The districts Haidhausen and Au have developed from working-class quarters into popular residential areas. When strolling along the narrow streets with small shops and green courtyards, it almost feels like being in a village in the middle of the city.
First mentioned in official records from around the year 808, Haidhausen is significantly older than the core of Munich. Along with the neighbouring district of Au, it was one of Munich’s suburbs for a long time until it was incorporated into the city middle of the 19th century.
Outside the heart of the old town, on the right-hand side of the Isar, the district once provided a home to day labourers, foreign guest workers and recent arrivals from the countryside. For hundreds of years, they earned their daily bread by quarrying gravel and clay. Drawing on the power of the Isar River and its subsidiaries, craftsmen settled along the water, setting up tanneries and fishing companies.
The area’s former inns, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, have now been lovingly restored. The picturesque charm exuded by the little low-ceilinged cottages may be deceiving to modern day visitors, as they were once a simple roof over the head for residents living in some of the poorest conditions.
At the Herbergsmuseum in Üblacker Häusl on Preysingstrasse, two rooms have been restored in the style of the old labourers’ tenements, showing the cramped conditions where large families had to share a bed, table and chairs.
Another example of the former inns found in the district is the imposing Kriechbaumhof building across the road, which was first built back in the 18th century. The traditional village feel of Haidhausen is also reflected in the beautiful cemetery at the old Haidhausen church, and along the district’s many peaceful streets.
When asked about what makes Haidhausen so special, young café owner Nora Wolf and her customers on Elsässer Strasse agree: the cohesion and feeling of community in the neighbourhood are like nowhere else. For every important football game, tables, chairs and TVs are quickly moved out of flats and onto the street in front of the café to create a long, makeshift table so that fans can celebrate with the players.
The Hofbräukeller is also based on Wiener Platz. Until Carl von Linde discovered refrigeration in 1876, beer cellars for over 50 different breweries were located beneath the banks of the Isar.
Many Haidhausers find themselves constantly drawn back to the neighbourhood where everyone knows and greets each other. Twice a year, the residents of Haidhausen invite visitors into their courtyards for flea markets. These provide visitors with the ideal opportunity to gain a rare glimpse behind the buildings’ brickwork and into their charming courtyards.
To the west of the Ostbahnhof station (Munich East), which opened in 1871, the Franzosenviertel (French Quarter) blossomed in the years following the Franco-German War. Pariser Platz, Weissenburger Platz and Bordeauxplatz (squares) are popular meeting points in this part of town.
But Haidhausen’s heart beats at Wiener Platz. The square and its market were given their names due to their proximity to the main road which leads to Wien (Vienna). Grocers, fruit sellers and florists showcase their wares at the market’s numerous stands. From a “boulangerie” to the grilled fish seller and wine specialist: you could spend a whole day here enjoying culinary treats, sitting at the outdoor tables and just watching the world go by.
However, Haidhausen is not just small and peaceful; it is also home to a number of important institutions and attractions: behind Wiener Platz on the banks of the Isar, the Maximilianeum building towers over the grand boulevard of Maximilianstrasse that leads over the Isarbrücke bridge and connects Haidhausen with the old town.
Once a foundation for gifted students to help them prepare for civil service, the building is now most famous for its well-known tenant, the Bavarian state government, which moved there in 1949.
The Hofbräukeller is also based on Wiener Platz. Until Carl von Linde discovered refrigeration in 1876, beer cellars for over 50 different breweries were located beneath the banks of the Isar. Above the cellars, the breweries planted lots of shady chestnut trees – and so the Munich beer garden was born. Some of the relics leftover from this era are the Hofbräukeller, the former Höfbraubier brewery, and Einstein, a converted cultural centre and home to the jazz club Unterfahrt.
If you follow Innere Wiener Strasse south, you will reach Gasteig, one of Europe’s biggest cultural centres. Its name comes from “gache Steig”, which means steep path. In Medieval times, this hill was the only connection between Munich and the eastern banks of the Isar.
Travelling from Bad Reichenhall and Rosenheim, heavy wagons full of salt made their way up the steep slope on their way into Munich and onwards towards Augsburg. Gasteig has been Munich’s cultural centre since it opened in 1985. It is also home to the world famous Munich Philharmonic.
Below the building, directly on the banks of the Isar river, you will find Muffatwerk, a former electricity plant from the 19th century. Nowadays, it hosts performances from up-and-coming stars from the worlds of music, theatre and dance.
Next door, there is Müllersche Volksbad (Mullerian Public Bathhouse). Built in 1901, the picturesque art nouveau baths stem from an era when it wasn’t normal for every home to have its own bathroom. The baths are now a stylish spot to swim, sweat and sauna, though the renovated bath tubs are still available to rent. Even Munich’s “Zamperl” (= dogs) used to have their own bath here, the so-called “Zamperlbad”.
Right across the road, there is the Museums-Lichtspiele, Munich’s second-oldest cinema built in 1910 by cinema pioneer Carl Gabriel. Visitors can still experience its plush charm to this day. For the past 30 years, it has been a cult site for screenings of the film “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and shows many recently released films in their original language.
As well as stands full of antiques and pottery, the Auer Dult also brings in the crowds with delicacies like grilled fish, Bratwurst sausages and doughnuts, as well as rides like the Ferris wheel and children’s carousel.
A few paces further towards the Isar and you’ve made it to Au. Originally filled with meadows (Au actually means meadow or floodplain), this area was mainly home to windmills and magnificent stately gardens. However, by the mid 1800s, Au had turned into the most heavily populated of Munich’s three suburb towns. Close to the centre and Gärtnerplatzviertel, this area is now a popular place to live, as well as being home to the Deutsche Museum.
The Au is probably most famous for the two Munich festivals that take place there every year: Auer Dult and the Starkbierfest (strong beer festival) on Nockherberg terrace.
Auer Dult began life as a church festival and international trade fair all the way back in 1310 before it merged with the Auer flea market in the 19th century. Nowadays, Auer Dult takes place three times a year, under the guise of the Maidult, Jakobidult and Kirchweihdult. As well as stands full of antiques and pottery, the market also brings in the crowds with delicacies like grilled fish, Bratwurst sausages and doughnuts, as well as rides like the Ferris wheel and children’s carousel.
Nockherberg terrace’s fame stretches far beyond the city of Munich. As part of the venue’s annual Starkbierfest, Nockherberg hosts the “Politiker Derblecken” where big-name politicians are roasted in a satirical musical cabaret.
Just around the corner at Zeppelinstrasse 41 is the birthplace of Au’s most famous resident among German-speaking people: Karl Valentin. His hilarious, off-the-wall theatre performances and stories tell the tale of the tough conditions for citizens living in this deprived former suburb in the 1920s and 30s. Visitors can learn all about the hidden meanings of his sayings and plays at the Valentin-Karlstadt-Musäum at Isartor gate.
Munich’s “Little Venice” lies on a peaceful stretch of the Auer Mühlbach stream in Mondstrasse. Even today, the idyllic stream reminds visitors of the era when the Isar was the main energy supplier for the city and its suburbs. Walks along Auer Mühlbach: www.auer-muehlbach.de
Have you become curious? In our format "Out and about with..." our author walks through Haidhausen with Gasteig managing director Max Wagner. He not only gives tips, but also tells us what he particularly likes about the area. You can read the interview here.