Monday, April 18, 2011

Munich's Alter Hof

Before the Wittelsbach ruling dynasty began the centuries-long project of building Munich’s Residenz, Alter Hof was home of the Wittelsbach court.

Alter Hof is comprised of five main structures built during the Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance periods. The buildings survived until World War II, when most of Alter Hof was destroyed by Allied bombing late in the war. (The Allies could not bomb Munich until it had gained air bases in Italy, which occurred only in 1944—Munich was too far from Great Britain to allow bombers to make successful round trips between Britain and Munich. The same was true of Vienna.)

Below is an engraving of an artist’s drawing from 1850 showing a small portion of Alter Hof.

Below is an engraving of an artist’s drawing from 1869 showing the inner courtyard of the very same building that appears in the 1850 drawing.

Below is a photograph that shows the latter scene today.

Much of Alter Hof was rebuilt after the war, but rebuilding was in greatly-simplified form, as the photograph above amply demonstrates.

The only portion of Alter Hof that survived the war intact was Munzhof, the portion of Alter Hof erected during the Renaissance.

Munzhof is renowned for its beautiful arcaded courtyard.

Munzhof’s courtyard was built to serve as horse stable. It later was to house the Wittelsbach art collection, and lastly was to provide a home for The Bavarian Mint (from which Munzhof ultimately was to derive its lasting name).

The courtyard of Munzhof is the only portion of Alter Hof worth visiting today.

While Munzhof’s courtyard is open to the public, the interiors of all five buildings of Alter Hof are not accessible for public viewing. Alter Hof interiors mostly house various governmental offices—although a few have been turned into Germany’s version of condominiums.

To Americans, it seems odd that portions of a former royal palace might be sold off to the public to serve as private residences.

However, how many Americans are aware that large portions of Hampton Court Palace outside London are used as “grace and favor” apartments, offered at the pleasure of The Crown? (The apartments are most often occupied by those retired from Royal Service.)

And how many Americans realize that most of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna—everything but the ground floor, in fact—is rented out to apartment-dwellers?

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