When our author still lived in the Westend, the Westpark was one of her regular leisure destinations. Now, after quite a while, she visited it again and noticed: Whether East Asia gardens, sculptures, walking paths, barbecue areas, beer gardens, sunbathing lawns or playgrounds: The park still has what it takes to make many people happy.
For my friend Connie, this was her first holiday job as a schoolgirl. From the end of April to the beginning of October 1983, she stood under the dark green trellis arch on weekends, in sunshine and rain, and handed out brochures to the visitors of the International Garden Exhibition (Internationale Gartenausstellung (IGA)). Back then, 23 national gardens were presented on the site of the just-completed Westpark – from Mediterranean vegetation to Japanese gardens. Some of the planting and design of that time has survived to this day. Unbelievable: Westpark is celebrating its 40th birthday in 2023!
Before the IGA came into play, there were various plans for the former industrial wasteland at the end of the Lindau motorway – hair-raising projects from the 1970s, such as an extension of the motorway to Lindwurmstrasse and a large car park for the then trade fairgrounds on Theresienhöhe. The residents of the surrounding districts of Sendling, Laim and the nearby Westend, on the other hand, demanded a park for local recreation and were fortunately listened to.
It wasn't long ago that I came here myself to unwind on my daily jogs through the park. Depending on my fitness, I would run one or two laps, sometimes on main asphalt paths, other times on hidden trails up and down the slopes. Only later did I find out that I also owed my running bliss to the clever considerations of Munich landscape architect Peter Kluska. His concept of the many nature-oriented side paths still ensures places of tranquillity in one of the most-visited urban gardens.
In 1976, Kluska won the architectural competition for Westpark. His plan was to create a park, shielded from the noise of the big city, forming a kind of mini pre-Alpine landscape with hills, valleys and waters – incidentally, in a deliberate allusion to the landscape concept of Munich Olympiapark (Olympic Park).
For most Westend residents, Westpark replaces their own garden, as it did for me back then. For my big-city kids, it was a play paradise. We spent countless summer afternoons on the water playground or on the giant slides, organised paper chases through the park on birthdays or lingered entire Sundays on the lawn at the municipal play mobile. I also have particularly fond memories of snowy winter days when I pulled my little daughter on a sled from the toboggan run in the Westpark through the streets, all the way home to Westend.
All these places are still well-frequented today, for example, the “Fit in the Park” sports programme, which takes place on the lawn in the western part of the park every evening from May onwards. Anyone can join in, from spry pensioners to young fathers who just want to do a few exercises on the side until their baby wakes up in the pram.
The loud cackling of geese announces the “Gans am Wasser“ construction trailer café from afar. In 2016, it replaced the old 1980s café in Westpark, which I really don't miss. Instead of ice lollies from the freezer or defrosted apple pie, there's really good stuff to eat here now: In addition to freshly baked cakes and vegetarian and vegan snacks, a barbecue booth by Metzger Bauch, a butcher's shop from the Schlachthofviertel district, contributes to the culinary selection. The highlight is handmade organic fries. Operator Julian Hahn did extensive research and tried out several potato varieties, until he found the optimal one for his fries.
A look at the website of the “Gans“ gives an overview of the open food stalls and the current cultural programme. The café has the charm of a giant adventure playground and is open all year round. Live concerts are held here regularly with admission on a donation basis. In winter, there is now an idyllic Christmas market. People of all ages feel comfortable on the sun-drenched terrain overlooking the lake, the ducks and the bald cypresses rooting in the shallow water.
Much has remained of what was planted in 1983: the wetland biotope with indigenous plants, the farmers' garden around the historical Bayerwald farmhouse from 1748, the nature-oriented fern ravine, the rose garden, the East Asia ensemble in the western part of the park and a botanical speciality: the Präriegarten. Experts see this as an interplay of low-maintenance and heat-resistant flowers, shrubs and grasses that look beautiful all year round. This garden form suggests wild growth according to a meticulous plan and is considered a typically German invention, which is why it is known internationally as the “New German Style“.
