Ludwigsvorstadt is characterised by its multiculturalism, while Isarvorstadt is considered pretty hip. As they form one single district in Munich, they’re often mentioned in the same breath.
Ludwigsvorstadt boasts the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), southern station district and Deutsches Theater. Oktoberfest also takes place here on the Theresienwiese. Isarvorstadt is home to the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with the Deutsches Museum, all the Isar bridges, and three trendy districts to the left of the Isar (Gärtnerplatzviertel, Glockenbachviertel and Schlachthofviertel).
The whole area was designed from scratch in the 19th century. Before that, rafts from the Bavarian Oberland used to moor here on the banks of the Isar. The city streams derived from the river were a source of water for tanneries, bleacheries and mills. Even back then, a plague pit – today’s Südfriedhof (Southern Cemetery) – could be found outside the former city walls on the banks of the Westermühlbach stream. The boundary line between Ludwigsvorstadt and Isarvorstadt can be found along this stream.
That’s why modern Munich is such a heaven for me with the Isar, where you can swim, and with its pure tap water and city streams.
Every free stream warms my heart – especially in a city with 1.5 million inhabitants. There was a time when water wasn’t worth a penny. Streams were filled with earth, banished beneath the surface and set in concrete. Or mountains of foam would bob around on the surface. That’s why modern Munich is such a heaven for me with the Isar, where you can swim, and with its pure tap water and city streams. I like to walk along the banks of the Westermühlbach stream, especially in autumn when it gets dark early. You don’t even have to travel fifteen minutes from the Sendlinger Tor before you’re shrouded in complete darkness – it’s absolutely perfect for jogging with a headlamp or a lantern-lit walk.
I sometimes walk through the Südfriedhof and stumble upon graves like those of the painter Carl Spitzweg or the coachman Franz Xaver Krenkl. He’s said to have illegally overtook the carriage of King Ludwig I with his horse and cart and, instead of expressing his reverence towards the king, exclaimed “Wer ko der ko” (“If you’ve got it, flaunt it”). Personalities from the world of science, politics and the arts are also buried here – the servants and gentlemen of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Pink Christmas has been held on Stephansplatz opposite the cemetery for over ten years, standing out as the “pink star of Munich’s Christmas markets”. Girlfriends, boyfriends and friends mingle among the visitors from the gay and lesbian scene. They’re joined by party-goers, families and business people from the Glockenbachviertel, and mulled wine fans from around the world.
The Gärtnerplatzviertel and Glockenbachviertel districts were discovered as residential and party areas for gays and lesbians in the late 1950s, and shops and clubs were opened. The wildest time for the scene was arguably in the 1980s: Queen singer Freddie Mercury chose Munich as his home away from home, holding legendary parties in the clubs around Gärtnerplatz. The district of Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt is still the beating heart of Munich’s night life.
The pubs and coffee houses in the Gärtnerplatzviertel and Glockenbachviertel have funny names like Holy Home, Hungriges Herz (Hungry Heart), Trachtenvogl, Gute Nacht Wurst (Good Night, Sausage), Ohh Baby I Like It Raw and Rostiger Pudel (Rusty Poodle), or places like Kooks offer unusual services like “assisted drinking”.
The entire Holy Family is at home in the Glockenbachviertel, featuring places like Café Maria, the Josef function room and Jessas ice cream parlour. Kaiser Otto even has a children’s lounge, reflecting the fact that more babies are born in this quarter than anywhere else in the city. Their parents probably met at a concert at Milla Club. Now they can be seen pushing their prams with a big slice of chocolate cake in front of Café Götterspeise. The two Vietnamese restaurants on Pestalozzistrasse, Annam and Chi Tu, are very trendy as well. Hotel Deutsche Eiche and Hotel Flushing Meadows both have a restaurant or bar, and their terraces are great places to look beyond the district’s rooftops and out towards the Alps on sunny days.
