Munich’s royal monuments

Four kings and a prince regent

Bavaria was a kingdom from 1806 to 1918, and the city boasts some magnificent monuments that commemorate the sovereigns who ruled during this period. Each monument has a story to tell. Read on to discover their locations and what makes them so special.

The Maximilian I Joseph monument: an unwilling sitter

In 1820 Munich’s municipal authorities decided to commission a monument to Bavaria’s first king at the citizens’ expense; the ruler’s art-loving son Ludwig then took over the planning of the memorial in 1824. His initial models represented the king sitting on his throne. Rather than conveying an imposing figure high on horseback, or at least on foot, the intention with the enthroned composition was to convey the gentle, paternal nature of the affable regent. However, the king himself felt that the seated pose looked less like he was on his royal throne than in a humbler situation, and declared that under no circumstances did he want to be portrayed “on the crapper”.

The plans were put on hold until the king died the following year, when his son and successor, now Ludwig I, resumed the task. He was still pleased with his initial design so he took it forward, and the monument was eventually inaugurated on the tenth anniversary of Maximilian I Joseph’s death, 13 October 1835.

Whether it looks more like a throne, a toilet or even a bar stool from which the king is ordering three beers in the Spatenhaus restaurant opposite, Munich locals enjoy hanging out with the former head of state today and bask in the sun with him on the square in front of the Nationaltheater (opera house).

Location: Max-Joseph-Platz

The equestrian statue of King Ludwig I: from the King of Bavaria to the King of Pop

Unlike his father, King Ludwig I of Bavaria is heroically immortalised astride a horse, and with two pages in attendance bearing plaques inscribed with the king’s motto: Gerecht & Beharrlich (just and persistent).

This monument is not the only lasting impression he left on the city though: with his most important architects, Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gärtner, Ludwig shaped Munich’s urban centre by designing numerous buildings that beautify the cityscape to this day. Just a small selection of their creations: Odeonsplatz and its Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall); Ludwigstrasse and the Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) on it; the university and Siegestor (gate); Königsplatz, including the Glyptothek art gallery and the Propyläen (Propylaea); and the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) with Bavaria statue on the Theresienwiese.

With Ludwig already responsible for so much, finding the perfect site for a monument to him was challenging. Leo von Klenze eventually suggested the current location – however, two other statues first had to be removed to make space, one of which was a statue of composer Orlande de Lassus. That statue was moved to its current site at Promenadeplatz, where it would go on to much later become an unofficial monument to a different type of royalty: Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.

Location: Northwest corner of Odeonsplatz

The “Maxmonument” or Maximilian II monument: a king and fan of traditional dress

Maximilian II ascended to the throne after his father Ludwig I was forced to abdicate following an affair with Irish-born dancer Lola Montez. Where Ludwig loved classicism above all, Maximilian pioneered a completely new approach and put his own stamp on the cityscape with what came to be known as the “Maximiliansstil” architectural style; it is said that Ludwig I loathed it so much that he would habitually avoid Maximilianstrasse.

Today Maximilianstrasse is renowned for luxury shopping and designer fashion, of which Maximilian himself is unlikely to approve, given that he was a great promoter of “Tracht”, traditional dress. He believed adopting traditional costume would strengthen the sense of a Bavarian identity – in the face of efforts toward German unity at national level. As well as wearing a traditional woollen Trachtenjanker jacket and lederhosen for hunting, he urged all state officials to wear traditional dress, with the consequence that it became socially acceptable, and to this day remains a popular alternative to standard evening dress.

But rather than depicting Maximilian in his Trachtenjanker, the monument has him wearing coronation regalia, accompanied by four figures representing the sovereign virtues: love of peace, justice, strength and wisdom. So it’s left to those currently governing the state of Bavaria to wear the Trachtenjanker!

Location: Intersection of Maximilianstrasse and Thierschstrasse

The Ludwig II monument: a statue but no Semper opera house

King Ludwig II loved the mountains and lakes of Bavaria more than the city, and he preferred life as a visionary and dreamer than a statesman and politician – so it’s no surprise that he never had a really warm relationship with Munich.

Known as the Fairytale King, he has since become beloved in the city too, though he continues to keep a low profile: while statues honouring his forebears adorn the central squares of the city, Ludwig II has a comparatively simple monument, hidden away in the Maximiliansanlagen public gardens in Bogenhausen.

Larger than life, he stands on a block of sandstone, framed by images showing his royal palaces of Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein. The fourth image is of a festival hall that was never built: Ludwig II had planned a magnificent building designed by architect Gottfried Semper, sited close to this statue and intended to provide an appropriate setting for the music-dramas of Richard Wagner.

The story of this king’s relationship with Munich is not over yet. There is currently a bust of Ludwig II on the Corneliusbrücke (bridge), which was erected to replace a magnificent bronze monument from 1910 to Ludwig II that was melted down during the war. Since 2014, the owners of the Hotel Deutsche Eiche have spearheaded a campaign to rebuild the monument in the form of a romantic ruin, in keeping with Ludwig’s taste.

Location: In the Maximiliansanlagen public gardens beside 5 Maria-Theresia-Strasse

Prince Regent Luitpold: the omnipresent representative of the king

If Bavaria was a kingdom, how did it suddenly come under the rule of a Prince Regent? After Ludwig II was declared mentally unfit, his uncle Luitpold took over his government responsibilities. The “reigning Prince” Luitpold then continued in office even after Ludwig’s tragic death, because Ludwig’s younger brother, King Otto I of Bavaria, was also deemed unfit to govern.

Even today, the era of the Prince Regent’s reign is considered as “the good old days” in Bavaria. With his competence and popularity, Luitpold succeeded in overcoming the dissatisfaction that had begun to spread through the population upon his appointment as Prince Regent.

As well as Prinzregentenstrasse and the Prinzregententheater, he is memorialised in Prinzregententorte, a popular multi-layered sponge and buttercream torte with a topping of apricot jam, ensuring his name is still on everybody’s lips today. The city also has a number of monuments dedicated to Luitpold, including the equestrian statue in front of the Nationalmuseum, the Prinzregent-Luitpold terrace under the Friedensengel (monument) statue and the statue at Munich’s Justizpalast (Palace of Justice).

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But the best-known of his Munich monuments is undoubtedly the horseback statue that stands as the central monument in the middle of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). It has almost the entire lineage of the Wittelsbach dynasty depicted on its façade; furthermore, because the Rathaus was completed during Luitpold’s rule, he was afforded the most prominent spot.

Luitpold was succeeded by his son Ludwig III, who became the last King of Bavaria in 1913. The 1918 November Revolution brought an end to the 700-year reign of the Wittelsbach family as dukes, electors and kings. There is no monument to King Ludwig III in Munich.

Location: Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) on Marienplatz (main square)



Text: Peter Kiser; Photos: Frank Stolle


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