Years ago, a visit to the Präriegarten, located in the immediate vicinity of the Rosengarten (rose garden) in Westpark, was at the top of the wish list of a group of British garden journalists I was mentoring at the time. This plantation is considered a pioneer garden for sustainable gardening and thus a “must see” for experts. My guests from the motherland of horticulture bowed in awe over tiny wild tulips, daffodils and dwarf irises that bloomed there among straw-yellow stalks.
Indeed, our summers are getting hotter and hotter, and there is too little rain. Even garden markets now see the end of the irrigation-intensive English lawn and are promoting climate-adapted planting. “Maybe your lawn would actually prefer to be a meadow”, I read on one of their posters the other day. If you want to give back a piece of nature to your garden, a visit to the Präriegarten in Munich`s Westpark will give you valuable suggestions for designing your home garden in a way that is close to nature and thus also bee and insect-friendly.
A typical Bavarian beer garden is a must in any self-respecting green space in Munich. Westpark has two of them. One is near the Rosengarten (in bad weather you can also stop off at the Wirtshaus am Rosengarten, which is unfortunately still closed at the moment due to a change of tenants), the other is called “Hopfengarten“ and is located at the Audi Dome, the training and playing venue of the FC Bayern basketball team. Now that the pandemic is over, there will definitely be live music and dancing with local bands again in summer.
One minute you're sitting in a Bavarian beer garden, the next you find yourself completely perplexed in front of a nine-metre-high golden temple with a Buddha statue perched on a platform in the water. It is part of the East Asia Ensemble, which was preserved after the 1983 IGA at the request of the people of Munich
The Thai Sala temple houses the first free-standing Buddha statue in Europe. The adjacent traditional Japanese garden was contributed to the exhibition by Munich´s partner city Sapporo. Just opposite, a few steps lead up to a pagoda made of dark wood. It was carved by 300 craftsmen in Nepal especially for the IGA.
In contrast, the designing of the neighbouring Chinese “Garden of Fragrance and Splendour”, which is only accessible in the warm season, did not require much more than a handful of gardeners from the Chinese province of Canton. The gift from China was a sign of the country's opening up in the 1980s and the intensification of relations with Germany, then still called the Federal Republic of Germany.
Every year, on the first full moon in May, the Vesakh festival takes place at the golden temple on the lakeside, around the Nepal pagoda, in the Japanese garden and on the neighbouring lakeside stage. This is to celebrate the birthday of Buddha. It is the most important Buddhist festival and accordingly colourful and festive, with everyone invited. The arrival of the Buddha statue is accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese lion dance and a group of Thai dancers. A family programme with music, ceremonies and vegetarian delicacies provides an insight into Asian culture. The traditional highlight – and at the same time the conclusion of the celebration – is the procession of lights around the Thai Sala after dark.
The summer open-air cinema “Kino, Mond und Sterne” promises “The best nights of the year” on the lake stage right next to the Asian gardens. From June to September, visitors can enjoy the selection of the year's most popular films from picnic blankets and from the stone steps of the amphitheatre.
Westpark is also a sculpture park. My favourite sculptor, Lothar Fischer, for example, one of the most renowned German sculptors after the Second World War, is represented with his work “Large Male Bust” at the entrance to the Landaubogen (arch). There are also sculptors by other graduates of the Munich Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), such as Rodolf Wachter, who completed an apprenticeship as a woodcarver in Oberammergau before studying art. He created the 4.20-metre-high mahogany wood artwork “Two Diagonal Cuts” in the eastern part of the park near “Am Westpark” street.
The western part of the park even hosts a genuine work of art by the artist Hundertwasser from the times of the IGA. After all these years, I finally take the time to read what the sign says about the artist’s work “Hoch-Wiesen-Haus”: It shows his vision of architecture in harmony with nature. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was not only a painter and architect, but also an ecologist. “The Flying Landscape” at the eastern entrance to the park from Ganghoferstrasse is the work of Johannes Leismüller, as are the dark green steel lattice arches, now densely overgrown with creepers, under which my friend Connie earned her first Deutschmarks as a teenager.