MUNICH — The small tobacco shop standing in the shadow of this city’s fairytale Royal Palace looks like all the other charming buildings surrounding Munich’s main square. The only thing that distinguishes the stylish shop from the rest is the Bavarian Coat of Arms emblazoned on its frosted glass entrance.
The royal seal tells passersby that the Max Zechbauer Tabakwaren (tobacconist) is among a select group of Munich stores recognized as Königlich Bayerischen Hoflieferanten (Royal Bavarian Purveyors to the Court). It’s a title bestowed on craftsmen and shops who supply fine goods to the royal household.
I didn't even know Germany had a royal family.
“The House of Wittelsbachs ruled the Kingdom of Bavaria until 1918 when King Ludwig III was deposed,” says Werner Hillermann, a local guide who agrees to lead me on a hunt to find the unique “purveyor” shops, which are usually hidden in the labyrinth of small alleyways, passages and narrow streets that dominate Munich’s Old Town.
Left: Mirko Pettene and his son Rico run the Max Zechbauer tobacco shop. Right: Brigitte Meier of shoe shop fame.
“The kingdom is no more but Franz, the Duke of Bavaria, still rules over our Royal Palace,” Werner tells me.
When the Bavarian kingdom ended in 1918, so did the need for the Royal Purveyors. However, most of the “purveyor” stores — there’s still 44 scattered throughout Bavaria and 14 still reside in Munich — continue to display the royal seal like a badge of honour. The one thing that has not changed over the centuries, though, is the quality and craftsmanship of the wares offered at those shops.
My guide pushes open the large wooden door guarding the tobacco shop entrance and on the opposite side, a nattily-attired young man named Rico Pettene greets us. He’s the seventh generation of his family to welcome people to the shop, which officially opened in 1830. It started delivering top quality cigars, pipes and whiskies to the royal doorstep in 1886.
Above: The Max Zechbauer tobacco shop also sells very expensive pipes and unique Panama hats.
Over the centuries, a Who’s Who of European royals have crossed the distinguished shop’s threshold and still come today from kingdoms like Sweden and Great Britain. The latter recognizes similar British shops who sell high quality items and awards them a Royal Warrant, permitting them to display the Queen’s Coat of Arms under which is engraved the familiar words: “By Appointment of Her Majesty The Queen.”
Rico, who is about to head off to Canada to attend university, is joined by his father Mirko and the two excitedly lead us into “the only walk-in humidor in Europe.”
The sweet smell of quality cigar tobacco fills the giant humidor, whose shelves are crammed with boxes of handmade cigars bearing world famous labels. There’s big ones — the size Sir Winston Churchill once smoked — and small ones, which look like stubby baby fingers. All have one thing in common — a large price tag.
“Our most expensive cigar sells for 210 euros (about $325 Cdn) each and a Chinese customer bought a whole box of those a few days ago,” says Mirko Pettene, Rico’s father, who proudly proclaims “our shop is regularly voted the best of its kind in Europe” by industry publications and cigar experts.
Above: Recent influcxof Asian travellers, especially Chinese, has raised the purveyor shops profiles.
The cigar shop attracts a lot of wealthy Chinese and Russian customers, along with some Hollywood royalty.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger and Morgan Freeman are regular visitors,” says Rico, who adds that members of the city’s world-renowned soccer club, Bayern Munich, also drop by from time-to-time.
When I presume the best cigars come from Cuba, Mirko quickly corrects me.
“Cuba has actually been having a lot of problems with soil erosion in recent years so the best cigars are now produced in places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.”
The pair leads me past crates of rare single malt whiskies and giant bowls of ice where the world’s best caviar is being chilled to a narrow staircase. In a room below is where the shop’s collection of beautiful handmade pipes are displayed.
“Pipes are coming back in style, especially among the Chinese. This one sells for about 10,000 euros ($13,500 Cdn),” says Mirko, while holding a beautifully polished pipe with a unique design.
Rico is also anxious to show me his father’s private collection of humidors designed by American Daniel Marshall, the rock star of his trade.
“Daniel is not just a regular visitor to our shop, he’s our friend,” beams Mirko while running his hands over a beautiful wooden humidor with a world heavyweight boxing title belt embedded in the lid. “Daniel presented me with this as a gift.”
Above: Many of the ancient shops, like Eilles coffee purveyor, sit in the shadow of Munich handsome city hall.
The shop also sells expensive, one-of-a-kind Panama straw hats, the perfect attire for cigar smokers, who usually puff outdoors.
Another member of the exclusive purveyor’s club is the nearby Ed Meier shoe shop, Europe’s oldest shoe store — it opened in 1596 — and a royal purveyor since 1895.
