Munich – Salt, Walls & Beer Halls

Salt was the white gold of the Middle Ages. It was as valuable to the medieval economy as oil and natural gas are to ours. Salt’s ability to preserve food is considered a founding contributor to the development of civilization. A great deal of wealth and power could be attained by those who controlled its movement. It has been a deciding factor in the outcome of wars and the founding of cities, and Munich is a prime example of this¹.

Oberföhring was a medieval city located along a low point of the Isar river, where carts and wagons could cross. Because of this, it was an integral part of the Old Salt Road. Around 1000 C.E., the bishop of Freising built a toll bridge and began to collect a tidy profit from the salt traders.

In 1156, a powerful German prince known as Henry the Lion (Duke of Saxony and Bavaria), decided he wanted in on this lucrative business. He burned down the existing toll bridge at Oberföhring and built his own, located just a short distance up river in a tiny community that included a Benedictine monastery. By doing this, Henry the Lion (shown below) effectively rerouted the salt trade through this tiny community, which would later become Munich, and he would be considered its founder. Oberföhring would later become a mere district of Munich, located northeast of the city centre, with a street name of “Salzenderweg” that changes into “An der Salzbrucke” (translating into “Salt Way” and “On the Salt bridge”, respectively) remaining as a teasing historical remnant.

Henry knew that his new location would require protection, and so he ordered the building of Munich’s first city wall. It was completed in 1175, and encompassed a small area of 400 metres with Marienplatz (then called Marktplatz) at its centre. A second city wall was built in 1330 to accommodate the expansion of the growing city.

Below is an image of Munich in a 1493 woodcut.

Munich around 1572.

In 1618, the wall was refortified and additional structures were built to strengthen it as the Thirty Years’ War began. By the late 18th century, however, the wall was outdated and hindered the development of a more modern city. It was eventually levelled.

Today, three town gates of the wall remain: Isartor in the east, Karlstor in the west, and Sendlinger Tor in the southwest.

Isartor is named after the nearby Isar river. This was the gate that met with the salt trade crossing and, as such, was the city’s most important entrance. It is the only gate of the remaining three that still has its main central tower.

The gate has been restored and reconstructed over the years, especially after being heavily damaged in WWII. It remains largely faithful to its medieval appearance, shown in the image below.

Karlstor marks the beginning of the pedestrian-only shopping street of Neuhauser Straße. To visit downtown, Neil and I would take the train from our apartment to nearby Hauptbahnhoff station, walk across busy Karlsplatz, and cross under this gate. It is only a five minute walk from here to Marienplatz. The gate was originally named Neuhauser Tor after the next village that could be reached when leaving town. It was renamed in 1791 after Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria. Locally, it is better known by the nickname of “Stachus.”

The current version of the town gate only bears a little resemblance to its medieval counterpart, shown below (plus moat and bridge). In 1857 an annex to the main central tower was used to store gunpowder. In 1861 the gunpowder exploded, destroying the annex and main tower so badly that they both had to be torn down. The remaining towers were redesigned and connected with a new bridge in 1861-2.

Sendlinger Tor is located at the southern end of Munich’s historic city centre. Originally, this gate also had a central tower. In 1808, the central tower was destroyed. In 1860, the flanking towers and the wall were restored. In 1906, the three original arches were replaced by one central arch (to meet with increased traffic demands) and two small pedestrian arches were added on either side, giving the gate its current look.

Unlike its sister gates, Sendlinger Tor received hardly any damage in World War II. It did undergo some refurbishment in the 1980s.

Below is a picture of the medieval gate.

A small stretch of the Munich city wall remains at Jungfernturmstrasse.

Siegestor was built in 1843-1852 under the orders of King Ludwig I of Bavaria as a Victory Gate to celebrate the glory of the Bavarian army and its success in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The bronze figure of Bavaria is riding in a chariot drawn by lions, looking north in the direction towards which most visitors approach the city. Below her, “Dem Bayerischen Heere” (“To the Bavarian Army”) is inscribed. It was modelled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome.

The back of the monument is where things get interesting. The arch was heavily destroyed in WWII and was set to be demolished in July 1945. Instead, it was partially restored (note the blank empty space where previously sculpted details would have existed) and a new inscription was added: “Dem Sieg Geweiht, Vom Krieg Zerstört, Zum Frieden Mahnend” (“Dedicated to Victory, Destroyed by War, Urging Peace”).

Siegestor sits on one end of Ludwigstraße and, at the other end of the street at Odeonplatz, sits a similar monument, the Feldherrnhalle, which honours the leaders of the Bavarian army. In the first picture of the Siegestor above, if you peek through the arch on the left, you can see the orange towers of Theatinerkirche. I’ll detail those two buildings next.

