City walks

The north-south passage: hiking across Munich

A hike full of nature and culture for any time of the year – from the BMW Welt right by the Olympiazentrum to the lake at Hinterbrühl – Munich from north to south.

"Into the sun" was the headline for our tour through the city. It's an impressive 21 kilometre hike if you decide to walk this section of Munich from north to south.

As we have already realised when we did our walk from east to west, exploring the city on foot gives you a very different and detailed insight into the city. But what's most noticeable is just how green Munich is. And in-between all the greenery are magnificent boulevards, world-famous museums and a wealth of architecture and history. If you don't fancy walking that far in a day, or want to take your time along the way, we've broken our walk down into three stages.

Stage 1:

BMW Welt via Olympiapark – Schwabing – Alter Nordfriedhof – Maxvorstadt district to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität

Distance: around 9 kilometres
Public transport: U3 Olympiazentrum station (start), U3/U6 Universität station (end)

 

We meet at BMW Welt, the Munich company's experience and distribution centre. Practical tip: Our day starts early, so we kick off with a cappuccino and chocolate croissants at the BMW Welt's own bistro. The special BMW models featuring in the various permanent exhibitions in the background, and the building's futuristic architecture, provide a spectacular backdrop for our breakfast.

After breakfast, we stroll through the Olympic Village, which provided accommodation for athletes from all over the world during the 1972 summer Olympics. Today, the small balconied bungalows are home to students, some of whom paint and arrange them with great imagination.

The site gained tragic notoriety when, on the morning of 5 September 1972, eight armed Palestinian terrorists attacked the Olympic village. All the 11 Israeli athletes taken hostage were murdered. A Munich police officer also lost his life. On our way to the Olympic Park, we stop at a multimedia memorial and a series of information boards that serve as a reminder of these dark days of the "Carefree Games", as they were billed at the time. The remembrance site is built into one of the hills in the northern part of the park, offering a variety of perspectives over the scenes of the atrocity.

We continue our walk through the Olympic Park – on our left, the Olympic Tower dominates the horizon, while to our right is the stadium with its unique tent-style roof construction. In front of us, the Olympiaberg (hill) rises up. From the top, there are fantastic panoramic views across the park and the city. When stars such as the Rolling Stones or Phil Collins play at the Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium), this is definitely the best spot in town: if you didn't manage to get hold of tickets, you can hear and watch the concert from this vantage point.

From the Olympiaberg, a small path on the other side takes us up to the Oberwiesenfeld Army Field, where the summer Tollwood Festival takes place. In the heart of this green space sits the Ost-West-Friedenskirche (Church of Peace), also known as the Church of Father Timofej. This Russian hermit and his wife Natascha built the church as a symbol of peace, with no regard for planning permission, immediately after the Second World War.They sited it right next to the residential hut which they had also built themselves. The people of Munich love the little church, which was a political issue even before the Olympic Games: when the plans for the 1972 summer Olympics were drawn up in 1976, the area was intended to be part of the Olympic site. The church and house were to be demolished, and Timofej and Natascha would have to move to the city. Following public protests, and in the spirit of pre-Olympic peace, the Olympic site was repositioned further north, and the little church was saved.

Taking in flourishing allotments, the route heads east on the Winzererstrasse towards the city centre, passing the Münchner Stadtarchiv (Munich city Archive) where the city's most important records and documents have been held since 1265.

At the Nordbad, a swimming pool built in the National Socialist style, we turn off into the Elisabethstrasse. We are in the centre of Schwabing now, surrounded by picturesque art nouveau houses and buildings dating back to the 1950s. "Schwabing isn't a place, it's a state of mind" – this is how it was described in Schwabing's bohemian heyday around 1900, when artists and literati like Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Thomas Mann made it their home.

On the way to the Alter Nordfriedhof (cemetery), anyone who likes architecture should make a stop at Agnesstrasse 5: today, the post office building (Agnespost) is a listed building. It was built between 1925 and 1926 according to plans by the pioneering architects of the Postbauschule (school of post office building architecture) Robert Vorhoelzer and Franz Holzhammer. The five-storey hip-roofed block, with echoes of expressionism, also features historic elements in its lavish decorative façade.

