockl am Dom, a cozy place with dark wood walls and pewter plates that specializes in delectable pinky-sized sausages from Nuremberg, charcoal-grilled and served with steaming sauerkraut. A meal for two of beef broth with whole egg yolk and a platter of six sausages with sauerkraut, washed down by a glass of beer or white wine, comes to about $33; (49-89) 220-385.

One of the best-known restaurants for dressing up basic Bavarian ingredients is the cozy Weinhaus Neuner, at 8 Herzogspitalstrasse, in warm and inviting rooms that have served as an inn for four centuries.

A meal might begin with homemade bloodwurst on creamed sauerkraut with a truffle sauce, followed by venison calf filet in juniper-flavored cream sauce with red cabbage, cranberry sauce and freshly prepared potato noodles. Dinner for two with wine: $105. Reservations are recommended; (49-89) 260-3954.

Some of Munich's best cooking is Italian, given the city's proximity to northern Italy. A recent entry is La Grotta, 24 Schraudolphstrasse, a bright little place on the edge of the lively Schwabing neighborhood.

Dinner for two with wine - consisting of shrimp and chanterelle mushrooms, followed by grilled scampi, and profiterole for desert - costs about $72; (49-89) 271-6363.

How To Get There

Aeroflot and Lufthansa both have daily direct flights from Moscow to Munich. Prices for round-trip tickets start at about $300.