Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Third Day Of Our Vacation: Munich

Andrew and I were able to sleep a little later on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Instead of waking at 3:00 a.m., we woke at 3:20 a.m.

Further, my sister did not call us two minutes after we woke; instead, she called us twenty minutes after we woke.

And, once again, she and my brother came to our room in the middle of the night, in their pajamas, to play cards and watch CNN and drink hot chocolate until it was time for us to get our day under way.

On Sunday morning, we were able to adhere to our plan of meeting for breakfast at 8:15 a.m., which had the advantage of not getting the day started too early, for which we would all have to pay a price in terms of fatigue by late afternoon.

Happily, no one was tired on Sunday. Even though everyone had risen extremely early for a second consecutive day, we were able to enjoy a full day, and without weariness setting in.

After another big breakfast in the hotel dining room, we set out for our first stop of the day, the Alte Pinakothek. Sunday was to be the only day of our vacation devoted entirely to museum visits. On our agenda were the Alte Pinakothek and the Glyptothek. We were to see great art and antiquities.

On our way to the Alte Pinakothek, we stopped to examine Munich’s Justizpalast, a monumental but magnificent structure from the 1890‘s that serves both as courthouse and judicial administrative center.

Justizpalast is a prime example of German Historicism, an architectural movement of some currency in late-19th-Century Germany. To me, Justizpalast looked like a pure Beaux Arts building, but in fact its design is considered to be part Neo-Renaissance and part Neo-Baroque. The building occupies three city blocks.

It was at Justizpalast that members of The White Rose were sentenced to death in 1943. Justizpalast was totally destroyed by bombs in 1944, but the grand edifice was rebuilt to its original specifications in the 1950’s.

When we arrived at the Alte Pinakothek, we first walked around the complete exterior.

The Alte Pinakothek is generally acknowledged to be THE great museum building from the 19th Century. Further, it is THE masterpiece of Leo Von Klenze (1784-1864), one of the finest architects of his time.

The Alte Pinakothek was a sensation at its inauguration in 1836. Its fame proved instantaneous and worldwide. Upon completion of the Alte Pinakothek, Klenze was immediately called to London to consult with Parliament on the subject of London’s new National Gallery, and he would shortly be commissioned by Nicholas I to design The New Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.

Inspired by the Italian Renaissance, Klenze created a building whose footprint duplicates that of the capital letter, “I”. Its unique and elegant proportions and intricate stone moldings are the building’s most prominent features.

The Alte Pinakothek suffered a direct hit during World War II. Bombs destroyed the very center of the great structure, and fires burned out the interiors at both ends. (Quite naturally, the artworks themselves had been removed for safekeeping as soon as war was declared.)

Bomb damage is still visible—the portions of the building not bombed maintain their original elaborate stone facings and moldings, but the bombed portions of the building were rebuilt after the war from brick and feature much-simplified windows and moldings. This choice of reconstruction was deliberate, leaving an intentional and permanent display of the scars of war.

The differences in the pre-war portions of the Alte Pinakothek and the post-war portions are extremely noticeable upon close inspection.

That any portion of the original Alte Pinakothek has been preserved is a miracle.

For seven years after the war, the Alte Pinakothek remained a ruin, unattended and neglected, exposed to the harshness of the Bavarian winters. No effort was made to preserve or protect any portion of the building. During this time, most Munich officials planned to demolish the building once Munich’s acute post-war housing shortage was addressed.

In 1952, when plans for demolishing the ruins were being put into place, a handful of influential Munich architects succeeded in convincing city fathers that the original Alte Pinakothek building could and should be conserved. After lengthy public debate, Munich officials bought the architects’ argument, but only because the architects had demonstrated that restoring the original building would be less costly than demolishing it and erecting a completely new structure. Thus—on cost grounds alone—was one of the world’s very greatest museum buildings preserved.

The Alte Pinakothek was not to reopen until 1957, more than a decade after cessation of hostilities, yet the post-war interiors bear little resemblance to Klenze’s original creation. Aside from the upper-floor gallery layout, which continues to adhere to the architect’s vision, nothing from Klenze’s grand interior plan remains in place.

Over the decades, Munich officials more than once have contemplated restoring the exteriors and interiors of Klenze’s masterpiece to their original states. On each such occasion, a decision has been made to leave the current Alte Pinakothek as is.

It is inevitable that, at some point in the future, the building will be restored to its pre-war glory. I hope that it happens during my lifetime.

