36 Hours in Munich
By INGRID K. WILLIAMS
Published: July 4, 2013
Munich has long maintained a reputation as a buttoned-up city. But these days, the Bavarian capital is cracking its conservative shell in a push to challenge Berlin as Germany’s cultural capital. In recent months, public pianos surfaced around the city from the “Play Me, I’m Yours” traveling arts project, and prestigious museums have been going through overhauls. Large-scale contemporary art installations — an Ed Ruscha billboard, a Fourth Plinth replica, a shrine to Bubbles the chimp — have been unveiled in prominent locations as part of an innovative public art initiative called “A Space Called Public” (aspacecalledpublic.de), running through September. And of course, the city’s beer gardens, a cultural institution in their own right, are as vibrant and lively as ever.
1. Blue Rider Return
The city brims with excellent art museums, but none have generated as much excitement recently as the Lenbachhaus, which reopened this May after a four-year renovation (Luisenstrasse 33; admission, 10 euros, $12.70 at $1.27 to the euro). The museum’s soaring new atrium glitters with a whirl of colored glass and steel, a work by Olafur Eliasson. But most impressive is the new three-story wing designed by Norman Foster. Behind its striking facade of brass-colored metal tubes, the wing houses the museum’s superb collection of Expressionist works by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and other artists from the Blue Rider, a group founded in Munich in the early 20th century.
2. Glockenbach Grub
Bavaria’s culinary reputation has traditionally been saddled to hearty, belly-ballooning fare, but the year-old restaurant Kochspielhaus (Rumfordstrasse 5) is helping loosen that association. Located in the trendy Glockenbach neighborhood, the studiously shabby-chic restaurant glows with dozens of colossal candles and the healthful aura of its seasonal, produce-centered menu. A recent meal included creamy carrot-and-ginger soup with crème fraîche and crispy croutons, followed by tartare of wild salmon topped with a salad of sprouts, dill, avocado, pine nuts and a soy-sauce-accented dressing. Dinner for two, about 45 euros.
3. Haus Music
After dinner, take the pulse of the local live music scene at Glockenbachwerkstatt (Blumenstrasse 7), a nearby bürgerhaus (community center) that, in addition to concerts, hosts events as varied as carpentry courses, flea markets and comics festivals in the courtyard beer garden. By day, the facility also functions as a day care center, but after dark, music takes center stage. Hip-hop, soul, electronica, punk and African funk regularly hit the concert calendar, but the most enjoyable nights might be when jazz sessions or laid-back blues fill the center’s intimate cafe.
4. German Gins
Spain’s not the only European country keen on gin these days. At the discerning Zephyr Bar (Baaderstrasse 68), the fine selection of German gins — Munich-distilled The Duke, cranberry-tinged Monkey 47 from Schwarzwald — may power the cocktails, but it’s the fresh ingredients the bartenders pluck from a cornucopia behind the bar that truly fuel the dizzyingly aromatic concoctions. One recent (doubly) intoxicating drink arrived garnished with a bushel of fresh mint and a blow-torched meringue inside a halved passion fruit. When it gets crowded, jump to Hey Luigi (Holzstrasse 29), a low-key spot nearby with candlelit tables and even more great gins. Then end the night by following the crowd to the late-night snack shack Bergwolf (Fraunhoferstrasse 17; 49-89-232-59-858) for a restorative plate of currywurst and fries (4.90 euros).
5. Historic Hall
The heart of Munich is an eminently pleasant place to stroll, in no small part because of Viktualienmarkt, one of Europe’s most delightful outdoor markets. The area’s appeal has only continued to grow since the 2011 reopening of Schrannenhalle (Viktualienmarkt 15), an adjacent indoor specialty food hall on the site of the city’s former grain market. Schrannenhalle is home to stalls with handmade chocolates (Confiserie Amai), gummy bears and German gins (Käfer Delikatessen Markt) and aged beef (Zum Goldenen Kalb). After browsing the new hall, search Viktualienmarkt for the overturned Buddha statue, a temporary art installation commissioned for the “A Space Called Public” program.
6. Lunch for Two
In October, one of the city’s buzziest new dining spots, the two-part Les Deux (Maffeistrasse 3a), opened in a narrow building tucked between high-end shops. A fine-dining restaurant occupying the second floor serves inventive menus of calf’s head and caviar from the rising young chef Johann Rappenglück. But for a quick lunch, try the casual ground-floor brasserie, where tables spill into the adjoining courtyard and the simpler menu might include crispy Alsatian tart with bacon and leeks, or roasted asparagus with tangy feta cheese. Lunch for two, about 30 euros.
