Heavy rain blurs the soft beauty of the Englische Garten below, and swells the swift streams that curl down from the Alps and wriggle through this city park. Herr Edelmann, wearing a long, satin robe, stands by the window, talking of how calming the garden is, how on most afternoons its myriad still lifes can exorcise the stresses of what economists have come to call the German miracle. How this garden never fails to make him think of Berlin past: of an Imperial Berlin he never knew but envisions as having been filled with lean and monocled Prussian faces, high-stepping horses, the Tiergarten full of roses and fair, blonde, leaping little girls; of a Berlin of the '30s that he remembers as being the gayest and most kinetic city in Europe.
Ah, he sighs, a city for the gods—until R�hm's troopers began marching, began to extinguish its spirit. Edelmann then suggests that it is a day fit for Wagner; "What day in Germany isn't tit for him." he adds. The music fills the apartment, and one's eyes move through the living room that groans with antiquity: first editions, an 18th-century Dutch primitive, a 13th-century Gothic stable lantern, a small clock made just before the French Revolution, all of it the harvest of a lifetime spent passionately stalking civilization. Now the pursuit, says Edelmann, seems to have slowed down for him, and much of what he loved in the world seems gone. The cities that once moved him lie in dolorous ruin, and the Philistines are amuck. "I gather comfort," he says, "from the fact that I live here in Munich. The greatest city in Get many. It is all that old Berlin ever was."
Certainly no other city in Germany more deserves the dubious prestige of the coming Olympics. Munich, a third of which was bombed nearly to dust in World War II, now stands as a celebration of the rebirth of a people, and its national prestige soars above all others. Though the word "parvenu" is often used by some Prussians to describe Munich, what other city even threatens us position? Berlin is a political sentry and a shopwindow toward the East. Bonn is a town hall, a place where politicians try to talk to each other. Frankfurt's soul has been destroyed by heavy occupation, the sinister frontier mentality in Cologne is abrasive, and Stuttgart has a German version of the Klondike atmosphere. As for Hamburg, always evoking senatorial grandeur, it prefers to mind its own prosperous affairs and does not hold with public display.
So with a continence of factors—geography, the influx of a colorful subculture and the Bavarian tendency toward tolerance—Munich has become the center, the secret capital of Germany. Or Paradise on the Isar. That is what Edelmann calls it, though he is not certain it will ever be the same after the barbaric intrusion of the Olympics. For the present, however, he will defend his turgid phrase, claiming that he is in good company by recalling the prose raptures of Thomas Wolfe on Munich and the word Thomas Mann used to exalt the city—incandescent. Adolf Hitler was as effusive. He wrote: "There was a love that possessed me for this city, more than any other town I knew. almost from the first moment I arrived. A Germancity!" Edelmann grimaces, falls silent, then agrees there is a macabre irony in the fact that Hitler, and the scenes of his rise to power, are the largest tourist magnet in Munich;
a tourist attraction when the architecture of Munich alone has been, he says, "The kings' notebooks of travel!"
Yet, before all else, the name Munich is an emotive one, awakening images of chilling political abuse and infamous events like Neville Chamberlain's squalid pact for the surgery on Czechoslovakia. All of that past is here: the Fuhrer's mountain aerie at nearby Berchtesgaden; the Hofbr�uhaus beer cellar where Hitler used to speak and where the party claimed one of its first martyrs, a comrade who was hit in the head by a flying beer mug during a brawl with Communists: the B�rgerbr�u beer cellar, now festooned with Coca-Cola signs, where he started his Putsch that was aborted by rifle fire—enough to send Hitler in flight and Goering to safety behind a stone lion that is still there; and finally Dachau.
The people of Munich are not oblivious to what went on here, but the questions, the prosecution by their own young, the ceaseless flow of tourists to Dachau and all the other places, have left them empty behind a second skin. If pressed, they stubbornly try to refute the popular "notion," as they will term it, that Munich was the cradle of Nazism. They point out that Munich was the only place that threw Hitler into jail. They insist that Hitler gained his power in Prussian Berlin, that his electorate strength came from East Prussia, Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein. Look at the speeches of Cardinal Faulhaber, the bravery of the students and their teacher—the "White Rose" resistance—that held out hope for German redemption.
But move out of the deep shade of history, suppress a feeling of wariness, and you will come upon a city worthy of world recognition. A city conceived and nurtured by a most unusual royal family, a city that in spite of the Bavarian character, with its earthy preferences and loud aversion to change, has a heady international flavor. It is more than a city where a mad king once lived, or a city that swims in beer and erupts each year into the animalism of the Oktoberfest, or a city of dirndls and the comic, florid faces of men wearing leather shorts. It is more than the city that some have come to look upon as a sort of erotic cornucopia in the Alps, canopied by a Mediterranean sky. It is a city that exists for people, one that promotes the novel idea that life can, indeed, be worth living in an urban area. If decay ever threatens, and surely it will, Munich has the vigor to shake it from its tough old bones.
The third largest city in Germany (1,300,000) and slightly over 800 years old, Munich was founded in a manner expressive of the Bavarian personality. The Duke of Bavaria, Henry the Lion, was annoyed with the Bishops of Freising, whose greed was wrecking an ancient route for salt traders. The traders had to pay a heavy toll to cross the river bridge at F�hring—that is, until the duke decided to burn the bridge down and build a new one several miles south at a tiny village called Munichen. The duke's action is a typical Bavarian response to arguments of the blood, or nettlesome provocation; no diplomacy, pure clout. Anyway, the new bridge lured more traders than ever before and Munich was on its way, though not much really happened to the city until about 150 years ago when it was exposed to the vision and taste of Wittelsbach rule.
To say that the Wittelsbachs were peculiar is understatement, but to merely dismiss them all as hopelessly psychotic is injustice. Few rulers have left their mark so indelibly on a place as the Wittelsbachs did on Munich during the 19th century.
The first third of that century was dominated by Ludwig I, whose ambition was to bring the light and warmth and culture of Italy and Greece to Munich. He was a man of persistent will, a careful builder who was rigidly cautious with money; long after his abdication he remarked that he never had owned an easy chair or a dressing gown. However, that abdication was forced when the adventuress Lola Montez danced across the stage of Munich politics and into the heart of the aging king. His subjects were appalled, eventually rebelled, and Lola, toward the end, faced an angry mob in front of her house and pelted it with bonbons. Soon after, the king, who was thought to be crazy, stepped down, and his son Maximilian II was crowned.