Architecture / Germany / Travel

The Top Of The Food Chain: Munich’s Residenz

 

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From the first human tribes to the titans of Wall Street, it’s a fact that the higher up the financial food chain one goes, the bigger and fancier the house. 

And in the 16th Century, German royalty was the undisputed top of the chain. Nowhere is this more evident than the Residenz in Munich.

The Munich Residenz served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors, and kings from 1508 to 1918.

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What began as a castle at the north-eastern corner of the town was transformed over the centuries into a sprawling, magnificent palace. Today it’s a museum showcasing architecture, lavish room decorations, and displays of former royal collections.

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The Wittelsbach family ruled Bavaria for 700 years, and money was no object – it was nothing but the best; the crème de la crème. As a result, any room on the tour could be a short course in decorative arts.

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Room after room of jaw-dropping, eye popping, over-the-top luxury and opulence. In fact, the palace and collection are so massive that it’s easy to get blasé as you wander into yet another room of priceless antiques.

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For many people, palaces like the Residenz are symbols of oppression. They’re the embodiment of the greed and vanity of kings, paid for by overtaxed commoners who frequently lived in squalor and struggled for survival. To others, they’re a tangible reminder of a nation’s history and importance. There are valid points to be made on both sides of this argument, but there’s no denying that the Residenz is a fabulous collection which provides a glimpse of a lavish lifestyle that won’t likely come again.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

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56 thoughts on “The Top Of The Food Chain: Munich’s Residenz

  1. This post reminds me of my sister’s reaction driving through Monaco, on our way to Italy. She was quiet in the back seat of the car until we had almost left the principality, and then she said: “Some people have more money than’s good for them!”
    We’re from simple stock. To us opulence is bit like cayenne pepper: a little goes a long way.

    • I come from simple stock as well Jill, and displays of unbridled luxury, while interesting to see, always make me think: “How were the normal folks doing?” In those days, most commoners lived a life of misery and struggled to survive. So it’s no surprise to me that almost every country in Europe has had peasant revolts, that in many cases toppled the aristocracy. ~James

      • Doesn’t surprise me either, James. I guess it’s another example of how perception shapes everything. I’d suffer sensory indigestion if I was surrounded by all that gilt for more than an hour or two. Thanks for another informative and educative post.

  2. It is indeed OTT, team – like the ridiculous rococo church of a week or so ago. Was that yours too ? – then you are inculcating us with a good idea of what the result was when money was no object: in a word, objectionable. I’m no royalist; in fact the older I grow the grumpier about people inheriting titles. Let alone wealth (e.g., our own Gina Rinehart). Sighh … I’m starting to froth at the mouth: time to go ! 🙂

    • Places like this dot the countryside in Europe, in various states of repair. We visited a royal “Country House” in Brühl, just outside Cologne, and it was almost as ostentatious … and the Archbishop (a simple man of the cloth – ummm – ultra-wealthy and religious?) only came there a couple of times a year to hunt. As I said above, it’s no surprise to me that almost every country in Europe has had peasant revolts, that in many cases toppled the aristocracy (and in the case of France lead to a bit of the old “Off with his head!”). ~James

  3. I couldn’t live in a place like that! I’d be willing to bet the residents became immune to all the beauty/excessiveness around them. Much like how we walk around our houses and only see what we are looking for. Can you imagine what it would cost to build something like that now?

    • Interesting you say that Laura, because at one point on our visit, I asked Terri if she thought that the royals got so accustomed to all this luxury that they walked through the room and didn’t notice. And the cost had to be staggering. Everything in the castle had to be so labor intensive. It was cool to see though. ~James

    • I can imagine what an impression it must have made Juliann. I’ve seen a bit of this sort of thing, and it really impressed me. It’s great that you had this experience as a teen. Did your exchange student days instill your love of travel? ~James

  4. I agree with your comment about becoming blasé after a while when the senses are overwhelmed by opulence like that. That kind of described my reaction to the tour of the Vatican last year. I enjoyed maybe the first 30 minutes, then it became too much.
    It makes me think that if you live within that kind of richness, it becomes invisible to you … which might explain unbridled greed. You need more and more to get a buzz from it. 😦

    • Interesting Joanne, because Terri and I are the same way. With lots of “find a bench in front of a painting” breaks, we can make it more than 30 minutes, but our limit is probably 1 1/2 to 2 hrs. In fact, just the other day I heard a term for this: gallery fatigue. This is the perfect description and term. ~James

      • That’s a great term! I used to think I just hated museums. Now I realize that I just have a short attention span 🙂
        … I thought the Vatican tour was NEVER going to end!

  5. Beautiful. Are you still in Munich? I remember visiting a small church (don’t know the name) in Munich that was almost completely gold leaf inside. It was on a city street. Someone might be able to locate it for you if you are interested in another sample of opulence. Although, I suppose a church with gold is less surprising than this amazing place of royalty, they are both so beautiful yet completely over the top!

    • We’ve moved on from Munich Jeannee, but this doesn’t sound like any church we saw or heard about. It’s a funny thing about churches in Europe. There are the Notre Dames, etc, but there are also a large number of lesser-known cathedrals that, from a religious standpoint, are important. The Residenz had a delightful, small, private chapel, and we included a few photos. ~James

  6. Opulence loses it’s meaning after a while, I imagine. At least to me. I must confess, this is over the top and way overwhelming for my poor eyes. Still, thank you for the opportunity to view this meaninglessness. 😦 Nothing wrong with history. It IS interesting.

