As we all know, Munich is said to be the northernmost city in Italy. And it’s true: there’s no better way to soak up Italian flair in the Bavarian capital than on a Vespa. So our writer hired a scooter and took to the streets of Monaco di Baviera – as Munich is known in Italian.
There are these typical situations anyone from Munich will have encountered when travelling in Italy. Three years ago I was at a supermarket in Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast – it was one of those colourful Italian supermarkets that essentially consist of nothing but three shelves. Water wings, light bulbs and fresh tomatoes were piled up next to the cash register, a granny in a smock took my coins. “Tedesca?” she asked, “German?”. I nodded and gave her some more detail. “Monaco,” I said, putting a stress on the first syllable.
Italians simply adore the Bavarian capital – not only on the second weekend of Oktoberfest, when entire hordes of motorhomes bearing Italian licence plates traditionally surge across the Brenner Pass and converge on Monaco de Baviera.
"Ahhh, Moooonaco," the elderly lady replied, her face lighting up. She then shouted something to her son, who was cutting mortadella into thick slices behind the deli counter. Long story cut short: after a few minutes the family had gathered around me, there was some wild gesticulating and eventually I discovered that the grandson lived in Munich, where he was working as a waiter at Da Mario on Adalbertstrasse.
Naturally, they wanted to get the son on the phone right away to say hello from the Munich lady. I also got three extra tomatoes popped in my plastic bag and was able to bask in the popularity of my city in Italy: no matter how tiny the village, there’s probably nowhere you can go in Italy where there isn’t some extended family whose father, sister, brother, girlfriend or grandson hasn’t emigrated to Munich at some point.
We rent a bright-coloured Vespa – the perfect Italian cliché – and as we set off with my blue and white skirt fluttering in the wind, I wrap my arms around Hasan’s waist and can’t help feeling like a young Sophia Loren.
No wonder: Italians simply adore the Bavarian capital – not only on the second weekend of Oktoberfest, when entire hordes of motorhomes bearing Italian licence plates traditionally surge across the Brenner Pass and converge on Monaco de Baviera. There are also nearly 28,000 Italians who live permanently in Munich: after Croatians and Turks, they’re Munich’s third largest group of migrants.
That definitely leaves its mark: it’s hardly surprising that Munich honours its Italians and celebrates its Italian flair wherever possible, sometimes exaggerating the whole thing to the point of cliché. That’s exactly what I want to explore for myself today by spending a summer day in Munich in Italian style.
First, I arrange to meet my friend Hasan, the most elegant man I know. Purely visually, I believe he passes quite well for an Italian: from May onwards he wears his shoes without socks, and there’s hardly a photograph of him without a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth – there couldn’t have been a better casting choice for Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. We rent a bright-coloured Vespa – the perfect Italian cliché – and as we set off with my blue and white skirt fluttering in the wind, I wrap my arms around Hasan’s waist and can’t help feeling like a young Sophia Loren.
Starting at Opernplatz, we rattle down Maximilianstrasse towards Roma. When the sun is low, everything here looks like Rome or Milan anyway.
Primo turno, first leg: Starting at Opernplatz, we rattle down Maximilianstrasse towards Roma, whizzing past the amber-coloured facades and arcades. When the sun is low, everything here looks like Rome or Milan anyway. Roma (Maximilianstrasse 33) is a legendary restaurant-café that used to be a kind of cult meeting spot for the Munich rich and beautiful, reopening 2019 in a somewhat more modern guise. We naturally drop in for an espresso.
You won’t necessarily be served by Italians here, but you still feel as though you were on an Italian piazza: what matters is seeing and being seen. I take a peek into the windows of the Gucci flagship store next door, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if a bright green Lamborghini were to come thundering down Munich’s poshest street at that very moment (it happens all the time).
We head on towards the Maximilianeum, take a loop around this seat of the state parliament, then carry on along the River Isar towards Viktualienmarkt (food market), where we stop off at Schrannenhalle. At Eataly I buy some bottarga – salted and sun-dried roe that you grate over pasta: I first ate some in Sardinia and have loved it ever since.
The grand yellow-coloured church Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan und Adelheid was built by an Italian in the style of the Italian High Baroque. That fits in perfectly with our tour – and it’s something you come across quite a lot in Munich.
There are countless Italian delicatessens in the city, of course, but Eataly (Blumenstrasse 4) is the undisputed star of them all: here you really will find everything you could ever dream of in terms of Italian specialities, spread over a surface area of 4,600 square metres – from carnaroli rice and pistachio tartufo through to the truly perfect pizza flour. And while we’re on the subject: we’re not actually hungry yet, but they say the Neapolitan pizza served at Schrannenhalle is one of the best in town (or at least the one that tastes most like it does in Naples, i.e. with an airy crust, a slightly soupy centre and a sauce made of San Marzano tomatoes topped with fior di latte).
Secondo turno, second leg: The good thing about a scooter is that you can move around completely freely, so we meander along Altstadtring as if we were on a roundabout in Rome, advance to the traffic lights and then head on to Schwabing – though not before cruising an extra lap around Odeonsplatz (square). After all: the grand yellow-coloured church Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan und Adelheid was built by an Italian in the style of the Italian High Baroque. That fits in perfectly with our tour – and it’s something you come across quite a lot in Munich. The Residenz (city palace) and the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshall's Hall) right next door are further examples of structures that were either built by Italian architects or based on Italian models.
What is it that actually makes Munich the northernmost city in Italy? Apart from the numerous Italians who live here, the architecture and the Italian cuisine, I believe it’s mainly the light.
We now continue along Ludwigstrasse and pass Siegestor (gate), stopping off briefly at Bar Giornale (Leopoldstrasse 7, right at the corner of Georgenstrasse). Agostino, our favourite Italian in Munich, hands us an espresso at the counter, with brown sugar of course – anything else would be sacrilegious. We briefly consider going the whole hog and taking the Venetian gondola along the canal at Nymphenburg Palace (Easter to mid-October, Friday to Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm). But we give up on that idea: we already have the perfect means of transport, and by now we’re gradually starting to build up something of an appetite.
Terzo turno, third leg: What is it that actually makes Munich the northernmost city in Italy? Apart from the numerous Italians who live here, the architecture and the Italian cuisine, I believe it’s mainly the light. Even without Sahara dust, the light in the city is more yellow and saturated than elsewhere on this side of the Brenner, at least on certain days. Munich lacks the sea, of course, but you have the gleaming blue-and white sky instead, and the moment you catch sight of a couple of Eisbach surfers with boards on their bikes hanging next to you at the traffic lights, you instantly forget how far away the sea is.
As a sundowner we order – sì, certo! – first an Aperol Spritz and a still Aqua Monaco water.
Incidentally, a good place to enjoy the light of day for as long as possible is the terrace of Die Goldene Bar (Prinzregentenstrasse 1) at Haus der Kunst (art gallery): we climb the steps up to it and look for a shady spot under the canopy. Excellent cocktails are served here in the evening, and as a sundowner we order – sì, certo! – first an Aperol Spritz and a still Aqua Monaco water (yet another little Munich-Italy love story), then a tin of sardines in oil with lemon and bread.
This is a very Italian-style aperitif: a light snack served with a drink before dinner. I wonder, should I stop by Da Mario in Adalbertstrasse later and say hi to the waiter from Vietri sul Mare? We’ll see. His family would certainly be over the moon. We’ve parked the scooter for today: it now stands in a row alongside the many other colourful Vespas that roam the city. But even though the sun has long set, we don’t take off our sunglasses just yet of course: Fellini would never have allowed it.