King Ludwig I’s tremendous love for Munich and Italy is reflected by Ludwigstrasse, a street named after him. Magnificent buildings can be found around every corner, imitating the style of the houses and gates of Florence and Rome. It was the first street designed completely in the round-arch style – and the first paved street in Munich.
The magnificent Ludwigstrasse in Maxvorstadt district almost never came into existence. The City Council of Munich had decided to expand the city towards the north in 1808, but the project got bigger and more extravagant than planned when King Ludwig I, then the crown prince, took an interest in the matter. The king wanted to build a kilometre-long boulevard from Odeonsplatz square in the south to the modern-day Siegestor gate in the north. This was deemed much too long by the City Council, as Munich was not expected to undergo such strong growth over the next 100 years. The City Council only gave in and approved the plans when Ludwig I threatened to relocate his residence to Ingolstadt or Regensburg.
The king had a lot in mind. Ludwigstrasse was a way to highlight the pillars of his kingdom: Science and the Arts, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Royal Government. In 1816, he commissioned Leo von Klenze to design the entire street. Von Klenze assigned the task to Friedrich von Gärtner in 1827. Both architects created impressive buildings – those designed by von Klenze are mainly neo-renaissance buildings found to the south of the street, while von Gärtner’s buildings feature neo-romantic elements in the northern section. Von Klenze and von Gärtner managed to create a magnificent overall work of art: Ludwigstrasse, Brienner Strasse, Maximiliansstrasse and Prinzregentenstrasse are the streets with the most important urban landscaping in Munich.
Friedrich von Gärtner constructed the most famous buildings on the boulevard, building the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal’s Hall) from 1841 to 1844, based on the model of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. The Bavarian State Library (known by the locals as “Stabi”) had been founded in 1558 as the Court Library of the House of Wittelsbach. In 1843, it was moved from the Old Court to the new building on Ludwigstrasse. It now houses ten million books, journals, prints, one of the most important manuscript collections in the world, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, of which only around 180 are still in existence.
If you walk a few metres further, you’ll see the two towering steeples of the Ludwigskirche (church), which was built with a colourful mosaic roof between 1829 and 1844. More treasures are hidden on the inside … “The Last Judgement” by Peter von Cornelius is the second-largest altar fresco in the world, and you can also see Ludwig von Schwanthaler’s limestone figures of the four evangelists with Christ.
The main building of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Ludwig Maximilian University, LMU) is located by the fountains on Professor-Huber-Platz and Geschwister-Scholl-Platz. The LMU was founded in Ingolstadt in 1472 before relocating to Ludwigstrasse in 1840. With over 50,000 students, the elite university is the second-largest in Germany.
Ludwigstrasse comes to an end at the Siegestor which, just like the Feldherrnhalle, is dedicated to the Bavarian army. The 24-metre-high triumphal arch is modelled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome and was built by von Gärtner between 1843 and 1850. The quadriga can be seen perched atop the gate: the Bavaria statue, surrounded by four lions looking out towards the Bavarian army beyond the city. This is where Ludwigstrasse meets Leopoldstrasse.
Just like all large buildings on Ludwigstrasse, the triumphal arch was heavily damaged during the Second World War. The reconstruction of the entire ensemble lasted until the 1970s. This makes the inscription at the back of the Siegestor all the more important: “Dedicated to Victory – Destroyed by War – Urging Peace”.