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Uncover art and hidden history in the Bavarian city of Munich

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Stylist contributor Sarah Pyper discovers there's much more to Munich than beer and sausages 


Standing in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, I am virtually alone. There are no chaotic schooltrips, no armies of headphone wearing art lovers, just me and the intense yellow paint smears of a world-famous, multi-million pound painting. But I’m not in Amsterdam (I went recently and could only see the top corner of the Sunflowers there by standing on tiptoes behind a sea of tourist heads). Within minutes I’ve wandered past works by Monet, Renoir and Cezanne but I’m not in Paris either. Instead I’m in Munich the beautiful but slightly forgotten art capital of Germany.

If Berlin is Beyoncé - all big drama and major presence - Munich is Solange Knowles, the cooler, lesser known but equally talented sister of the pair. Five hours south of Berlin and half the size, Munich is more relaxed (it’s so compact you can walk everywhere) and romantic (it’s closer to Milan than Hamburg and Italy has influenced its food, art and architecture) than its austere Northern counterpart. Most of us only know Munich for Oktoberfest, the annual 18 day beer celebration that’s triggered a million hangovers, so the city’s cultural treasures have generally been missed among the demand for sausages (especially weisswurst, the local white sausage which is poached and eaten for breakfast), pretzels and another stein of lager. Still, at a time when the news headlines are dominated by political and humanitarian disasters it’s a real treat for me to escape into a world of art and history.


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Munich’s art area, the Kunstareal, has 8 world class art museums and if you go on Sundays most only cost €1 to enter. In the Alte Pinakothek, you can indulge a love of the classics - Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli (I also indulged my love of fine cherry cake and coffee in the elegant cafe here); in the Neue Pinakothek, literally across the road, you’re surrounded by Monet, Pissarro and Renoir; while if you manage the, ooh 5 minute, walk to the Museum Brandhorst you can bring your artistic trip up to date with works by Andy Warhol and Cy Twombley.

Neue Pinakothek

The Pinakothek Der Moderne is one of the eight galleries in Munich's art district

Munich is not without its blingy moments. Entering the Schatzkammer, the treasure room at the Residenz museum is like snooping through the world’s most ostentatious jewellery box. I was impressed by a bejewelled travel altar from 870, until I saw the lover’s knot tiara which inspired the one worn by Princess Diana and Kate Middleton but then everything was overshadowed by a gold casket designed to carry a splinter of Christ’s cross. Breathtaking.

Staying at the Mandarin Oriental hotel was memorably luxurious too. Situated in the heart of the Old Town (even the view from my bathroom looked like something created by Disney), it has one of the city’s only rooftop swimming pools and is home to chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s first restaurant in Germany, Matsuhisa. Guest or not, you can dine here and sample the Japanese-Peruvian dishes including the famous Black Cod Yuzo Miso or the delicious aubergine version Nasu Miso - so good I ordered it twice. Team it with a Munich mule (gin, lime and ginger beer) or bury your prejudices about sweet floral German wines with a fresh, crisp Riesling.


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In the summer, the whole city dines outdoors and the stunning Englischer Garten, bigger than Central Park, comes complete with pagoda, lake and river surfing. But in the frosty winter weather I wandered past the elegant stores (Hermes, Chanel, Gucci) on Maximilianstrasse to the more budget-friendly Theatinerstrasse (Seven For All Mankind, Zara, Massimo Dutti) only to spend my euros on handmade wooden bowls from Holz Leute and some insanely good praline pistachio stars at the 1001 Sense chocolate cafe.

Sarah Pinakothek

Sarah gets a tourist-free view of Monet at the Neue Pinakothek

In the summer, the whole city dines outdoors and the stunning Englischer Garten, bigger than Central Park, comes complete with pagoda, lake and river surfing. But in the frosty winter weather I wandered past the elegant stores (Hermes, Chanel, Gucci) on Maximilianstrasse to the more budget-friendly Theatinerstrasse (Seven For All Mankind, Zara, Massimo Dutti) only to spend my euros on handmade wooden bowls from Holz Leute and some insanely good praline pistachio stars at the 1001 Sense chocolate cafe.


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But, however much you want to hide away from reality you can’t spend time in Munich without the city’s traumatic history reminding you of today’s political challenges. Munich was Hitler’s home and the heart of the Nazi party for years and although the obvious memorabilia of that age has long been removed, look closely at the stonework and you can still see the faded shadows and screwholes left by Nazi plaques and statues.

I assumed the wonderfully atmospheric Hofbrauhaus beerhall with it’s lederhosen clad waiters, oompah band and tables upon tables of visitors drinking beer (from 9am) was simply a typical tourist venue until I looked up at the Bavarian flags on the ceiling and discovered they had been painted in a strange cross shape to hide the swastikas that originally lay beneath them.You can’t help but be shocked and moved by what the city has endured and it’s time we all paid attention to the gems of history and culture hidden beneath the surface in Munich.


A two-night cultural tour with Mandarin Oriental, Munich is available from £1,250 per person through Art Tours Ltd (020 7449 9707; arttoursltd.com). The package includes accommodation on a B&B basis, return flights from London and two days of guided tours.

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