It’s a crisp October morning in Munich, and as we make our way to the stern-looking Haus der Kunst, a group of men in wetsuits, each carrying a surfboard, cross our path. We stare in bemusement as the gentlemen make their way to what we later learn is the Eisbachwelle, a standing wave in Englischer Garten, and proceed to queue up for their go at riding it. It’s a sight to behold, and especially so during the winter – the surfing doesn’t even halt for New Year’s Day, turning the archetypal English Garden of landlocked Munich into an unlikely surfing site that welcomes awe-struck spectators.
What sticks out about Munich are the often adjoining imperious and laid-back, classical and borderline gritty, and one simply doesn’t expect to be met with this much variation in entertainment and cultural offerings in what has long been taken to be the country’s conservative stronghold. Turns out Munich is a lot more than schlager music, beer and lederhosen.
The (Neo)classical hull of the spirited old town is the life’s work of Ludwig I’s court architect, Leo von Klenze, who once aimed to make Munich a “new Athens”. It seems truly improbable to discover what one of these facades has concealed from the distracted passer-by for a few months now: The Lovelace, a self-identified “hotel happening”, assembled from scratch by a charismatic team of gastronomy, art, music and design enthusiasts.
As Alexander Lutz – one of the happening’s founders – walks us through its brief history, we become increasingly convinced by The Lovelace’s reflective motto: “All places are temporary places.” It may look a bit unpolished in the cold light of day, but it’s all part of the informal fun, and absolutely anyone is welcome to join in. Apart from the magazine photoshoot we casually happened to chance upon, there is a whole slew of events held on a very regular basis, not to mention the free-floating café, trendy barber shop, “living walls” sprouting green plants, and the hotel itself, with 30 rooms and suites and a daily vegan/vegetarian breakfast.
Intrigued, we descend the marble staircase of what once was (temporarily) a branch of the Royal Bank, designed to convey due grandeur. The building’s inconspicuous appearance barely reveals the creative ingenuity hidden indoors – a theme that seems to run through quite a few of Munich’s major landmarks.
Our next stop is the Residenz (below), the glorious palatial complex (the largest such city palace in the entire country), where a succession of Bavarian rulers resided from the early 16th to 20th centuries. There is, of course, much expected pomp and glitz that comes with a dwelling of this calibre, but there is room for whimsy, too: Grottenhof courtyard, for example, is named after its outlandish grotto encrusted with hundreds of freshwater seashells, and in the days when royals still resided in the palace, celebrations saw the grotto’s mermaids’ breasts lactate fine wines.
Another exciting find awaits inside: Cuvilliés Theatre, once used exclusively by the royal court, is today open to the public, whose members can’t help but wonder how an elaborate Rococo creation of the sort can possibly hide behind such a nondescript façade.
En route to dinner, we make a brief stop at the Deutsche Eiche, an establishment that appears at first (and second) glances to be nothing more than a traditional Bavarian restaurant and hotel complex. German oak (“Deutsche Eiche”, translated), being Germany’s national tree and a strong military symbol, doesn’t quite lend itself to frivolous interpretations, and yet, in this particular case, it really should.
It turns out that for over two decades now, Deutsche Eiche has housed a popular gay bathhouse complex. We didn’t get to peek inside, but were assured by the managing director that the sauna was well-equipped with all the “necessary facilities”, including private booths and, uhm, various accessories. Adolf Hitler himself (and the likes of Freddy Mercury and Rainer Werner Fassbinder) was reportedly a regular at the Deutsche Eiche, albeit before it received the sauna annex. Take the 360° virtual tour if you’re curious, or visit in person, if only for the spectacular view from the rooftop terrace.
For dinner, we head to one of Munich’s hottest locations: brenner (“burner”). The lowercase “b” already gestures towards the easy, unpretentious feel of the place, conceptualized by the incredibly talented duo of Rudi Kull and Albert Weinzierl who, in many ways, revolutionized Munich’s restaurant and hotel scenes. It is simply impossible to imagine that a couple centuries ago this classy space with absurdly high ceilings and structural columns, where the city’s in-vogue crowd now meets for world-class Italian dining, used to be nothing more than a stable (albeit for royal horses).
The 1,000-square-meter restaurant’s centerpiece is an open kitchen, where the grills and pasta are prepared right before your eyes. The menu lists a plethora of decadent – yet predominantly healthy – options, our top starter pick going to the head chef’s own creation: Tatar of Piemontesian beef with porcinis, Italian truffles, truffle fonduta and potato chips. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the menu items, for even humble beetroot gets turned here into a chic, elaborate starter of carpaccio marinated with olive oil and lemon, sweet-sour caramelized hazelnuts, green pistachios and fresh Pecorina di fossa cheese.
Another installment in Kull and Weinzierl’s collection of jewels is EMIKO (pictured above), a restaurant staffed by highly skilled, Tokyo-trained chefs, serving Japanese cuisine with elements of contemporary Asian and international influences. What’s special about this one is the dining concept: all dishes are served to share, which is meant to foster a relaxed environment and make for heartwarming conversation (and dining amidst the city’s rooftops, if you opt for the terrace).
The Munich art scene mirrors the marriage of canonical and experimental we have so often encountered here. It combines offerings from very dissimilar realms, from an exhibition of German Expressionist Gabriele Münter – whose work, until recently, was viewed only through the prism of her relationship with legendary artist Wassily Kandinsky, on display at the Lenbachhaus (31.10.2017-08.04.2018) – to a photo-exhibition of Japanese-born Nobuyoshi Araki, whose photographs enjoy a reputation of being rather provocative, and to whom risqué analogies like “Lens is a penis, film a hymen” can be attributed (27.10.2017-04.03.2018, Pinakothek der Moderne).
The latest addition to the picture is the APASSIONATA Showpalast in the north of the city, a spectacular design creation of the renowned GRAFT architects, built especially to house the one-of-a-kind horse show EQUILA (premiers November 5, 2017), which skillfully combines high-tech multimedia elements with acrobatics and riding performances.
There is so much more that gives Munich that creative edge it still isn’t widely known to have. There are, of course, the rowdy beer gardens and the distinctive bourgeois air, but these do not exist at the expense of forward-thinking and innovation. See what else the Munich autumn has in store this year, and join the ArrivalGuides Travel Club to get the best deals on flights and accommodation. For an overview of the essentials, download your free Munich travel guide at ArrivalGuides.com.
We would like to thank München Tourismus for their assistance and making this research trip possible.