So far, so clichéd, even if done here with conviction. To be fair though, there are actually genuine craftspeople making genuine jewellery, ceramics and fashion by day and readings, gigs, and credible outdoor dance floors by night. Australians will feel right at home; informal seating here, in the Volkstheater cafe courtyard and elsewhere, is on repurposed crates from Munich’s many breweries. Improbably, outside the student-infested Lost Weekend coffee bar in the university district, where “Love Kills Capitalism” is the sign over the door, the crates are from Bundaberg.
The Hahn brothers’ umbrella business is called Wann-da (Wenn nicht jetzt wann dann? or “If not now, when?“). They had earlier created a landmark cafe by relocating a substantial boat, the MS Utting, from the Ammersee outside Munich to a disused railway bridge by the wholesale market. It had to be sawn in half lengthways to get it there.
The rumoured former brothel opposite is almost entirely camouflaged by street art and these days houses the fashionably grungy Zur Gruam bar – meaning “To the Pit” in Bavarian. It is both the antithesis and the extension of the well-groomed Dreimühlenstrasse (Three Mills Street) neighbourhood next door, an almost idealised intergenerational neighbourhood where hip young cyclists out for a coffee mingle with the residents of the rent-controlled apartments who are busily getting sloshed in the sunshine on €2 beers outside the thoroughly unreconstructed Bierschuppen pub.
Even the River Isar has had a makeover. A century ago, its green waters were forced into artificial channels, but its course has gradually been re-naturalised. The islands beyond the long-standing Flaucher beer garden now feature pebbled beaches and pools for splashing about. There’s a city-centre nudist beach here because your average Münchner doesn’t need much excuse to get their kit off, and this sunny southern city is only just over the Alps (via Innsbruck) from Italy.
Just south again by the river, a former power station is home to the new €40 million, 1900-seat Isarphilharmonie concert hall with a restaurant forming part of the mix. For the moment, this Gasteig HP8 cultural quarter is also doubling as the temporary home of the Gasteig, Munich’s largest cultural complex, which looms like a 1970s brick cliff a few kilometres downstream in hipster Haidhausen but is about to be rebuilt to provide a second concert hall. Before work begins on the vacant Gasteig, it is being used as Fat Cat, a temporary hub for artists’ studios, band rehearsal spaces and the like.
But wait, there’s more. It seems that concert halls are to Munich what buses are to other cities – none for ages then three come at once. Because literally on the wrong side of the tracks from Haidhausen, just to the east of the grim Munich East station (the Ostbahnhof), another hall is in the planning. The digitally minded Munich Concert Hall, which will project performances inside on its own angular facades, is slated to be the centrepiece of another evolving creative district, the Werksviertel-Mitte.
This is the site of the famous Pfanni factory (no sniggering at the back, please), a former potato processing plant sprawling across several hectares that produced products from chips to dumplings. After it closed in the 1990s, it became the informal home to artists and warehouse raves. Today, the old workers’ canteen is a comedy club with the Technikum music venue in the former machine workshop next door.
The Pfanni potato store has been green lit as the Werk7 theatre, and the production-line building now houses creative start-ups. You can look down from the new Adina hotel and watch actual lambkins cropping its turfed roof. Out front are the inevitable shipping containers housing bars and businesses. Dotted around is a veritable architectural zoo of faceted and cantilevered office buildings and lots of zingy orange paint, more beer crate seating and, of course, a micro-brewery.
It seems that concert halls are to Munich what buses are to other cities – none for ages then three come at once.
If it feels like there is something slightly amiss at the Werksviertel, it is because this top-down hipsterfication has replaced the genuinely organic and cheap-as-chips arts community once housed here. Even the street art feels over-curated. The shipping containers will be replaced by a commercial building when the time is right. The PR for the development company leading the change says with a straight face of one of the world’s most liveable cities: “Urbanity as a concept did not exist [in Munich] until now.”
Such is gentrification; grassroots culture is shuffled around a city as the development sector dictates with an ersatz version of it to culture-wash the commerce. A current exhibition of Munich’s nightlife in the Stadtmuseum mourns the consequences, with rescued trophies from demolished clubs and live music venues.
The monumental Kunstareal area meanwhile, one of the most venerable and heavyweight museum quarters in Europe, feels the need to leaven its serious offer with unnecessary touches of Bahnwärter Thiel anarchy.
There are other permanent and positive changes afoot – cheap workspace and new housing for Germany’s most expensive city matters. The excellent and inexpensive transport system is getting an upgrade with Munich’s central Hauptbahnhof station under reconstruction. U-Bahn stations are being improved and tramline extensions mooted.
Intriguingly, with Germany’s economy having a wobble, the temporary ventures may last longer than expected. There are now question marks over whether either of the two proposed concert halls will be built.
Sir Simon Rattle, incoming music director at the homeless Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, may yet regret his defection from London, where his plans for a new concert hall came to naught. Fat Cat might be there a while longer. The Bahnwärter Thiel has just had its life extended until 2025 at least.
“As long as the abattoir is here, we are safe,” observes local potter Tanya Koch, who opened her studio in a shipping container after the pandemic thwarted her plans to move to Australia.
The wholesale market, where Silvia runs early morning tours of its flower halls, was also set to be moved but has had a stay of execution. Silvia was pondering a retirement to the surrounding countryside but decided she’d miss the city too much, including the once forbidden Thalkirchner Strasse, now welcome grit in Munich’s oyster.
Where to stay
Munich’s previously somewhat stodgy hotel offering is seeing a wave of investment. The Adina Hotel in Werksviertel-Mitte is some 10 glazed storeys perched atop old potato-flour silos that house an exhilarating indoor climbing centre. Reception is on the 14th floor. The roof garden on the 15th and sleek mini-apartment rooms on the floors above all have spectacular vistas.
Other recently opened apartment hotels include the youth-focused but dour Schwan Locke, convenient for the main station, and Wunderlocke, its funkier-looking sister in fast-changing Sendling. Also new amid the station-area scruff is the hotel Ruby Rosi, which reportedly offers its staff piercings and tatts as work bonuses.
Munich has a pearl clutch of grand dowager hotels, such as the Bayerischer Hof (a Leading Hotel of the World). These have been joined by splendidly comfortable options such as the boutique luxe of the Hotel München Palace, well east of the centre with penthouse views over treetops and a charming white-bloom-studded dining garden.
Back in the old town, the newly built Do & Co offers supremely stylish loft-like rooms and fine dining within the shadow of Munich’s Frauenkirche cathedral.
And look out this autumn for Rosewood’s first German hotel fashioned out of a former bank and the aristocratic Palais Neuhaus-Preysing next door.