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Insider: Munich

Munich has often been defined by static images from its past: the history-rich Marienplatz district; the Frauenkirche, a 15th-century Gothic church topped by copper-sheathed onion domes; the overflowing fruit and vegetable stalls at the 200-year-old Viktualienmarkt. And though this city—often called Germany's secret capital—is rife with traditional Bavarian charm, there are now great new snapshots to take. Munich has had a modern face-lift, thanks in part to a contemporary art museum (one of Europe's largest) by architect Stephan Braunfels and a shopping center by the celebrated design duo Herzog & de Meuron. There's been a mini-boom in hotels, too, with several boutique properties giving the five-star classics some stylish competition (causing the old masters to respond in kind). With so much going on, Munich's future has never looked brighter.

CHIC SLEEPS: HOTELS There's been a flurry of openings and grande-dame renovations in Munich. The latest debut is the somewhat straitlaced Hotel Anna (1 Schützenstrasse; 49-89/599-940; www.annahotel.de; doubles from $165, including breakfast), with 56 minimalist rooms; ask for one of the four tower suites with 180-degree city views. · A vibrant makeover of the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (17 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/21250; www.kempinski-vierjahreszeiten.de; doubles from $364) has updated the Neoclassical public spaces and 170 of its 316 rooms; the lobby's stained-glass dome has been restored, too, letting refracted light pour in. · The 33 rooms of the Cortiina Hotel (8 Ledererstrasse; 49-89/242-2490; www.cortiina.com; doubles from $196, including breakfast) take their cues from Frank Lloyd Wright, with flagstone walls, and fixtures made of natural materials (a touch of oak here, a bit of cowhide there). · While the muted interiors of the 73-room Mandarin Oriental (1 Neuturmstrasse; 49-89/290-980; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $348) will get an Asian-themed redo by year's end, the hotel's heated rooftop pool and patio will retain their current grand style. · The 50-room Advokat (1 Baaderstrasse; 49-89/216-310; www.hotel-advokat.de; doubles from $158, including breakfast), near the up-and-coming Gärtnerplatz neighborhood, is filled with carefully edited retro-chic pieces.BEST VALUE Above one of Munich's oldest cafés, the Mariandl (51 Goethestrasse; 49-89/5440-4348; doubles from $42 with shared bath, from $100 with private) is an inexpensive pensione restored by the antiques-loving Bayer family, who retained the original moldings and chandeliers and filled the 29 rooms with pieces from their private collection. The best room is number 30, just $116 a night, which has a matching 1880's bedroom set and a beautiful claw-foot tub facing the window.

SHOPPING The crown jewel of Munich's retail scene is the massive Fünf Höfe (15 Theatinerstrasse; 49-89/242-1480), a 35-acre space designed by Herzog & de Meuron that houses more than 60 luxury boutiques (Zegna, Strenesse, Ligne Roset). Check out the architectural details, such as the te·tured metallic façade and a hanging garden. · In an almost hidden courtyard on the Maximilianstrasse, Munich's magnificent mile, is the one-of-a-kind Sicking (36 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/2554-0606). Here shirts, suits, and dresses are made to order by e·pert tailors who add a slinky, body-hugging edge to classic suits and dresses. · If Sex and the City were filmed in Germany, Carrie and her pals would flock to Modehaus Marion Heinrich (9 Falckenbergstrasse; 49-89/292-526), which stocks the latest from Manolo Blahnik, Balenciaga, Chloé, and others. · The full bar and DJ lend a clublike atmosphere to Pool Fashion Music Lounge (14 Kreuzstrasse; 49-89/266-035), a shop specializing in upstart labels, including Plein Sud, Dsquared2, and Bikkembergs. · Lola Paltinger started her own label, Lollipop & Alpenrock (27 Tal; 49-89/201-1114; showroom only; appointment required), after working for Vivienne Westwood in London. Lola specializes in playful interpretations of Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen, some with a 1930's retro twist, making them out of every imaginable material—French hand-painted cotton, Chinese satin brocade, herringbone tweed, embroidered silk from Japan.

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