Tong Ting Yap

The thought of writing something about Munich only crossed my mind after staying here for almost three years. Whenever I walk around the Muenchner Marienplatz, passing the Rathaus and the Alter Peter (Peterskirche) to the Viktualienmarkt, I would suddenly have this very Munich feeling. It is something I find very difficult to describe. Maybe a bit like a sense of deja vu? Wonder how Munich came about and what is the history behind all these places I am looking at today…

Wer hier gewesen ist,
hat, wenn er ein rechter Mensch war,
hier zum wenigsten
die Haelfte seines Herzens zurueckgelassen.
– Wilhelm Hausenstein, writer
(17.6.1882 – 3.6.1957)

The earliest traces of settlements in the region of the present Munich are dated all the way back to the Neolithic age (or the New Stone Age). That is roughly 400 years BC. The Celts reached the Isar gradually between 6 BC and 1 AD. During the time of the Roman Empire, no important settlements were known to exist around Munich. However, it was known that the Romans had fear from the torrential and raging Isar and named the river ‘Isara rapidus’.


Ich will aus Muenchen eine Stadt machen, die Teutschland so zur Ehre gereichen soll, dass keiner Teutschland kennt, wenn er nicht auch Muenchen gesehen habe.
– Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, 
(25.8.1786 – 29.2.1868)

In the 6th century, approximately from 530 AD onwards, came the Bavarians to the region of Munich. The Bavarians founded settlements at the high banks of the Isar – with a good distance away from the river. We can still recognise these settlements from the ‘-ing’ ending of their names: Pasing, Giesing, Sendling, Schwabing, Aubing. Never realised that Schwabing was already known as Schwabing fourteen centuries ago! The earliest documentation of this district north of the city center in 782 AD shows that it was known as ‘Swapinga’. Next time you sit down at one of the many cafes at Muenchner Freiheit (the district centre of Schwabing), try to picture a small village of a population not more than 500, situated near the gates leading into the city. It was how Schwabing looked like until the early 19th century!


In the 10th or 11th century, monks from the monastery at Tegernsee settled at the banks of Isar. This settlement was named ‘Apud Munichen’ (german: zu den Moenchen).The municipal coat of arms (Muenchner Kindl), which shows a monk in a black, gold-rimmed habit, is traced back to this period of time.

The actual founder of the city of Munich is the Guelph Henrich the Lion. The Duke of Saxony and Bavaria destroyed the customs bridges built by the Bishop of Freising downstream of the Isar. He then established new bridges, a market and minted new coins in the old monk settlement of Apud Munichen and built a fortification wall around the settlement. Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa acknowledged the market rights and the minting rights on 14th June in 1158 and that marked the founding of Munich.

After finding out the origin of Munich, there are still many unanswered questions in my mind. What is the story behind the Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus? Why do the locals call Karlsplatz the ‘Stachus’? And when was the very first Oktoberfest? How was the ‘Muenchner Weisswurst’ invented? Why is ‘Biergarten’ known as Biergarten? How did the Englisher Garten came about? And the list goes on…

There is still much more to learn about Munich. Studying here gives me the chance to experience a really traditional culture and the bavarian way of life. Munich always has something to offer for everyone. If you are the type that like art and cultural stuff, Munich is famous in Germany for its cultural scene. If you like sports, you shouldnït miss skiing in the Alps in winter, cycling and sailing in summer and hiking in autumn. Travelling around Munich is fun and relaxing. There are many castles and palaces to visit, the most famous one being the Neuschwanstein (you know the fairytale castle you usually see on postcards?). Landscape around Munich is simply pleasing to the eyes, with the Bayrischer Wald (the bavarian forest) to the north, the Chiemsee lake to the west and the Alpine region to the south. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true?

I find it interesting and enriching to know more about the city that I have stayed in for the past three years. Simply love this city. There are two more years before I graduate and return to Singapore. Hopefully by that time, I can learn enough of this place to last me a long long time…

Nach Hamburg werde ich nicht zurueckkehren. Ich werden hier sehr ernst-haft, fast deutsch; ich glaube, das tut das Bier. Ich bin in Bayern ein Preusse geworden… Hier in Muenchen sieht es schlecht aus. Ein Meer von kleinen Seelen und schlechtes Klima… Kleingeister von der grossartigsten Art.
– Heinrich Heine, german poet
(13.12.1797 – 17.2.1856)

What is the story behind the Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus?

