The epicenter of Germany’s strongest regional economy, the Bavarian state capitol, the royal nexus of a realm rich in cultural and political history and a city on the cusp of the European Alps: Munich has it all. Germany’s third-largest city was meticulously restored after the war, offering its guests and residents a spectacular urban landscape replete with towering churches and imposing historic buildings. The city’s visual flair offers a blend of the old; broad boulevards and spacious squares are adorned with Baroque, Art Deco and Rococo. Gilded palaces and ritzy villas reveal Munich’s prosperous predisposition.
Mixing with the old is a proud balance of the new. Snazzy corporate headquarters for BMW, Allianz and myriad other companies that have a home in Germany’s southern paradise have allowed for an architectural renewal. Indeed, the new BMW Welt Museum is the very essence of modern construction. And what the city lacks in lofty corporate buildings it clearly makes up for in other ways.Who needs skyscrapers when you have the Alps?
As an economic powerhouse in Europe, Munich rewards its faithful 1.2 million inhabitants. The region’s diversified economy boasts more highly skilled workers than any other city in Germany. Its status as banking and insurance Mecca complements its large stake in the IT, publishing, broadcasting, film-making, advertising and consulting industries. Supporting this modern infrastructure of business is a large cluster of outstanding public and private educational institutions. Some 90,000 students are enrolled at Munich’s three major universities.
With a relatively low jobless rate, comparatively low crime and a vast swath of social services for its inhabitants, Munich doesn’t fall victim to the vices that other major European cities must endure. Munich is strikingly clean and wholesome. Its increasing prosperity, its self-assured poise, its ethnic diversity and its pleasant quality of life have made it a magnet for tourists, expatriates, and successful young professionals. And successful one must be to live in one of Germany’s most expensive cities. What follows is a breakdown of Munich by district.
The city of Munich is best understood as an amalgamation of several distinct communities, rather than as one all-encompassing metropolis. Bearing in mind that each district has its own vibrant history, flair and character, it was only with a lot of reluctance that Munich’s residents began to accept the redrawing of district lines that took place in the early 1990s. Some Müncheners still refuse to believe that the Lehel district is officially part of the Altstadt, to name just once injustice dealt. The following is in no way a comprehensive listing of the districts, of which there are 25 in all, but it should provide newcomers with a starting place for setting their feet.
The Altstadt / Lehel district contains many of Munich’s trademark architectural and cultural splendors, including the famous Frauenkirche, the Rathaus, Isartor, Karlsplatz and the much-frequented Hofbräuhaus. The district is a tourist haven and from time to time suffers from what critics may call an artificial Bavarian atmosphere; but it still captivates Sites in the Altstadt include the Schrannenhalle, a vast indoor-market for fresh foods open 24 hours and the Max-Joseph-Platz, which is home to the National and Residence Theaters. The district’s main artery is the Maximilianstraße, the place to be for shoppers and café drinkers. The neighboring district of Lehel is known for its museum mile but also for its exclusive apartment rentals and gourmet restaurants, all of which come at a high price.
Step off the train for the first time in Munich and you are in Ludwigsvorstadt. Home to the city’s most important transportation hub, the main train station, or Hauptbahnhof, is where thousands of people board the U4 and U5 underground trains as they make their way to Oktoberfest (exit at Theresienwiese) each year. The district’s most important attractions include the Deutsches Theater, a massive venue with roughly 300 performances a year, and the Mathäser Filmpalast, Munich’s brand new cinema featuring 14 screens and occasional showings of films in their original version. The St. Paul’s Church is also worth a visit, as it boasts Munich’s second-highest church tower.
Isarvorstadt can get rather rowdy, so beware! This is the place to be for those subculture fanatics in need of a good time. Munich’s hippest discos and hottest clubs, as well as your alternative stores and chic shops, can all be found nestled along the streets in this district. The area around Gärtnerplatz, in particular, teems with summertime party-like activity. Many of the bars cater to the gay and lesbian scene. Every year the Gay Street Festival on Hans-Sachs-Straße attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors. Art galleries are also plentiful, lending a kind of easy-going ambience to the district as a whole. Vegetarians may want to avoid living near the Schlachthofviertel (slaughter house quarter); as its name suggests, this economically important meat market carries the smell. This is also the district that houses the European Patent Office (Erhardtstraße 27).
Maxvorstadt and the Univiertel form the cultural and intellectual center of Munich. Bavaria’s top research and educational institutions, including the Technical University, the Academy of Creative Arts and the Ludwig Maximilians University are all here. Munich’s most stunning examples of classical architecture can be found at the Odeonplatz, Königsplatz and along Ludwigstraße. Some of the world’s finest art, both old and modern, is housed in the three Pinakotheken on Barer Straße. And befitting a district with such lofty academic credentials, the Bavarian State Library houses 4.7 million books, making it the largest library in Germany. Every July brings the Open-Air-Cinema on the Königsplatz, where dozens of film screenings add to the already effervescent charm of the area.