    • When we lived in the UK, we toured quite a few castles Tess. And while they weren’t this level of opulence, they weren’t too shabby. I’m waiting to see the most recent episode of Downton Abbey to see how this works out. ~James

  7. Although its ornateness is apparent, it is difficult to comprehend such excessiveness when so many are struggling just to feed their families. I do so appreciate your back stories James and Terri. I am learning much about the world through your eyes. 🙂

  8. Love your pictures, especially the perspective of the first one. And I like your comment about how easy it is to get blase about the opulence. We felt the same way in Russia when we toured “just another palace”!!! Oh, well. I’m glad the great stuff is preserved. It gives those of us in middle class something to drool over!

    • That room in the first shot is called the “Antiquarium.” The rulers had this hall to hold their antique collection and busts (real and fake) of famous Roman dignitaries. The hope was that people would see some kind of family connection between the royals and the Romans. We haven’t been to Russia, but I’ve heard that the palaces are outstanding there as well. ~James

  9. “a glimpse of a lavish lifestyle that won’t likely come again.”

    You think? Todays billionaires may not go in for gold leaf and rococo, but you can bet there’s plenty of lavish living going on.

    • Fair enough Kathy. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” will never go out of style – and unfortunately, I guess it’s human nature. But hopefully, people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates will inspire the ultra-rich to do something meaningful with some of their money. ~James

    • As Don Henley poetically put it:

      “You spend your whole life
      Just pilin’ it up there
      You got stacks and stacks and stacks
      Then, Gabriel comes and taps you on the shoulder
      But you don’t see no hearses with luggage racks.”

      ~James

  10. The only redeeming thing I can say about the over the top, excessive display of wealth are the dear artisans and craftsmen of the day who were employed to build it and use their talents. When I think of all the skilled and unskilled labor that it took to “pull this off”, no wonder tradesmen flocked to these areas. Go where the job is and go where the next job is. Reminds me of Pillars of the Earth. Thanks for sharing this and the history.

    • Excellent point Lynne. For all their self-indulgent sins, patronage of the arts is one thing that the wealthy have done throughout history. Luckily, accessibility to art has moved down the foodchain, but in the Middle Ages, art was the last thing that peasants and commoners worried about. ~James

  11. One place this reminds me of is Thailand, today. I looked at all those gilded statues in the wats, and then at the way many of the locals lived, and thought of medieval cathedrals. Same, same.

    • You’re right Kathy, Buddhist temples are right up there with OTT details. And I agree about the gilding. Given the poverty levels in some communities, it’s hard to imagine what a sacrifice this level of gold gilding must be for some people. ~James

    • The Residenz was cobbled together over a number of generations of rulers Jo, and the exterior isn’t that fancy. But, as these photos show, they knew where to put the emphasis so the Royals could appreciate it. ~James

  12. Wow, that’s quite something. Glad it’s a museum rather than a private residence. At least that way you can appreciate the lavish decor and stunning items without wondering whether your hard work and taxes paid for it, though I suppose its upkeep is still down to the public purse.

    • The Residenz is a huge place Dorothy, and while the entrance fees aren’t bad, they aren’t cheap either. But, there’s no way that a place this size can support itself on entrance fees. Which gets us into the issue of where we want our tax dollars to go, and if there ever was a hot-button issue, this is it. Since I don’t pay German taxes, I was happy to get a subsidized look at the place. ~James

  13. The one per centers of yesteryear. Is it appropriate to say opulent photos of opulence? And watch out for Medusa. The stare may be vacant but the snakes look like they are still alive. -Curt

    • Honestly Curt, I think the Wittelsbach family was in the .5 percenters. And interestingly enough, there are still a few of them living in remote wings of palaces around Germany – desperately holding onto the idea of the Ruling Class. Does the name Paris Hilton ring a bell? ~James

      • Fascinating… Paris, huh?

        Not Paris Hilton, obviously, but I am thinking about the British nobles that allow tours of their homes and properties so they can continue to afford them. –Curt

    • Thanks for the comment Suzanne, and for dropping by the blog. For folks who enjoy decorative arts, this palace was wonderful. As you can imagine, the collection has something for everyone, and all of it is the best of the best. ~James

  14. Much as I like a bit of colour that would be hard to live with day to day. I suppose it kept artists in work but, as you say, most of the royal families of Europe came to a sticky end because of their greed while the peasants were starving. Here in England we still have a royal family, still supported by us peasants. I’m not sure their houses are as ostentatious, we are English after all and not known for our ostentation, but there are a fair few starving peasants here. Maybe they would do well to be reminded of the history of their European counterparts.

    • It’s interesting the number of countries that still have a royal tradition Marie. As I said, most countries in Europe have had peasant revolts, and after the plague killed off so many feudal workers (which some experts say led to the rise of the middle class), it’s a bit surprising that people still revere and support aristocracy and royal families. And given republican governments, a Royal Family seems … well, redundant. Ummmm. Wasn’t that what started the American Revolution? ~James

  15. I find in traveling to historic spots the disparity over the beauty of what has been created and the poor souls forced to create it leaves me saddened. Sometimes hard to enjoy the wonders when one’s heart is being tugged at the thought of the lives of those behind it.

    • And the Middle Ages in Europe were particularly grim for most people. We were on a castle tour in Brühl, and the docent described 11-course dinners, and the fact that most of the food was sent back to the kitchens uneaten. The disparity is amazing. ~James

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