An art-lovers paradise awaits in the capital of Bavaria. Follow us to the heart of culture and art in Europe.
t’s a paradox that for some, Munich is only associated with beer. There is one museum for every 17,500 inhabitants, and one publishing house for every 5,600 people there. “Munich is a relatively small city, but the range of restaurants, clubs, boutiques and museums is amazing”, says businessman Niels Jäger before our visit to The Flushing Meadows hotel and bar, one of his latest ventures. Located in a converted industrial building in the vibrant, creative district of Glockenbach, it’s one of the trendiest places in the city. Just like the Goldene Bar, in the Haus der Kunst museum. Art is in.
As Jäger points out, the third-largest city in Germany is host to 80 museums. Reopened in 2013, Lenbachhaus is one of the most striking. The architect Norman Foster was responsible for the extension of the painter Franz von Lenbach’s villa, where the most popular works by the ‘Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) are exhibited. This artistic movement originated in Munich at the beginning of the 19th century, based around Kandinsky and Franz Marc, who wanted to break with the traditional teachings of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts where they studied.
The capital of the state of Bavaria is home to 170 works by the American artist Cy Twombly in the Brandhorst Museum. Udo and Annete Brandhorst’s private collection has a luxurious setting in the distinctive building designed by Sauerbruch Hutton in the Maxvorstadt borough. In this district, known as Kunstareal (Art District), there is also an abundance of restaurants, especially in the streets of Türkenstrasse and Theresienstrasse. The name of the district is due to the closeness of art galleries and schools, museums such as Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek and the collection of ancient art (Greek, Roman and Egyptian) distributed in several buildings around Königsplatz. The largest contemporary art centre in Germany can also be found there. The permanent collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne modern art museum includes a selection of iconic objects in the history of industrial, automobile, furniture and household appliance design.
Beer is officially considered food in Bavaria. There are around 60 beer gardens, which serve beer made by local breweries such as Augustiner Bräu, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Spaten-Franziskaner Bräu, and Paulaner Brauerei. These breweries also share the marquees that are erected during the annual Oktoberfest Festival. Six million people visit the city during the festival. However, the festive atmosphere at breweries like Hofbräu Haus can be enjoyed all year round. To accompany drinks, the most traditional snacks are white sausages (‘weißwurst’) served with sweet mustard, or pretzels, which are salty pieces of bread twisted into the shape of a bow.
However, we can’t discuss automobile design without mentioning the BMW Museum. The automobile brand museum exhibits everything from prototypes to their historic models. The luxury brand experience is completed at the nearby BMW Welt, designed by the cooperative HIMMELB(L)AU studio. Dedicated to customer service, the striking glass building gives you the chance to try out the latest models on the market and enjoy a two-star Michelin restaurant, Esszimmer. The BMW complex is located in the Olympiapark district, which was the venue for the 1972 Olympic Games. It’s also close to the Allianz Arena, which holds significant importance for many locals. Not only because the unique building was designed by the architects Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron but also because it’s F.C. Bayern Munich’s stadium.
Royal and entrepreneurial patrons
The rich variety of museums in the city began with the Wittelsbach dynasty, which governed the duchy and, for a century, reigned over Bavaria. Its main legacies in the city are the Residenz and Nymphenburg palace museums, as well as the Englischen Garten public park. The dynasty was also responsible for countless buildings inspired by art from Rome and Greece, which give the city a classic, stately appearance. Industrial fortunes and large companies followed suit, bequeathing the city major art collections and subsidising some of its museums so that the people of Munich could enter free of charge one day a week.
“People say that Munich is industrial and rich compared to Berlin, which is poor but sexy. It’s true that Munich is more classical, but it has the charm of modernity”, acknowledges Jordi Orts. A journalist and tourist guide, belonging to the 22% of foreign nationals who live in a city with an unemployment rate of just 4%.
Catholicism is the main religion and also defines the city. Instead of skyscrapers, it is the neo-Gothic towers of the City Hall, the green domes of the cathedral towers and the tower of St. Peter’s Church, the oldest church in the city, that define Munich’s skyline. In the small church of St. Johann Nepomuk or ‘Asamkirche’, many tourists flock to admire its Rococo decorations as locals sit and pray in silence.
Love for music
The devotion to art is also reflected in the streets. The inhabitants of the city didn’t hesitate in financing the 20-year reconstruction of the Bavarian State Opera building, which had been destroyed during the Second World War. The opera house, which was built to Richard Wagner’s specifications, is the most prestigious in Germany and one of the most renowned in the world because of the quality of its opera programme.
“There’s a great tradition of love for classical music in Bavaria”, says Thiemo Brüll, manager of the music department of the Ludwig Beck department stores. The store in Marienplatz offers a wide variety of classical CDs and DVDs from all over the world. It keeps at least one copy of each published work. “There’s an atmosphere of appreciation for music in Munich. Leading artists visit to perform here, musicians play in the street and in the store we try to promote personal contact with artists through small recitals”, he adds.
Ryan Inglis is one of these musicians. A music teacher in Great Britain, he is a regular visitor to Munich where he links his club concerts with recordings and competitions. We find him in Hofgarten, the park of the Residenz museum. When he’s not performing, he plays there with another Dutch vocalist who is a fan of the country and of Janis Joplin.
Munich is just 275 km away from Italy. It’s popularly known as the northernmost Italian city. This is not just because of the large Italian community that lives in the city. The people of Munich are also so used to visiting the country that it’s no surprise that they speak and understand Italian. There are almost one thousand Italian restaurants in the city that also contribute to this mutual admiration.
Art is in the street, and under it. The lamps designed by Ingo Maurer light some of the most striking tube stations in the city and the underground alternative cultural movement. Jordi Orts guides tourists around palaces, but also through the city’s liveliest districts, where he points out the street where Freddie Mercury, the leader of Queen, used to live. “In the 1980s, Munich was the centre of a kind of movement around the Musikland recording studio. All the leading artists came to record here. But when the wall came down, they moved to Berlin where properties were cheaper”, he explains.
The cultural movement has not disappeared. Former industrial facilities such as Import Export, Muffatwerk and Kultfabrik now offer a multi-faceted programme of concerts of various kinds, street markets, plays, exhibitions, poetry recitals, etc.
There’s room for everything. Even an artificial wave in a canal of the Isar river, so that surfing enthusiasts can find their thrills on winter Sundays. Niels Jäger sums it up this way: “The city has changed a lot in the last few years. Munich is now ready to abandon conventionality”.