Munich’s culture is shaped by extraordinary women. As we put “all eyes on culture”, we would like to introduce you to a few of them. This time: Birgit Stempfle. The official tour guide tells the most exciting stories behind well-known places in Munich, which were strongly influenced by women in the past.
“She is the woman of whom most tourists first think when they hear the word Munich: the Bavaria statue. The official mother of Bavaria and a national monument. But everyone who has ever been to the Oktoberfest knows her primarily as the woman who stands more than 18 metres high above the Theresienwiese, and at whose feet many guests to the Oktoberfest rest or seek time together with a new acquaintance.
The statue also originated with a story of a – let’s say – complicated relationship: the actual design of the Bavaria statue came from Leo Klenze, the official court architect of King Ludwig I of Bavaria at the time, but it was implemented by the sculptor Ludwig von Schwanthaler. He had different ideas to the classicist Klenze, who had sketched a kind of Athena in front of the Acropolis.
The statue also originated with a story of a – let’s say – complicated relationship. Allegedly, the idolised woman fainted at the sight of her oversized likeness at the unveiling ceremony.
Schwanthaler had a more realistic model: at that time, he was unhappily in love with a woman named Cornelia and used her appearance as a model. The problem: Cornelia was not only married, but was married to a client of Schwanthaler. Allegedly, the idolised woman fainted at the sight of her oversized likeness at the unveiling ceremony.”
“It is really obvious that the Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s Church) has a connection to women. The official name of the building is ‘The Cathedral of Our Dear Lady’, which, of course, refers to the Virgin Mary. When I see it, I must always think of the story of another woman, however. A tragic story. On 14th January 1785, a young resident of Munich, Fanny von Ickstatt, threw herself from the northern tower of the cathedral.
Afterwards, Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ was found on her bedside table. At this time, the work was almost ten years old, but was still popular – and unfortunately often copied. Maria Franzisca Magdalena Freiin von Ickstatt, who was just 17 years old, was also lovesick. She dreamt of a future with Lieutenant Franz von Vincenti. Unfortunately, Fanny’s mother did not consider the lieutenant to be good enough for her daughter, and she forbade their marriage.
Even Goethe himself visited the scene, when he stayed the night in Munich on 6th September 1786 on the way to his Italian journey.
As Franz still continued to go in and out of the family’s house, the rumour soon started that he was officially courting the daughter, but was actually sharing the mother’s bed. Whether Fanny believed the gossip, we don’t know. What is certain is that when her admirer did not turn up to a meeting, she climbed the northern tower under a pretext and threw herself from it.
A death which put the people of Munich into turmoil for months. Even Goethe himself visited the scene, when he stayed the night in Munich on 6th September 1786 on the way to his Italian journey.”
“I think it is the most attractive building in Munich: the Amalienburg in Nymphenburg Palace Park. Elector Karl Albrecht had it built there for his wife Maria Amalie. The hunting lodge was designed in a rococo style and is one of the few palaces to have silver stucco work. This is precisely where its particular femininity lies. Silver was regarded as the colour of the moon, which has the feminine gender in Latin.
Electress Maria Amalie came from the Hapsburg family and was an extraordinary woman: a passionate huntress - even at her own wedding, she shot several boars, deer and pheasants.
In contrast to the masculine, golden sun. The silver stucco work, therefore, stands for women in general, or for the Electress Maria Amalie who gave the Amalienburg its name. She came from the Hapsburg family and was an extraordinary woman: a passionate huntress - even at her own wedding, she shot several boars, deer and pheasants.
She was also a dog-lover and had a special dog room built in the palace. This was unusual in a period when dogs were normally kept in kennels outside the palace. The Amalienburg was built by court architect François Cuvilliés the Elder. The decorative elements of the palace revolve around the pleasure of hunting and eating. The Electress is supposed to have even cooked herself in the magnificent kitchen. She would have been capable of it.”
“Although I have been there many times, I still get goosebumps whenever I enter the atrium of Ludwig Maximilian University. There is simply a special atmosphere there. This is due to the warm light which enters the large hall through the dome, lighting up the bright archways and the grand staircase. And it is due to the fresh white roses which can always be found in front of the commemorative plaque. They remember, amongst others, Sophie Scholl, the only woman who belonged to the inner core of the resistance group ‘The White Rose’.
