We ask a lot from our city expeditions. Where once a little history and local cuisine went a long way, increasingly we look for destinations that have a sizeable and varied list of qualities to recommend them – which is why Munich is so popular right now. The third largest city in Germany and the capital of the state of Bavaria, it has grown in prominence since the early 1970s, when the 1972 Olympics brought structural investment and international exposure. Fast-forward almost 45 years, and Munich offers a more diverse and engaging experience than ever before.
Best of both worlds
‘The Bavarian capital offers the best of both worlds: it is historic and modern, small and cosmopolitan, relaxed and happening,’ comments Niels Jäger. The creative director of basketball brand K1X, Jäger is a Munich native, and a proprietor of restaurants, a nightclub and the recently opened Flushing Meadows hotel. The latter takes inspiration from Jäger’s time in New York and was designed in conjunction with prominent names in culture, design and sport – a collaboration that Jäger sees as encompassing the essence of Munich today.
‘Obviously, the city boasts lots of options with regards to nature, as the Alps and the lakes are so close,’ he explains. ‘But at the same time Munich offers a grand variety of urban culture, nightlife, arts and gastronomy.’ For the arts, Haus der Kunst is a public museum dedicated to exploring contemporary art, while the three Pinakothek galleries in the Kunstareal (‘art district’) carry works by some of the best-known names in Western art history. However, it is the Lenbachhaus on Luisenstrasse, with its three-storey gold-coloured extension designed by Norman Foster, which is currently causing a stir. Home to the museum’s collection of Expressionist works, it showcases works by the Blaue Reiter (‘Blue Rider’) group, founded in Munich in the early 20th century, which included artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Paul Klee.
Concept stores are a fast-growing phenomenon in Munich, where retailers that offer an eclectic mixture of designer fashion and carefully chosen lifestyle pieces are appreciated by both natives and visitors. Bean Store, on Theresienstrasse, is one example. Founder Laura Bohnenberger, an art history and fashion journalism graduate, was keen to bring a more personal retail experience to Munich. ‘We wanted to make a difference in the way we worked with customers,’ she says of the light, colourful space, whose contents span a wide range of prices. Bean stocks Acne, APC, Carven, Maison Kitsuné and YMC. ‘We also have a lot of exclusive brands, including Maria Black, Maska, Kaibosh, Kow Tow and OZN, but what we are really proud of is how many creatives come together and connect through our store.’
At Cantine Cantona on bustling Schellingstrasse, fresh, vibrant dishes made from local, seasonal ingredients are the order of the day. The eatery is one of a growing number of restaurants that are championing relaxed, informal dining, a far cry from the heavier Bavarian-style food and more traditional plates that have characterised Munich for so long. ‘The proximity to Italy has influenced Munich … so there are a lot of great Italian places to eat’, notes Jäger. ‘And right now, there seem to be a lot of innovative Asian concepts coming up, mostly Vietnamese and Japanese.’ Emiko, for instance, is a modern Japanese restaurant in the Louis hotel on Viktualienmarkt, whose innovative dishes are designed to be shared.
The nightlife in the city is also a growing draw, something Jäger traces back to the early 1990s when ‘pioneering music producers made Munich a hotbed for disco and music in general’. His favourite haunts include Schumann’s Bar on Odeonsplatz, with its minimalist brushed-steel-and-wood interior. The place comes to life after midnight, when owner (and some-time model) Charles Schumann’s sophisticated drinks selection offers something for all tastes.
Ride the wave
With all this talk of culture, one could be forgiven for overlooking one of Munich’s most celebrated, and long-standing, attractions. Saunter through the 365-hectare Englischer Garten (‘English garden’) and you can watch surfers ride an artificial stream, lose yourself among the trees or simply sit and have a quiet moment by the Kleinhesseloher lake. After enjoying everything else Munich has to offer, it might be just what’s needed.