Both districts have great owner-run shops that sell everything but ready-made products. You can also take a look around the ground floor of Art Nouveau buildings adorned with ivy. You sometimes have to look twice before you realise … That’s no stylish kitchen studio; it’s a real kitchen-cum-living-room where a local mother is baking cakes with her children in a scene taken straight from an Ikea catalogue and, on the other side of the wall, a hairdresser can be seen parting his customer’s hair.
If you take a few more steps, you’ll end up in Geyerstrasse, looking through the shop window of jewellery designer Saskia Diez. She lives and works there with her husband Stefan, one of the most successful industrial designers in Germany. This is where Stefan Diez created his D1 office chair, which was exhibited as part of the “Neue Sammlung” at the Munich Design Museum. Across the road from the jewellery shop, you can see something quite unusual for Munich: a vacant residential building. People can only be seen in the Geyerwally pub on the ground floor. I wonder whether Saskia and Stefan go there in the evening. Or perhaps they prefer to walk a few minutes down the road to the Makassar restaurant with French-Creole cuisine. The owner and chef of the restaurant was a cook on the Calypso, the ship of French marine biologist Jacques Cousteau.
I used to live in the Schlachthofviertel disctrict. My apartment was like a shoebox that had been squeezed into the loft in makeshift fashion after the war. The circular window in the gable was my bedroom window and a sort of entrance to my nest high above Isartalstrasse. It wasn’t far away from the Flaucher beer garden and the petrol green of the Isar canal. I was able to visit the Turkish tavern “Yol am Roecklplatz” and the cult inn “Wirtshaus im Schlachthof” with its cabaret events and concerts. Elsewhere, the district was trapped in a deep slumber.
But wonderful new things are now beginning to emerge. While the Munich Schlachthof (slaughterhouse) is closing down, the district is welcoming new peoples and cultures. The Bahnwärter Thiel has been an entertaining cultural attraction since 2015; it’s a disused train offering a mixture of theatrical performances, readings, concerts and club nights. And a disused railway bridge around the corner is now home to the MS Utting, an old excursion steamship from Lake Ammer. The sun shines the longest on the deck of this unusual cultural café. The Münchner Volkstheater (Munich People’s Theatre) will also move here in the not-too-distant future.
There’s also lots of good food to be found in the district. Goldmarie has been recognised by the Slow Food Guide; it serves Alpine dishes from Bavaria, Austria and South Tyrol in a rustic setting.
Vegetarian dishes are the defining feature of most restaurants run by the trendy Sandra Forster. One of her restaurants is Roecklplatz in the Schlachthofviertel, where socially disadvantaged youths can be trained in the art of fine dining. Another one is her Mexican-inspired Blitz restaurant at the foot of the river near the Deutsches Museum. Café Tagträumer on Dreimühlenstrasse was a butcher’s shop until the early 1970s. The glass ceiling and original Solnhofen stone slab floor in the store room date from this period.
It was a police station from 1930 to 1940, before becoming a toy shop, an Arabic store and then a fashion shop … Just like other shops in the area, Café Tagträumer reflects the history of change throughout the districts. When the old parquet flooring was uncovered, a faded page from a poetry book appeared in the hall, reading: “… and many wander through the house with the soft chink of glasses …”
If you leave the Old Town and cross Sendlinger-Tor-Platz to the right, you’ll arrive at the Nussbaumpark by St. Matthäuskirche (St. Matthew’s Church) in just a few minutes. As part of the “Make The Nussbaumpark Cool Again” initiative, cult soft drinks and all kinds of craft beer are served here under the trees in summer. Food trucks make sure there’s something good to eat, and the in-house Radio Nussbaum creates a relaxed sound.
The volume can’t be turned up due to the surrounding clinics. But there are always events that pick up on suggestions made by the residents. There are debates, yoga courses and a children’s programme. And everyone is invited to take part in knitting workshops, and clothing and bicycle exchanges. Sponsors are also needed for raised beds in the Nussbaumgarten. If you like, you can just sink into one of the dreamy sun loungers.