Even during the hearing, Sophie Scholl did not turn away from her views. She said: ‘I still believe that I did the best that I could have done for my people.’
In 1942, she came to the LMU to study Biology and Philosophy. In 1943, she distributed leaflets for the first time with her brother Hans and others, calling for an uprising against the crimes of the National Socialists and denouncing the passivity of the Germans. The group placed their appeals in telephone boxes and parked cars and distributed them to other cities too through fellow students. On 18th February 1943, Sophie and her brother were arrested in the university atrium while they were distributing leaflets.
The People’s Court in Munich sentenced them to death. Even during the hearing, the young woman did not turn away from her views. She said: ‘I still believe that I did the best that I could have done for my people.’ Particularly in view of the current discussions on origins, religion and otherness, the atrium is more significant than ever as a place of remembrance for Sophie and the others.”
“The Theatine Church on Odeonsplatz (Odeon’s Square) not only looks very Italian from the outside, but also housed the monks of the Theatine order established in Rome for a long time. It is only for a few decades that they have lived in the complex beside the church. Therefore, the church is a masculine place in some ways, but it is a woman that we have to thank for it.
It was commissioned by Princess Henriette Adelaide of Savoy from Italy. She had married the Bavarian Elector Ferdinand Maria in 1650 as a 14 year old girl. At that time, this was done by proxy. The princess only saw her actual husband two years later, when she moved to Munich. But even after this, their subjects had to wait for years in vain for the birth of an heir.
The model for this was the mother church of the Theatine order in Rome, Sant’Andrea delle Valle, but the façade was only designed 100 years later by François de Cuvilliés in a rococo style.
In 1659, on a pilgrimage to Altötting, Henriette swore that she would have the most beautiful and most valuable church built if God gave her a male heir. Less than a year later, she bore her first daughter. After a cure in Bad Heilbrunn in 1662, she was followed by the Crown Prince Max II. Emanuel, and the Italian Agostino Barelli received the commission to design the Theatine Church. The model for this was the mother church of the Theatine order in Rome, Sant’Andrea delle Valle, but the façade was only designed 100 years later by François de Cuvilliés in a rococo style.
Henriette Adelaide of Savoy did not live to see the completion of the church at the end of the 17th century. However, her body was buried in the royal crypt afterwards. Her heart and her intestines have been laid to rest separately in a pewter vessel in the church.”
“In Munich, there are a lot of statues which remind us of women, but my personal favourite is that of the actress and comedienne Bally Prell at the fountain not far from Münchner Freiheit Square. When I see it, I always have to smile and think of my aunt, who liked to slip into the role of the “beauty queen of Schneitzlreuth” – Bally Prell’s classic role – on family holidays in my childhood. Bally Prell was born in 1922 in Schwabing under the name of Agnes Paula Prell and came from a very musical family.
Her father Ludwig Prell was a composer and singer; her brother Ferdinand was an outstanding musician, who died at the age of 20 of pneumonia. Bally was a talented singer too: she had a soft tenor voice and delighted audiences in Munich even as a child. The problem: Bally loved opera, but there are hardly any roles for female tenors. In addition, the young woman was very fat due to a glandular disease and was, therefore, not employed for visual reasons either.
When I see it, I always have to smile and think of my aunt, who liked to slip into the role of the “beauty queen of Schneitzlreuth” – Bally Prell’s classic role – on family holidays in my childhood.
So her father simply wrote a role for her for her 31st birthday: the beauty queen of Schneitzelreuth. The folk play was a grotesque parody of the beauty pageants of the 1950s from the point of view of a country bumpkin. “Am I not beautiful, then?” Bally Prell kept asking the audience. And the audience loved her for it.
Today, the statue stands in front of Bally Prell’s family home at Leopoldstrasse 77. Sculptor Wolfgang Sand designed the bronze figure, which instantly catches the eye. The water runs over the feet of the statue into a basin and then into a gully, which is why the walkway in front of it is always wet. A treat for children and animals. I am sure that Bally Prell would have enjoyed it too.”