So inspired by a recent thread, it seems that people hold fairly strong opinions on one of these cities versus the other, and I thought that was interesting and wanted to start a thread to discuss it in more detail. I've been to Munich four times, although only two visits involved staying for several nights (the other two were day trips), and to Berlin 3 times, with the 4th visit driving upon Friday for two nights. I like Munich, but it isn't a place I really think about returning to very often. The history of the city is fascinating, but I feel like after my first two trips that I'd seen most of what interested me and there wasn't a strong pull to come back. While I appreciate that the innerstadt is compact and walkable, it also feels somewhat boring on return trips. I did like the English Garden and would like to spend more time at Munich's biergartens in good weather. I also liked the city a lot more once I got out of the innerstadt and started exploring other districts, for food, nightlife, and shopping. Schwabing and the Gloeckenveirtel were both a lot of fun. Berlin went to with no expectations, but found enchanting. Much of it isn't traditionally "beautiful" but it feels real, international, and thriving. I can't imagine running out of things to do there - I've yet to set foot into a real museum in Berlin because I've been too busy doing everything else! It is spread out and I do feel like I spend a lot of time on the U and S bahn's in Berlin, but the sights and nightlife more than make up for it. So people with strong opinions one way or the other: which city wins the award? If someone wants to know which one they should visit, how would you sell them on your choice?
Berlin, no doubt. The city has so many different neighborhoods that each feel unique and have their own stories to tell. It can be upscale, hipster, gutterpunk, euro avant-garde, trendy. There are so many pieces to it that it could take dozens of trips to unravel. The city is ancient and modern but without being apologetic or pandering. And that pandering element is what annoys me about Munich. The innerstadt is a tourist wonderland and one has to get out to find a real city. So much of the innerstadt is just Bavarian cutesy schlock. Whereas Berlin telegraphs its rich history at every turn, Munich hides it behind 19th century nostalgia. Tourists pack into the Hofbrau Haus and Marienplatz to see the kitsch. That isn't Germany, or even Bavaria. It's the Disneyland "Small World" version of it.
I already posted on the pro-Munich thread. Ive been there 3 times, first for a technical conference that stretched to the opening of Oktoberfest. First off, conferences, trade shows, and conventions are sooo much more fun in Europe (ie Germany) than the dry commercial affairs in the states. Lots of cultural get togethers (especially, How to Eat a Weisswuerst). 2nd time to show my new wife Octoberfest, third time for 3 days on the way home from skiing. Now I think I got it and can move on. Berlin beckons as Harald outlined in his post. Looks like it would take a week just to scratch the surface. Political capitol and cultural phenomenon. A younger, hipper town? I'll just have to get there and see how it defeats my preconceptions.
I want to re-post the relevant parts of my reply, and amplify it a little. >>Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla? If chocolate, pick Berlin; if vanilla, pick Munich. They are quite different, and both have lots to see. I prefer Berlin; I'm headed back there in a few weeks, whereas once was enough for me in Munich. But, the Deutsches Museum alone is worth a trip to Munich. So, pick based on what appeals to you, accept that there is no right or wrong choice, and plan to see the other one on another trip. An aside: I have never been to Jerusalem, but I remember someone, years ago, telling me why it was so compelling: "It's history under your feet." I always feel that in Berlin - except it's almost exclusively 20th Century history. The city was only the capital of Prussia until 1871, when, with the formation of "Germany," it became the capital of the "new country." But, as one guidebook said, it's seldom been unimportant since. When you walk across a street and see the line indicating the former path of the Wall, and realize that 25 years ago, you would shot for trying to cross it and could get in trouble just getting near it, and now it's just a line in the street...that gives me goosebumps. Berlin also has surprises. I had thought it was all new skyscrapers replacing extensive wartime bombing damage; that's Frankfurt, but not Berlin. Although Berlin now has real tall buildings, the Europa Center was the tallest building in West Berlin before reunification. It's only 21 stories (it was spoken of like it was 121 stories). Many old buildings survive, and others have been reconstructed. And there's lots of green space, too.<< continued..