The Schwanthalerhöhe / Westend district is home to more foreigners than any other area in Munich, with nearly 45 percent of its residents holding a foreign passport. It is not surprising that Schwanthalerhöhe also has a great selection of ethnic eateries and international cuisine. The Westend area is a popular choice for students, thanks to the cheaper rents than in other districts. Munich’s economy benefits from Westend’s technology center, which hosts about 20 high tech companies in one location. As a whole the area is not very visually appealing, but it does have a certain down-to-earth charm. Visitors often come to the traffic museum, which is an extension of the Deutsches Museum and showcases historic planes, trains and automobiles.
A bit further from the city center are the Sendling / Sendling-Westpark and Laim districts. This is mostly a residential area characterized by multi-story apartment blocs, so don’t be misled by first appearances. Munich’s western districts include vast swaths of green space, including the Westpark, the Theresienwiese and the Isar River’s green flood plain. The Westpark, which was built for the 1983 Horticultural Show, now serves as a summertime location for picnics and barbecues. Sendling houses Europe’s third-largest fruit and vegetable market on the Thalkirchner Straße 81, as well as a spectacular indoor swimming pool and day spa (Südspa, Valleystr. 37). The Westpark area is also known for its prime concert venues: the Seebühne im Westpark and the Rudi Sedlmayer Halle. The Laim district has reasonable rents as well. Its location within Munich is quite convenient. Even from Laim’s most western streets, the city center is only a 10-minute U-Bahn ride away.
The Neuhausen and Nymphenberg districts house Munich’s much beloved Nymphenberg Palace, a 350-year-old villa built as a summer residence for the Electress Adelaide of Savoy. The palace’s garden grounds are a paradise for strollers, dog-walkers and joggers. In stark contrast stands the nearby Olympic Park, which was built for the 1972 summer games. Munich’s largest beer garden, the Hirschgarten, is also located in Nymphenberg. It is here that the Magdalenenfest, one of Munich’s most celebrated folk festivals, is held every July. Housing in this district tends to be posh, and most of the residential areas contain large villa-like mansions with an abundance of foliage. This part of the city caters to the more quiet and more sophisticated. Residents tend to have their fun in Neuhausen, where a wide variety of bars and restaurants enliven the scene. If you like ice cream, then don’t miss Sarcletti Eisdiele (Nymphenburger Str. 155), which is undoubtably Munich’s pinnacle of cold treats.
Schwabing / Schwabing-West is the Montmartre of Munich: lovely, classy and full of charm and grace. Take a stroll up Leopoldstraße past the cafés and the well-preserved old buildings, past the knick-knack shops and quaint gardens, and you’ll quickly understand why it is considered Munich’s top address. Rent prices in this district have skyrocketed in recent years, but you get for what you pay for. Historically this was the artistic district where the likes of Thomas Mann and Paul Klee could be found. During the 1960s the district took on a more revolutionary role with the infamous Schwabing riots. Businessmen and young professionals now occupy Schwabing, but it hasn’t entirely lost its bohemian vibe. The chief recreational highlight for visitors and residents is the English Garden, a five-kilometer-long park that is considered one of the world’s greatest and on a par with Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London. And, of course, shopping opportunities abound in Schwabing. Be sure to check out the Amalienpassage, a shopping hall with dozens of ritzy boutiques situated between Amalienstraße and Türkenstraße.
Bogenhausen is a name synonymous with power and fame. This eastern province in Munich is where the diplomats and celebrities typically choose to reside. Most of its art nouveau buildings are from the Gründerzeit, the period of rapid industrialization in the middle of the 19th Century. Lending further extravagance to the region is the Prinzregententheater, a 100-year-old homage to Richard Wagner boasting 1,000 seats, and the Villa Stuck, one the finest art museums in Germany featuring its namesake sketches by the prominent Franz von Stuck.
Just a stone’s throw from the city center, Au / Haidhausen formerly housed Munich’s day laborers and craftsmen, but it has developed into a popular location for students and young people. The area took a heavy beating during the Second World War and only 20 percent of the buildings remained standing. The Isar river valley cuts through the district, conveniently serving the needs of joggers, bicyclists and strollers. The most prominent structure in Au is the Deutsches Museum, arguably the most important science and technology museum in Germany. In stark contrast to the massive presence of the museum are the narrow winding streets of Haidhausen. This popular living quarter has an almost rural character, with one of Munich’s most impressive pub cultures developing here during the late 1990s. Weisenburger Platz and Pariser Platz offer the greatest bounty in that department. One of Munich’s most important cultural facilities, the Gasteig Center, is the site of numerous concerts, lectures and performances throughout the year. The Richard-Strauss-Conservatory and the renowned Munich Philharmonic Orchestra have their home here as well.