theintellectual

Munich is one of the finest incarnations of the German romantic and neoclassical spirit.
A modern city, welcoming, rich in traditions, majestic, imposing and at the same time lively in its mitteleuropa pragmatism.

Strolling along its streets, the boundaries between modernity and classicism are blurred. This is the overwhelming impression you get when you start down Sendlingerstraβe, along which a tiny late-Baroque jewel hides among contemporary buildings and bars: the church of St. Johann Nepomuk, better known as Asamkirche (Asam Church), after the Asam brothers who founded it. The church’s small façade does little to prepare the visitor for the grandeur of its interior decoration. A rococo triumph that fills every last inch of the wall. This mixture of eras seems yet more pronounced after a few hundred metres, at MUCA, the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art, among the first in Europe dedicated exclusively to street art. The building, which structurally resembles an abandoned factory, is covered on the outside with calligraphy (uniting the art of graffiti with that of calligraphy), as is the adjacent building, in a morphological continuum with a striking visual impact. Inside, works from today’s biggest urban artists are exhibited in an open space that isn’t huge, but has enormous innovative weight.

In front of the University of Television and Film
Brandhorst Museum
Neue Pinakothek

Art and culture tirelessly intertwine among Munich’s streets, in a whirlwind of creativity. Art brings pleasure and joy, provokes reactions and emotions. It’s also a way of interacting and has a huge role to play in the daily life of Munich’s citizens. The borough of Schwabing represents the sum of this discourse. Developed during the 1800s around Ludwigstraβe and Leopoldstraβe, it soon became Munich’s cultural and artistic core. This is where the German Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, was born in 1890. The elegant architecture of this era adorns the neighbourhood. Stop and admire the most radiant example of this trend; the building that stands at 77 Leopoldstraβe. But Schwabing isn’t all Art Nouveau.

In 1911, the area, characterised by great intellectual and political vitality, marked the birth of the markedly expressionist Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) art collective. At the head of the movement was the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, who led a group of artists that included Paul Klee, Franz Marc and August Macke. This avant-garde, which marked the beginning of abstractism, aimed to express the truth within things, studying reality in order to recreate it in highly conceptual ways.

Following in the Rider’s footsteps you arrive at Kunstareal, an area that includes the borough of Maxvorstadt, the cultural and intellectual centre of Bavaria. Here the majority of the city’s museums and historical buildings are located. Lenbachhaus particularly stands out. It’s an avant-garde gallery whose walls contain three centuries of artistic discipline, from the contemporary to the vast collection of works by Kandinsky’s group. But the beauty of Kunstareal, (literally “the art area”) is in what’s around it. Museums and art buildings are undisputedly interwoven in a majestic tapestry of architecture, among which the Brandhorst Museum and the Neue Pinakothek are particular highlights.

It’s not just museums and art galleries, however. Greeted by a four-metre-high aluminium sculpture designed by Dutchman Henk Visch, you come across the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, the University of Television and Film. Founded in 1966, it’s the first of its kind in Germany. When talking about German cinema, the first city that comes to mind is Berlin and its Berlinale. All too often, however, we forget the importance of this prestigious university, which organises an independent cinema showcase every November and which counts amongst its former students the great Wim Wenders. Legend has it that Werner Herzog, who wasn’t allowed onto one of the courses, decided to steal a video camera from the university, with which he started his visionary career as a director.

Art is revolutionary when it becomes a way of interacting in the everyday life of humans. It’s not just an aesthetic object, but also an artefact that accompanies our existence. This is the significance of the Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, which stands on the site of the Braunes Haus, the 19th-century mansion that from 1930 housed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, formed in Munich in 1919. The centre is divided into four flours and houses a wealth of photos, videos and propaganda documents that show the rise and fall of the party founded by Adolf Hitler. It’s a difficult project, in a city that is still pained by its history. A city that has had to fight to come to terms with its own past.

Brandhorst Museum
Lenbachhaus Gallery

Leave behind the museum quarter to go north, towards Olympiaberg, the Olympic Mountain, which unites a beautiful walk among the greenery of the Olympic Park with a breathtaking view over the city. The Alps are the backdrop to the event and on bright days they appear incredibly close. Inside this city lung rises Ost-West-Friedenskirche, the church that represents peace between the East and the West, a tiny Orthodox hermitage built in the post-war period by the Russian monk Timofei Wassiljewitsch Prochorow, known as Father Timofei. A word of warning: the little church is so well camouflaged between the surrounding hills and streams that almost all passers-by ignore its existence. Your perseverance in finding it will be rewarded when you arrive at the small entrance gate. The building will remind you of some of the brothers Grimm fairytales. Built using rubble from the city, half-destroyed by the Second World War, the house is adobe like a true Orthodox church, with a chocolate-wrapper ceiling depicting the celestial vault. There’s an aura of magic and mysticism to this place that’s impossible to translate into words. Timofei lived here until 2002, when he had to leave the hermitage due to the delicate state of his health. The building, despite its clear lack of conformity with building regulations, is tolerated by the municipal authorities, who see it as the most adorable illegal building in the city…

Neue Pinakothek
Friedenskirche (Olympiaberg)

The Bavarian capital is an expansive experience, with its architecture, parks, museums and churches. A city balanced between its modern interior and ancient folklore, stylistic rigour and naive candour, with the light-heartedness typical of its inhabitants. This light-heartedness is universally recognised, to the point that Munich has been nicknamed “Weltstadt mit Herz”, the cosmopolitan city with heart. This title pays homage to the proverbial city liberalism, juxtaposed with the strong Catholic conformism of the Bavarian region. Such a relaxed social environment also has an impact on its cultural offering, making a visit to Munich pure pleasure.

di Valerio Stefanori

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