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 neighbourhoods best. This time: Actress and singer Maria Maschenka shows us Untergiesing.
The architecture in Untergiesing is still dominated by former workers’ hostels that date back to the 19th century. Making up the district of Giesing together with Obergiesing, this laid-back neighbourhood has a distinct charm of its own: in the nostalgic Mondstrasse you are transported back to a bygone age, and there is the constant murmur of a stream – the Auer Mühlbach – in the background. In between renovated structures and new buildings, open spaces have been resourcefully repurposed to create a tranquil townscape: for years now, this former labourers’ quarter has been developing into a very popular residential area. Actress, singer and cabaret artist Maria Maschenka is happy to confirm this: after all, she’s actually not a city person at all. Yet in spite of this – or perhaps precisely because of it – she feels perfectly at home in Untergiesing.
Ms Maschenka, you’ve been meaning to move back out to the countryside but you’ve now been living in Untergiesing for 19 years. How did that come about?
Yes, that’s right. Ever since I came to Munich, I’ve actually wanted to leave. I grew up in the country, you see – cities are too crowded and noisy for me. I always prefer to be outside in places where there’s peace and quiet.
So Untergiesing is a compromise?
Yes, because I can get to the Isarauen in no time – the floodplains of the Isar river. And then there’s this stream we’re standing next to here – the Auer Mühlbach. There’s a lot of greenery in Untergiesing.
We got off to a bit of a pushy start there without me introducing you first: you’re an actress, a singer, a cabaret artist – there’s a fluid connection between everything you do. Can you say which of them came first?
I used to sing in a children’s choir even before I went to school. So I’ve always been an entertainer, really. Improvisation and poetry were also things I got into early on. In my current programme Lügen, Lyrik und poetische Wahrheiten, (“Lies, Poetry and Poetic Truths”), I don’t just read from my writings, I actually perform them to a piano accompaniment. It’s both entertaining and serious – structured but free. Poetry, lyricism, singing – all of these things came to me very early on.
A colleague of mine was asking whether you could confirm what people say about Munich audiences, namely that they’re not particularly appreciative at concerts?
There’s a theory that city audiences are a bit jaded, and it is actually true. The people of Munich are said to be rather arrogant at times, too. But I’ve actually done performances where people have cheered and raved. The more upbeat, open and unfettered I am on stage, the more euphoric the audience is. By the way, wisecracks always go down well – as do stereotypes.
In improv theatre, a lot happens at the push of a button – you have to be funny and creative, everything happens quickly. How does that work?
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing: improv doesn’t necessarily have to be funny. A lot of people think improv theatre always has to be slapstick, but that’s not what I aspire to. At Improschmaus im Hofspielhaus, I often choose partners who don’t have set ideas about what they want – that’s important to me. There are rules – accept everything you’re given, keep it value-free and censorship-free. But I never know who’s going to offer me something or how quickly I’m going to respond. Combine that with teamwork, and it can take you anywhere. When I improvise songs and poems, the words just come to me – the creative process starts as soon as I open up.
So as long as you follow the rules, everything else is allowed?
Yes, that’s the protection the stage gives you. Everything is always allowed. From victim to perpetrator – I can be anything. Of course I can decide not to pick up on something the other person offers me, but then I can offer them something else instead. Otherwise you don't get anywhere and the game gets boring.
We’re taking a walk through Untergiesing right now. Can you give us a bit of an outline of the route and what to expect?
There are lots of projects dedicated to improving Untergiesing. There’s a former bus station near the railway bridge that's constantly being redesigned by artists, for example, and there’s a yurt on the railway embankment – it’s sort of a culture spot and a family meeting place at the same time. And of course we have to mention the Hexnhäusl (Ganswoanders). They have live music nearly every day there – it’s actually one of the most original venues in town.
Like a magical tree house for adults.
Absolutely! It’s made almost entirely of wood: it has this very rambling design so you constantly come across surprising nooks and crannies. In winter there are wood-burning stoves where you can put the logs on yourself. The clientele is totally diverse, and they serve vegan pizza as well as very good home-made fries, for example. Whenever I go there I always come out feeling spellbound.
And of course we can take a look at the old part of Untergiesing with its little houses and Hans-Mielich-Platz. But before that, let’s take a break at the duck pond – a fascinating place both in summer and winter.
The walk through Untergiesing slows down. On the ground floor of a building in Untere Weidenstrasse, a window is open, and Maria Maschenka peers in: there’s cooking going on, so she orders a portion of fries in her charmingly brash manner. The residents burst out laughing – it suddenly turns out they’re friends of our photographer Frank who has come along with me as always. We chat for a bit, then we continue on our way, passing Rosengarten, where there are some people doing yoga together. At the duck pond we see some cygnets; people are sitting on the benches reading or just gazing out onto the water. Final stop: the popular Hans-Mielich-Platz, which is bathed in gold evening light at this time of day.
Who would you tell to go to Untergiesing?
Everyone ought to take a look at everything here, really – but they shouldn't all come at the same time! If something is beautiful, everyone should see it.
How does Untergiesing differ from Obergiesing?
The first difference is that you have to go up the Zickzackbergerl to get to Obergiesing. On Tegernseer Landstrasse you have all the shops, down here it’s more crafts and trades. If you’re looking to take a relaxed stroll through the streets, I would tend to opt for Untergiesing. Up in Obergiesing it’s more frantic – there’s more noise and traffic.
We’re now sitting at Hans-Mielich-Platz, where there’s a great Greek restaurant and a wine shop. Let’s talk about the eateries here in the neighbourhood.
Right, well this is Taverna Likavitos – people come and sit here as soon as the sun shines on the square. The terrace is fully occupied through to closing time. There’s also a very good ice cream parlour, and if you go under the railway tracks you have another Greek restaurant, Lucullus. I personally like to go there because they serve generous helpings (laughs)!
Now let’s do some quick-fire questions. Here we go: Beer garden or bar?
Stage or camera?
Improv or script?
When I do improv, I’m my own director, playwright and author. With a script, I have guidance and can work on a role – so I have plenty of time to immerse myself in the character. That means I’m not limited to my own input. Both have their value and justification. Theatre is like diving, while improv is more like snorkelling.
Butterbrezn or Leberkassemmel?
Butterbrezn! I don’t eat much meat, but I do treat myself to a Leberkassemmel once a year!
Day or night?
I love the morning and also the night from 10 pm. You hear so much when things are still – that’s when I feel creative and inspired.
As a spectator: opera or cabaret?
Operetta! In opera, everyone always dies. There’s love, hatred, envy, jealousy. Operetta has such a wonderful lightness, and I can sing along with the songs. With cabaret, it’s the immediacy I love.
Munich or the rest of the world?
The rest of the world! I believe you should never focus on just one place. The world is everywhere and I just love to travel.
Untergiesing in three words?
Personal, multi-layered and leafy. That was four words.
We’ll take one out! Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us!