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West Germany: The Young City

9 minute read

The citizen of Munich who found himself stranded outside Bavaria had until recently an easy cure for his Heimweh. All he had to do was pick up a telephone, dial 0811, and listen. Over the wire came a soft, feminine whisper: “München . . . München . . . München.” The tape recording made strong men weep and buoyed up thousands of dispirited travelers, but finally the Munich telephone company had to discontinue the service. Homesick Münchners were tying up all the lines.

To the residents of Munich, their city is not just Bavaria’s capital and Germany’s third largest city (after Berlin and Hamburg). It is Elysium on the Isar River — a steep-roofed, cobblestoned corner of heaven awash with foamy Doppelbier and festooned in Weisswurstle, the pale, succulent sausage that Münchners munch by the mile.

It is a music center that thunders with Wagner and bubbles with Bach. It is an art center with a proud history of avant-garde innovation. It is a sports center, boasting 75 lakes and forests within 30 miles of the city, and on a clear day the ski slopes of the Alps loom pale blue just 30 miles to the south, over the twin onion domes of the Frauenkirche.

As far as the Münchner is concerned, the rest of Germany is Prussia—cold, square, unbearably dull. For all his exaggeration, he has a point.

A Shot at the Good Life. Munich is easily the most exciting city in West Germany, largely because it is a young city. More than half of its 1,160,000 inhabitants are under 40, and 89% have yet to reach 65. Its lord mayor, 38-year-old Hans-Jochen Vogel, is West Germany’s youngest civic leader, and Julius Cardinal Döpfner, at 50, is one of Roman Catholicism’s leading liberals and youngest princes. Youth means vigor, and with an 8% annual economic-growth rate, Munich is the most vigorous city in the Bundesrepublik.

It was not always that way. Before World War II, when Berlin was center of Germany’s culture and commerce, Munich was something of a backwater looked on with disdain by German sophisticates. Then came the Communists to surround the old capital in what became occupied Germany’s Soviet Zone.

Thousands of Berlin’s remaining intellectuals, businessmen and bureaucrats fled; and many of the best ended in the Bavarian capital, giving Munich much of its present sparkle.

During World War II, Munich was savaged by 71 Allied heavy bomber raids that flattened 45% of its buildings and virtually leveled the Old City at its heart. Enough rubble clogged the streets to build two Egyptian pyramids, but Munich was not interested in tombs.

The ruined buildings were restored, in many cases stone for stone, the way they were before the war, and today the city is a pleasant hodgepodge of architectural styles, running the gamut from grim Gothic to glass-and-steel modern, with ample home-grown Rococo sandwiched between. Primarily a center of light industry, Munich today provides 700,000 jobs (and has 18,700 unfilled), turns out everything from optical equipmentand ready-to-wear clothing to motorcycles and beer—of which the Munchners drink 230 liters a year v. 108 for the average German.

With 70 hotels, hundreds of Gaststätten and more than 4,000 restaurants, Munich is adequately equipped to handle the 1,500,000 tourists who visit each year.

Roasted in Watermelon. From this healthy economic base, the Münchner has a clear shot at the good life, and he rarely misses. His calendar is studded with festive occasions. After a Silvesterabend (New Year’s Eve) awash with bubbly Sekt, comes the pre-Lenten bacchanal of Fasching—a whirl of costume balls and bawdiness that ends with Ash Wednesday. Fasching is followed by the “strong-beer season,” which tides the Münchner over Lent.

Then comes Easter, closely followed by Maibockzeit and its flood of dark beer. Loudest of all is the Oktoberfest —an autumnal beer bust that runs for 16 days, ostensibly celebrating the wedding in 1810 of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Altenburg.

Between official holidays, the Münchner can turn to his city’s fine restaurants and nightclubs for diversion. One of the best restaurants is the Walterspiel in the elegant Vier Jahreszeiten (Four Seasons) Hotel. The Walterspiel glistens with crystal chandeliers, glows with red-plush banquettes, and offers the tastiest crayfish in Europe. For $15, a guest can order a double portion of Ente in der Melone—duck with red wine, Pernod, foie gras and truffles, roasted in watermelon. Though beer is the civic drink, Munich’s restaurants pride themselves on comprehensive wine lists (both German and French), while one, the Schwarzwalder, offers 467 vintage wines and no beer at all.

Culture & Concupiscence. But to Munich, culture is every bit as important as cuisine. The city sinks $5,000,000 a year into its theaters, museums, and music facilities—and the taste of Bavaria adds another $7,500,000 to give Munich the most heavily subsidized cultural complex in Germany. The city offers 8,000 seats a night to theater, ballet, opera and music buffs—twice as many as Berlin—and usually they are filled. There are no fewer than 22 legitimate theaters, plus four excellent marionette theaters and two cabarets (the Laugh-and-Shoot Club and the Onion) specializing in political satire. Last week the offerings on the boards ranged from Molière’s The Misanthrope to lonesco’s new The King Dies.