7. Boutique Buys
For a shopping experience imbued with local spirit, skip the polished retail megastores in the city center and instead head to the small boutiques clustered on quiet lanes in the Maxvorstadt district. Start at No. 10 (Schraudolphstrasse 10; 49-89-189-20-939), a shop and atelier where the designers work on site creating jewelry and pottery, from delicate gold bracelets and stackable silver rings to handmade vases dipped in turquoise glaze. Then head around the corner to find domestically made attire at A Kind of Guise (Adalbertstrasse 41b), a Munich-based brand that opened its first store in October. A small women’s collection of boxy jackets and suede shorts complements the accouterments for men, including reversible bomber jackets and soft lamb’s wool blankets.
8. Art All Around
Munich has become increasingly resourceful about finding places to showcase the arts. While the Pinakothek der Moderne is closed for renovations (through September), multidisciplinary exhibitions and events from sound performances to artists’ lectures are being hosted at Schaustelle (corner of Gabelsbergerstrasse and Türkenstrasse), a temporary pavilion in the shadow of the modern art museum. The surrounding courtyard, now dotted with geometric raw-wood works, has also been repurposed as an outdoor gallery. Nearby is the MaximiliansForum (Subway Maximilianstrasse/Altstadtring), a subterranean gallery that from street level appears to be a pedestrian underpass but is actually home to a rotating slate of boundary-pushing installations, like an eerie urban sculpture park by Frank Balve and existential narrative films by Julian Rosefeldt.
9. Comfort Chow
When a restaurant is down an alley and up two flights of stairs, past signs for a nightclub called Crux, it’s no surprise that the clientele skews young and in-the-know. But the main reason to seek out Spezlwirtschaft (Ledererstrasse 3), the restaurant that opened in that location late last year, is for its modern twists on German comfort food. The lightly breaded schnitzel is complemented by tart lingonberries and a sprout salad (16.80 euros), the pumpkin knödel are delightful dumplings accompanied by seared chard (12.80 euros), and the gooey homemade kasspatzen topped with crispy fried onions (8.80 euros) is a superior Bavarian version of mac and cheese. And to drink? Everything pairs well with a stein of Hofbräu’s sparkling Sommerbier (4.20 euros).
10. Beer Cheer
On summer evenings, residents descend on the city’s beer gardens with picnic baskets and baby carriages in tow. A friendly spot to join them is Augustiner Schwalbe (Schwanthalerstrasse 149), with a leafy courtyard, beers from Munich’s Augustiner brewery and an indoor lane for kegel, the German ninepin version of bowling (10 euros per hour). For a livelier atmosphere, the Augustiner-Keller (Arnulfstrasse 52) is a beer garden with towering chestnut trees and outdoor seating for 5,000 and no shortage of lederhosen-clad locals eager to clink beers with you late into the night.
11. Going Global
The Haus der Kunst (Prinzregentenstrasse 1) is an imposing building with a complicated Nazi-era legacy, but the Nigerian-born director Okwui Enwezor is engaging that past to push the contemporary art museum into the future. Recently the former air raid shelters were transformed into an exhibition space for video installations. And in November, a cascade of colorful Venetian blinds — a work by the South Korean artist Haegue Yang — was unveiled in the central hall as the first in an annual series of commissioned pieces for the space that was once a stage for propaganda speeches. The current exhibitions include a show from the Croatian artist Ivan Kozaric.
12. Garden Tour
Despite all the changes around the city, the most enjoyable Sunday activity is still a lazy amble through the Englischer Garten, a 900-acre park — larger than Central Park in New York — that never loses its charm. Start on the southern edge, beside the Haus der Kunst, where wet-suit-clad surfers take turns plunging into the Eisbach to ride the river’s standing wave. Then stroll north along the shady trails, past meadows populated by sunbathers and Frisbee players, until you reach Kleinhesseloher See, a picturesque lake. On the eastern bank, take a break at Seehaus (Kleinhesselohe 3), perhaps Munich’s most scenic beer garden, where swans glide past lakeside tables and the large, chewy pretzels are the perfect accompaniment to a refreshing weissbier in the sun.
The year-old, 80-room Marc Hotel (Senefelderstrasse 12; hotel-marc.de; from 126 euros) distinguishes itself from the many hotels around the train station with its contemporary décor and abundant breakfast buffet.
The 72-room Louis Hotel (Viktualienmarkt 6; louis-hotel.com; from 189 euros) offers a Japanese-themed restaurant and a bird’s-eye view of the Viktualienmarkt.