continued.. Munich's biggest surprise was how low key and un-city feeling it was. Both Berlin and Frankfurt, in their very different ways, have a hard edge, and Munich doesn't. I loved the Deutsches Museum (I'm always a sucker for these technology museums), but most of the rest of Munich left me, if not cold, merely cool. One fascinating thing, to me, is how for many Americans, Berlin is strongly associated with the Nazi period, while Munich isn't. In reality, the Nazi party was started in Munich, and Hitler joined it there; Munich was one of the places in Germany where he was most popular. In Berlin, on the other hand, he was not popular, and the city was much too Jewish, gay-friendly, avant-garde, etc. for his taste. His plan to remake it in his image was not out of love for it, but to assert his dominion over it. A personal aside: Berlin and Frankfurt, both before WWII and now, are the cities in Germany with the largest Jewish populations. As a Jew (though a profoundly non-religious one), is that why I like them? Similarly, Munich had a very small Jewish population, even before the Holocaust (the most interesting and surprising thing I learned at Munich's Jewish museum). Is that a factor in why it has little appeal to me? And as a gay man, is Berlin's historic gay-friendlyness part of what I'm responding to? (Before the Nazi period, Berlin probably had more open gayness than any other city in the world, with Paris as number two). Who knows? I certainly don't like or dislike other places based on their Jewish or gay history, or modern-day Jewish population or gay friendliness. But, as I said above, in Berlin I always feel strongly aware of its history, so maybe it is a factor.
I have opinions but I certainly won't voice them on a thread with title CAGEFIGHT. Reasoned discussion, yes. Violence - never.
While Berlin and Munich duke it out, don't be surprised if another German city sneaks up and finishes them both off. I think Mannheim could be that city... actually, just kidding. I've grown to appreciate Mannheim, but it's not a city I would recommend anyone go out of their way to visit. However, don't overlook Hamburg. Munich has never swept me away, and although I liked Berlin well enough, I'm not planning a return trip any time soon. Hamburg, though, is my favorite city in the country, for any number of reasons. First of all, it's a stunningly attractive city. Even though it received a particularly heavy hit courtesy of the RAF and USAF, unlike so many other German cities that rebuilt themselves in a very functional style, Hamburg's rebuilding projects maintained much of the city's 19th century glory. It looks much more like a city that evolved organically into the present day rather than a town that got the crap bombed out of it, then rebuilt. Second, it has a look and feel that is completely different from the southern half of the country. Almost Scandinavian. Although I love living in Germany, sometimes I want a taste of something different... And speaking of taste, the food is also completely different. Yes, there's currywurst and various cuts of pork, but also lots of seasoned fish dishes that you don't find in the south. Finally (I can think of a lot more, but I have to get back to work)... walk around the Binnenalster. If there's a more attractive cityscape anywhere else in Germany, please let me know, because I'd like to see it.
"One fascinating thing, to me, is how for many Americans, Berlin is strongly associated with the Nazi period, while Munich isn't. In reality, the Nazi party was started in Munich, and Hitler joined it there; Munich was one of the places in Germany where he was most popular. In Berlin, on the other hand, he was not popular, and the city was much too Jewish, gay-friendly, avant-garde, etc. for his taste. His plan to remake it in his image was not out of love for it, but to assert his dominion over it." Berlin, at the time, was known in the south as "Red Berlin". You are correct, it does carry a connotation in many people's mind as a sort of vaguely threatening bastion of iron authoritarianism. But it was the biggest bastion of support for the Socialist Party (forerunner of today's center-left SDP), even before the German Revolution toppled the Hohenzollerns. The cultural and political scene of Weimar-era Berlin represented just about everything the Nazis were against.
