Cars, lakes and country houses in the Bavarian capital
Munich offers tourists much more than just its historic center
Posted: August 28, 2013
It was in June 1919 that an aircraft powered by a BMW IV engine flew to a height of 9,760 meters, which at the time represented a world altitude record. That six-cylinder, 23-liter engine, with the propeller still attached, is now on show at the BMW museum that sits beside the Olympic Park in Munich, the capital of Bavaria.
Munich may draw in tourists by the thousands to see its medieval streets, churches and monumental boulevards, and they are well worth the five-hour bus ride from Prague to see. Yet attractions like the museum show that visitors should also take the time to travel to outlying districts of this city of 1.4 million.
BMW, or Bavarian Motor Works to use the English translation of the company's full name, is headquartered in the city and the museum offers a fascinating motoring showcase from the early 20th century to the modern day. Soon after Franz Zeno Diemer set a world record with his BMW-powered flight, in 1923 the company turned to motorcycle production, and one vast wall of the museum is taken up by a string of machines from across the decades.
It is cars however that propelled the firm to global domination and the array of them on show is dizzying. There are saloons from the 1970s stacked one on top of the other, their double headlamps and backwards sloping front fascias being the identifying characteristic of the company's cars from that era. Then there are angular and edgy concept vehicles sitting near elegant convertibles that would have offered the perfect transport for enjoying summer vacations in the French or Italian Rivieras in times past.
A squat Formula One car once driven by the Brazilian multiple world champion Nelson Piquet is displayed near a more modern offering from the company's unsuccessful 2000s attempt to regain Grand Prix glory. This latter car is on its side, attached to a wall, an example of the dramatic and no-expense-spared methods of display seen throughout the museum.
From closer to the present day is a clay model, used by aerodynamicists to fine-tune the design, of the latest iteration of BMW's bestselling car, the 3-series. Quite a few museum visitors have dug their fingernails into the full-size model, perhaps to test whether it really is made of clay.
Impressive though the museum is, the nearby BMW World is even more attention-grabbing. This must be the car showroom to end all car showrooms, an aircraft hanger-sized space with five-star interior decoration and a dramatically sculpted mezzanine floor on which just about every present-day BMW model is on show. Downstairs are motorbikes, Rolls-Royces and sports cars. It is Mecca for any petrol head.
The BMW museum and BMW World, and the company's adjacent factory and headquarters, are all about technological progress, so the 1972 Olympic Park, with its tranquil lakes and green spaces that attract a host of bird species, offers a welcome contrast. The Olympic tower, a short walk from the main stadium, is the best vantage point from which to see the city as a whole. There are distant mountains, power stations and views of the various Olympic stadiums and the vast expanse of buildings that make up the BMW factory.
Nearby also is the Olympic residential village where the events for which the 1972 games are largely remembered, namely the killing of a number of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists, began. The apartment buildings have the characteristically severe look one expects from 1970s developments and they do not exactly beautify the city.
Visible further away, and much easier on the eye, is Nymphenburg Palace. This is the one attraction outside the city center that no one should miss. Built as the summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria, it was once surrounded by countryside. Now, rail lines and housing developments skirt its borders, but it retains a peaceful air and it is more understated and elegant than many other baroque buildings.
The central part of the palace dates from the 1600s, although Nymphenburg was significantly expanded in the following century. Inside are a wealth of baroque frescoes, portraits in gold frames and elaborate chandeliers. There is also the obligatory Chinese-themed room.
While a relatively small number of rooms in the palace are open to the public, one of those that can be visited has special significance: the green-colored bedroom was where King Ludwig II, also known as the Mad King and the Swan King, was born. Ludwig, as King of Bavaria, went on to build the magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle, which can be visited on a day trip from Munich. Nymphenburg's appeal extends beyond the house itself: it has extensive gardens which draw in tourists as well as city residents keen to escape the urban bustle. Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be seen - and heard - among the trees, while a delightful outdoor café offers the perfect place for a coffee at the end of a long hike through the trees and fields.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at