History of Munich

Mother Earth Travel > Germany > Munich > History

Munich is a young town! Its founding is attributed to the Guelph Duke, Henry of the Lions, who gained the title Duke of Bavaria in 1156. Now a town of approximately 1,4 million inhabitants, the site was at this time only a small settlement characterised by a Benedictine monastery. A few kilometres away, the salt road wound past. This was a route along which the salt traders transported their goods. Their white gold was carried to Augsburg and further inland from the salt mines in Bad Reichenhall and Hallein. However, to follow such a route necessitated crossing the river Isar. The only possibility was a bridge, which was subject to tolling and lay in the territory of the Bishop of Freising. In order to reap the benefits of this toll system, Duke Henry demanded in 1158 that the old bridge near Oberföhring (today a part of the city of Munich) be destroyed and that a new bridge over the Isar be built on the site of the present Ludwigsbrücke. In the same year Emperor Frederick Barbarossa officially opened this new trade passage. The market and traditional currency of Freising was then transferred to the area: Munichen that was later to be Munich was born! The town Apud Munichen derived its name from the then existing monastery: Bei den Mönchen (meaning literally 'amongst the monks'). At the site of this monastery today Munich's oldest parish church 'Der alte Peter' is to be found. The salt road became the central axis on which the new town boundaries were to be based. It follows the course of the valley from the Isar Gate to Marienplatz.

On Duke Henry's refusal to lead the army for the Emperor he was placed under an imperial ban and subsequently lost his entire estate in 1180. Munich was placed in the hands of the Wittelbacher family. It is said that this family forged the city's history for the following 700 years (until 1918) and finally provided the region with rulers.

In 1214 Munich was for the first time described as a 'town' - within the still small town walls (erected circa. 1175) there lived at that time approximately 2000 people. In 1239, the future town symbol first appeared: 'das Münchener Kindl' (the child of Munich). This in fact depicted a young monk and later formed the basis of the Munich coat of arms. The town colours, gold and black, were conceived a century later. From 1324-1350 the so-called decorations of state, the insignia of power, were held at Munich and then the town was permitted to adopt the colours of the Empire.

In 1255, Munich became the official town of residence of the Duchy of Bavaria-Munich and the Alter Hof had to be expanded in order to accommodate this. A further town wall became necessary (built ca. 1255-1290). Finally in 1271, the blossoming town was divided into two parishes, those of St Peter and St Maria.

Fires destroyed a large part of the town in both 1310 and 1327 and neither was it spared the wrath of epidemics (between 1349 and 1495 the people of Munich suffered twelve outbreaks of the black plague). As was the case in many other towns, the Jewish population was blamed for this misfortune. The first terrible anti-Semitic hate campaign followed. The string of fires meanwhile did not reach an end until well into the 15th Century.

Munich nevertheless succeeded in becoming a great centre of trade and culture. The trade routes (not only trading in salt, but also fabric and wine) defined Munich life by prompting the opening of a daily market on the Schrannenplatz (today the Marienplatz) as well as the salt market, held at the Kreuzplatz (today the Promenadeplatz). After 1468, Jörg von Halsenbach built the Frauenkirche (the Ladies' church) which as a result of the architecture resembling two Swiss-French ladies' bonnets, became a symbol of Munich.

In 1505, Munich was named the capital city of Bavaria. Under the orchestration of Duke Albrecht V, the new official residence was built. His descendants were to continue this construction into the 19th Century and King Ludwig the First finished of the palace, which was modelled after the Florentine Palazzo Pitti.

From 1563 onwards, Munich developed into a hotbed of anti-reformation agitation. The Jesuits moved into Munich and the Michaeliskirche was built. The town stood next to Augsburg and Prague as a cultural centre of the region. In 1623, Bavaria became an electorate. The town was occupied in 1632 by Swedish soldiers during the Thirty years war. As a mark of gratitude for the ensuing liberation the Mariensäule (pillar of Mary) was built.

In the 18th Century electoral Prince Karl Albrecht commissioned the artist of Rococo. The Amalienburg in Nymphenburg subsequently emerged in 1734.

In 1806, Napoleon declared Bavaria part of the Empire and as part of this train of thought dubbed Munich the main town of imperial residence. When crowned Prince Ludwig married in 1810, the first Oktoberfest was held. The town expanded out of its previous boundaries and Maxvorstadt arose.

The 19th Century brought Munich much that shaped its unique character: In 1826 it became a university town and in 1857 the first Weisswürst (white sausage, a Bavarian speciality) were eaten and the new town hall was built. The population increased rapidly: in 1945 there were ca. 100,000 inhabitants. This had grown to almost half a million by 1900. Munich was as a result the third largest town in Germany.

In the confusion that followed the First World War the Munich Räterepublik (Soviet Republic) was exclaimed in 1919. Shortly after, the first meeting of the Nazi party took place. In 1923 Hitler ordered the march on the Feldherrnhalle. Between 1935-45 Munich stood as the main town of the Nazi movement.

On the 30th of April 1945 American troops marched into a town that had been nearly 70% destroyed. As part of the reconstruction programme, a special effort was made to preserve the historical areas, whilst the building a new and modern Munich began. The visitors to the Olympic games in 1972 were welcomed by newly built underground transport and ringroads. In the following year Munich had become one of the most desirable cities in Germany. It still serves as a centre of the publishing industry and home of many big international corporations. Furthermore, it counts as a very welcoming and safe town and thanks to its large tourist and leisure facilities has been referred to as the "most northern town in Italy".