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How Munich became Germany's design hub


Munich is rapidly becoming a hub for contemporary design within Germany, attracting emerging talents and established international brands, says Josh Sims

Josh Sims
Josh Sims,

Konstantin Grcic is something of a superstar in the field of contemporary design. The multi-award winner has created pieces for the likes of Flos, Authentics, Magis and Vitra, among other major manufacturers. Yet rather than working from New York, London or Berlin, the designer is based in Munich. That may be unexpected, were it not for the fact that Stefan Diez, another global design hotshot, also has his studio in the city. Indeed, Munich is rapidly becoming Germany’s design hub: expect to hear more of Nitzan Cohen, Steffen Kehrle, Mirko Borsche, Clemens Weisshaar, Michael Geldmacher, Ayzit Bostan and Saskia Diez, all young designers making waves internationally, and all based in the city.

‘There are a lot of independent designers working in Munich now,’ says Volker Kastl, a toy, bike-accessories and LED-lighting designer who also runs his own interiors company and shop, Kastl Design. ‘There’s a design college here, which sees a steady stream of new talent, but it’s also not as obvious as Berlin. Berlin is good for fashion, arts and small crafts, but Munich has wealth and a market for sometimes expensive design goods, which in turn is encouraging new designers to set up here.’

Increased awareness
And it’s not just emerging talent that has found a home here. Audi and BMW both have design studios in the city, leading international design companies such as Ideo and Frog have also set up here, while Muji chose the city as the location for its first store in Germany. Influential lighting company and shop Ingo Maurer launched in Munich during the 1960s and its designs can be seen in many of the city’s major buildings and underground stations. The company’s designer Axel Schmid notes how ‘awareness of design and design quality has definitely increased here over recent years – and that’s encouraging the opening of both design shops and shops selling items of a more functional quality’.

Design stores are indeed found in every corner of the city. Among the finest general design stores are Magazin, which offers modern German design items; Haidhausen’s 1260 Grad, which specialises in ceramics; Koton and Thiersch 15, both home-furnishing stores in the Lehel area; stationery experts Semikolon and Carta Pura; and Kustermann, one of the city’s most established stores, which can trace its history back to 1798.

Gathering momentum
This list looks set to grow. ‘After all, the history of Munich suggests a culture of design here which is gathering momentum in a way that makes it a place that’s highly regarded for its design creativity, and not just the business of design at the corporate level,’ argues Alexandra Dimitrijevic, spokesperson for Munich-based design agency Heckhaus. The firm has recently worked on the Fitness First Black Label Club on Marienplatz, as well as a new store concept for interiors and accessories brand Domicil, and it also regularly leads projects alongside the Designschule München (Munich school of design).

Munich Creative Business Week, which takes place in late February, was established as recently as 2012, but has already become Germany’s largest design event and one of growing international importance. It’s an opportunity for the German design industry to gather while also offering events open to the public. Many of the city’s shops take part, running satellite events.

A business-like approach
‘The design economy is very strong in Germany – there is a long tradition of product design and manufacture in the country – but events like this are encouraging more companies to compete on design quality rather than price, which is getting harder,’ says Kilian Steiner, spokesman for Bayern Design, creators of Munich Creative Business Week. ‘Of course, Berlin is cool. But product design is complex and requires Munich’s more business-like approach.’

This year, Bayern Design is launching a new programme to help young designers set up their first businesses, agencies or shops, which will, in time, further underscore Munich’s status as a design hub. But the city’s design credentials are already clear. Take, for example, the city’s Pinakothek der Moderne, a showcase of design, graphics and related arts, or Die Neue Sammlung, Munich’s international design museum, with its collection of modern artefacts curated by Florian Hufnagl. The two are increasingly regarded as important national institutions and both are helping to cement Munich’s place on the international design scene.

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