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The Altstadt is the old town, the ancient centre that was once enclosed by what used to be the city walls. In the middle of the Altstadt and true heart of the city is the Marienplatz, for many centuries the stage for the major public events, site of the city market until 1807, and today the main tourist attraction for any traveller who comes to town. It is worth mentioning that Munich, because of its strategic location, started to prosper during the Dark Ages thanks to its trade in salt, indispensable, at the time, for the preservation of foodstuffs. The Marienplatz was the site of the salt market, besides being the site of the wheat market, and it wasn’t long before it became the symbol of Munich’s good fortune. Here stands the shining Mariensäule (the Pillar of the Virgin), erected in 1638 to commemorate the expulsion of the Swedish Armies. At its summit there is a golden statue of the Virgin, crafted in 1590 by Hubert Gerhard. The four putti sitting at the base of the pillar, sculpted by Ferdinand Murmann, represent the aspiration to defeat hunger, war, pestilence and heresy. Another decorative element of the square is the monumental Fischbrunnen (Fountain of the Fishes), constructed between 1862 and 1865 by Konrad Knoll. A local legend states that, by dipping your wallet in its water on Ash Wednesday, you will have prosperity all year long... it costs nothing to try! In Munich there are two Town Halls, both of which front onto the square: the older of the two, the Altes Rathaus, and the newer and more visited Neues Rathaus. The Altes Rathaus, or Old Town Hall, is at the eastern end of the square and is a faithful, though partial, reconstruction of the original building, which was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The original structure dates back to 1310, although it is almost impossible to distinguish it due to all the alterations. The oldest part of the Town Hall is the tower, built between 1180 and 1200, and forming part of the city’s ramparts. Today, the tower houses the unusual Toy Museum. The building’s gothic interior has remained intact and special care has been given to the reconstruction of the ceremonial hall with its wood barrel vaulted ceiling. The dance hall is also very beautiful, with its wood encased ceiling decorated with reproductions of Erasmus Grasser’s Moorish Dancers. The imposing neo-gothic building that houses the Neues Rathaus, the new Town Hall, is, on the other hand, the expression of the renewed pride of the late 19th century middle classes of the city. The design is by the architect Georg von Hauberrisser, who began construction work in 1867, only completing it in 1909. The façade, of bricks and dressed stone, is punctuated by the effigies of numerous city notables. Particularly worthy of note is the tower, topped by the bronze statue of the Münchner Kindl, the Little Monk, symbol of the city. The tower also comprises the element of greatest interest, the Glockenspiel, the famous music box clock with its 43 bells that, every day – at 11am, at midday and, during the summer, also at 5pm – comes alive with the movements of 32 life-size copper figures. It is made up of two levels: the upper level houses a representation of the celebrations for the wedding of Duke William V to Princess Renate von Lothringen (1568), whereas the lower level shows a re-enactment of the ancient coopers’ dance that commemorates the celebrations held for the end of the plague that had the city in its grip from 1515 to 1517. At the end of the show, a golden cockerel sitting on top of the music box flaps its wings, moves its head and sings three times. At 9pm, the small bow windows at the sides of the music box light up, then, a night-watchman appears and blows his horn, followed by an angel that blesses the Münchner Kindl to the sound of a short lullaby. A sweet goodnight to the city of Munich.
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