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May 2007

The Viktualienmarkt

Munich’s art museums may host great works of art, but the city’s true sensory masterpiece lies underneath the awnings of the Viktualienmarkt. Pyramids of shining red apples are stacked beneath hanging bundles of garlic, shallots, and dried spices. Brine-filled barrels are stuffed to the brim with floating pickles. Exotic spices and the heady scent of the cheese shops fill the air. One hears languages from around the world mixing with the rustle of leaves, burbling fountains, and the odd accordion concert. Munich’s heart may “beat strongest at the Viktualienmarkt,” as a local entrepreneur once said. It’s also there that its eyes widen, ears prick up, and taste buds tingle. The city’s stomping grounds for gourmands, tourists, and shoppers alike celebrates its 200th birthday this year.

The city’s first outdoor market was actually held at and around Marienplatz. Wood from the Isar was delivered to the Tal, wine was available in Weinstrasse, and foodstuffs came to Marienplatz. When the population exploded in the 19th century, however, they could hardly hold all of the meats, vegetables, and grains that flooded daily into the growing city. In that year, King Maximilian I of Bavaria issued a decree to move some of the vendors to an area between the Heiliggeist Church and Frauenstrasse.

The first vendors to move to the new market were those selling eggs and herbs. By 1831, the last holdouts—the fishermen—left the Fischbrunnen on Marienplatz. Seven days a week (except for high religious holidays), the market people rose before dawn to jostle for the best spaces, which were not assigned. In 1853, Maximilian II built a huge glass and iron grain hall on the edge of the market—the Schranne or Schrannenhalle. This brought even more customers to the Viktualienmarkt, and in 1870, the city allowed the first permanent stands to be built there. The next de-cades saw steady stretching of the market’s boundaries until it reached its present size of 22,000 square meters in 1891.

Yet like many Munich landmarks, the Viktualienmarkt sustained heavy damage during World War II. Entrepreneurs proposed razing the site to build luxury apartment buildings. Public outcry stalled those plans, and the city paid to rebuild the market just after the war ended. Soon after, in the 1960s, urban development once again threatened the idyllic market in the form of a proposed city highway. City officials heeded the public protest once again, and reaffirmed the market’s worth to Munich by way of sanitation and renovation efforts. These lasted from 1969 to 1979, in conjunction with the Olympics. During that time, the market was converted in its entirety to the pedestrian area it is today.

Now visitors to the Viktualienmarkt can browse 129 stands and stores and 72 open-air selling spaces. They are open Monday through Saturday, from dawn until dusk (no later than 8 pm).

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