From inside a wooden building come the sounds of laughter and the clink of glasses. Clapping begins as people in Bavarian costumes dance to the music of an oompah band. Munich's famous Oktoberfest is underway. The 16-day festival began back in 1810 as a marriage celebration for Prince Ludwig I and his bride. People had so much fun that the party became an annual event. This year millions will enjoy Oktoberfest. They come to sample the beer and the hospitality of a city that makes visitors feel at home.
Nestled close to the Bavarian Alps, Munich, or Munchen, reigns as Germany's most popular tourist destination. The beauty of the city and its surroundings inspired American novelist Thomas Wolfe to write, "How can one speak of Munich but to say that it is a kind of German heaven?" Munich's beautiful buildings and several churches were built by the Wittelsbach family that ruled the area for 750 years. They made the city a work of art.
Grand buildings in all styles from Baroque to Modern line streets and plazas, waiting to be photographed. One of the most beautiful, Munich's New Town Hall, stands on Marienplatz. Built between 1867 and 1908, the building looks like something from a fairy tale. The largest musical clock in Germany clings to one of the towers. Each day at 11 a.m. and noon, the clock's doors open and brightly-colored wooden dancers perform as the clock sounds the hour.
In nearby Frauenplatz stands Munich's most famous cathedral, Church of Our Lady. Its two tall towers have become the symbol of Munich's skyline. Built more than 500 years ago, the cathedral is just one of Munich's nearly 300 churches. As early as the 18th century, the city earned the name "Rome of Germany" for its many churches. Visitors wander through the beautiful buildings admiring the architecture. They also gaze at the works of art that fill the interiors of many of the churches.
After wandering Munich's streets for hours, a visitor may want some refreshments. There are plenty to choose from. Muncheners love to say that "snack time is the best time." When in the city of beer and sausage, or wurst, hungry sightseers must sample some. Munich boasts dozens of varieties of both. For a larger meal, the city has more than 5,000 restaurants in every price range. They serve everything from traditional Bavarian specialties to exotic African and Asian foods.
Munich offers a wide variety of "food for the soul" in its many museums, too. For art lovers, The Old Picture Gallery houses a wonderful collection of Old Masters. Those with more modern tastes may prefer the New Picture Gallery with its 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces. And no one will want to miss the Deutsches Museum-one of the world's largest museums of science and technology. Inside, visitors can see such wonders as the first camera, the first car and the first refrigerator.
Just about everything from Bavarian costumes and wood carvings to jewelry and handmade German toys can be found in Munich's shops. Fashionable stores line Maximilianstrasse and two kilometers of pedestrian malls near the railway station. The area is particularly attractive around Christmas time, when local craftsmen set up booths and sell all kinds of Christmas ornaments. Don't save your shopping for Saturday afternoon or Sunday, however. Shops close at 2 p.m. on Saturday and don't reopen until Monday morning.
Not only foreign visitors wish to come to Munich to enjoy its wonders. A survey showed that if given a choice, most Germans would want to live in Munich. Although more expensive than other German cities, Munich boasts a thriving business district and many high-tech companies. And considering its fine food, art and architecture, festivals and music, who wouldn't love Munich? The city has attracted people for centuries. As historian Aventin wrote in 1526, "Nowhere can you live better."