Museum Brandhorst, Maxvorstadt, Munich

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Munich and central Bavaria

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“Laptop and Lederhosen” is the expression Germans use to explain the Bavarian paradox: the unlikely combination of social conservatism and business acumen that has made it a powerhouse of the European economy. Nowhere is the contrast sharper than in its capital. Munich is much loved by the cashmere-clad Schickies (yuppies) for whom it is, self-evidently, the “northernmost city in Italy”. Yet to detractors it’s also the beer- and sausage-obsessed Millionendorf – a village with a million inhabitants. Beyond Munich, the urbanized and industrialized heartlands of Bavarian Swabia and Upper Bavaria display similar contrasts, with perfectly preserved old towns alongside world-beating manufacturing industries. This is not yet the Bavaria of popular cliché: there aren’t even any mountains.

It is, above all, a region of urban glories. As capital of the Duchy that Napoleon expanded and raised to the status of a kingdom, Munich has the air – and cultural clout – of a capital city to this day, though its heyday as capital of the kingdom of Bavaria lasted little more than a century. To the west, the Swabian city of Augsburg has far older claims to urban greatness, which have left their mark in the city’s splendid Renaissance core. In the north, Ingolstadt balances respect for its history with pride in its industrial prowess, notably as the home of the car manufacturer Audi. Smaller towns too retain memories of past glories, from the picture-book Residenzstadt of Neuburg an der Donau to the little ecclesiastical city of Eichstätt. Only south of Munich does the landscape come to the fore, in the rolling lakeland of the Fünf-Seen-Land, where the Alps are at last a discernible presence, if only on the horizon. Yet even in the south, Landsberg am Lech provides a glorious urban counterpoint to the approaching mountains.

Getting around this densely populated part of Bavaria is relatively straightforward, with Munich’s suburban rail system extending far out into the surrounding countryside and the other major population centres linked to it by Autobahn and rail. Moreover, Munich’s airport – Germany’s second busiest after Frankfurt – ensures it couldn’t be easier to get into, or out of, the region. Yet even here, the Bavarian paradox holds true; the efficient modern airport is named after one of postwar Germany’s most reactionary politicians, the long-time Bavarian premier and leader of the conservative CSU party, Franz Josef Strauss.

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