Meier's was not just a supplier to the Bavarian Royal Family. It also sent shoes to German kings in Berlin and thus is among the few purveyor stores in Munich that can display two royal coats of arms.
Still family run by Brigitte Meier and her brother Peter Edward, the shop has branched out to include high-quality men’s and ladies’ fashions.
“Wasn’t the king of Sweden in your shop just a few days ago?” the sly Werner asks the delightful Brigitte, who guards her client list closely.
The only name she’ll surrender is “Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he tells people he shops here.”
Generations of families keep coming back to “our store because our shoes and clothing are so well made,” says Brigitte, who proudly shows me the shop’s trademark kelly green silk lining that goes into the famous tweed jackets the sister and brother help design.
Meier’s shoes are made to fit each person’s foot like a glove and most last a lifetime. That’s why “we have regular customers who come from the U.S., Canada, England and all over Europe,” she says.
Shoes are serious business in this shop — Meier’s staff conduct seminars on the proper way to shine the leather masterpieces.
King Ludwig II, known as the “castle maker” because he built so many palaces throughout Bavaria during his reign, was the one who granted the first purveyor seals because he wanted only the best trimmings for his homes.
One of the stores he relied on most for elaborate decorations was the Ludwig Beck shop, which still stands next to Munich’s magnificent wedding cake-style City Hall in Mariaplatz.
Ludwig Beck opened in 1861 selling buttons, ribbons and tassels and in 1867 was awarded a royal crest because Ludwig II liked the materials they made.
Known now for its high-end designer clothing lines, which draws a lot of attention from the many well-heeled Chinese tourists, Werner tells me one of the earliest known photographs was taken of the sprawling Mariaplatz from Ludwig Beck’s roof.
Above: Even the perfume bottles sold in Munich's purveyor shops have a regal look about them.
When the royals got hungry, they called on Alois Dallmayr to supply them with the finest cheeses, cakes, meats, vegetables and coffee. Now known simply as Dallmayr, the shop that was awarded its purveyor seal in 1870 — it actually opened in 1700 — has grown to become the largest delicatessen in Europe.
The fashionable Munich store rivals the famous Food Hall at London’s landmark Harrods department store for size and variety, and on most days it’s crowded with locals and tourists. The coffee sold here under the Dallmayr band is regarded as the best brew in Bavaria and the onsite restaurant requires reservations to be made well in advance of your visit.
Dallmayr also shipped its products to the royal court in Berlin and so, too, proudly displays two coats of arms at its entrance.
Other purveyor stores I visited during my Munich stay included:
• Perfurmerie Brückner Bublits, which was counted on to make the royals smell good. The perfume shop opened in 1893 but only got its royal seal in 1905. It’s been operating out of the same location since 1903.
• Roeckl, the maker of fine handbags, leather gloves, wallets and scarves, which rival Hermès for their unique designs and quality. “We like to think Hermès copied us, we didn’t copy them,” a smug Roeckl salesperson tells me. The Roeckl shop dates back to 1839 and almost immediately was awarded a royal seal. The leather used in the making of their bags and gloves is imported from South America and the store remains in the hands of the Roeckl family — Annette Roeckl is the sixth generation to head the operation. Russian tourists especially like Roeckl’s scarves, which are surprisingly affordable when compared to Hermès, and have been known to buy 10 at a time.
• Eilles Coffee Shop got its royal seal of approval the same year it opened in 1873. Ludwig II liked the store’s strong coffee, which it’s still famous for today. In all, Eilles offers 12 varieties of coffee and has branched out into teas, chocolates, fine wines, whiskies, cakes and cookies. It’s a one-stop shop for your sweet tooth, too. A staff member, Frau Mangold, tells me her Munich customers like the shop’s Mexican coffee blends the most but says in recent years teas, especially those from Sri Lanka and Taiwan, have become very popular. I try the Lemon Pfeffer tea and its fruity goodness is a pleasant surprise to my tongue. People come from all over Europe to buy the shop’s famous egg nog liquor, which is very popular at Easter.
One visit to any of Munich's treasured purveyor shops will no doubt earn your seal of approval.
JUST THE FACTS
• Max Zechbauer Tabakwaren is located at 10 Residenzstraße
• The Ed Meier shoe shop is located at 10 Brienner Str.
• Roeckl is located at Theatinerstraße 44, http://www.roeckl.com
• Alois Dallmayr: https://www.dallmayr.com/de/
• The Eilles Coffee Shop: 23 Residenzstraße, http://www.eilles-tee.de/
• Perfurmerie Brückner: 8 Marienplatz, http://www.parfuemerie-brueckner.com