The Alter Nordfriedhof opened in 1868 with the introduction of a curious innovation: a chiming mechanism for use in the event of apparent death. Fortunately, the bell didn't ring once in its 30 years of operation. The cemetery suffered severe damage in the Second World War, and so ceased to be used as a burial ground. In the post-war years, cattle grazed here, stolen goods were sold, and it attracted all kinds of shady characters. But that's all in the past: today, the Alter Nordfriedhof, with its benches and old trees, provides a small oasis of greenery in the bustling Maxvorstadt district.

Right in front of the main entrance to the university, we join the long queue for "Verrückten Eismacher". The name says it all: as well as conventional ice-creams, all of them delicious, there are also flavours such as curried sausage and veal sausage ice-cream. But we're not quite that brave yet!

On our way to the final stop of the first stage, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, we walk along the Adalbertstrasse. This leads us into Munich's student quarter: it's packed with small cafés and boutiques as well as copy shops and stationers. At the corner of the Amalienstrasse, we turn right. After about 50 metres, right in front of the main entrance to the university, we join the long queue for "Verrückten Eismacher" (crazy ice-cream maker). The name says it all: as well as conventional ice-creams, all of them delicious, there are also flavours such as curried sausage and veal sausage ice-cream. But we're not quite that brave yet!

Our fist stage comes to an end at the main building of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. The university, with around 50,000 students, is one of the largest and most significant in Germany. It was in 1826 that King Ludwig I brought the university from Landshut to Munich, to have it close to the centre of political and cultural power. To build the university, he called on Friedrich von Gärtner, who along with Leo von Klenze was one of his favourite architects.

 

Highly recommended: the guided tours simply Schwabing and The myth of Schwabing

Stage 2:

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität via Ludwigskirche – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek – Eisbachwelle – Bayerisches Nationalmuseum – Friedensengel and Maximilianeum to the Deutsches Museum 

Distance: around 4 kilometres
Public transport: U3/U6 Station Universität (start),
tram number 17 Deutsches Museum stop (end)

 

Another building by Friedrich von Gärtner is located diagonally opposite the university – the Ludwigskirche (church) with its striking mosaic roof. The altar fresco by Peter Cornelius is considered the second-largest in the world.

Between the church and the elongated building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek the narrow Walter-Klingenbeck-Weg forks off towards the English Garden. It is a reminder of the young National Socialism resistance fighter Walter Klingenbeck, who grew up in the Maxvorstadt. Together with three friends, the practising Catholic tried to establish a pirate radio station to broadcast anti-Nazi regime propaganda. In 1942, at the age of 17, he was denounced and arrested. His friends were arrested a few days later. By admitting full responsibility, Klingenbeck saved his friends, while he himself was sent to the guillotine. Unlike the White Rose, Walter Klingenbeck is less familiar to the broad public as a Munich resistance fighter.

At the end of the path we turn right into Kaulbachstrasse and continue to Schönfeldstrasse. From here, we can already see the magnificent old trees of the English Garden.

In the English Garden, we walk straight ahead past the lake by the Japanese Teahouse, and cross the Eisbach/Schwabinger Bach (river). We then head right until we reach the Eisbachwelle. The standing wave has been one of Munich's top attractions for 40 years, and fascinates river surfers and tourists from all over the world in equal measure.

The Elector Karl Theodor, who was actually quite unpopular, bestowed the English Garden as a public park on the people of Munich at the end of the 18th century to give the middle classes the opportunity for leisure and relaxation. The people of Munich initially ignored their new park, however. This concept of leisure opportunities was no doubt completely foreign to them: "The people of Munich don't generally go for a walk, they just head for the nearest hostelry … So the exquisite English Garden is … so isolated, so derelict”, wrote the writer and publicist August Lewald in 1835. But it all looks different here today. When the weather is fine, the grassy areas and paths are packed with sun-worshippers, football enthusiasts, cyclists and walkers.

