Munich (München), the capital of Bavaria Land, in southern Germany, is Bavaria’s largest city and the third largest city in Germany (after Berlin and Hamburg). Munich lies about 30 miles (50 km) north of the edge of the Alps and along the Isar River, which flows through the middle of the city. The population in 2015 was estimated at 1.4 million.
München (“Home of the Monks”), traces its origins to the Benedictine monastery at Tegernsee, which was probably founded in 750 CE. In 1157 Henry the Lion, duke of Bavaria, granted the monks the right to establish a market where the road from Salzburg met the Isar River. A bridge was built across the Isar the following year, and the marketplace was fortified.
In 1255 Munich became the home of the Wittelsbach family, which had succeeded to the duchy of Bavaria in 1180. For more than 700 years the Wittelsbachs would be closely connected with the town’s destiny. In the early 14th century the first of the Wittelsbach line of Holy Roman emperors, Louis IV (Louis the Bavarian), expanded the town to the size at which it remained up to the end of the 18th century. Under the Bavarian elector Maximilian I (1597–1651), Munich increased in wealth and size and prospered until the Thirty Years’ War. During this war, Munich was occupied by the Swedes under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) in 1632, and in 1634 a plague epidemic resulted in the death of about one third of its population.
In 1806 the city was made capital of the kingdom of Bavaria. The third Wittelsbach who left his mark on the community was Louis I, king of Bavaria from 1825 to 1848. He expand Munich beyond the old town in a magnificent building program. Louis planned and created modern Munich, and his architects established the city’s characteristic appearance in the public buildings they designed. Louis’s son Maximilian II, who reigned from 1848–1864, built the broad Maximilienstrasse and the Maximilianeum, which now houses the Bavarian parliament (Landtag).
The 19th century was Munich’s greatest period of growth and development. Protestants became citizens for the first time in what had been until then a purely Roman Catholic town. The city’s population of 100,000 in 1854 grew to 500,000 by 1900. Munich’s cultural importance in Europe was enhanced when Louis II, by his championing of the composer Richard Wagner, revived its fame as a city of music and the stage.
The rule of the Wittelsbach dynasty finally ended with the self-imposed exile of Louis III in November 1918, and, in the aftermath of World War I, Munich became a hotbed of right wing political disorder. It was in Munich that Adolf Hitler joined the Nazi Party and became its leader. The beer cellar where he held meetings that led to the Beer Hall Putsch (“rising”) against the Bavarian authorities in November 1923, can still be seen.
Adolf Hitler failed in his attempted coup aimed at the Bavarian government. Despite this fiasco, Hitler made Munich the headquarters of the Nazi party, which in 1933 took control of the German national government.
In World War II Munich suffered heavily from Allied bombing raids, which destroyed more than 40 percent of its buildings, but after 1945 it was extensively rebuilt and many modern buildings were constructed.
Generally the sky line of Munich is not very high for the reason that the height limit on buildings was limited to the height of the fire engines of the day. As you look across the Munich skyline, church spires dominate. In 1973 it hosted the Olympic Games.
Munich suffered economically in the past, because of its distance from seaports and from the coal mines of the Ruhr region. But this situation improved when fuels other than coal came into general use. Munich shifted from heavy to light industry, to the manufacture, for example, of precision instruments, optical, electrical appliances, aerospace and other high technology products. It also shifted towards the production of food, cosmetics and clothing.
The city has several of the largest breweries in Germany. It is famous for its beer and its annual Oktoberfest celebration. Munich is a major tourist destination and a convention centre. Book publishing and printing and television production are also important. The city is a centre of the banking and financial industry. It also has one of the largest wholesale markets in Europe for fruit, vegetables, and animal produce.
Munich is connected by rail to all the main cities of Germany and Austria. It is a major hub for the German and European high speed passenger rail system. Autobahnen (expressways) from Stuttgart, Nürnberg, and Salzburg converge on the city. Franz Josef Strauss Airport, located 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Munich, opened in 1992. A modern subway was also built in the city.
The old town, clustered around the ancient crossroads of the marketplace in the Marienplatz, has increasingly become a business centre and has lost much of its ancient character. Among the old buildings that still stand are three of the seven town gates, Karls, Sendlinger, and Isar, all dating from the 14th century. Other medieval buildings include Munich’s cathedral, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), whose massive towers are prominent landmarks; and the Old Town Hall in the Marienplatz.