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Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel

The Marienplatz in Munich is essentially where it all began for Munich in 1158 and it is still THE main square of the city. It is the HEART of Munich. It is located at the Eastern end of the pedestrian area and dominated by the gothic New Town Hall, which houses Munich’s famous Glockenspiel (photo, right). In the middle of the square is the Marienpillar, adorned by the gold-plated statue of Mary, which has been at the center of the square since 1638. Closing the square off to the East is the OLD town hall. Mike’s Bike Tours meet under the TOWER of this building. Also at Marienplatz are the St. Peter’s church, which, although this version of it has only been there for about 250 years, there has been a St. Peter’s on the same spot since 1050, 108 years before Munich was founded. This is the reason why it is affectionately known to the locals as the “Old Peter”. Its tower has an observation deck offering a 360 degree view over Munich. Those willing to climb 14 flights of stairs are rewarded by a fantastic view. On really clear days it’s amazing how clear one can see the Bavarian Alps, about 75 miles to the South. Also from the Marienplatz one can see the twin towers of Munich’s Church of Our Lady, our very own “Notre Dam”, the Frauenkirche, which is about 560 years old and where the Pope, who was formerly a Cardinal  from Bavaria, has said mass many times.


Munich’s famous Glockenspiel


The Munich Glockenspiel is definitely one of the most overrated shows on Earth that continues to attract hundreds, usually thousands of people to witness it personally on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it is also something that is “classic Munich” and is the best-known work of artistic engineering of its kind in the world. It takes place in the tower of the New Town Hall at Marienplatz at 11 a.m., noon and, except in the winter, also at 5 p.m. Munich’s glockenspiel is the largest in Germany and the 4th largest in Europe. It has 43 bells, the largest of which weighs over 1,300 kg.


The first part of the Carillon, as it is also called, takes place on the top section and represents the renowned wedding festival of Renata von Lothringen and Wilhelm V, founder of the Hofbräu brewery. The wedding took place on the Marienplatz (then called Schrannenplatz) in 1568. During the Glockenspiel, 18 figures dance around Wilhelm and his bride, including two jousting knights. The knights pass each other by at first, but watch closely the second time they come around. The Wittelsbacher (Bavarian), with the white and blue colors on his horse, wins against the Habsburger (Austrian, with red and white), knocking him backward, every single day, three times a day. It’s actually fixed, but please don’t tell the Japanese tourists. We like to wager with them on who will win. ;-)


The lower half of the Glockenspiel represents the famous Cooper’s Dance (Schäfflertanz), which was performed for the first time by barrel makers at the end of a bad epidemic of the plague, supposedly in 1517. According to legend, the Coopers had then decided to come out of their houses to celebrate the end of the epidemic and promised to do the dance on the square every seven years thereafter, which became a tradition that continues in Munich to this day. The last dance took place in 2005.


A good eleven minutes after the whole Glockenspiel begins, the twirling Coopers come to rest and the bells continue to ring for another minute or two. Right about this time you’ll probably have had quite enough, your neck might be starting to ache and you’ll want to walk away thinking that the whole thing was a complete waste of time, but wait! You might as well hang around for the whole (tedious) thing. It aint over until the fat lady sings, which, in this case, is a fat rooster, with a pneumonic tube stuck up his butt...


...you wouldn’t want to watch any show and skip out on the Grand Finale, now would you? The best (and kitschiest) part comes after all the bells have (finally) stopped ringing, which is when our buddy, Hans - pun intended, as Hahn is the German word for rooster- does his cock-crows-three-times-thing, complete with flapping wings and startled pigeons scrambling to get out of the way. He is the Finale, and your Glockenspiel experience would certainly be incomplete without seeing him at the very end, and of course, applauding as if it were the highlight of your stay in Munich, which we certainly hope it won’thave been!


Our Tip: Don’t bother filming it, as if one day you might want to watch it again, or worse, subject others to having to do so. That just won’t (or at least should not) happen!

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