The opening of four new stages in Munich has been met with much joy. Visitors can look forward to discovering these new settings for theatre, dance, concerts and readings: the Isarphilharmonie at the Gasteig cultural centre’s HP8 (Hans-Preissinger-Strasse 8) site, the new Volkstheater in the Schlachthofviertel district, the schwere reiter theatre in the Kreativquartier (creative quarter) and the hoftheater münchen in the Stemmerhof, a converted historic farm building. The new temples of culture offer some architectural surprises, successfully combining easy casualness with a real sensitivity to the particular history of each site.
What do the Isarphilharmonie and the Elbphilharmonie have in common – apart from the fact that they are both named after the rivers in their respective cities? Both were construction projects that involved renowned sound expert Yasuhisa Toyota and his firm Nagata Acoustics to ensure outstanding acoustics. The Isarphilharmonie celebrated its inauguration in mid-October 2021, with a gala concert by the Münchner Philharmoniker orchestra. The same event marked the official opening of the larger site which encompasses the Isarphilharmonie: the Gasteig HP8 cultural quarter in the district of Sendling. This site is set to serve as the temporary home of Europe’s largest cultural centre while the original Gasteig building is being renovated. The former principal conductor Valery Gergiev was as delighted with the acoustics in the new hall as the guests attending the premiere were.
The newly built Isarphilharmonie hall can accommodate audiences of up to 1,900 people and was designed by architectural firm gmp (Gerkan, Marg und Partner). It stands alongside the historic heart of Gasteig HP8: the meticulously restored Hall E. Dating from the 1920s, this soaring, deliberately stark space which was once used as a transformer hall is now a cathedral-like glass-roofed foyer for the Isarphilharmonie, and also houses Münchner Stadtbibliothek (Munich Public Library) with its new open library concept, as well as parts of the Münchner Volkshochschule further education centre, a café and the central information kiosk.
In addition to the Münchner Philharmoniker and the Bayerischer Rundfunk symphony orchestra, the Isarphilharmonie is expected to host a number of prominent international orchestras such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Wiener Philharmoniker, as well as star guests including Anne-Sophie Mutter and Jonas Kaufmann.
So what makes the Isarphilharmonie different from the Elbphilharmonie? It is the unconventional location of the new concert hall in which musical superstars will soon be performing. Rather than a prestigious city-centre location, the Isarphilharmonie is situated in a rather rough-and-ready spot between a cogeneration plant and various businesses, garages, architectural firms and start-ups – just a stone’s throw from the untouched shingle beaches along the Isar river. It will be exciting to see the how the cultural scene will interact with this none-too-chic yet rather cooler neighbourhood. Things certainly won’t be boring!
Look at the Moon over Soho: The start of Brecht’s love song from the Threepenny Opera comes to mind whenever a pale moon hangs above the brick ensemble of historic listed buildings and brand-new Volkstheater as it did at the theatre’s opening. It makes perfect sense then, that the Brecht piece remains on the programme following the move of the Volkstheater to Schlachthofviertel. Though instead of London’s most feared gangster boss Mackie Messer, theatregoers will generally be greeted at the entrance by beaming director Christian Stückl. As the evening progresses he likes to watch over premieres from the lighting control desk before drinking a coffee at the bar, amid the elegant wine-red interior of Schmock restaurant. The owner of the Israeli establishment explains that the cuisine “commutes in a rather unorthodox manner between the Middle East and the Schlachthofviertel” and delights stage hands and influencers alike.
The new Volkstheater fits really well into this area where a plethora of innovative cultural projects are already thriving – from the Wirtshaus in the Schlachthof and the Bahnwärter Thiel cultural hub to the Alte Utting. The modern brick building with trendy arches, designed by Stuttgart architectural firm LRO (Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei), looks as though it has always been here – on a site where animals were still being sold for slaughter up until the early 2000s. With the premiere of the piece “Unser Fleisch, unser Blut” (“Our flesh, our blood”), the theatre’s ensemble will address the topic of meat consumption and the mass slaughter of animals on its opening weekend. The historic listed buildings adjoining the new space are used by the theatre’s administrative team, and their back walls have been left untouched to continue displaying the traces of time – a conscious decision by the architects, on the grounds that there’s enough gloss in this city.
