This city favors rave clubs with Communist themes and statues of Lenin, techno bars, and designs by the Pritzker Prize–winning starchitects Herzog & de Meuron, who have been mightily praised for, among other things, transforming a series of interconnected 19th-century buildings into a glossy shopping complex.
They are also celebrated for the massive Allianz Arena on the city’s outskirts, a building some admirers describe as a poetic cloud bank but which reminds me of a Naugahyde ottoman my parents bought during a groovy 1960’s decorating phase.
They wear caps with boar bristles valuable enough to be listed in testamentary codicils.
The effect of walking around in a place where people are gotten up in this fashion is that it can occasionally seem as if the pages of the city’s municipal calendar stopped turning at some unspecified time in the past. It can seem so at moments when snow renders the city a black-and-white snapshot.
And scores of lawn Santas and shiny ceramic gingerbread houses and…well, somewhere between the glitter snow globes and the flameproof trees in post-nuclear colors, I found an exit and fled.
Sooner or later most of us realize that the magnetic center of the holiday force field is only partly composed of Hallmark moments.
Deep at its core is a more tedious compulsion, the will to rake through the emotional trash of shared experience.
Merrymakers cluster at fir-garlanded sheds set up inside the courtyard of the Baroque Residenz palace.
The crowds of yesterday have vanished from the central square, the Marienplatz. And someone is surely sulking on a corner of a sofa, face an image of sour disappointment lighted red and green by merry winking bulbs. They would be distant from me even if I were celebrating Christmas at home.
Only a few vendors remain in the shuttered Christkindlesmarkt, packing up their wares. Thus the urge to spend the holiday in a part of the world where so many of its familiar customs originated, while impulsive, was not altogether escapist; it came to me while on an earlier reporting trip to the largest Christmas store in the world.
A late-20th-century ring road frames the historic center like a subtle barricade, enclosing structures like the Alte Pinakothek, which is one of the premier treasure houses of art in Europe, the Glyptothek, and the royal Residenz.
The hundreds of marbled, gilded, and ornately plastered rooms in this Wittelsbach family seat were tragically pulverized in the Second World War and then miraculously resurrected in replica.
“In no other major German city,” as the German writer Winfried Nerdinger once observed in an indispensable architectural guide to the city, “was the urban image so consciously, constantly and systematically polished.” After Allied bombs reduced half of the structural substance of Munich to rubble, the locals decided to rebuild it exactly as it was.