Feldherrnhalle translates as “the Field Marshall’s Hall.” Similar to the Siegestor, it was commissioned by King Ludwig I to celebrate the Bavarian army. It was built between 1841-44 in the location where one of the old city gates, Schwabingertor, was located. It was modelled after the Logia dei Lanzi in Florence. Two statues commemorate military leaders, Johann Tilly (of the Thirty Years War) and Karl Philipp von Wrede (who fought against Napoleon). The sculpture in the middle was added in 1882 after the Franco-Prussian War to celebrate victory over France and the unification of Germany. The lions, added in 1906, are modelled after the Medici lions at the Logia in Florence.

The Feldherrnhalle is where Hitler’s failed coup attempt, the Beer Hall Putsch, came to an end on November 9, 1923. Hitler and his followers tried to storm the Bavarian Defense Ministry but were met instead with a line of Bavarian police. Four policemen and sixteen marchers were killed, many were wounded, and Hitler was captured and sent to jail. When Hitler seized power of Germany in 1933, he turned the Feldherrnhalle into a sacred Nazi site. Hitler proclaimed that the sixteen fallen men were the “first martyrs” of the Nazi cause, and had a memorial built to honour them. The memorial was kept under perpetual ceremonial guard by members of the SS, and Munich citizens were obligated to salute it when they passed by. The square in front of the Feldhernnhalle became a place for SS parades, commemoration rallies for the dead SA men, and new SS recruits would swear their oath of loyalty to Hitler here.

Some Munich citizens found a way to avoid saluting the Nazi memorial. Behind the Feldhernnhalle there is a lane called Viscardigasse. People could use this street as a detour, earning it the nickname “Drückebergergasse” (which translates as “shirker’s lane” or “dodger’s alley”).

Normally, Viscardigasse has a small golden trail painted on the cobblestones to mark the route of the people who used it to avoid passing the Nazi memorial, like what is shown below.

However, I have been beset with a curse that means that many of the historic sites I am most excited to see will be under construction when I want to see them. So, instead of golden cobblestones, we saw this:

Oh well, maybe next year!

At the end of World War II, the Feldhernnhalle location was returned to its pre-Nazi appearance. Locals destroyed the Nazi memorial on June 3, 1945.

The Theatinerkirche was built between 1663-90. It was founded by Bavarian Elector Ferdinand Maria and his wife Henrietta Adelaide of Savoy, after the arrival of their long-awaited heir, Prince Max Emanuel in 1662. It is also known as the Dominican Priory of St. Catejan.

I liked the beautiful yellow colour of the building.

Hofbräuhaus is a famous beer hall in downtown Munich. There is also a large Hofbräuhaus festival tent at Oktoberfest.

Munich imported beer from the German provinces of Saxony and Kassel until the 16th century. In 1589, Duke Wilhelm V (of the ruling Wittelsbach family) decided he wanted his own local brewery to service the needs of his royal court. The Hofbräu (“hof” translates as court, “brau” as “brew”) was born, and the “haus” (“house”) was where it was made. (German is easy! Right, Neil?)

The brewery was originally located next to the Imperial Palace, the Alter Hof, but as demand for the beer grew, it was moved to its present location in the Platzl. Below is a picture of the original building.

The brewhouse wasn’t actually made accessible to the public until 1828 by King Ludwig I. In 1896, the brewing equipment and process was moved off-site and the building was re-modelled so that it would cater exclusively to its patrons. This is the version of the building we recognize today.

Hofbräuhaus has beautifully decorated ceilings, a live house band, and several floors of seating available. The first floor is where most of the action is.

I’m sorry the pictures are of poor quality. Neil was using the main camera to shoot some video, so I was using my camera phone. I didn’t realize the quality was so poor until later. When we go back to Munich, I’ll have to take some better shots.

There is a big area reserved for regular customers. 120 groups of them meet often at Hofbräuhaus. Regulars have a place where they can store their beer steins, some of which are shown below.

This is where I ordered the infamous pork knuckle. It is delicious, but a lot of food to eat! It could be split between two people, easily. That is, if one of them isn’t a vegetarian. It came with a potato dumpling. I thought its texture was a little weird.

History is thirsty work!

We stopped in the shop on our way out and, guess what I found!? A sensible cardigan!

Hofbräuhaus is located in the Platzl, which is full of these beautiful Renaissance-style townhouses. They’re not as old as they look, unfortunately, because many of them had to be rebuilt after World War II (this is a common theme in Germany).


Maybe the potato dumpling would have benefitted from a little more salt.

¹ Fun fact, In England, the use of “-wich” in a place name indicates that the location was once a source of salt (ie: “Sandwich”, “Norwich”).

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2 Replies to “Munich – Salt, Walls & Beer Halls”

  1. Don Grey says:

    Another gem, Leah. I was disappointed that it ended. I was throughly enjoying the read and the pics. Always looking forward to the next one.

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