Munich's Englischer Garten

Munich's 910 acre public green space is on the list of most tourists. They come to sit in the Chinese Tower beer garden and watch the Eisbach surfers, but few know the interesting history hidden in the garden. Here's a quick look at two people whose lives intersected with this tranquil park.

Count Rumford

Unity Mitford

A typical weekend in the English Garden

China Tower Beer in Munich's English garden

Cutting a green swatch through the heart of the city, this 910 acre city park is crucial for city residents. With tight living spaces and non-existent A/C, this massive green area makes the city much more livable.

With rolling green spaces and meandering streams, this idyllic setting is a wonderful place to access the beauty of nature. The clean and cold Schwabinger Bach is a favorite place for a quick cool down - both for Munich's famous FKK nudists and their clothed counterparts. Surfing, carousel, jogging, horseback riding, & beer gardens – there’s something for everyone. There’s a great video that sums it up here.

There are many interesting Englischer Garten related tidbits to talk about, but I have chosen two: Count Rumford & Unity Mitford.

Count Rumford

We all know about the great Benjamin Franklin, but few Americans have heard of Benjamin Thompson – later to be known as Count Rumford.  He was also a scientist – he did experiments with heat, light, insulation, and industrial furnaces. See the video from HomeTime TV for a quick snapshot of the fireplace.

It was after Thompson met Carl Theodor, the Prince-elector of Bavaria, that he became famous and was later given the noble title of “Reichsgraf von Rumford.” Entering into Carl-Theodor’s service was a turning point. He led a reform effort of the Bavarian military which resulted in the creation of the Englischer Garten in Munich. Thompson felt that in times of peace, the soldiers should spend more time farming and gardening. Giving them something productive to do kept them out of trouble and lessened the cost of provisioning the army. At the same time, Carl-Theodor announced that this new green space be open to the general public and steps were taken to expand and beautify the area – see more info here.  

In addition to launching the idea of the Englischer Garten, Rumford also was asked to get to address the problem of beggars on the streets of Munich. He attacked the problem as a scientist and was very successful. He realized the poor were lacking the skills needed for self-sufficiency. He created work houses where they would be taught a skill – primarily sewing army uniforms.  In exchange for their work, they received what became known as “Rumford Soup.” This introduced the potato to the Bavarian diet and he was careful to calculate out the caloric benefits and the cost per bowl of the soup. His programs for the poor where wildly successful and his name is still seen often in Munich.

Unity Mitford

Although only marginally related to the topic of the Englischer Garten, the story of Unity Mitford is an interesting one. A young British socialite, she was a distant cousin of Churchill’s wife and the sister-in-law of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. Early on, she had a fascination for German Nazi movement. Her middle name was “Valkyrie” and she was born in the town to Swastika, Ontario!

In the summer of 1934, she moved to Munich, enrolled in German language lessons, and set her focus on meeting Hitler. Learning that he often ate a the Osteria Bavaria in the Munich district of Schwabing, she spent months trying to get close to him. After 10 months, Hitler finally invited her to his table and she became a part of his inner circle for the next five years. When England and Germany entered into a state of war, she went to the Englischer Garten and shot herself in the head with a pearl handler revolver which Hitler had given her. She botched the suicide attempt and Hitler paid her medical bills until she finally was transferred to Swiss hospital and later back to England. She never fully recovered. To get more of the details about her time with Hitler, have a look here. And there were also unsubstantiated rumors that she had given birth to baby fathered by Hitler – see here.

All of this has made me a little thirsty, so I am going to head over to my local beer garden – the Chinese Tower in the heart of the Englischer Garten. I’ll save that story for another day ;-)

Scott Stephens leads exclusive tours of Bavaria through his company BayernTrips LLC. Don't just see the sights, live the culture! #BayernTrips