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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Munich Makeover

How old Bavaria learned a few new tricks.

Achtung, Berlin. Munich may only be this year’s number-two place to live (edged out by Copenhagen, for those of you who track Monocle’s arbitrary index), but it’s currently Germany’s hottest city. In its 850th year, the Bavarian capital’s soaring economy and vibrant creative class has locals hanging up their lederhosen in favor of cutting-edge art and technology. To prove it, quaint, stodgy, conservative Munich kicked off 2008 in a very 21st-century fashion: by hosting the Digital, Life, Design conference, which drew over a thousand “thought leaders” of the internet age to a city known more for its beer and bratwurst.

Everywhere you turn, Munich’s dynamic new look is shaking up its dullsville image. Take the BMW Welt building (pictured), a temple to German engineering that was completed last fall. Designed by Wolf Prix of Austrian architectural powerhouse Coop Himmelb(l)au, it reopens this week with a new exhibition of experimental concepts, like a shape-shifting, cloth-covered car. The visual art scene is also in ascendance. Opening in a few months, the stunning Museum Brandhorst will bring an extensive collection of modern art, featuring names like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Even the Haus der Kunst — which Hitler built specifically to show German classics — has an impressive collection of contemporary work from across the globe (and houses one of the city’s most exclusive nightclubs).

Munich also gets distinction for the best surfing in the Alps. That’s right: thanks to accidental engineering, Munich’s sprawling park, Englischer Garten, hosts annual surfing competitions on the man-made Eisbach River. But don’t let surfing and a growing distaste for beer let you think Munich has lost sight of its past. This is still, after all, the Beer Capital of the World, and 850 is a big birthday. To many, this summer’s festivities, despite the new nationwide smoking ban, is just a taster for Oktoberfest, which threatens to break last year’s record of drowning 6.9 million liters of golden beer. And those visitors who can’t make the fest can always satiate their taste for tradition at the timeless Hofbrauhaus beer hall, which is but a baby, at 419 years old.