Europe Trip 2010: Day 8, Alte Pinakothek & English Garden

On Day 8 of our European adventures, in Munich we twice explored the Alte Pinakothek painting gallery and further explored the English Garden, while meeting a very nice cousin of mine (Teisha’s) I’d never met before. As usually, all photos for Day 8 are online, but read on for photo highlights and travelogue details!

Again we ate at the breakfast buffet at our hotel (since it was included with our room, and was a pretty good little buffet). As usual, we had mostly breads with various meats and cheeses – very tasty. Of particular note – about every day in Germany Andrew would get a soft-boiled egg (commonly served), some bread with Nutella (basically a chocolate spread which, sadly, many Americans don’t know of), and some fruit (as mentioned before, a wide variety of which is often available in German buffets, contrary to the “meat and potatoes” stereotype of German food). In Munich a specialty is “weisswurst,” a white (“weiss” in German) sausage (“wurst” in German), which is one of the few German sausages you need to remove the skin to eat, and it’s eaten with mustard, as you can see on Andrew’s plate on the right. Altogether, it was quite a delicious breakfast and good start to a long day!

Heading out bright and early, we made our way to the Alte Pinakothek, which is considered the best painting museum in Bavaria (a state in Southern Germany). It has an amazing collection of paintings from the 1300s to 1800s, in particular from several famous artists of the Italian Renaissance (Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli). We could also take pictures (without flash) so we snapped quite a few! Here are some of particular note…

One of Teisha’s famous artists is Hieronymous Bosch, a late 1400’s Netherland’s painter, (we have a poster of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” at home) and, making Teisha happy, there was actually a Bosch painting at the entrance to the gallery, but only one in the whole museum.

Moving on, one of the famous paintings in the museum is “The Battle of Issus” (Alexander the Great defeating the Persians), showing a world continually at war, impossibly stretching across the Mediterranean.

Then there was the Italian Rennaisance! (1200s to about 1600 from Medieval culture to early modern European culture.) Starting it off was Leonardo da Vinci’s “Virgin and Child,” with halo-less Jesus and Mary. He used a blood-red carnation of Jesus’ eventual death but, luckily, da Vinci later got rid of such symbolism from his works (good riddance).

Raphael then showed us his take on the baby Jesus with his mother Mary, in his “Holy Family at the Canigiani House.” Father Joseph got to feature in this one too! Altogether, with also John the Baptist and his mother, they formed a pyramid-shaped family.

Painting the baby Jesus with his virgin mother Mary is a super popular theme in paintings from this time… and earlier and later… And we quickly got over-exposed and glazed over a bit every time we saw it again… So it was refreshing to see some Greek/Roman mythology-based paintings. That said, Andrew loved this painting of Venus, Mars, and Vulcan. The myth the painting is based on is basically the following – Venus is married to Vulcan but, due to neglect, cheats on him with Mars. Vulcan storms in and finds Venus and knows her lover cannot be far (he’s hiding under the table), and is outraged as he enters the scene. The whole painting has a sense of motion as the figures seem to nearly fall out of the painting.

After a brief Roman/Greek mythological break, we saw the museum’s centerpiece, Peter Paul Ruben’s “Great Last Judgment.” The museum was actually constructed specifically to house this huge 300-square foot canvas. And, yes, it is about Judgment Day, as Jesus is shown judging at the top while sinners are cast down on the right and the righteous are taken up on the left to heaven. The dead have mostly re-grown flesh, except for a few (mostly hidden) skeletons at the bottom.

Interestingly, there was another room full of sketches that Peter Paul Rubens had made – it’s noted that Rubens made lots of these sketches and then probably had students/assistants make the large canvas drawings… so probably hardly any “Rubens” were actually painted by him… Here’s a paired example.

There was also an interesting painting period in the 1600s and 1700s when Europeans were obsessed with African nature. One drawing we found really amusing – there was a rhino covered with armor because this is probably what Europeans thought rhinos were like from descriptions… And then later we saw a statue of this in the Dali museum, but it didn’t credit this little-known painting as its inspiration! Hmm..

After seeing so many paintings of baby Jesus with mother Mary, we really enjoyed a much later piece making fun of this long-standing trend – a dirty, rather disturbing and sleazy-looking painter is standing in a room offering the viewer his painting of the Madonna and child.

After about 3 hours in the Alte Pinakothek, we headed to the English Garden (see Day 7). We went there to meet a relative of Teisha’s. Some of Teisha’s distance relatives were from Germany and so she actually has a third-cousin (they share the same great grandparents!) who lives in Munich – her cousin’s name is Diana Frank. We had a nice leisurely stroll through the English Garden to where we met, at the Chinesischer Turm Beer Garden (one of the two big beer gardens in the Garden – it seats 6,000!). There was a great array of deserts, meats, cheeses, prepared foods, and, of course, beer at the Beer Garden. Meeting up with Diana, we grabbed some tasty food and enjoyed the shady, outdoor Beer Garden environment and good company.

After a lunch of catching up on family and life, Diana (who bikes everywhere, as is the way in German cities,) showed us to a local hotspot in the English Garden – in the last couple years it’s become popular to surf in Munich! This is done in one place on a river that flows through the English Garden, at a point that has just the right flow to create perpetual waves perfect for surfing. It’s really funny to think of Germans, in a land-locked country, becoming obsessed with surfing! But some of them were really great, lasting on the wave for minutes, while others, waiting nearby for their turn, watched on.

This area of the English Gardens really reminded us of Santa Barbara at the beach – just downstream of the surfers, countless people (mostly high schoolers) were in bathing suits sun bathing or jumping into the river, letting it take them down stream like a “lazy river” at a water park. Diana told us that some people hop in, float on down, and then take the tram back to where they started, doing it all over again! We really enjoyed getting the chance to meet Diana, chatting about family, and having her take the time to show us around Munich a bit. Hopefully we can return the favor when she comes by California or Colorado in the future!

After the English Gardens, we decided we hadn’t had enough of Alte Pinakothek and actually walked back to it (it also helped that it was a cool, indoor museum and outside it was extremely hot). Here are a few more we just had to photograph on our return visit:

Walking the mile-or-so back to our hotel from the museum, we discovered that a subway entrance near our hotel actually was an indoor, underground mall! Of course we had to take some pictures.

After relaxing at our room a little and letting our feet recover, we were soon off again! (So much city to see, so little time!) We wanted a filling, quality German dinner and (after consulting Rick Steves’ 2010 Germany guide, which has been very helpful) we settled on a place near Marienplatz (the real center of Munich). It was a great time for strolling down to Marienplatz – along the way (on the pedestrian mall) we saw many street musicians, though none quite as entertaining as we’d seen the night before.

We found our way to the restaurant of our choice, Altes Hackerbrauhaus, known for its good, authentic food, and environment of nooks adorned with paintings, posters, and other decorations. We split a large sampler plate (with five kinds of meat smothered in gravy and deep-fried onion bits, a buttered potato, and sauerkraut) and another Radler beer. Mmmmm…

For desert, we had “Dampfnudel” (white bread balls covered by vanilla sauce, which was like a thin vanilla pudding really).

Full and exhausted, we happily headed back to our hotel room. Thanks for reading Day 8, and stay tuned as we travel to Paris!

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