When Munich stayed up late for its long night of the museums, Veronica Stivala discovered a stunning version of the Mona Lisa, in better condition than that at the Louvre.

For one night every year, Munich’s museums, galleries and churches stay up late and open their doors to the public for a special occasion: The Long Night of Museums (Die Lange Nacht der Museen).

There is a special atmosphere that permeates the city as various buildings are lit up with luminescent pink, blue, green and yellow lights; normally dark pathways and nearby trees come alive with this special lighting and it might even be slightly eerie were it not for ad hoc eateries, drink stands and the warm hustle and bustle of patrons as they sip and munch, and chat as they ferry themselves from one venue to another.

This year saw the 20th edition of the night festival and one could really feel that this was a mature festival, familiar with its traditions, yet certainly not stale in its offerings. What is great about this event is that for €15 you get to visit as many events and locations as you can muster in a night. The ticket also includes transport to stops near all the venues.

Some 90 museums, galleries and churches were open from 7pm to 2am for visitors to experience art and culture, science and technology in a totally different light. In addition to their collections and exhibitions, many venues also offered special projects, guided tours and concerts specially for the night.

Each edition has its pièce de résistance, and this year’s was the art gallery the Alte Pinakothek. Part of a collection of ‘Pinakothek’ galleries in Munich – which also includes the Neue Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne – this gallery, as its name gives away, houses the older pieces of art. I will admit despite having lived in the city for close to three years, I had shied away from this particularly gallery, preferring to go for its modern sisters. Boasting a completely new renovation, I decided to give it a go and I am so glad I did.

The building is an attraction in itself. Built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1826, the Alte Pinakothek was the largest museum in the world. With its sprawling rooms and vaulted ceilings, the Neo-Renaissance museum is an apt home for giant and not so giant canvases.

This night festival serves as a wonderful taster to the many galleries

The over-700-piece collection presents the development of art from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance and the Baroque, and up to the end of the Rococo period.

I was surprised to discover that the museum houses a terrific copy of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, impressively in better condition than the original at the Louvre and with, even on a night such as this, no such things as the crowded sea of mobiles perched onto their owners one finds in front of its Parisian equivalent.

The problem with wonderful events such as these is that one is faced with the difficult conundrum of what and what not to see. One also needs to note that with the event having become so popular, it does attract crowds and sometimes one needs to factor in queueing time, especially for transport. A firm believer in less is more, I picked another two venues to visit. The first was the botanical gardens – a gem in themselves, and certainly worth a visit during the day when one can admire the wonderful array of exotic plants. The highlights here were the pumpkin cutouts, others being prepared live for visitors, and the flame dancer at the back of the gardens. As with everything else, the gardens took on a new nightly guise. I particularly liked the ‘cocktail room’ where a DJ spun some tunes to the accompaniment of changing lights and indoor trees, and I wish there was more play of plants and light in other parts of the garden.

Alte Pinakothek during the Night of the Museums.Alte Pinakothek during the Night of the Museums.

My last visit was the National Theatre’s museum, which this year celebrated its 200th anniversary. On display was a scenographic array of images including original sketches for The Magic Flute from 1818 and drawings by Georg Baselitz for Parsifal this year. I was particularly impressed by the mirror room, whose entire four walls were mirrors, which not only made the room look bigger, but which also multiplied the hanging screens on which were projected footage from previous productions at the theatre.

This night festival serves as a wonderful taster to the many galleries and museums for people who are fortunate to be in the city at the time. However, if you’re planning on visiting the city any other time, I’ll share my tip: save some museums for Sundays when entrance costs a mere €1!


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