Munich Caught between Two Stools, Modern and Traditional (NF)

If any family has tried to find an apartment in Munich to rent over the last decade, through traditional channels like ads or real estate agents, they most certainly have run up against one of the major problems facing this city. It is impossible to find an apartment.

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Waiting to get in to see an apartment in the center of the city. Photo: Süddeutsche.de

The suspects are the same. There is a severe shortage of housing, especially in the affordable range, because most apartment blocks are sold to persons who will not be living in them. Also, hotel rooms are being built in greater numbers to support trade fair and Oktoberfest guests, putting a pinch on housing.

When you do have the good fortune of finding something which appeals to you, after having maneuvered through the apartment with another 70 interested parties during your “visiting appointment”, you fill out the paper work and your application sits in a stack of 50 or more.

Children, occupations, nationalities, incomes, and other unknown ingredients can be a factor to some degree or another, and are part of the riddle when trying to get a flat in Munich. Which criteria are necessary for which apartment? What are the ratios? It can easily take up to five years of active searching to finally land a nice, large enough, affordable enough, apartment.

The second first-world problem for Munich is the large number of resident cars in the city center, causing traffic snarls and insufficient parking for residents in the city. The village is no more.

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Traffic has gone from being a nuisance to becoming a real problem. Photo: dpa

The new arrivals are pouring in. They are from the European Union, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and even the United States. The numbers usually tossed around are 10,000 new families, or about 25,000 individuals, move to Munich every year. There are around 11,000 new indigenous births from those of us who already live here. The modern Munich is booming. Much opportunity awaits.

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The old style of Elisabethplatz is an oasis. Photo: Wikipedia

Late last year, a decision was made to begin developing the north side of Elisabethplatz, in Schwabing. Elisabethplatz was founded in 1880, and took on its current form at the turn of the 20th century. There are lots of small specialty food shops, including many which are organic, a couple of local bakeries, a beer garden, a fishmonger, and much more. The development will take about two years, beginning in 2019 or 2020.

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A beer garden without any tourists, only a few minutes north of the city center. Photo: Wikipedia

The finished product will be a single block steel and glass building with 170 new apartments, naturally, with the requisite number of social and student housing included. The building will have a totally different style from Elisabethplatz and the facades of the buildings which face the square.

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Stalinist architecture invades Schwabing. Photo: Sparkasse

These type of scratch-your-head decisions are usually left for places like Dresden, a city which lost its UNESCO heritage site classification because the city decided that a pragmatic bridge over the Elbe, to alleviate a growing traffic problem, was more important than killing the skyline and its UNESCO designation. Dresden’s bridge and decision were completely practical, completely understandable, in a Stalinist Constructivist sort of style of architecture and city planning way.

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Constructivist architecture kills the spirit of Elisabethplatz. Photo: Sparkasse

Another example is the city decided to remodel Josephsplatz, which also had the fortune, good or bad, of being just over the border from Schwabing, in Maxsvorstadt, within an easy five minute backstreet walking distance to Elisabethplatz. My first apartment was a minute away. To the east of the trapezoidal shaped Joseph’s Square sits the large and conspicuous canary yellow neo-Baroque church, Saint Joseph’s, the parish church for the quarter. A few years after the consecration of the church, on the other side of the square, the Fountain of John was built, also in neo-Baroque style. The area has cobblestone streets. There was a theme, harmony and cohesion, between the buildings and quarters in Munich.

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Josephsplatz in its wilder more harmonic days. Photo: Wikipedia

A few years ago, at Josephsplatz, old trees were cut down to dig holes in the ground for an underground parking lot. Many of those trees were cherry trees, whose blossoms filled the nostrils with fragrance and the eyes with wonder, and the branches with birds. A very practical underground parking lot for 265 cars was the result of the remodeling.

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A modern park now sits between two neo-Barogue bookends. Photo: Süddeutsche.de

The park itself, now, looks like it is out of a brochure for Rastafarian culture in Munich. (St John always wore his hair long.) The park looks great, but much too modern and too hip, which clashes loudly with the neo-Baroque. The cherry trees are now linden, as they are better for the environment. Building that style of park between the statue and the church is like putting Xavier Naidoo, a solid contemporary German music artist, at a long table between Bach and Handel.  

Perhaps I am completely wrong. The clash, the mix of different art styles is not how museums curate their works, and I think the same should be said for the city of Munich and its buildings and areas. Others may disagree. Modernity is a difficult thing to integrate in to a city, especially like Munich, which has long had a love relationship with anything classic.

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The old cherry trees were replaced by linden trees. Linden trees help suck up carbon-dioxide. Photo: Süddeutsche.de

Yet, the inhabitants embrace modern technology, and even architecture, if it is all contained in an area with similar styles. Plopping down parks from the future, in a neo-Baroque square from the past, or housing 300 people in a drab box, overlooking a market square with a rich and vibrant history, and which is still a hub of activity for locals, should not become the norm.

Many people are moving in, unemployment in Munich is at a record low, uncountable cranes scratch the gray winter skies above the city. It is impossible to save every stone of the old way, but it is possible to remember the idea of themes in a neighborhood. There are some extremely attractive new modern housing complexes in Munich. Put your gray rectangle housing and your pop music parks there. In the older areas, let the traditional ways continue.

The mixing of the modern and traditional in Munich must be a stew brought to a slow boil, with very low heat, not a stir-fry.

What do you think? Should a city be a reflection of many styles, juxtaposed in close proximity? Should they be kept separate? 

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