The so called French Quarter as a part of Haidhausen is perhaps Munich’s most liberal district. Veteran leftist thinkers live here among progressive gallery ventures. It is a place where people appreciate quality without feeling the need to show off about it – and a neighbourhood that never fails to surprise.
The thought might hit you: this could easily be Paris. You can see rows of trees symmetrically framing the square, neatly mown grass, colourful flower beds bordering greens to the east and west and a fountain burbling in the middle – all against a backdrop of historic buildings painted in pink, yellow and dusty blue. Is this the Place des Vosges? No, it’s actually Bordeauxplatz in Haidhausen – not as glamorous as Paris nor as ornate as Bordeaux itself, but cosier, quieter, more unpretentious.
Although the square boasts better views and more space than most other places in this east Munich district, it is rather puny compared to its brothers in France’s metropolises – and that is precisely why it fits in so well here. After all, Haidhausen is compact, described by some as a village within the city. It’s a populous neighbourhood of narrow, densely built-up streets, periodically interrupted by a circular plaza where a central fountain takes the spotlight: Weissenburger Platz, Pariser Platz, Orleansplatz.
Known as the French Quarter – which is no surprise given the number of French city and regional names that appear on its street signs, such as Sedan, Balan, Lothringen and Belfort. These names were not chosen to mark a great friendship with a near neighbour – on the contrary in fact. They commemorate events such as the devastating blow that the German army dealt French forces in Sedan during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, for example, and the defeat of a counter-attack by Germany’s former arch-enemy in Balan.
Haidhausen is compact, described by some as a village within the city. It’s a populous neighbourhood of narrow, densely built-up streets, periodically interrupted by a circular plaza where a central fountain takes the spotlight.
That’s how these streets were named back when Haidhausen started to transform from a slum to a working class neighbourhood from 1870 – in honour of the many victories of the powerful German army. Of course these days, there is no trace of cannons, blood or national pageantry to be found on Sedanstrasse, where people come to shop and dine.
1260 Grad is a ceramic workshop and boutique offering handmade porcelain and wonderfully simple stoneware, while the Rosenkavalier florist a little further along the street sells elaborate floral arrangements and bouquets for romantics and enthusiasts. Shops like these can be found all around this area: little craft businesses that devote a huge amount of time and care to the details of what they sell. This approach comes at a cost – though the locals here can afford it. Haidhausen’s slum days are long in the past, and the neighbourhood is now mainly inhabited by the very wealthy.
What’s strange is that it doesn’t really feel like a fancy neighbourhood when you stroll through it: there’s nothing ostentatious or overblown, and nothing feels excessive. There is an air of alternative culture in the ambience here, though not the type characterised by partying punks and exuberant Bohemian art. In fact, what you might think of as “cool” is noticeably absent. Instead, an old-fashioned type of sustainability prevails here: fair-trade products, small shops, no chain stores, and a peaceful lifestyle.
Haidhausen really does seem more like a village. People greet each other on the streets, regularly visit specialist shops run by people who are passionate about their work, get together in inns, and believe in quality and a cosy atmosphere. They can find just what they seek at Café im Hinterhof, also on Sedanstrasse. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Paris establishments frequented by the Expressionists in the 1920s, and it serves simple and unpretentious food to patrons wearing natural fabrics and muted tones, enjoying the terrace surrounded by greenery. Nobody in Haidhausen is interested in being fashion forward – but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here.
In fact, what you might think of as “cool” is noticeably absent. Instead, an old-fashioned type of sustainability prevails here: fair-trade products, small shops, no chain stores, and a peaceful lifestyle.
There are a lot of bars in this district. With just three tables, Barroom on Milchstrasse is Munich’s smallest bar, and you can expect a very personal service there, including a drinks recommendation tailored to your mood and preferences. Rum cocktails are a house speciality. The Maria Passagne, just around the corner, is similarly intimate though a little more spacious. This cosy, red-walled cave of a place serves various sushi dishes to accompany your drink – totally out of the ordinary for a bar in Germany, but it’s actually a clever idea. A generous bite of fish just paves the way for another strong drink, after all. The Maria Passagne is a great place for drinking late in to the night, and before you get there you could enjoy an excellent evening meal in the Polka on Pariser Platz. This restaurant serves Bavarian, Tyrolean and South Tyrolean meals, with a Mediterranean twist which counters their inherent stodginess – all without any pretentiousness or ceremony, of course. After all, we are in Haidhausen.
If dinner leaves you unwilling to wander far for your evening drinks, you can actually just go downstairs into the cellar at the Polka, where DJs and bartenders will help you extend your evening in the best possible way. You can get the night going with beer or spirits and mixers, soundtracked by soul, disco or whatever the DJ of the moment favours. The next day – after you’ve sobered up and your hangover has abated – why not pay a visit to the Lothringer 13 gallery to take in some contemporary art? Beyond the big museums. Quieter, more private and often more experimental than the bustling Kunstareal. It’s a hidden gem, like so many things in Haidhausen, but easy to find – and another reason to stay longer in this village in the city.