There are still many companies in Munich today that were once “königlich bayerische Hoflieferanten” – Royal Bavarian Purveyors to the Court. We took a regal shopping trip through the Altstadt – from porcelain to perfume.
Many former Royal Bavarian Purveyors to the Court are still at work in Munich today. What's remarkable is that most of them are in prime locations in the Altstadt area of the city and, even centuries later, these traditional brands are still synonymous with quality and luxury. Oh, and with a bit of luck, you might even run into a king while you're there.
Brigitte Meier and her brother Peter run Munich shoe shop Ed.Meier – and are the thirteenth generation of their family to do so. Although the business can trace its history right back to the 16th century, the most significant period for the Eduard Meier shoe store began in 1895, when it was awarded the title of Purveyor to the Court. All members of the Bavarian court wore shoes made by master shoemaker Eduard Meier, all the way up to Empress Hermine. “For us, the title continues as an incentive to produce the same level of quality,” Brigitte Meier explains with pride. “We do a lot of research and are always on the lookout for the best materials. The durability of our products is especially important to us!”
The company is always presenting new innovations – from their special in-house shoe last to Europe’s first x-ray machine for feet, and from lightweight travel shoes for flying to business shoes with shock-absorbing sports soles. Since the siblings took over the business in the 1980s, its product range has expanded to include clothing and accessories. The jackets and coats they sell are mostly made from tweed or loden wool cloth, and are produced in Europe, just like their shoes. Ed.Meier works with dozens of workshops – some of which also had connections with the siblings’ grandfather, and some still produce exclusively for this Munich-based company.
“For us, the title continues as an incentive to produce the same level of quality!”
The two-storey shop on Brienner Strasse is built in the style of an old city apartment. Shoppers can try on the high-quality men’s leather shoes in the library room. Before we can get in there though, our feet are measured – and we learn that it’s normal for one foot to be longer and narrower than the other. Once we have found the perfect pair of business shoes, they are so comfortable we don’t want to take them off. With the addition of a fine wool coat and a walking stick, things start feeling rather aristocratic.
Brigitte Meier has a good tip for when you’re buying shoes: “Contrary to popular belief, wider shoes are anything but comfortable in the long term, because your foot needs to be supported. That’s why we recommend a firm and generally longer shoe, which comes into its own after it has been broken in.” The siblings’ complete dedication to shoes is evident when Brigitte Meier speaks about her grandfather’s antique shoe collection; it includes over 400 shoes, some of which date from the Middle Ages, and was one of the few things to survive the war – along with the deed certifying Royal Purveyor status.
Ed.Meier, Brienner Strasse 10
The first recorded mention of a shop on Dienerstrasse dates from 1700, with the premises then taken over in 1870 by merchant Alois Dallmayr, who offered a range of colonial goods and specialities. Though the Randlkofer family purchased the shop less than 30 years later, they did not change the name because Dallmayr had already become well-established within the city. Following the death of her husband Anton after just two years, Therese Randlkofer took over the business and implemented innovative ideas such as the “Stadtküche” (“city kitchen”) service, which delivered meals to the homes of upper class families in the city; to this day Dallmayr continues to provide an events catering service.
“We use the Purveyor to the Court seal on selected products such as our pralines and Hoflieferantenlaib.”
Under Therese's management, Dallmayr soon became one of the best delicatessens in Europe and in 1900 it was appointed a Purveyor to the Court. The business was honoured with a total of 15 titles, as it served 14 other royal houses and families in addition to the German imperial court. The speciality coffee department at Dallmayr has been established since the 1930s, when the beverage was still an exotic commodity – rather like the bananas which were first seen by many at the delicatessen. Dallmayr was a byword for spices from all over the world; for that dream of the foreign, for luxury products and exotic products – and it still stands for the same thing today.
“Right now we have a very special type of bacon in from South Tyrol, which we purchased from the private stock of a farmer in the region,” says press spokesperson Sunny Randlkofer. “Another special thing about us: as well as our original store in the Altstadt, which had to be rebuilt completely after the war, we also have a praline manufacturing plant and our own coffee roastery in Giesing.” Randlkofer takes us on a tour of the building: the second floor, which spans almost 1,000 square metres, is home to a large kitchen in which all food is freshly prepared for catering events and the deli counter on the ground floor.
