Munich's Fussgängerzone (pedestrian area) was opened for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games, when it became one of the first car-free shopping stretches in Germany. People come from far and wide to visit the city centre – and not just for the shopping. The way between Marienplatz and Karlsplatz-Stachus is packed with attractions and many traditional Bavarian taverns that are waiting to welcome you.
The official opening of Munich's Fussgängerzone (pedestrian area) on 30 June 1972 was Hans-Jochen Vogel's last official act in the post of Lord Mayor. He was able to look back on his time in office with some satisfaction: not only had he succeeded in bringing the 1972 Summer Olympic Games to the city, he also kicked off a full-scale modernisation of Munich’s public transport network.
The pedestrian area in the heart of Altstadt was a long-overdue concession for shoppers in the city centre. Until the 1960s, visitors to the shops along Kaufingerstrasse and Neuhauser Strasse were forced to take their chances weaving dangerously between trams and passing traffic – up to 75,000 cars a day. This introduction made Munich the first city in Germany to have its own central, car-free shopping area. Other large sections of the city centre have also been pedestrianised in recent years.
Neuhauser Strasse and Kaufingerstrasse are now among the shopping streets with the highest footfall in all of Germany. At peak times, for example during the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), some 200,000 shoppers can traverse the area on a single day. In addition to traditional department stores and large chains, there are also small shops, modern shopping arcades and numerous restaurants dotted throughout Munich’s pedestrian area. What's more, shoppers are able to enjoy the charm of Munich’s Altstadt – with its opera house, Viktualienmarkt (food market) and many other highlights – at no extra charge.
Day after day, streams of shopping-mad visitors flow through Munich's main shopping street. You could be forgiven for thinking that its name comes from the German word “kaufen” (“to buy”), but its roots are actually found elsewhere: a few years after the founding of the city in 1158, the street was named after the Kaufingers, a wealthy Munich patrician family whose family residence was located there. However, Kaufingerstrasse was always a trading street, forming part of the Salt Road that ran from the mountains across the Isar river and through Munich’s market, then on to Augsburg. Many other merchant families built their homes here too alongside the Kaufingers.
The Zum Schönen Turm commercial building now houses men's clothing company Hirmer, but was originally one of the first department stores to be built along Kaufingerstrasse and Neuhauser Strasse during the 19th century. A plaque at the entrance to the store, a miniature tower on the corner of the building and the outline of a foundation in different-coloured stones on the pavement all commemorate the Schöner Turm (“beautiful tower”) that once stood here, and from which the building takes its name. It must have been richly decorated, and it marked the edge of the city's medieval fortifications to the west until the mid-13th century. The position of this tower, which was demolished in 1807, explains why Kaufingerstrasse becomes Neuhauser Strasse here in the middle of the pedestrian area.
Situated in a listed building just beyond Karlstor gate, the Oberpollinger department store is another 19th-century shopping haven that occupies a prime location on the city's main shopping thoroughfare. If you look up, you can spy two trading ships on the gables of the building – reminders that the original proprietors of the department store came from Hamburg.
The houses and shops on Kaufingerstrasse and Neuhauser Strasse sustained severe damage during the Second World War. However, if you look carefully it's still possible to identify some pre-war facades and doorways among the 1950s and 1960s constructions and more recently built addresses. Three notable places which were rebuilt after the war are the Jesuit Church of St. Michael, where King Ludwig II is buried; the neighbouring Jesuit college known as the “Alte Akademie”; and Bürgersaalkirche (church), burial place of Father Rupert Mayer who was beatified in 1980. An exhibition in the church describes the Jesuit priest’s journey from pastoral worker to courageous preacher who spoke out against the Nazis.
From the Church of St. Michael, the pedestrian area broadens to become a plaza, which in warm weather is adorned with palms, floral decorations and chairs, inviting passers-by to relax. The street furniture – lamps with round, double-ended glazed lights and concrete trough-shaped planters – reminds us that the pedestrian area is a child of the seventies. Created by artist Hans Wimmer and featuring motifs from the opera Salomé, the Richard Strauss commemorative fountain was installed in front of the Alte Akademie 13 years after the death of the Munich composer. When the Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) reopened in 1963, with a performance of Richard Strauss’ “The Woman without a Shadow”, it represented an important sign of confidence in the revival of the ruined city.
Strauss was descended from the Pschorr Munich brewing family on his mother's side. Until the Second World War, the family brewery was located on the other side of Neuhauser Strasse, opposite the Jesuit church and college. The composer was born in the rear building on Altheimer Eck on 11 June 1864. The modern building that replaced it in 2016 is home to the Sportscheck sporting goods store among others. The highlight of the structure is its glass and bronze façade, which reflects Michaelskirche church and the Alte Akademie, forming an architecturally fascinating bridge from the past to the present.
Just a short distance away, from 1328 Augustinian monks had brewed the first Munich beer in their monastery on Neuhauserstrasse. Today Augustiner-Bräu beer is exported all over the world – and the labels still feature a picture of a monk. For a particularly authentic touch, you can savour a half-litre of Augustiner beer in the subsequently constructed Zum Augustiner brewery's main building, which stands diagonally across from Michaelskirche church. Highlights of this typical Munich beer hall include the historic Art Nouveau glass-domed Muschelsaal (Shell Hall), which dates from 1897, and the cosy Arkadengarten (Arcade Garden) in the inner courtyard. Incidentally, the brewery moved to a premises on Landsberger Strasse near Hackerbrücke (bridge) in 1895 and is now a listed building.
The Gothic Augustinian monastery church on Neuhauser Strasse was used as a customs house following its secularisation in 1803. The former church is now the venue for Café Rischart, with its sun-soaked outdoor terrace, the Hunting and Fishing Museum, several small souvenir shops and an FC Bayern merchandise store.
As you stroll through the Fussgängerzone pedestrian area, you will see the turquoise domes of the Frauenkirche (cathedral) always peeping out over the roofs. Once you reach Breiter, the hat store which has stood here for over 100 years, the view opens directly onto the cathedral via Liebfrauenstrasse. In the neighbourhood around the distinctive cupolas of the 15th-century Late Gothic red-brick building, you can explore secluded corners with traditional restaurants such as the Augustiner Klosterwirt, the Bratwurstglöckl, the Augustiner am Dom and the Andechser am Dom.
Marienplatz is the heart of the city, and Mariensäule (Mary's Column) marks the central point of the metropolis. Everything that makes Munich what it is today developed from this point. “Munich's front parlour” has been part of the first pedestrian area in Munich since 1972. Inscriptions at the entrances to Munich’s Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) document major events in Munich’s city history such as the 1972 Olympic Games and details of the eight cities all over the world that Munich is twinned with. In addition to the tourist information office, the ground floor of the Rathaus is home to numerous small shops. Amber jewellery, books, flowers, shirts, shoes, Franconian sausage products, felt and much more can be purchased here.
The Ratskeller restaurant is located in the vaults of the town hall, as the name (which literally means “town hall cellar”) suggests, and makes a popular meeting point for diners. On the corner of the Rathaus, directly beside the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), stands the Beck department store with its strikingly patterned façade. This traditional Munich business looks back on a history spanning some 150 years. Without a doubt, the impressive Glockenspiel mechanical clock in the tower of the neo-Gothic Rathaus has been the number one attraction here for over 100 years. The knight’s tournament and Schäfflertanz (cooper's dance) performed by the figures of this clock often mark the start of a shopping trip through the shopping paradise in Munich's Altstadt – or an enjoyable pause during it.