Saturday, July 4, 2009

Old Masters and Fresh Beer: Das ist München

If you're reading this on the 4th then join me in wishing the United States a Happy 233rd Birthday. I'm off in Heidelberg for the weekend, celebrating with other American students with burgers and Skyline Dip (they all thank you Tim). Enjoy your own time with friends and family and thanks for stopping by.

Here's the link to pictures from Munich and Switzerland. Obviously the Swiss stuff will all make sense over the next couple of days when I spin out those stories. But for now I leave you with further adventures in Deutschland.

When we started planning this trip, Michael made the mistake of asking what I hadn’t seen in Munich that I would want to check out this time around. This was the first time I had been in Munich with clear weather and open biergartens, so that was high on to-do list, but there was also a Massive European Museum (MEM) still awaiting my attention: The Alte Pinakothek.

Bavaria was once its own autonomous kingdom with its own royal family. Like any self-respecting royal family, the Bavarians collected art. The started with the intricate details of the Flemish Primitives (including a trippy Bosch near the entrance to the gallery) and worked their way through history. In the Renaissance they got their paws on work by Dürer and DaVinci, and when the Baroque hit they needed some Rubans to maintain the high profile of the gallery and assert some passionate Catholic theology. Name the master with a paintbrush and they have a sample of his work.
Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Rubans. This is Rubans at his most stereotypical with dimply, ample women, bright, primary colors, and everyone in action.

The Neue Pinakothek is across the road featuring 19th century art and the recently opened Pinakotek der Moderne lurks around the corner. In one exhausting day, you could walk through six-hundred years of art history. Tack on the Greek and Roman art of the Glyptotek, and you might need to be hauled out of a museum on a stretcher.

Fortunately for Michael and Tim, we only had one afternoon after seeing Dachau that morning. With the sun shining and the Frisbee zingers going full tilt, I lead them through the ominous iron doors of the forbidding museum for a little High Culture (I wonder if that phrase will attract the wrong kind of Google traffic).
The stairs to the main picture galleries. Would we find the hoards of tour groups lurking behind the columns?

The place was recently renovated with wide windows and red stone. It was also completely empty. I had exalted the value of the collection before we arrived, but it was hard to qualify the significance of Dürer when no one was looking at him. Once I got past the weirdness of being nearly alone in the museum with no one but my two friends and a hoard of antsy guards, I began to revel in the opportunity to scrutinize Raphael and Botticelli without needing to shoulder past a soul.
Dürer, a friend of Luther, showing Saints John, Peter, Paul, and Mark studying their scripture rather than turning to any of that tradition stuff for guidance.
El Greco's The Disrobing of Christ. Check out the perspective over the shoulders of the Marys. Most paintings act like stages, with everyone respecting the edge of the frame. Here there's a kind of ethereal photograph being taken of the rarely painted moment.

We saw Ruban’s Last Judgment, one of the largest canvases ever painted, and learned from our free audioguides that the museum itself was built to house this work in 1836, making it one of the first public art galleries. There’s a superlative for you.
There's no scale, but trust me when I say this painting by Rubans is almost 300 square feet.

The Battle of Issus by Altdorfer. It's not a huge paiting, but he packed in an impossible pair of armies that surge and charge all the way to the horizon, like the clouds swirling overhead. The detail, the incredible detail...

We left as the museum was slowly closing, but had plenty of light left to kill (it wouldn’t be dark until 10). We walked past the University of Munich medical research buildings and a public fish market that was mimicking the Hamburg Market that I got to visit back in March. We bought small fish sandwiches (I can never recommend smoked salmon with cracked pepper highly enough) and debated stopping for a drink. I’m very glad we moved on because there was a massive Munich biergarten on the horizon, but first, like any trio on an epic quest, we had to get through the castle.

Along our path was the Residenz, the downtown seat of the Bavarian monarchy. A palace has been on the site since the 14th century and they kept tacking onto it through the 19th. Unfortunately it was severely damaged by WWII bombs and reconstruction was finished in 1980. We didn’t know much of this information as we strolled by, but we did notice the brickwork was painted onto the fronting plaster and concrete rather than actually laid by masons. It’s still beautiful, even as a reconstruction.

We found a quiet courtyard with a fountain rimmed by weird mythological hybrids. It was the first real sit we’d had since the train from Dachau and it was incredibly relaxing to just listen to the water and distant street noise. But there were gardens to see.

Through the gazebo of the Hof Garden with it’s carefully manicured lawn and bocce ball pitches, past three different girls striking model-like poses on a beautiful day for eager photographers, and out into the English Garden. The English Garden is the Central Park of Munich (it’s actually larger). It was laid out in the late 18th century and features artificial lakes and streams lining copious green spaces that reflect harmony, symmetry, and man’s domination over nature. Kids played in the streams, body surfing over the rocks and rapids. In the wide field people slack-lined, kicked soccer balls around, and worked on their tans. Some of the older Müncheners had decided to work on their full-body tan. There are some things that cannot be unseen. This is the same demographic that always insists on walking around the changing room at the YMCA with everything airing out while they shave, chat, and read the paper. I guess past a certain age you just don’t care anymore.

Past the field was the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), a wooden pagoda encircled by another massive biergarten serving hefty liters of Hels beer (the slightly sweet specialty of Bavaria) and Wheat beer (also a regional specialty). They required a one euro deposit on the massive stein. The things normally sell for seven euro. Tim and I had the same brain wave and resolved to lug a couple pounds of glass across the continent, just so we can work on our biceps when we party back home.

Other patrons had brought their own picnics to the garden. We liked the idea and dredged up all the snacks we were packing including Golden Grahams, Corn Nuts, and Animal Crackers that would supplement our meals for the rest of the week. It’s probably the most American meal I’ve had in quite a few months.

Shane tracked us down under the pagoda, and lead us to his favorite schnitzel joint in the city. To find four seats together, we had to take a table in the back of the bar near the kitchen. We ended up sweating into our beverages, but it was certainly worth it. The schnitzel was draped over roasted potatoes (something like hash browns) and covered the entire plate, a 10” diameter schnitzel. We wouldn’t be really hungry for another couple of days. Our waiter was a Canadian who tried to play it cool, offering candid advice to American tourists. It didn’t matter that Shane and I knew the drill, he just seemed happy to impart a little knowledge on tipping.

With a final toast to the Bavarian capital, we wound our way back to Shane’s floor. We would only spend a couple of hours there before waking up at 5:15 to catch the train to Luzern, Switzerland. We would have plenty of time to catch up on sleep while rolling south, right?


The photos.


Michael said...

I forget if this came up with our conversation at the Chinesischer Turm, but this fight scene kept playing over in my head: I'm not sure if there's a shot of the exterior of the pagoda in this clip, but there is a striking resemblance I think. Happy Independence Day--glad your fellow Fellows enjoyed the Skyline dip!

Matt said...

I think we should have climbed the tower and tried to reenact this fight. The Germans would have appreciated the entertainment.

Tim said...

Yeah, but the stein was totally worth it.