Hotel Mariandl and Café am Beethovenplatz can be found in a listed building, located between the Nussbaumpark and the Theresienwiese. The hotel’s oak staircase and hundred-year-old parquet flooring and the café’s high coffered ceiling will make you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time to the Belle Époque at the beginning of the 20th century. For almost two decades, Munich’s independent art scene has been able to present its work in the hotel rooms for one week a year. As part of this “Zimmer frei” art project, the usual hotel guests are replaced by artists wearing goggles and flippers in the bathtub.
Oktoberfest is held on an oval-shaped, undeveloped and, with the exception of a small camomile field, paved piece of land in the middle of the city. And that’s not about to change. The uninterrupted view is soothing for the locals, and there’s enough room for expansive recreational sports like skate sailing. The slope gives children a place to go sledging in Ludwigsvorstadt in the winter. The largest flea market in Bavaria takes place here to mark the opening of the Spring Festival.
The place is also historically significant, as Kurt Eisner proclaimed the Free State of Bavaria following a mass demonstration on the Theresienwiese a hundred years ago. This led to the abdication of Ludwig III, the last ruler from the House of Wittelsbach. The Theresienwiese is also a place with breath-taking sights, such as the big wheel in front of the Alpine panorama at Oktoberfest and the brightly coloured peaks of the tents against the night sky at the Tollwood Winter Festival. The bronze-cast, 18-metre-high Bavaria statue is one of Munich’s landmarks that depicts the secular patron saint of Bavaria. I always meet up with my friends at the foot of the statue whenever we get lost at the biggest folk festival.
Of all the breweries that used to be found in the Hackerbrücke (bridge) area, the Augustinerbrauerei (brewery) on Landsbergerstrasse is the only one left. If you want to be a real Munich local, you should go the Hackerbrücke railway bridge at sunset with a bottle of beer and a loved one by your side and have a look at the shiny red tracks. Looking out beyond the tracks and into the horizon ignites a feeling of sweet wanderlust inside me.
If you want to be a real Munich local, you should go the Hackerbrücke railway bridge at sunset with a bottle of beer and a loved one by your side and have a look at the shiny red tracks.
If you keep walking towards the Central Station, you’ll reach the end of the “village of millions”. This is where the suburbs merge into the city. It’s always bright here. There’s always something going on. Many of the immigrants who settled in Munich in the 1960s found a new home in the southern station district. This internationality is reflected by the names of the shops and restaurants: Sinbad, Babylon 1, Ratchada Thai Restaurant, Fatuma SAT Shop, Syrian Specialities Layali Alsham, Istanbul Shop, Afro Beauty World. These are interspersed with hotels, banks, travel agencies, gambling halls, hairdressers, gold merchants and wedding boutiques.
Turkish supermarkets are always my first port of call when it’s time to get the barbecue out in summer and fresh squid, herbs and vegetables are needed. The Deutsches Theater, Munich’s stage for musicals and carnival celebrations, can be found in the middle of the southern station district.The Isarbar in the five-star Sofitel Bayerpost Hotel on Bayerstrasse exudes a warm and inviting glow from the outside. The 25hours Hotel The Royal Bavarian was opened near the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) in 2018, offering three different and stylish gastronomic concepts with its Restaurant Neni, Neni Deli and Boilerman Bar.
The owners of the new bar Cucurucu on Elisenstrasse around the corner from Munich Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) promise good music, good people and good evenings. Just a few more steps and you’ll leave the folk festival district and enter the big city… Café Cosmos is very much casual with a “come as you are” attitude, but they don’t want to see anyone in a traditional Bavarian costume. This is an Oktoberfest-free zone. The café has a strict ban on dirndls and lederhosen. The Bufet bar next door offers almost nothing but perfectly crafted sausages and beer. Freshly fortified, you can get from here to Munich's Kunstareal in Maxvorstadt with its world-famous Pinakothek museums in just a few minutes.