Our next stop is the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum on Prinzregentenstrasse. The museum is one of the largest art and cultural history museums in Europe. At the heart of the collections is the royal art of the House of Wittelsbach. It includes masterpieces of western art from late antiquity to art nouveau, such as sculptures, paintings, works in ivory and by goldsmiths, magnificent clocks, tapestries, furniture and fine porcelain. We enjoy lunch in the peaceful courtyard garden of the museum restaurant, and chat about the rest of the route over an espresso in the restaurant's historical arches.

"The people of Munich don't generally go for a walk, they just head for the nearest hostelry … So the exquisite English Garden is … so isolated, so derelict", wrote the writer and publicist August Lewald in 1835.

We continue along the Prinzregentenstrasse towards the Isar. We return via the Sammlung Schack, with its world-famous late-romantic works such as "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (The Boy's Magic Horn) by Moritz von Schwind and subtle, ironic paintings by Carl von Spitzweg in which he poked fun at the petty bourgeois world of the middle classes.

We cross the Luitpoldbrücke (bridge) to come immediately to the Friedensengel (monument). Angel of Peace, this is what the people of Munich call it, but in reality it depicts the Greek goddess of victory: the 38-metre high monument towers atop a Corinthian column on the right bank of the Isar, and can be seen for miles around. It was erected 25 years after the Franco-Prussian war (1870/71) and still serves as a reminder of peace. Come here in the evening for an exceptionally romantic sunset with views over the rooftops of the Lehel district. We follow the Isar through the wonderfully shaded Maximiliansanlagen (park), heading south.

Just before the Maximiliansbrücke (bridge), we continue over a wooden footbridge that separates the Isar from the Auer Mühlbach (river). Above us to the left towers the mighty Maximilianeum, today the seat of the Bavarian state parliament. King Maximilian II ordered the foundation stone for the magnificent building to be laid in 1857 to accommodate highly gifted students as they prepared for the civil service. The Monarch's foundation, which was always very concerned to promote science and art, still exists today. Each year, between six and eight scholarship students enter the Maximilianeum.

We cross the Isar river via the Kabel- and Wehrsteg (small bridges) to the Vater-Rhein-Brunnen (fountain). The atmosphere at the "Kulturstrand" is like on a seaside holiday: loungers, beach chairs and a bar have been set up, and there are pink plastic flamingoes swimming in the fountain's water

We then cross the Ludwigsbrücke (bridge) and continue to the Deutsches Museum. This impressive building on an island in the Isar river is home to one of the world's most traditional and largest museums of science and technology.

 

Highly recommended: the guided tours Munich – "Capital of the movement", King Ludwig I or Royal Munich.

Stage 3:

Deutsches Museum via Karl-Valentin-Geburtshaus – Rosengarten – Flaucher – Isarauen and Tierpark to Hinterbrühl

Distance: around 8.5 kilometres
Public transport: Tram number 17 Deutsches Museum stop (start), Bus 135 Hinterbrühl stop (end)

 

Our third stage starts in the inner courtyard of the Deutsches Museum. This is also the start of the so-called Planetenweg (inter-planetary walk), that leads us along the Isar to Tierpark Hellabrunn (zoo). The starting point is the sun station, with its large ball of the sun. Following the stations of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, you walk 4.5 km to the final point, Pluto, at the entrance to the zoo. The scales and distances between the planets are represented on a scale of 1:1.29 billion.

On the Zenneckbrücke (bridge) we look down onto the wide pebbled bank at the edge of the Isar, and all agree: the opportunity to cool off a little and wade through the water is too good to miss.

Feeling refreshed, we continue downstream, heading south. Just a few metres further, at Zeppelinstrasse 41, we stop at Karl Valentin's birthplace. The comic and folk actor, a true Munich original, was born here in 1882. Anyone wanting to find out more about Valentin and his scurrilous humour is in the wrong place here, however, because the house is not open to visitors. If you want to see the nail on which Karl Valentin hung his carpentry career, or his world-famous fur-trimmed winter toothpick, we recommend a visit to the Valentin-Karlstadt-Musäums (museum) at the Isartor which lovingly and originally tells of the life of the artist and his equally brilliant partner Liesl Karlstadt.

