The snow has conspired with the city to turn the ordinary beautiful and the beautiful sublime. Rows of bicycles beclouded with snow look like installations in a modern art gallery. Great stone lions wear a mane of white. Statues are clothed in snow, lost in granite contemplation.
I am in Munich, the storied capital of Bavaria. Winter has come, borne on the wings of winds sweeping down from the Black Forest.
But the “Toytown” exterior, the disciplined populace, the wide boulevards of the city of today conceals a history of violence, of both chaos and beauty.
Earlier, I had taken the train into the city. A friend, settled in Germany, is my host. It is a late winter afternoon. The first stop is at the Stachus, the central town square. The cold has already gotten to my initial enthusiasm. Desis do not operate well in sub-zero climes.
My friend suggests that I get some gluhwein inside me. Gluhwein is mulled wine, spiced with cinnamon and ginger, and very popular during the winter. Searching for a gluhwein stall is as good a mission as any.
From the Stachus we walk through the portals of the Karlstor, one of the last remaining gates of what was once an extensive ring of fortifications. The Gothic gate is a forlorn island amidst the glittering malls and shop fronts that it now guards.
Soon the mass of the Frauenkirche looms up. Writer Jerome K Jerome says, “The inhabitants of Munich boast that their Cathedral is the ugliest in Europe; and, judging from appearances, I am inclined to think that the claim must be admitted.” I am impressed, however, by its sheer size, its twin towers conveying a massive, brutal majesty.
As we walk through the historic heart of the city, I suddenly realise that I am in the middle of a vast trompe l’oeil. What I’d taken for historic buildings are actually plastic screens with the façade painted upon them, complete with people looking out of the windows. “They are repairing the bomb damage,” explains my friend. What bomb damage? I wonder. As I learn later, most of the city was completely levelled by Allied bombing raids during the Second World War. Almost everything that I see, despite the veneer of immense age, has actually been reconstructed, a jigsaw puzzle being slowly solved over decades.
Meticulous as ever, the Germans are replacing the city brick