The Neues Rathaus (new municipal hall) was built in the middle of the 19th century due to a need for more office space for the municipal authority. Today, it is one of the most well-known landmarks in Munich. Every year, tonnes of tourists (especially japanese tourists with their vidcams) would flock to Marienplatz and stand in front of the Neues Rathaus to see the ringing of the Glockenspiel (carillon).

The chimes of the Glockenspiel sound daily at 11:00 am (also at 12:00 pm, 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm from May to October). The figures of the Glockenspiel would then dance to the folk music played by the slightly off-tuned chimes, showing scenes from late gothic and renaissance Munich: The wedding of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata von Lothringen (1568) and a tournament, where the bavarian knight triumphed over the austrian knight, to celebrate this occasion; the Schaefflertanz, a folk dance that was performed every seven years in the past to celebrate the end of the plague which hit Munich between 1515 and 1517. Now, this dance is performed annually at the end of May / early June at Viktualienmarkt on the Brauertag (Brewers’ Day). Every evening, at the oriel of the seventh storey of the tower, a night watchman would appear to the left, blowing a horn, and an angel of peace would appear to the right to bless the Muenchner Kindl.

The Glockenspiel no longer attracts my attention that much nowadays, but if I happened to walk past Marienplatz when it is ringing, I would stop and watch, not the Glockenspiel, but the japanese tourists, who are so busy capturing the whole process with their vidcams that they forget to enjoy the Glockenspiel! :o)

Why do the locals call Karlsplatz the ‘Stachus’?

Remember the yellow medival gate with a big fountain in front of it? You can’t miss it if you take a walk from the main train station to the Marienplatz. This place is known as Karlsplatz and the gate is known as Karlstor (used to be called Neuhauser Tor). This is one of the places that caught my attention instantly when I first visited Munich in `95.

The Muenchners gave this place an endearing name of ‘Stachus’. Go around and ask a local how to get to Karlsplatz, he will tell you how to get to ‘Stachus’ instead. Somehow I have gotten used to this local name, but why is it called ‘Stachus’?

The origin of this name is still quite a mystery. There are two sayings. One says that there used to be a restaurant known as ‘Stachusgarten’, which was around since 1755, located at the present Kaufhof shopping centre. The other saying requires more imagination. There used to be a crossbow shooting range near the old Botanical Garden (a stone throw away from Karlsplatz), which was the practice grounds of the ‘Stachelschuetzen’ (the Spiky Marksmen?). :o) That is how ‘Stachus’ got its name!

How did Oktoberfest come about?

Oktoberfest is THE beer festival that you shouldn’t miss if you are in Munich. It is not held in October, but from mid September to the first Sunday of October and lasts for 16 days. With 6 million visitors to the Oktoberfest yearly, you can say that it is the biggest folk festival in the whole, although the visitors are mostly tourists. The location of Oktoberfest is always at Theresienwiese, also known as the ‘Wies’n’ by the locals.

OktoberfestI like to pop in at the Wies’n for a couple of times every year during Oktoberfest, not just to drink and eat, but also to soak in the good old ‘bayrische Gemuetlichkeit’ – the bavarian feeling of friendliness and good- naturedness. I would maybe order ‘a Moss’ (a litre of beer in a gigantic mug), a crispy ‘Hax’n’ (a portion of pig’s leg) or a grilled ‘Hendl’ (chicken) with a couple of ‘Knoedel’ (boiled dumpling made of potatoes or bread and flour).

The very first Oktoberfest was held on 17th October 1810 to celebrate the wedding of the Crown Price Ludwig of Bavaria (who later became King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. A grand horse race was held that day at the Theresienwiese. The following year, in 1811, a horse show was held and a few years later, game stalls, fun rides and entertainment shows began to appear at the Oktoberfest. Of course with local food and beer, the Oktoberfest became truly enjoyable!

Every year on the first day of Oktoberfest, the mayor of Munich would be invited to tap the first barrel of beer, to symbolise the start of the Oktoberfest. After he successfully taps the barrel, he would shout, “Ozapft is!”. It is bavarian dialect for “it’s tapped!”. Hereafter, Munich would be in a state of half (or full) drunkenness for 16 days!

Ting Yap studied Electrical Engineering at the Technische Universität München.