From a PR perspective, modern-day Munich has two powerful stereotypes to contend with. At the one extreme, it’s known for an innocent, provincial charm; at the other, an image as a clockwork city, geared for business rather than pleasure.

As the Bavarian capital, it’s most strongly associated with Oktoberfest, beer halls, and a quirky local dialect. And as the region’s industrial powerhouse, its most potent symbol is either the architecturally distinguished BMW headquarters, the science-centric Deutsches Museum, or, at a stretch, the imposing Thirties-era Haus der Deutschen Kunst. But the reality conforms to neither of these sketches.

Today’s Munich is an extremely comfortable, enjoyable place, perennially topping the livability charts. A vibrant after-work social scene engenders great restaurants and even better bars; the city’s financial status supports a dynamic culture and arts scene; and plentiful employment possibilities attract a cosmopolitan crowd. The dish is topped with a dollop of beautiful natural landscapes within an hour’s drive, and a sprinkle of Bavarian joie de vivre — or should we say Lebensfreude.

Bar at Hotel Louis
High on our list of livability criteria is hospitality. Take, for example, the new Louis Hotel, which is just steps from the central Rindermarkt, but hidden down a winding pedestrian alley. Upon entering guests might be intimidated by the stylish receptionists, the pulsing soundtrack, the designer décor and chic clientele; yet a moment later the hotel’s warmth begins to radiate. The staff is warm and personable, wittily joking about the weather; the music recedes into the background, replaced by friendly chatter from the bar and café; the bare wood and warm colors hint at the coziness of a ski chalet; and the guests are too focused on the moment to size you up, anyway.

As for cuisine, there’s no need to feel oneself relegated to bratwurst, bread and cheese — though these, of course, are prepared as if an art form. For local products and casual nibbling, pass through the Rindermarkt in the historic town center during lunchtime. Beyond this, there’s a flourishing experimental and sophisticated food scene that would give Brooklyn or Belgravia a run for their taste buds. Dallmayr perfected the high-end gourmet shop model centuries before Dean & Deluca or Harrod’s learned to pronounce “espresso.” Kiosk after kiosk and shelf after shelf of carefully curated concoctions — most of them local and seasonal — make mouths of locals and visitors water. The chocolates and coffee, among other delicacies, are world-renowned.

Literaturhaus
A short walk away through the winding old city streets, on the historic Salvatorplatz, is the Literaturhaus, a three-story extravaganza dedicated to the literary world, offering public events and resources centered around books, and a meeting place for the city’s fertile publishing community. Though there’s a bar/bistro and a restaurant as well, the café is the ideal place to enjoy well-executed flakey pastries and to while away an afternoon watching the cognoscenti congregate. That one can so easily interlope amongst Munich’s high society is a testament to the region’s warmth.

The Literaturhaus is also a testament to the support the arts and culture receive in this city — if the dozens of museums and art collections weren’t already proof enough. Space forbids a complete list, but a few worth mentioning include the Haus der Kunst, on the southern edge of the “English Garden”; the Alte Pinakothek, boasting an incredible array of European painting masterpieces from the 14th to 19th centuries; and the Neue Pinakothek, which picks up where the Alte left off.

It’s not just visual art, either: the BMW Museum as well as the Deutsches Museum are monuments to Munich’s history of technological innovation. It’s an angle the locals are quite justifiably proud of, when taken in the context of the city’s other charms. The message: there’s more here than beer halls and BMWs — not that there’s anything wrong with beer halls and BMWs.

Originally published in the March 29th edition of Tablettalk.

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