Picturesque backyards, the beautiful banks of the Isar, an island in the middle of the river – the Au is Munich's most idyllic district, some also call it "Munich's last village". Hardly anyone knows their way around there better than Benjamin Röder: artist, internationally sought-after DJ and bar operator. A stroll through the district with a bohemian and bon vivant – as authentic and cool as his neighbourhood.
The sleep of a short night is still lingering in Benjamin Röder's eyes when we meet him in front of his bar Charlie in Schyrenstrasse. It's just after nine, which for a bar owner and DJ means it's still deep night. He has put on dark sunglasses against the glaring morning sun that is about to accompany us through the Au. First, we head for Anna's Fruchtmarkt on Humboldtstrasse, a mixture of stand-up café, high-end Italian takeaway and fresh-produce market, with a lively atmosphere buoyed by the good humour of the staff and especially Anna, the owner. After the first double espresso, Benny, as they call him in the neighbourhood, has regained his composure and leads us to his favourite spots.
Röder, 41, has studied sculpture. His father is an antiques dealer, so Röder spent much of his childhood at Munich's antiques markets: in Kunstpark Ost, in Riem, on Dachauer Strasse. "And because Munich's nightlife has traditionally developed around art and antique markets, and the two are thus closely intertwined, I also grew up into the music scene."
At the age of 16, he started working in Munichs clubs, first at the cash register, then, at some point, he started DJing. Today, his name is inseparably linked with the city's music, party and nightlife. Together with a partner, Röder regularly organises large open-air parties at special locations in Munich, for example in the Olympiapark, on the platform in the lake and on Olympiaturm for the 50th anniversary. As the host for these parties, Benjamin Röder invites DJs from many countries to spin. For him, one thing is important: Free admission to his so-called hytop parties.
When Röder comes back to Munich from New York, for example, with the "dangerous, dirty, chaotic metropolitan feeling still in his luggage", he feels sheltered again.
But Röder is more than a local celebrity – he calls himself a "travelling DJ". He has already received invitations to DJ all the way from New York to Kiev. And soon he expects the popular Ukrainian DJ Pavel Plastik from Kiev as a guest, "who will then DJ in my bar Charlie". Strictly speaking, this bar is no longer in the Au, but already on the border with Untergiesing. "But my neighbourhood," says Röder, "that's the Au!"
Benjamin Röder has leased out the Obalski restaurant on the ground floor. From five o'clock the restaurant starts filling up, from eleven at night, the guests gradually move to the basement, to bar Charlie, where the evening events take place. For me, designing a club room is like setting up an exhibition," says Benny. And indeed, the Charlie feels like a meticulously conceived work of art: When you walk down the stairs expecting a dark room designed in the familiar canon of underground clubs, you're in for a surprise: the doors and walls are painted marshmallow pink, and on the wall hangs a work by artist Christian Leitner depicting a rotating propeller.
We follow Röder into the next room, where music from the 90s is blaring at night: House, disco, techno, synthpop, but also free style and R&B – a potpourri of danceable electronics. "These styles of music," he admits, "may no longer be the latest craze, but they form the basis of club culture."
Although Röder travels all over the world as a DJ, he never thought of leaving Munich. "I was born and raised in Munich and will probably die here," he says. We are now standing on the idyllic banks of the Isar, the Isarauen, from which the district took its name. In summer, the Isarauen and the island are transformed into one huge city beach. Young and old play football, frisbee, swim and chill out. "For me, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the city," Röder enthuses.
He came to the Au via Glockenbachviertel, on the other side of the river, where he has his artist's studio. "A quiet neighbourhood – that's why the Au is actually a contrast to my life as a travelling DJ. Laid back, wholesome, almost sedate.” When Röder comes back to Munich from New York, for example, with the "dangerous, dirty, chaotic metropolitan feeling still in his luggage", he feels sheltered again. "The Au is not a big-city neighbourhood. It has more the charm of a village, it's a kind of refuge. I feel comfortable here and have the feeling of staying physically and mentally healthy."
As we continue our walk across Mariahilfplatz (square), the heart of the Au and famous for its bustling traditional fair Auer Dult, passers-by keep greeting him – it seems that everyone here knows Benny Röder.
And he knows Florian Falterer, the friendly owner of Café Crönlein, a little further up the Nockherberg, on the southern edge of the Au. A few years ago, the trained gardener noticed an antique public urinal from the Munich Art Nouveau period below the Kronepark with its old trees and spacious playground, "an enchanted jewel that has not been used for a long time". The urinal was part of a small house. Falterer applied for the lease from the city, gutted the stone building together with friends in months of work with hammer and chisel and turned it into what it is today: an elegant little café-bar.
At the age of 16, he started working in Munichs clubs, first at the cash register, then, at some point, he started DJing. Today, his name is inseparably linked with the city's music, party and nightlife.
Above the small stone house, a staircase leads up to a plateau that Falterer has converted into an outdoor bar area. There and in the elaborately restored little house, you can enjoy delicious mixed drinks, homemade lemonade, waffles on a stick and tasty homemade pizza while letting your eyes wander across the Isar, the backyards of Untergiesing and the Au.
Röder has known Falterer for a long time. "I used to play music with him," he says. "And his Crönlein is the most beautiful way for me to open up new places." Röder likes the fact that Falterer pays attention to where the products he uses for his dishes come from. "And – what I personally find very important, of course," says Röder, "is that he regularly has live bands perform there."
We continue along the banks of the Isar towards Deutsches Museum. And in virtually no time, we've completed our walk across Röder's Au. Our last stop is a place distinctive to the Au district – Museum Lichtspiele in Lilienstrasse, the oldest cinema in the city. Röder has admired operator Matthias Stolz for years for his tireless commitment to screening good films. "At a time when cinemas in general are dying out, this is a challenge." In addition to current films, the cinema also shows the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", and has done so continuously since 1977. Röder says: "For me, Museum Lichtspiele is the gateway of the Au district to the glittering world of film."
Just like his bar Charlie, located on the opposite side of the Au, on the edge of Untergiesing, is the gateway from the tranquil Au to the loud, booming world of colourful, danceable electronics.