Charles Michener on “Munich at 850”

Charles Michener
Author of "Munich at 850," Charles Michener Maura McCarthy

Charles Michener began his journalistic career in Seattle, where he was editor-in-chief of Seattle magazine in the 1960s. Eventually, he became chief cultural writer and senior editor for cultural affairs at Newsweek and later a senior editor at The New Yorker, where he worked on a wide variety of subjects, including science, medicine, China and the Middle East, music and art, as well as supervised the magazine's "Goings on About Town" section. For many years he has written a column about classical music for the New York Observer, and as a freelance writer, he has had profiles and articles on food and travel appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Time, The Atlantic, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Town and Country, Travel and Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler. His article on Munich is his first contribution to Smithsonian.

What drew you to this story about Munich? Can you describe your relationship with the city?
Munich is my favorite European city because it's so manageable, civilized and convivial—there's a beer garden at every turn filled with people having a wonderful time together. It's prosperous without being pompous. I'm also intrigued by its cultural complexity, which combines great musical and artistic attractions with the (now somewhat hidden) footprint of Hitler and the birth of Nazism. It's also the city where my favorite 20th century novelist, Thomas Mann, lived and wrote his finest work, and it carries his profound sense of irony in its bones.

What surprised you the most about Munich or Münchners?
During my most recent trip, I went to an old beer garden and watched a televised Euro Cup match between the German and Turkish soccer teams. I was surprised to see the people of Munich wearing their German national colors proudly, something which many of them have avoided doing since the end of World War II.

What is your favorite spot in the city?
I don't have a favorite spot in Munich—it just feels great to be in. It's one of Europe's most walkable cities—you feel how well made and maintained it is. I guess if there's one spot I wouldn't miss it's the Amalienburg hunting lodge at Schloss Nymphenburg, which has the most magical interior in the world—a funhouse of Rococo insanity.

You went to the City Museum and saw its exhibit on the city's 850-year history. What moment or portion of that history fascinates you the most?
The most interesting exhibits at the City Museum are the fantastic models of Munich that show its evolution from a medieval market town to a city of wonderful dimensions that attain grandeur without losing their human scale.

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