Colourful, traditional, diverse – Munich’s city districts. “Out and about with...” offers very personal insights through the eyes of the people who live here and who know their districts best. This time: Gasteig Managing Director Max Wagner shows us his Haidhausen.
I find myself strolling through Haidhausen with Max Wagner, Managing Director of the Gasteig cultural centre. This former workers’ quarter is an area of great charm today, thanks to its lovingly restored Herbergshäuser – the hostel buildings in which workers found lodgings in the past. The district is also known for its community spirit, which can be seen in the regular flea markets organised in the local courtyards. Other sights of interest include the French quarter, a few less well-known town squares and of course, since 1985, the Gasteig – Europe’s largest cultural centre. I spoke to Max Wagner about the upcoming renovation of the building and the interim accommodation it will be moving to in Sendling, but also his favourite place in the area, his fascination with the Isar and his private Lieder concerts. Out and about with Max Wagner!
We are sitting in the Wölfl patisserie. We have already completed half of our walk – what do you particularly like about this route?
This route is like my walk to school (laughs). Every morning I walk to the Gasteig and then back. The most beautiful part is crossing the river every morning and enjoying how the Isar looks, which is different every day. It is a wild river – sometimes dark green, sometimes light green and sometimes it even rises far above its banks. You can also go along the walkway that separates the Auer Mühlbach from the Isar river if you want to linger for a while in the meadows along the Isar – or you can just head straight for the Gasteig, past the Muffatwerk art and culture venue and its beer garden.
The Müllersche Volksbad (indoor swimming pool) is right beside it…
Yes, I think it’s a wonderful example of the art nouveau style, and you can still use the swimming pools and sauna there today. As you can see, there’s lots to discover on this route; every day, I notice something different along the way.
That sounds fantastic. And now back to Café Wölfl. What’s so special about this patisserie?
It’s one of my favourite places in the whole of Munich! I love cake and they have such a huge range of gateaux and cakes here. It’s really a retreat for me.
We have three large pieces of cake in front of us here. I’ll take a piece now…
…I think mine’s better than yours.
Do you like to share, or would you rather not if your piece of cake really is the better one?
It depends; we are brought up to share willingly, but I’m the kind of person who immediately notices if my own piece is bigger than the other person’s (laughs).
Did you stumble upon this café because it’s so close to the Gasteig?
Yes, it just caught my eye. When arranging to celebrate starting my new job, I was thinking about what I could do with my colleagues and I ultimately decided on coffee and cake. It was love at first sight.
Who would you recommend the little walk we just took to?
I would recommend it to anyone who is already familiar with the main highlights of the city, but wants to discover what makes Munich so special – anyone who would like to see how people live here. Everything we’ve seen that is connected with the Isar river is truly special. When you get to know Munich better, you come to realise that this river plays a major emotional role for everyone here.
I always like to ask what’s unique to each particular neighbourhood. Is the route across the Kabelsteg bridge to the Isar meadows the thing you would pick out?
Yes. A special thing about Munich is its many streams and rivers – not just the Eisbach, which is pretty well-known, but also the Auer Mühlbach. Some of them aren’t even visible any more, but the water is still there, and I believe that the feeling of being “in flow” is a part of the city.
We sit a while longer, and when the patisserie closes we make our way through Haidhausen towards Weißenburger Platz.
I would like to recommend Café Noel here on Weißenburger Platz. For lunch especially! Their dishes are all really delicious and prepared with a lot of care.
And what do you like about the square itself?
It has such an enchanted air. It is not very widely known, but it has a beautiful fountain and lots of benches. There is a great Christmas market here in winter too. They hang so many lights from the trees – it’s really festive!
Before we head back to the cultural centre, we pay a short visit to the Buchhandlung am Gasteig bookshop, because Max Wagner has a well-earned holiday coming up and he’s on the hunt for some suitable reading material. He opts for a book by Oskar Maria Graf, one of his favourite authors. Next we return to the Gasteig, and head all the way to the top...
...until we are on the roof, which isn’t even open to the public yet!
That’s right. I think this roof terrace is going to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city when it’s completely finished in five or six years. You’re just getting a preliminary taste today, as we’re standing on the flat roof of the Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert hall. What’s great here is that it puts you at the right distance from everything: there’s a fantastic view of many city landmarks, but of course you can also see all the way to the mountains.
Let me ask you about your very busy schedule: what are you spending most of your time on at the moment?
The Gasteig renovation, which goes hand-in-hand with building our interim venue in Sendling. We will all be moving there: the University of Music, the library, the Adult Education Centre and the Philharmonic Orchestra. The Gasteig will close in about a year (as at September 2020).
A lot will be happening here while we are in our temporary accommodation. Apart from the roof terrace, can you tell us about another highlight of what’s in-store here?
Yes – I can tell you about two, actually! First, we will be working on improving the acoustics in the Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert hall. We have engaged the world-renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota to work on the project, and we are delighted to have him on board. We will also be installing the “Glasriegel”, a glass-walled addition that will wrap from the front of the building right through to the back. We call it the Kulturbrücke (culture bridge) because it extends the Gasteig outwards and links the whole centre together.
What role does the Gasteig play for you today, at a time when cultures are becoming ever-more blended and with Munich being so international?
What makes it special is the diversity of its offerings. Our task is to act as a platform for the city and facilitate encounters that cross various layers of society. The Gasteig is a deeply democratic place – somewhere you can experience a lot, but also a place where people can simply be; a meeting place in a non-commercial context.
You are a lawyer and also a singer. Do you actually get to do much singing these days?
Yes, I recently gave a song recital. When things are particularly stressful, I need that balance. That evening I sang some of Schubert’s well-known songs and also some less familiar ones.
Was hören Sie sich in Ihrer Freizeit gerne an?
To be honest, I don’t do that much because I listen to so much for my work. So sometimes I just like to enjoy the silence. At the moment though, I am very interested in South American and Mexican boleros. The passion, love and death – the hyperbole! (laughs)
Let’s stay on the subject of music for a while. What band ought people to know about? Or which song gives a good feel of Munich?
I grew up in the 1980s, so I would say Skandal im Sperrbezirk by the Spider Murphy Gang. That song is just brimming with the spirit of Munich. Whenever I go out and hear it, it always makes me happy.
Where do you like to go other than Haidhausen?
I go to Schwabing, as I used to live there. There’s lots to see aside from Leopoldstraße. But I can also recommend the French quarter here in Haidhausen. I am actually meeting someone there after this.
Do you also know of any quiet places that are not so well known?
Hmm, let me think for a moment. My husband and I enjoy going for walks along the upper bank of the Isar. If you walk up as far as the Church of St. Georg in Bogenhausen, you come out at a big meadow. There is a really meditative mood there, especially at sunset.
That sounds like an insider tip, thank you! Of course, the last word goes to you – what would you like to tell locals and tourists about the Gasteig?
The sentence “If I go to the Gasteig, I’ll find something there that interests me" is certainly true – and this is why I’ll be really happy if lots of people follow us to Sendling. I’m always saying the interim location will be iconic and I look forward to seeing a new generation of regulars there.
Thank you very much for the walk!