Tom, I suppose I should have included Hamburg since it's Germany's largest city, but it seems that most of the people on this board haven't been or aren't planning on going. I really do want to visit, I have heard nothing but great things about it. But the Killers aren't playing there. Harold - it's funny, my husband and I were discussing that very thing, that Berlin is seen as the focal point of Nazi and WWII history in Germany, but Munich was really Hitler's ideal German city and the Nazis essentially couldn't have existed without Munich, the city that birthed the movement. (And to be fair, the Munich city museum does NOT shy away from this history!) I don't necessarily think that affects my current slight "underwhelment" with Munich versus Berlin, as modern Munich is as diverse, liberal, and tolerant as any major German city, but as a Jewish queer person as well, I certainly find the history of Berlin a little more rich and geared towards my interests. And I agree with Chris that the nostalgia that is so prominent in Munich's city character is less interesting to me. Ralph - I started this thread so as not to derail the conversation in the Berlin vs. Munich thread below, since apparently a lot of travelers decide to do one city or the other if they are stopping in Germany, and a lot of people who have been have strong opinions about city or the other. Why discuss anything at all? Because people have opinions and want to share them, duh.
I know you dislike Berlin but you haven't stated why aside from not feeling that there's much to see there. You could have elaborated, or you can just respond with a non-response, that's up to you.
I just came back from the store with a good supply of micro-wave popcorn, so hope this thread stays alive for awhile. Carry on.
Jo, perhaps the next thread can be Frankfurt vs Hamburg: CAGEFIGHT and you and Tom can duke it out! I'm surprised the people who really prefer Munich to Berlin haven't chimed in yet. In the past on the board it's seemed like more of an even split in preference.
I wouldn't dare. That would be like Einstein debating special relativity with some random guy who read "A Brief History of Time". I'm not going to pick a fight where I know I'll get clocked.
C'mon Nigel, a spot of violence is fun! Two cities enter, one city leaves, you get the drill.
Sarah, try renaming thread: Munich vs Berlin: CAGEREASONEDDEBATE.
I think that would make it more "inclusive".
Honestly, I think it is silly to argue about what city is best or most worthy of visiting. All cities have worth and are interesting, if one spends a little bit of time researching them. There are no boring cities in my experience. Sometimes I don't get the hype for a city, that it is simply superb and the very best that there is. All of this is personal taste, and to generalize about a place, whether good or bad is foolish. So, no, I won't be in any cagefights. Besides, I haven't been to Hamburg yet, though it is high on my list of places to visit. Frankfurt gets my defense due to the fact that so many guidebooks haven't given it much notice or they have wrong information about it. As the underdog city, it is fun to post about it to introduce new sites or corrected history, that no one knows about if they just read the usual guidebooks.
This is an interesting topic, but it's hard for me to favor one over the other since each has its merits. I don't think either is conventionally beautiful compared to many other European cities. But each is vibrant and fun in its own way. Munich is more beautiful than Berlin, but not so much that I would say to go there for the architectural beauty. Berlin is more hip than Munich. The museums are great in both cities. Berlin feels like more of a world city, while perhaps Munich is more what Americans might think of as a "German" city - though that would be based upon somewhat of a stereotype, as Germany is more than Bavaria. I found people in Berlin to be more outgoing and friendly, and the fact that part of city used to be behind the Iron Curtain still reverberates. Both cities are great to visit. The only choice is to go to visit both, even if it takes you more than one trip! I suggest a similar thread on Madrid vs. Barcelona, and Prague vs. Budapest. Those comparisons would make for some lively discussion.
Jo, most travelers only have a limited time and I've seen lots of people planning German trips deciding on one place or the other. So it makes sense for people to weigh the pros and cons by reading the highly opinionated reviews of others.
There is a big difference between people posting about their favorite things that they experienced in each city and saying that this city is better than that one. It is all relative depending on the interests of the person. Saying that one place is worthier than the other just ticks me off. If there is one question that raises my hackles on this forum or any other forum is when someone posts the question, "Is this city worth visiting". Those who want to visit cities that were important in WW2, would want to visit Berlin and Munich, but wouldn't want to visit Frankfurt cause hitler hated it for being too liberal, with too many Jewish bankers. Those who are interested in Jewish history in Germany, would want to visit both Frankfurt and Berlin, with other possibilities being Mainz, Speyer and Worms, but not Munich. Interested in early architecture, you would visit those towns on the Fachwerk Strasse and not go to any of the big cities. What style of castle or church you want to see also should play a part in your travel decisions. Those who dislike fancy, gilt Baroque churches might want to stay away from Bavaria, and visit some of the Romanesque or Gothic churches of the North instead. It all depends on your interests and not "worthiness" or even opinions of random travelers, unless it is about quite specific information, what is the architecture style here, or was it handicapped accessible, did the museum have English text, do they offer tours here, is it open on Mondays, do they close for the winter, etc.?
