Drei Menschen sitzen auf den Stufen einer Tanzfläche in einem Club in München.

Munich in the 90s

Between subculture and early closing

A new international airport, raging clubs at the fringes of the city and creative interim uses of space – 1990s Munich was alive with a spirit of optimism and rebelliousness against social constraints.

With the opening of the international airport during the 90s, the crackle of new possibilities filled the air of the city, along with a sense of being directly connected to the rest of the world. At the same time a new music trend was emerging, defining the subculture and later pop culture too: techno. It found a home in riotous clubs in the outskirts of the city, while the nightlife everywhere else was all but non-existent thanks to strict regulations around closing times. It was defiance of these regulations, along with the unleashing of creativity in interim spaces, that would prove to be key steps towards making Munich the cosmopolitan city it is today.

 

Music and fashion: more than partying hard and nylon shirts

Unce, unce, unce. To this day, legendary tales are exchanged about the birth of southern Germany’s first pure techno club, Ultraschall. While Munich revelry was largely dominated by punk and indie at the start of the 90s, the new techno trend changed everything, defining the lifestyle of a generation. Fashion changed too: fur cuffs and nylon or mesh shirts were paired with billowing flared trousers – a look to remember with a shudder! But eventually these fashion trends would spill into the mainstream pop culture of the decade; the boom in tongue piercings, platform shoes and tattoo necklaces, which are still so strongly associated with the 90s, all originated in the techno movement, as did many other iconic accessories. One very important 90s fashion decree was that – regardless of the time of year – your belly button should be on display.

The opening of the Ultraschall techno club was made possible by Wolfgang Nöth, a restaurateur and club operator who died in 2021, and who is renowned for the significant contribution he made to Munich’s club and cultural scene. It was he who snapped up the site of the former Riem airport, and then invited the team behind Ultraworld club nights to set themselves up in the airport’s disused industrial kitchen. Music producer Richard Bartz was one of the people involved, and in a later interview about the club he recalled: “I had the feeling that we were breaking out of these entire structures, this traditional nightlife

Fashion changed too: fur cuffs and nylon or mesh shirts were paired with billowing flared trousers – a look to remember with a shudder!

A mandatory closing time of 10.00 p.m. remained in effect in Munich until the end of the 1990s – though there were a few exceptions to this, among them the clubs at the edge of the city, so it’s no surprise that these became a magnet for hordes of late-night revellers. Techno as a way to beat the system – that is exactly what the music genre represented to kids back then. It was the summer of 1994, and they could step into a different world and forget all about space and time. Where better to do that than in a former airport?

Architecture and style: elaborate systems and light shows

The Riem site’s rebirth as a stalwart of Munich’s party scene could only happen following the resolution of decades of discussion about replacing the airport in Riem with a larger one, further from the city. It was after many years of planning and subsequent construction work that, on 11 May 1992, the first aircraft took off from the new Franz Joseph Strauss airport, 30 kilometres north-east of Munich.

The Terminal 1 building was designed by Architect Hans-Busso von Busse. He and his team wanted to ensure the building was filled with natural light and characterised by geometric forms, to create a diffuse, decentralised feel. A large system of pipes can be seen from the outside, breaking with the window fronts; this sophisticated, electrically controlled system can be used for both glare protection and lighting effects. Terminal 2, an award-winning building which offers a strong architectural contrast to its predecessor, was only added in 2003.

Today, Munich airport is voted the best in Europe time and again, in various traveller surveys and reviews. Excitingly, the operating company plans to switch the airport to carbon-neutral operation by 2030.

The Herz-Jesu-Kirche (church) in the Neuhausen district, built between 1997 and 2000, is another architectural highlight. The building features the largest church doors in the world: 14 metres tall, 18 metres wide and weighing some 50 tonnes. It takes eight minutes for the blue glass façade to open up like a portal, though this only happens on major feast days and other special occasions.

The building features the largest church doors in the world: 14 metres tall, 18 metres wide and weighing some 50 tonnes.

If you look closely at the square blue front, you will be able to make out some stylised white nails which have been very deliberately positioned. These are the work of artist Alexander Beleschenko, who developed an “alphabet” especially for the building, assigning a specific arrangement of nails to each letter. This script has been used to write out the story of the Passion according to John 18-20 across the whole surface of the façade. Too abstract to imagine? The church is well worth a visit, especially on a sunny day when the light falls on the exquisite blue glass of the windows. It is a truly unique design, the brainchild of Munich architectural firm Allmann Sattler Wappner, and part of the movement towards a more ambitious architecture.

 

Art and culture: on land steeped in history and creative interim uses

The Literaturhaus cultural institution opened its doors on Salvatorplatz in Altstadt in 1997. The historic building had previously been home to a number of schools, before the decision was taken in 1993 to give the world of books a prestigious seat in Munich. The venue regularly welcomes world-renowned best-selling authors and highly promising newcomers to read to enraptured audiences. Podium discussions and musical events also take place here, while the centre’s Oskarmaria brasserie – named for Bavarian writer Oskar Maria Graf – combines modern flair with traditional coffee house charm, offering an oasis of comfort within a revered cultural institution in the heart of the city.

The 90s also saw a great deal of cultural activity in the east of Munich. When food producer Pfanni moved its premises from a site beside Munich’s Ostbahnhof to the north-east of Germany in 1996, it left behind a 90,000-square-metre vacant industrial site – a cue for restaurateur Wolfgang Nöth to step in again, and lease the space. For four years it was an interim site housing creative endeavours including clubs, bars, arcades, artists’ studios and flea markets. People still talk today about the snacks (and the many spelling mistakes) on the menu of the Nachtkantine, not to mention the legendary Goa parties that took place in the Natraj Temple. Originally known as Kunstpark Ost, the area was later renamed Kultfabrik; today, the site is Werksviertel Mitte – a great deal has changed and much is still changing, but the location continues to be an important cultural hub to this day.

 

Here you can still experience the 90s in Munich today:

 

 

Text: Anika Landsteiner; Photos: Volker Derlath, Sigi Müller, Jörg Lutz
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