Munich: Asamkirche

If you’re in Munich, and you like the Baroque, that extravagant 17th Century architectural movement, I suggest you visit the magnificent Asamkirche, officially known as the Church of St. Johann-Nepomuk. Unofficially, it’s known by its architects, the brothers Cosmas and Egid Quirin Asam, the most acclaimed builders and decorators of the age.  (Address:  Sendlingerstrasse 32, Muenchen; Phone:  089.23687989)

 The Asam brothers built this small, but lavish sanctuary (the nave is 92’ long and 29’ wide) between 1733 and 1746 in honor of the 14th-Century monk Johann-Nepomuk after his sanctification in 1729.

Notice how the church is incorporated into the facades of the houses on either side: to the left is the Asam family home, and to the right the rectory.

A brief history of the Baroque:  After nearly two centuries of design filled with symmetry and predictable forms, European architects wanted a change.  Inspired by a bold new architectural style emanating out of Italy, where the Catholic Church encouraged architects to build houses of worship that told of divine splendor, the Asam brothers, among others, began creating dramatic, elaborate structures.

Typically their details incorporated innovative configurations, elaborate ornaments, opulent art, and audacious contrasts that in time fell under the umbrella term: Baroque.  (The word baroque stems from the Italian barocco, which means bizarre.)

The portal of the church, framed by two elegant columns, suggests a celebratory interior.  Slightly above the portal, but not fully visible in my picture, is an arch with a platform that some say depicts St. Johann Nepomuck’s ascension into heaven in the company of angels.    While the exterior is magnificent, nothing prepares the casual visitor for the grandeur within.

Here we can get a sense of what has been called the Asamkirche’s “highly theatrical style,” full of surprise and wonder.  Adorned with baroque details, such as optical illusions, carvings, gildings, sculptures and frescos, the interior collectively suggests the holy splendor of “another world.”

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Not far from the Asamkirche is the Viktualienmarkt, Munich’s largest and oldest food market with 140 stalls, established in 1807.

This open air market reminds me of a Middle East bazaar. How to negotiate its bounty?  Among its offerings:  bins of cardamon, cilantro, cumin, saffron, and turmeric; tubs of olives; and more dark purple eggplants than I can count.

My sister Petra, who lives in Munich, tells me that to set up a stall one must obtain a permit.  The waiting list for permits is long.  Sellers must be reliable and offer a wide range of goods.

On my most recent walk among the stalls with Petra––she to shop for fresh produce for ratatouille and I to take pictures for this blog––one market trader came rushing out, shouting, “Keine Bilder!”  (No pictures!)  Of course, I complied.  The three photos above stem from more receptive encounters with traders.

Here is Petra’s favorite ratatouille recipe:

 Ratatouille

(Petra took this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen site on the Internet, but then made her own adjustments.)

 1/2 onion, chop finely
2 garlic cloves, slice thinly
1 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons olive oil, in two portions
1 eggplant
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
Thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Cover the bottom of a baking dish with tomato puree.  Distribute the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion over the sauce.  Stir in one tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the ends from the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash.  Then remove the ends off the red pepper, along with the core.  Slice the vegetables 1/16-inch thick, arrange slices concentrically from the outer edge of the tomato sauce to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a bit of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top vegetables and season with salt and pepper.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside.

Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables are cooked.

Petra tops this with a few dabs of soft goat cheese.  Occasionally, served with bread or a grain, this dish becomes a light and healthy self-contained meal.

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