The interior of the theatre is dominated by pastel-coloured walls in blues, greens, yellows and browns, topped by a ceiling in midnight blue. The colour scheme in the foyer was inspired by the colours on the walls of Goethe’s former house in Weimar. With three stages in total and spanning some 25,000 square metres, the new Volkstheater can accommodate 900 guests, making it one of the largest stages in Munich and among the most modern in Germany.
The programme for the 2021/22 season includes 16 productions, including classic plays such as Dürrenmatt’s “The Physicists” and new pieces such as “Origin”, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Saša Stanišić. The programme will also be enriched with longer runs of the two plays which will premiere on opening weekend: Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II”, directed by Christian Stückl, and the high school musical “Gymnasium”, a wonderfully quirky, funny and energetic evening of theatre, at the end of which the ensemble and the audience celebrate one another.
“Do you want to play with us?” ask the children who spend all day playing hide and seek among the wooden planters in the Gemeinschaftsgarten (community gardens). The façade of the building is emblazoned with a laughing sun above the motto “The truth is the future”. In the evening, the artists at the Atelierhaus invite you to visit their studios in one of the vacant industrial buildings on the site. Just around the corner from these workshops that make up what is known as the “Maker Space” of Munich’s start-up scene, you encounter a small group of people sitting around a fire blazing in a discarded oil drum. Again you get a friendly invitation to join them and even ask questions if you like. Such openness towards curious visitors is a rare thing indeed.
Here in the Kreativquartier (creative quarter) on Dachauer Strasse, surrounded by urban gardening projects, colourful studio containers, workshops and initiatives, is where the city has donated a new theatre to the independent theatre scene that has been based here for years. Munich-based architects Mahlnknecht und Herrle came up with a special solution to make sure that the building didn’t stick out like a sore thumb in this urban wilderness: rusty iron girders, normally sunk into soil to reinforce excavation pits, have been used to make the façade of the new square building, constructed right beside the old theatre.
The “off-Theater” group of independent Munich theatre companies has been presenting its well-established three-part programme of dance, theatre and music mostly from the new building since September 2021. In addition to showcasing the performances themselves, the new building also offers creatives ample space for rehearsing, producing, networking and experimenting. The hall can accommodate an audience of around 120 people. The new theatre will also replace its predecessor as a permanent venue for theatre and dance festivals such as Spielart, Dance, the Munich Biennale, RODEO and Tanzwerkstatt Europa.
With roots dating back to the 14th century, the Stemmerhof in the district of Sendling survived as the last working farmhouse within the city limits. Farmers working there probably personally experienced the Sendlinger Bauernschlacht (Sendling Peasant’s Battle) of 1705, which is commemorated in a fresco on the wall of the parish church opposite the building. Up to 50 cows stood in the stalls here until the early 1990s.
It was only at the beginning of the 2000s that the property was converted into the “Dorfplatz am Sendlinger Berg” (“Village square at Sendlinger Berg”). Restaurants and shops selling organic produce, food, clothing and jewellery moved into the farmyard, and small cultural events take place here regularly. As of September, the former barn now houses its own court theatre. After a tumultuous few months, actors and musicians are hugely looking forward to performing on the district’s new stage. The programme includes classic theatrical pieces, musical theatre, musicals as well as chanson and jazz evenings as well as projects involving senior citizens, children and pupils from the local school for the blind.
One-man show “Ein Kuss” (“One Kiss”), which played at the opening of the theatre, will be on the programme again from December 2021. Audiences can also look forward to crime pieces such as “Dial M For Murder” and productions of classic theatrical works such as Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise” and Hauptmann’s “The Beaver Coat”, not to mention musical theatre ranging from David Bowie’s “Lazarus” to a musical version of “Little Lord Fauntleroy”.