Munich has been a music center since the 16th century, when theculture-conscious Wittelsbachs brought in Italian opera (the first in Germany). Among its native sons the city proudly counts Richard Strauss, and the echoes of the many operas of Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner still ring through Munich as heroically as they did for mad King Ludwig II. Currently in residence are such modern greats as Carl Orff, Werner Egk and Hans Werner Henze. Munich’s opera, performed in the newly restored Nationaltheater, is rated as Germany’s best. And thanks to Director Karl Richter, Munich has become a well-tempered center for the works of Bach.

On Leopoldstrasse. There are plenty of alternative diversions. Munich’s many art galleries include the famed Alte Pinakothek, with its splendid collections of DÜrer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Titian and Rubens. Munich claims to be the birthplace of modern art, and indeed its Blaue Reiter group pioneered in the abstract movement; Munich’s galleries today are loaded with the works of Kandinsky and Klee. Schwabing, the city’s bohemian quarter, which won its reputation thanks to Kandinsky & Co., is still an art center, with more than 2,000 painters and sculptors at work.

Schwabing’s broad, cafe-lined Leopoldstrasse also throngs with students from Ludwig-Maximilian’s University, Germany’s largest, with 22,000 enrollment. In bohemian bistros like the See-rose, where Kandinsky once caroused, the talk runs the gamut from Johnson (Uwe) to Johnson (Lyndon), while the beer flows on and on. But unlike the emaciated, hollow-eyed beatniks of Paris and New York, Munich’s young bohemians exude a ruddy outdoor glow.

The girls have shining hair, and they wear colorful, skintight ski pants the year round, while the boys are usually beardless and strong-featured in their bright, V-necked sweaters.

After dark Münchners and tourists flock to the Eve Bar, where Mandy Rice-Davies recently made her professional debut (as a singer) and dress-busting B-girls quaff French champagne while nudes stroll through a cage full of tigers. Aleco’s, headquarters for the sports-car set, has walls hung with a Scots tartan, sells Scotch for only 50½ a drink. As the jukebox blares, the patrons—clad in everything from Dior gowns to dungarees—stomp through the hully gully. Munich’s promiscuity is an unleering sort, and only during Fasching does it become objectionable.

Then it seems to become almost public, and a judge recently ruled that adultery during Fasching was not sufficient grounds for divorce.

A Gaggle of Princelings. A ring of royalty surrounds Munich, making it the society center of Germany. The gaggle of local princelings includes Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns, lesser-known Hatzfeldts and Croys, but the dominant family is the Wittelsbachs, who ruled Bavaria from 1180 to 1918, when Kurt Eisner’s revolution threw them out. The Wittelsbachs still live in the splendid Nymphenburg Castle— Munich’s Versailles—and their shadow court dominates the city’s social life. At the Aristocrats’ Ball, held earlier this month in the Vier Jahreszeiten Hotel, only those patricians with at least 32 titled ancestors were admitted. But for all their blueblood, Munich’s aristocrats are far from haughty, and the nontitled hostess can usually decorate her soirée with a few barons and perhaps a prince or two. It is easier to get a Wittelsbach to dinner than it is a Siemens, whose ancestors were simple mechanics before Werner von Siemens founded the electrical works that today is Munich’s biggest industrial plant.

Overseeing all this cultural and social activity are Munich’s newspapers.

Best is the Süddeutsche Zeitung, whose editorialists and critics manage a skillful mixture of pith and punditry. The Abendzeitung, jazzy with sex and scandal stories, also has a lively two-page cultural section. Its gossip columnist, Hannes (“Hunter”) Obermaier, is Germany’s Winchell,and it is the only paper in Germany that regularly carries Art Buchwald and Walter Lippmann.

The Lady & the Duck. Munich has a long tradition of tolerance. “The charlatan always has a chance here,” says one proud resident. And indeed it was in Munich that Adolf Hitler got his start with the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.

But the tolerance shows up in other ways—6,000 of West Germany’sremaining 24,000 Jews live in Munich, and Dr. Herbert Hohenemser, whoadministers the city’s cultural program, is one of the best-known Jewish re-emergents. And where else would people take notice of such characters as the old lady who pushes her pet duck along the streets in a pram each day, the two quacking away joyously at one another in their own special Münchner dialect.

Elysium would not be complete, however, without a flaw. Munich’s is the Föhn—a warm, dry wind that sweeps down from the Alps and drives Münchners mad—or so they claim. Strangely enough, newcomers to the city are not affected by the Föhn. But they soon catch on to the quaint folkways. Last week the Föhn was blowing, and all Munich moaned about headache. Münchners staggered through the slushy streets with coated tongues and spots before their eyes. Then, just when everything was at its bleakest, salvation arrived. Lord Mayor Vogel inaugurated the strong-beer season, and in a flood of potent, malt-thick beer, the city revived.

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