Ralph, your remark is inappropriate.
I think it goes without saying that different cities are better for other interests than others. So far all the intelligent thoughts people have written about preferring one city or the other have stated what specifically those individuals are interested in and why the city they prefer is better for those interests. That doesn't mean the other city is not worthy of being visited, but as long as people state why they prefer one city or the other, I think it's a legitimate question, especially since so many people come here for advice and have to choose between one city or the other, one region or another, and so forth, because they have limited time. While the title is tongue-in-cheek (which sometimes seems to be a problem on this forum) I still don't see the problem with comparing and contrasting two different things in an opinionated fashion. My preference for Berlin doesn't mean that I don't think Munich is worth visiting, but if almost anyone were to come to me and say "I have a week in Germany and can only visit one major city, I was thinking about Munich or Berlin, which one would choose?" Well, this thread would be the answer. And that does happen, all the time on this forum, but unfortunately, it's usually done in short, one-off replies ("Skip Munich, it's not that great" or whatever) that don't get into detail about why people prefer one place or another. And I think that is actually somewhat dangerous to travelers seeking advice because it gives no context at all. It's just a random opinion stated without any additional helpful information to help the advice-seeker to know what they themselves will enjoy the best. And frankly, I don't think I've been ANYWHERE in Europe that I would classify as not worth visiting, period. But it all depends on time and priorities.
"And frankly, I don't think I've been ANYWHERE in Europe that I would classify as not worth visiting, period." Try Charleroi or Liege and you might change your mind...
That sentiment on Charleroi I have heard before from the French, totally not worth it...unless you're going there because of its connection with Waterloo, but your point is well taken. Some cities/towns in Germany could very well fit the bill on why anyone would want to go there, seen as not worthy of a trip, "worthless," esp. when it is assumed not to be on the typical tourist (American) radar, or even with German tourists. The ones I would not go back for repeated visits are...Essen, Hamm, Paderborn, Kassel, Xanten, maybe even Duisburg and Rüdesheim. What about in France? The usual place mentioned not worth visiting more than a day or so, if at all, is Metz. I don't share that view at all but can see the validity of such an opinion. When one visits Metz, the city itself, one should try to get out to Thionville (Diedenhofen) as a day trip r/t. as well. What about Berlin vs Munich, if just one had to be picked? Munich loses, definitely Berlin (with Potsdam). I like going to both places, Munich and Berlin, find them both interesting, attractive, great places to walk, but given an either or choice, Berlin without a doubt. There is something different when you're there...just walking and seeing the various districts outside of Mitte is fascinating, historically considered...Charlottenburg, Köpenick, Mitte, Karlshorst, Wilmersdorf, even Kreuzberg (interesting but don't care for it except the park. Plus, if you like Berlin cuisine, I go there for that too. Munich is provincial whereas Berlin is a metropolis.
if almost anyone were to come to me and say "I have a week in Germany and can only visit one major city, I was thinking about Munich or Berlin, which one would choose?" Well, this thread would be the answer. And that does happen, all the time on this forum, but unfortunately, it's usually done in short, one-off replies ("Skip Munich, it's not that great" or whatever) that don't get into detail about why people prefer one place or another. And I think that is actually somewhat dangerous to travelers seeking advice because it gives no context at all. I agree completely and that's why I was very much looking forward to the discussions in this thread. The question is not which place is more worthy than the other one but what factors appeal to different people more than others. I read RS blue books BECAUSE he is so opinionated. I don't always agree with his opinions but having them out in the open helps me to make my own choices. Back to the main question at hand. I definitely love Berlin and can go back again and again. It is a completely different place every time I go. January 1981 was very different from summer 1990 and again very different from NYE 2010 ... Munich is steeped in tradition and doesn't change much. You see it once, you've seen it all. That doesn't have to be a bad thing either. As always, it just depends what you are looking for.