To reach our next stop on this stage, the Rosengarten (park), we take the narrow paths into the so-called Frühlingsanlagen alongside the Isar. During the summer, this section of the river bank is like a gigantic beach in the middle of the city: students celebrate the end of their exams, Munich residents walk their dogs, and others simply enjoy the sun. There are always small kiosks where you can buy coffee, a soft drink, water or beer and a snack. If you want a swim but don't fancy a dip in the Isar, this route passes the Schyrenbad, Munich's oldest open-air pool.

In the summer, Isar rafts from Wolfratshausen still land here. Enjoy draught beer, a hearty lunch and lots of fun as you journey down the Isar on rustic rafts – opportunity to swim and live music included.

The "Städtische Rosenschaugarten" as it's officially known (people in Munich simply call it the Rose Garden), is still something of a secret. In an idyllic park in the Isar floodplains, the city maintains around 8,500 roses, with over 200 varieties. The garden includes roses with names such as Heidi Klum or Brothers Grimm, as well as precious back varieties from the Middles Ages, such as the rustic Damask rose. We take a seat on one of the benches and simply enjoy the peace, the scent of roses and the sea of blossoms surrounding us.

We now walk under the Braunauer Eisenbahnbrücke (bridge) towards the Flaucher area. This section of the Isar, with its twisting tributaries, its broad pebbled banks and green areas is reminiscent of the time when the Isar was still a wild river. It offers the residents of Munich the chance to barbecue, picnic and bathe in the city centre. Even nude bathing is officially permitted. Here too, like just about everywhere in the city, there is a beer garden which you can access via the wooden Flauchersteg (footbridge). On cooler days, and in the winter, the Flaucher area is a great place for nature-lovers: it is home to water birds such as black-headed gulls, coots, mallards, geese and swans.

Strolling through the Flaucheranlagen, we come to Tierpark Hellabrunn. Nestling in the shady Isar floodplains, it is an absolute paradise of nature. It is the world's first geo zoo, meaning that since 1928, the animals here have lived in order of the continent they come from.

 

We are almost at the end of the walk now. We cross the Marienklausenbrücke (bridge) to reach the landing stages. In earlier times, Munich was a major inland port – passengers could travel by raft as far as Passau, or even Vienna. In the other direction, goods such as furniture or beer were transported to Munich from the Oberland (uplands). With more than 11,000 rafts arriving in 1864 alone, the Munich raft port was the largest in Europe. Back then, the raft landing stages were in the centre of the city. In 1899, when competition from the railways and steam ships had intensified, the raft landing stage was relocated to its current position in Thalkirchen. But the good old age of raft travel isn't quite over yet: in the summer, Isar rafts from Wolfratshausen still land here. Enjoy draught beer, a hearty lunch and lots of fun as you journey down the Isar on rustic rafts – opportunity to swim and live music included.

In the area around the landing stages, there is no end to leisure facilities to enjoy, whatever your heart desires: a camp site and a golf course, canoe clubs, a standing wave for river surfing, the Maria Einsiedel ecological pool and even an official cowboy club.

 

Made it! To end our walk, we have chosen the beer garden at the Gasthof Hinterbrühl on a small lake. A pretzel, Obazda (Bavarian cheese delicacy) and a small beer are just what's needed at the end of our day's walk from the north to the deep south of the city.

If you're daunted by the relatively long distances you can, as we said before, walk just one or two of the stages. You could also cover the distance, or parts of it, on MVG rental bikes (Munich Public Transport Company) that you can pick up all over the city. For more in-depth expert knowledge, you can take a tour with our official Munich Guides.

But if you haven't had enough and would like to continue hiking, you can also cross Munich from east to west – from the Prinzregententheater to Schloss Nymphenburg (palace). This is the way to the east-west passage.

 

 

Text: Eveline Heinrich, Photos: Frank Stolle

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