Maxvorstadt is not only the home of a world-class art district; it also boasts a richly diverse gastronomic offering and is a magnet for young creatives. Entrepreneur and restaurateur Niels Jäger has been living here for 25 years. He knows every corner of the neighbourhood and has a bar in which he is able to quite wonderfully gather his community around him.
On a hot summer’s day, Jäger takes a leisurely turn onto Luisenstrasse and stops in front of the Von & Zu café. In his bicycle basket he is carrying a basketball, which will be called on later. And this agile mode of transport is just the right thing for cruising around the district. It’s a great way to get around at an easy pace, keeping an eye on everything around and exchanging greetings every so often. A necessity, because it quickly becomes apparent that Niels Jäger knows a lot of people here in Maxvorstadt, and he likes to wave to them from his bicycle, stop for a quick chat, join them to watch the sunset on Schellingstrasse and envelop them in hearty hugs. One of those people is Antonio von Schirnding, the owner of Von & Zu. The pair sit at a table in the café and restaurant’s secret garden at Paul-Heyse-Villa, where you can also buy excellent wine.
The garden is a little gem near the Glyptothek art gallery; elegantly overgrown with big, old trees, spreading wide to create a cool, shaded retreat. This is one of Jäger’s favourite places in his neighbourhood.
The garden is a little gem near the Glyptothek art gallery; elegantly overgrown with big, old trees, spreading wide to create a cool, shaded retreat. This is one of Jäger’s favourite places in his neighbourhood. He and Antonio enthuse about the annual Von & Zu summer festival, during which hundreds of people come to dance under the canopy of the trees, drink wine and enjoy themselves. The festival is set to go ahead this year, but after that the café and garden will sadly have to make way for a real estate project.
So you should hurry up if you want to come and enjoy a glass of rosé in this little oasis. “It means one less place that functions outside of the mainstream and is a little more alternative than the others – it’s sad,” says Jäger. But of course he still loves his home district, where he has been living for 25 years, and he knows every corner of it. Many of those corners are among the most beautiful in Munich, including the museums towards which Jäger is now pedalling.
Jäger used to work as a doorman and a barkeeper, and for more than ten years now he has been one of the best-known restaurateurs in the city.
In front of the Alte Pinakothek art gallery there is a welcoming green expanse dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore, Erich Hauser and Fritz Koenig – but Jäger’s destination is a little further off. It is a narrow basketball court, hidden behind some chestnut trees at the east end of the park. “I’ve spent a lot of time here over the past 15 years. The court manages to have obvious shortcomings and yet be completely perfect. It’s actually much too small, the table tennis table is in the way, the three-point line is hardly visible – and the basket is blocked from various directions by overhanging branches.
In spite of all that, there’s so much here that is just right: the playground directly behind the basket is usually frequented by helpful kids (in case the ball ends up in there) and on sunny days the picnic areas on the grass beside the court are second to none. So there are always some friends and acquaintances nearby!” says Jäger as he starts dribbling the ball he brought.
It is immediately clear that he’s a good player. He can score from any distance and his movements are practised. Basketball has long been an important part of Niels Jäger’s life. He played in the German regional league, presented a television show about the sport and later went on to found streetwear label K1X as well as the Kickz chain. Basketball gave his life direction, though it has been far from his only focus for a long time.
Basketball has long been an important part of Niels Jäger’s life. He played in the German regional league, presented a television show about the sport and later went on to found streetwear label K1X as well as the Kickz chain.
Jäger used to work as a doorman and a barkeeper, and for more than ten years now he has been one of the best-known restaurateurs in the city. Together with some friends, he set up Bar Edmoses and house club Bob Beaman, both of which have since closed, as well as Hotel Flushing Meadows on Fraunhoferstrasse, which boasts one of the most beautiful bars in Munich, and the James T. Hunt bar, located right next to his home on Schellingstrasse.
The ball swishes through the basket without even touching the ring. Jäger is having a good time on the court. “I organise a three-on-three tournament here every year with twelve teams. We set up a sound system and spectators crowd in around the court, getting packed in and forming a little Colosseum of people.” The event is called ‘Park Authority’.
Now the ball goes back in his bicycle basket. There’s a short stop at the Museum Brandhorst. “This is my favourite museum. I like the architecture, the front is photogenic and the curating is A1.” There’s also a weekly farmer’s market behind the museum, where he buys groceries. “The fruit and veg stall is brilliant. Cheap and really good quality. You have to get here early, otherwise you’ll be queuing forever.”
Off we go again. Jäger cycles down Türkenstrasse, passing bars, cafés, the Hipsterbäcker bread shop and superstar bakery Julius Brantner, supplier to the city’s award-winning restaurants. “People are often queuing there, too – myself included. But that’s fair enough, as his bread is outstanding! Incidentally, ‘Jay Bee’ – Julius Brantner – is seeking a new location in the area; whoever finds a suitable site can expect free bread for life and no need to queue, apparently. The best bon mot in reference to this summer’s controversial spontaneous late-night parties on Türkenstrasse came from DJ Pretty Boy, who attributed the large crowds to the “wholegrain spelt launch party at Brantner.”
The Academy of Fine Arts at the end of Türkenstrasse is our next stop. The expansive Renaissance Revival building gleams in the sun, its huge windows reflecting the bright blue sky. “It’s a real highlight when the students exhibit their works in the Academy in summer. I love going in to have a look – you never know what you’ll see, but it is always worth it. Another great place to be is the steps in front of the ‘Aka’, as it’s known – that’s where the local young people meet in the evenings.”
It’s immediately evident that Maxvorstadt is a young neighbourhood. The tables in front of the bar are a great vantage point from which to watch the hustle and bustle.
And now we head to Niels Jäger’s bar, the James T. Hunt on Schellingstrasse, where he wants to wait for sunset. A few people are already sitting in front of the bar, which is decorated entirely in black and serves outstanding cocktails and long drinks. The June sun is still beating down on the footpath as the students stroll by. It’s immediately evident that Maxvorstadt is a young neighbourhood. The tables in front of the bar are a great vantage point from which to watch the hustle and bustle. People in airy clothing walk by, and occasionally fancy cars pass in the direction of Ludwigstrasse, their drivers readying themselves to show off their rides along Leopoldstrasse.
Jäger warmly greets the waitresses and the barman and orders a bottle of rosé and some ice. It’s showtime. Friends and acquaintances accumulate slowly around him and order drinks and dinner – pizza, pasta, salads. The neighbourhood master of ceremonies is holding court. People chat and laugh and hug, there are clinking glasses and the bottles empty. Jäger tells me that they have been celebrating a friend’s birthday here every Wednesday – for weeks.
And the light on Schellingstrasse slowly changes from glaring yellow to orange. “The sunsets we get here are so beautiful,” he says. And it’s true. The James T. Hunt is a perfect sundowner venue – the ideal place to end a stroll or bike ride through the district. Niels Jäger probably once felt the lack of a place like this in his neighbourhood. But no problem – a person like him will just build it themselves.