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Munich is bubbling over with fun, games _ and beer

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Set at the foot of the Alps, Munich has spacious tree-lined boulevards, acres of green parks, dozens of haute cuisine restaurants, art treasures and a lively nightlife that ranges from cool jazz to crazy raves. It is, perhaps, Europe's best-kept secret.

In the well-preserved and mainly pedestrian-only medieval center, cafe terraces sprawl onto cobbled avenues; street musicians perform on every corner alongside noisy pretzel sellers and, this being Bavaria, the omnipresent sausage stalls.

The summer beer gardens cater for thousands, and despite the amounts of beer and wine downed on a hot afternoon (Germans have recently replaced the French as the world's heaviest drinkers) there is no "lager lout" behavior.

There are more than 40 museums in the old town alone, from the outstanding art of the Alte Pinakothek to one of the largest science museums in the world, situated on an island in the Isar river. There's a hunting and fishing museum in the Gothic vaults of a medieval church and a chamber pot museum.

Munich owes its name and existence to a small group of monks who set up a monastery about 1,200 years ago on the banks of the Isar. The surrounding village became known as "Munichen" _ "the monks," but the medieval grandeur of the city only began when the House of Wittelsbach made it its capital in 1255. For 650 years, these dukes, princes and kings built a royal city of palaces, mansions, churches, landscaped gardens and lakes.

Munich is a festive city, in the broadest sense, all the year round. This is a wealthy place, where the pace is relaxed and the inhabitants enjoy having fun seven days a week, be it eating out _ a major preoccupation _ drinking a mass of beer (a bit more than two pints) or a glass of excellent local wine or dancing in clubs until the early hours of the morning.

Must see

Schwabing: Schwabing is Munich's Latin Quarter, full of students and would-be bohemians.

Der Englischer Garten: The English Garden, which borders the Isar, was commissioned in 1789.

Alte and Neue Pinakothek: The Alte Pinakothek, off Arcisstrasse, has one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the world: Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Velasquez and El Greco.

Lenbachhaus: This exquisite, tiny museum in Luisenstrasse has a wonderful collection of Expressionist paintings.

Viktualienmarkt: Situated at the heart of the city center, the lively "Vittles Market" is known as "Munich's stomach."

Marienplatz: The old-fashioned town center.

Theatinerkirche: Munich's architecture spans an enormously wide spectrum, from medieval Gothic through Renaissance, rococo and neo-classical, but the Theatiner Church stands out as a jewel of Italian Baroque style.

Where to eat

Eating out begins with the traditional, reasonably priced Gastatte restaurants, serving mugs of beer accompanied by plates of sauerkraut piled high with sausages, but it certainly doesn't end there, because this city is the gastronomic capital of Germany.

Munich's Viktualienmarkt is stocked with products from neighboring northern Italy, the Tyrol and France, plus excellent local freshwater fish. The resulting cuisine is surprising and innovative.

Tantris: Johann-Fichte-Strasse 7 (010 49 89 362061). Gastronomic landmark. DM150 (about $96).

Cafe Extrablatt: Leopoldstrasse 7 (010 49 89 333333). Cheap, noisy, always full. DM25 (about $16).

Zum Weintrodler: Brienner Strasse 10 (010 49 89 283193). Open every day until 6 a.m. DM40 (about $25).

Nordsee: Viktualienmarkt (010 49 89 221186). Irresistible for lunch when visiting the Vittles Market. DM20 (about $13).

Bamberger Haus: Brunnerstrasse 2 (010 49 89 3088966). There are only a few restaurants left that still brew their own beer. DM25 (about $16).

Where to drink

As you would expect, beer drinkers are seriously spoiled in Munich, with the likes of Lowenbrau and Spaten or less well-known local brews like Weissbier, made from wheat instead of barley, but there are also dozens of stylish bars where the chic clientele would never dream of ordering a pint, plus a host of clubs and live jazz, rock and blues.

Schumann's: Maximilianstrasse 36. Cool, minimalist decor with an even cooler crowd.

Havana Club: Herrnstrasse 30. This is pure 1950s Cuba; great salsa music, exotic cocktails, fun bartenders.

Where to stay

Accommodation ranges from luxury hotels to simple bed and breakfasts. The city is traditionally heavily booked for the Oktoberfest. Prices range from DM500 (about $320) for luxury hotels to DM75 (about $48) for a traditional Bavarian "pension."

Hotel Rafael: Neuturmstrasse 1 (010 49 89 290980; fax 222539). The most prestigious address in Munich, luxurious but discreet. DM560 (about $360).

Hotel Opera: St-Anna-Strasse 10 (010 49 89 225533; fax 225538). One of the best spots in the city center, a charming hotel, set in a small house in a quiet back street. DM260 (about $166).

Englischer Garten: Liebergesellstrasse 8 (010 49 89 392034; fax 391233). This upmarket pension, which has the feel of someone's private home, looks out over the English Garden. DM170 (about $109).

Hotel Am Markt: Heiliggeiststrasse 6 (010 49 89 225014; fax 224017). Reasonably priced rustic hotel situated between the lovely Holy Ghost church and the Viktualienmarkt. DM140 (about $90).

Need to know

Money: Credit cards are widely accepted, and it's easy to change money in banks, which are open 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Tipping: Service is included in your bill, but it's usual to leave another 10 percent, though not when paying taxi fares. The main post office, opposite the train station, is open 24 hours for changing money and long-distance phone calls.

Language: Just about everyone speaks some English. The only German you really need to know is Gruss Gott, the local way of saying "Hello."

When to go: Spring, summer and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; it can be cold in winter. The Oktoberfest this year ran from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2. The carnival season, known as "Fasching," is from Jan. 7 until Shrove Tuesday.

Information: The staff of Munich's tourist offices are helpful and speak English. The main office is at Sendlinger Strasse 1 (010 49 89 23911).