The offices and meeting rooms on the floors above contain some relics from earlier days, including official Purveyor to the Court documents, royal invoices and black-and-white photographs of the original store. “We use the Purveyor to the Court seal on selected products such as our pralines and Hoflieferantenlaib – a cheese that we have developed exclusively with one of our producers,” explains Sunny Randlkofer. And sometimes, if you're lucky, you might just meet a king in the store, even now.
Dallmayr, Dienerstrasse 14-15
Parfümerie Brückner has been in business since 1893 and was appointed a Purveyor to the Court in 1905, by the subsequent king, Ludwig II. Over a hundred years later, not only has this independent Munich perfumery survived in the face of all the chainstores and online retail, it also welcomes a very special clientele. This is largely thanks to Margarete Bublitz, who took over the perfumery in the 1950s and concentrated on brands that were not available anywhere else. This approach brought Estée Lauder for a stroll though the store, which is located near Munich’s Rathaus (town hall).
“The first perfume chainstores started to appear when I took over the store 35 years ago. I found myself facing a dilemma: we had to either reduce our prices or concentrate solely on niche products. I chose the radical option and it was the right decision – it's precisely the hallmark of what we do today. We carry only a few brands that people would recognise from advertising,” emphasises granddaughter Tanja Bublitz, who now manages the three branches of the perfumery.
“It is no coincidence that almost all of the former Royal Purveyors to the Court are still so successful!”
Parfümerie Brückner has customers all over the world: the company recently shipped a package to Bermuda. Tourists love coming in to purchase souvenirs such as the König Ludwig perfume, which features citrus notes and lavender, and is modelled on the fresh fragrances of Ludwig's era. The perfumery's own fragrances, which are still filled and labelled by hand, are just as popular. It's not just for visitors though; Munich locals have also been shopping here for generations, and they appreciate the excellent service.
Tanja Bublitz is proud of her experienced staff, all of whom are required to know about all fragrances off by heart – including the ones from the ads. The team also includes an in-house nutritionist and a number of make-up artists; the company even boasts a fragrance interpreter, who can find the perfect perfume for a customer using a perfume organ, or Durftorgel. Tanja Bublitz is confident: “It is no coincidence that almost all of the former Royal Purveyors to the Court are still so successful!”
Parfümerie Brückner, Marienplatz 8
Roeckl made leather gloves for Empress Sisi and King Ludwig II, and it was during Ludwig II's reign that this Munich manufacturer was appointed a Royal Purveyor to the Court. At that time, gloves were a symbol of a person’s standing in society and also functioned as a hygiene measure to protect against illness – the latter function has been relevant to Roeckl again this year, as COVID-19 is bringing gloves back into fashion. The company’s fine leather gloves are increasingly popular among vintage car drivers as well.
“The fact that we have managed to come through all these crises over the past 180 years is proof that we offer top quality.”
Not a lot has changed about the production techniques used at Roeckl over the company's 180-year history: gloves are produced using the table cutting technique, where the model is composed of 24 pieces. “A seamstress will spend a full day sewing a pair of Peccary gloves – no machine can replace that traditional craftsmanship,” explains Dana Schramm, Head of Marketing at Roeckl. The leather is stretched to make it as flexible and thin as possible. Roeckl trains its own workers in the craft, as glovemaking has become a rare profession in recent years.
The company now has four stores in Munich's city centre and is currently under the leadership of Annette Roeckl, the sixth generation of the family to manage the business. Prototypes are still made in the workshop on Roecklplatz, with production taking place in the company's own factory in Romania. However, Roeckl no longer focuses solely on gloves, but has branched out into bags and scarves over the years. Its silk scarves are produced in Italy, by means of an elaborate screen printing process, and feature hand-drawn designs.
“The fact that we have managed to come through all these crises over the past 180 years is proof that we offer top quality,” Dana Schramm says with conviction. “Our gloves often last for several generations – sometimes people stop by with a pair that belonged to their grandmother.” Roeckl continues to place great importance on quality: the company's products are made from luxurious South American capybara leather or nappa leather from the Ethiopian hair sheep. The customer service is also second to none – the sales assistants identify our glove sizes with a glance: six and a half and twelve.