Aside from the upper-floor galleries, the current interiors are obviously a series of inexpensive post-war compromises and bear no relation to the grand interiors and magnificent public spaces created by Klenze almost two centuries ago.

Unlike the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek, across the street from the Alte Pinakothek, was totally destroyed during the war. (We did not visit the Neue Pinakothek.) Absolutely nothing was left of the original building except rubble. When the Neue Pinakothek finally reopened—in 1981, thirty-six years after the end of the war—it did so in totally new premises, free from any parallels with the original structure (which itself had been considered a masterpiece of 19th-Century architecture).

I fell in love with the Alte Pinakothek. For three years, I had been hearing about the Alte Pinakothek from Andrew, and I entered the museum with very high expectations. In fact, I feared that the museum would be unable to live up to the image of exalted magnificence Andrew had imprinted upon my mind.

I need not have worried.

The Alte Pinakothek was even better than I had anticipated.

The Alte Pinakothek, housing art from the Early Renaissance through 1800, is one of the world’s very finest painting galleries.

Entering the building, we were not certain how much time we would be allowed to devote to the building and its collection. In advance, we had prepared a plan to abandon the Alte Pinakothek the very moment my father or my brother became bored.

Happily, my father and my brother did not become bored. In fact, they loved the museum—they loved the building and they loved the artworks.

As a result, we were able to walk through all the upper-floor galleries, which display the permanent collection, at a leisurely pace.

There are so many masterpieces on display at the Alte Pinakothek that a walk through the collection is thrilling. There are top-tier masterpieces of German painting, Dutch painting, Flemish painting, Italian painting, Spanish painting and French painting. We have nothing like it in the United States.

We arrived as the museum opened for the day, and we spent more than four supremely happy hours viewing the permanent collection.

Once we had viewed everything on the upper floor, we went downstairs and had coffee at the museum café. After our coffee and rest, we walked to the Glyptothek, home of statuary from ancient Greece and Rome.

The Glyptothek, completed in 1830, was also designed by Klenze. Klenze’s design for the Glyptothek was pure Neo-Classicism, inspired by buildings from ancient Greece.

The Glyptothek was also heavily bombed during the war, and its post-war reconstruction, too, was much-simplified and its interiors completely reconfigured.

The original marble exterior façades, featuring elaborate marble moldings, were rebuilt with cheap marble (already suffering from discoloration) after the war, and the post-war exterior moldings bear only the slightest resemblance to the originals both in terms of quality and quantity.

With respect to the Glyptothek’s interiors, only the bare bones of Klenze’s original design are present in the current structure. The pre-war marble interiors and detailed vaultings are gone, replaced with simple brickwork, painted an industrial shade of white.

The post-war interiors of the Glyptothek are deplorable. Klenze would, no doubt, have preferred that the building not be rebuilt rather than thrown together on the cheap.

The Glyptothek was not to reopen until twenty-seven years after the war, in 1972, coincident with Munich’s hosting of that year’s Olympics, yet the reconstruction bears all the hallmarks of a rush job.

No plans have been put forward to return the Glyptothek to its pre-war state, but such plans should be pursued at once. The early-1970’s reconstruction was a disgrace.

The Glyptothek is much smaller than the Alte Pinakothek. It took us less than an hour to make our circular path through the building.

The highlight of the Glyptothek’s holdings is, of course, The Barberini Faun. Indeed, the only reason we placed a visit to the Glyptothek on our itinerary was to see this most famous of ancient sculptures.

The Barberini Faun is wondrous. It is one of the most overwhelming artworks I have ever seen. The Barberini Faun alone made our visit to the Glyptothek worthwhile.

After our visit to the Glyptothek, we took the subway to Schwabing to stroll the streets and select a restaurant for dinner.

Schwabing has a reputation for charm, but I found little charm in evidence. Schwabing struck me as having no more charm and no more character and no more appeal than the streets of Norman, Oklahoma.

I do not know how or why we settled upon the restaurant we selected—I think my mother decided that it was time for us to eat, so we entered the very next restaurant we encountered—but our choice was satisfactory. My father and my brother and Andrew and I ordered German roast pork with German potato dumplings, and our food was excellent. My mother and my sister ordered a plate of grilled Munich fish, which may or may not have been pike, but which they enjoyed very much. All of us were happy with our meals.

From Schwabing, we took the subway back to our hotel.

It was 8:30 p.m. when we arrived.

On our third try, we had made it through a full day.

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