The chilly welcome at Michaelkirche in Berg am Laim
My mother had been especially recommended to see the Michaelkirche or church of St Michael in Berg am Laim which is reputed to be one of the most beautiful Rococo churches in Southern Germany and so we duly left the well-trodden tourist routes of central Munich for the suburbs. Although Berg am Laim is only 5 stops on the S-Bahn from Marienplatz, it felt a world away with a sprinkling of snow over modern houses and apartments. We walked for about 20 minutes from the station, regularly asking passers-by in our best phrasebook German “Wo ist die Michelkirche?” and they would point us ever onwards.
Finally we passed through the village centre and down a residential road where we found the Michaelkirche looking much like any other local parish church from the outside. We entered and found the main church barred by a wrought iron grille with a gate that was locked. Beyond, at the front of the church we could see a group of children practicing for their nativity play with a few parents sitting watching. We rattled the grille hoping someone would come to open it, but nobody did, and after further exploration, we found an open side door and ventured down the corridor and into the church near the altar.
As we stepped through the teacher of the children came forward and told us that the church was not open for visits at this time. We remonstrated with him, thinking of our train journey and long, chilly walk to get here. “We’ve come all the way from London to see this church!” exclaimed my mother indignantly. After a few more exchanges in broken English and German we convinced the teacher to let us stay to look around for a short while and he turned back to his rehearsal.
Feeling rather like the uninvited guests, we wandered around the church for admiring the rococo painted gilt cherubs and the skeleton of Archbishop Clemens, the founder of the church, in a glass case. We read in our guidebook that there was a memorial in the church to 300 Jews who had been rounded up in the church during the war, before being transported to concentration camps, but were unable to find it. I wondered what the parishioners had made of this at the time, whether they collaborated in the round-up or whether they thought there was nothing they could do to stop it. The love of order and following the social norms is deeply ingrained in the German culture – you’ll never see a German crossing the road when the red man is lit.
As we left the church, the teacher who had previously barred our way, obviously thought better of it and smiled and wished us a good day. And so we walked back to the station on the snowy pavements and took the train back to the heart of Munich – at least the tourist heart.
Personally I think there are enough beautiful Rococo churches in the centre of Munich not to bother with this one, unless you are a real connoisseur, but there again, perhaps it’s good to be reminded what it’s like to be an outsider, once in a while.
Other Munich articles to enjoy
- We stayed in Munich at Hotel Falkenturm, a comfortable, 2 star hotel which is well-located for sightseeing – read my review of Hotel Falkenturm here
- The guidebook I used on this trip was the pocket sized Dorling Kindersley, Eyewitness Top 10 guide to Munich, which I found ideal for sightseeing if you are there for a short time.
- Official Munich Tourism Website