Roeckl, Maffeistrasse 1
Even today, there's something very royal about the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory). It's not just that the company belongs to Prince Luitpold of Bavaria, but also because its wares have been produced exclusively at its Schloss Nymphenburg (palace) manufactory since 1760. The company's workshops are located right beside the beautiful Schlosspark and are supplied with energy generated from the palace canal. The porcelain manufactory trains its own apprentices, as it requires painstaking manual work to produce every piece: a porcelain painter will spend a whole week working on a single plate. No wonder then that the Nymphenburg porcelain painting workshop was added to the UNESCO Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Germany in 2016.
The traditional Munich company has just one other premises in addition to its manufacturing facility in Nymphenburg, namely a store on Odeonsplatz. Nonetheless, its customer base is international: “We have regular customers from Munich and the surrounding area, but also collectors from Australia and the USA. We once had an Arabian princess come into the store because she had fallen in love with one of our dinner services. Every order is specifically produced for the customer, so we always welcome special requests,” says store manager Rachel Ünek. Sometimes the company designs pieces in collaboration with well-known artists. For these projects, the still-white porcelain is sent to the artist’s location. They then paint the plates and cups by hand, so every item is an original piece by that artist.
It used to be that simple people ate from wooden or tin plates, and only the nobility could afford porcelain. Among the oldest designs sold by the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg is a series of Italian “Commedia dell'arte” figurines that were conceived in the 18th century. The company has also been selling a range of porcelain with lavish floral patterns since that time. Though having fresh flowers on the table was frowned upon back then – because they smelled strongly and would quickly wilt – they made a popular decoration for porcelain, where they could bloom forever.
“Although the process itself has been enhanced somewhat, the original craft of porcelain production is practised the very same way as it was 273 years ago.”
“Although the process itself has been enhanced somewhat – so our cups and plates are dishwasher safe these days – the original craft of porcelain production is practised the very same way as it was 273 years ago,” explains Rachel Ünek. We learned that the most popular souvenir is the Bavarian lion, and the manufactory sells figures of it every day. Other figures are exceptionally rare, by contrast, such as the limited edition representation of Kate Moss as an angel, of which there are only 25 in existence.
Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg, Odeonsplatz 1
If you walk across Max-Joseph-Platz, you can't miss the Zechbauer building. The Zechbauer family has been selling cigars here since 1911, but the company’s history actually goes back much further: the family came here from Tyrol in 1795 and opened its first grocer’s shop in the Au district, followed by a colonial goods shop in the Hofgarten arcade. The business started out trading tobacco goods in 1830, making Zechbauer the oldest tobacconist in Munich. As one of the first German importers of Cuban cigars, the company was appointed a Royal Bavarian Purveyor to the Court in 1886, and in total it garnered an impressive 14 titles.
“Cigars arrived in Europe in 1800 – before that, people smoked pipes,” explains store manager Steffen Nossack. “Snuff and chewing tobacco were also very popular in the royal houses, however. Then, during the First World War, the cigarette became available for ordinary people.” Today Zechbauer sells all kinds of tobacco products, from cigarillos and cigarettes to cigars and pipes. Its hand-rolled cigars are stored in one of the first walk-in climate-controlled chambers in Germany. The company is particularly proud of its own-brand cigars. It can take up to ten years to produce the perfect product.
We go inside the old Havana cellar in the Zechbauer building. It used to be where the cigars were stored, and today you can buy cigar cases there, and browse the range of pipes. Steffen Nossack gives us a bit of an insight: “Cuban cigars are rather rich and go to the palate; Dominican ones taste great on the tip of your tongue; and Nicaraguan cigars have a peppery, spicy taste because of the higher nicotine level.” We also find out that the outer leaf is always a different kind of tobacco from the variety in the cigar itself – it is intended to look good and round off the flavour.
“Cigars were very popular in the royal houses, as well as snuff and chewing tobacco.“
The thickness and shape also plays a part in determining how a cigar tastes – and we would like to explore that theory for ourselves. We walk from the beautiful Zechbauer shop, which still has its original, pre-war tiles, and head along Maximilianstrasse to the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Zechbauer has a cigar lounge here, with an adjoining shop. We pick out a cigar each, order a glass of red wine and settle into the heavy, cognac-coloured armchairs. If only every day could end like this!
Zechbauer Zigarren, Residenzstrasse 10