A fashion-forward city of fast cars, cutting-edge architecture, with a whole district devoted to art and culture, Munich is sure to surprise you

The New Town Hall and its 85m tower mark the city centre on Marienplatz

The New Town Hall and its 85m tower mark the city centre on Marienplatz

Floating weightlessly above the steep, orange-tiled rooftops of Munich, everything seems almost within touching distance. Indeed, the stainless-steel edge of the rooftop pool at Mandarin Oriental, Munich, high above the city, is a great vantage point for a first orientation of this Bavarian jewel. Punctuated with a multitude of church spires, the low cityscape is restricted to the height of the nearby onion-dome-topped towers of the state capital’s landmark cathedral, the Frauenkirche. Immediately below are the dramatically foreshortened figures of rotund locals dressed in smartly embroidered lederhosen and dirndls, seated on the benches of the Hofbräuhaus biergarten, the city’s famous beer hall. Further out are swathes of green pasture, gently undulating all the way to the snow-topped peaks of the Bavarian Alps, glistening to the south. Together they give a parochial feel; one of comfort and wellbeing, with which few would argue. Far from being seemingly trapped in a time warp, this southern idyll is also a dynamic city that celebrates a modern artistic, architectural and design heritage.

A local appreciation for the well designed is evident in the sharp-looking outfits worn by those who step out of the phalanx of prime German engineering that patrols Maximilianstrasse. This grand boulevard, adjacent to the hotel, purrs to the idle of Porsches and Audis, while well-heeled clientele take in the street’s Armani to Zegna of fashion brands, with Italian jewellers Pomellato and all the other glossy magazine advertisers in between. Pool, a fabulous multi-brand store accessed down the stairs within the entrance to the Maximilian Hof, offers a curated selection. Home to Belgium’s Margiela, Berlin’s Lala, and suchlike, it also veers off into jewellery by Givenchy and local boy Patrik Muff, who is doing a neat new line for his biker-inspired creations, this time in Nymphenburg porcelain. Other multi-brand stores include the excellent Maendler, on the corner of Maffeistrasse and Theatinerstrasse, where you’ll find Jil Sander, Donna Karan and Alexander McQueen, as well as Sabine Yousefy’s eponymous boutique on Promenadeplatz, which stocks Wunderkind, Roberta Furlanetto and Aquilano.Rimondi, alongside DKNY and Moschino, within its shocking-pink interiors.

The central rotunda of the Pinakothek der Moderne

The China Moon Roof Terrace at Mandarin Oriental, Munich

The China Moon Roof Terrace at Mandarin Oriental, Munich

The central rotunda of the Pinakothek der Moderne

A more fashion-forward experience is uncovered in the artisanal quarter of Glockenbachviertel. Centring on the green of Gärtnerplatz and the wide streets that splay out from it like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, shoppers can be assured of handmade one-offs that no one else will be wearing at home. Rumfordstrasse, one of the streets crossing Gärtnerplatz, is where Susanne Bommer has recently relocated with her chic womenswear collection and is joined by the new flagship store for handmade Italian shoe designer Rocco P. Leading the local scene in terms of international exposure is Talbot Runhof at its HQ on Klenzestrasse. The label is in the running on both sides of the Atlantic with its elegant ladies evening and formal wear, now extended to daytime attire, and the retail experience here oozes discretion.

Glockenbachviertel is littered with smaller ateliers, often with workshops to the rear, such as Caroline Antonetty’s Lederwerkstatt, specialising in leatherwork. Similarly, coffee shops are ubiquitous. The local franchises of the San Francisco Coffee Company serve a respectable brew. Or try a one-off, such as Trachtenvogl on Reichenbachstrasse, where the hot-chocolate options are too many and the old school furniture too familiar. For a light lunch, there are Vietnamese noodle specialities freshly prepared by Lo An at Rice, or the burger-to-pasta selections in the more sophisticated environs of Martin Kolonko’s Forum.

For an even more compact retail experience, head to the Fünf Höfe, or Five Courtyards, an upmarket shopping mall. This artful creation of steel and glass from Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron includes a public art gallery, or Kunsthalle, and a graceful suspended sculpture by artist Olafur Eliasson. Home to local fashion label Rena Lange, displayed in David Chipperfield-designed interiors, the chic passageways of the Fünf Höfe lead also to Magazin, an upstart interiors store when compared with its sister, Manufactum, on Marienhof.

Munich has a modern, artistic, architectural and design heritage

River-surfing on the man-made river Eisbach

River-surfing on the man-made river Eisbach

The high-tech BMW museum

The high-tech BMW museum

Manufactum is the kind of place that doesn’t merely sell things; it purveys them. The best products for home and kitchen are retailed with gravitas. Each item is carefully researched and appended with a brief, museum-like description, and is the sort of well-engineered, built-to-last type of kit that everyone, not only Germans, will appreciate; and such is the quality, so will generations to come. There’s also a deli, garden equipment, stationery, games and clothing. Next door is Dallmayr, the Fortnum & Mason of Munich, with every imaginable food on display, including to-die-for dried apricots in white chocolate. It’s also famous for the rich variety of its coffee, so try a dainty pot upstairs at the café overlooking the square.

The alluring architecture of Herzog & de Meuron cannot be missed when driving into town from the airport. Alongside the motorway sits the glowing doughnut-shaped Allianz Arena. The voluptuousness of this plump, lozenge-patterned form is far removed from the criss-cross of steel used in the same architect’s Beijing Bird’s Nest Stadium. The arena is home to Bayern Munich football club and makes for a great spectacle on match day, given the proximity of the seating to the pitch. Müncheners love their sport and are blessed with an arguably even more beautiful stadium park that is accessible any time of the day. The sweeps of Plexiglas that make up the roofs of Günter Behnisch and Frei Otto’s 1972 Olympic Stadium have stood the test of time. The ethereal qualities of their architecture really come into their own as the transparent roof panels flash orange and gold at sunset.

Vying for attention and just across the ring road from the Olympiapark is the double helix of the new BMW World, a celebration of the Bavarian carmaker that still manufactures vehicles within the city limits. Designed by Viennese architects Coop Himmelb(l)au, the roof of this enormous space is inconceivably supported by just a few slender concrete columns. Off these hang curvaceous walkways which provide a great viewing spot for the theatrical delivery of new cars. Accessed from the vaults, the gleaming cars rise through the floor in glass lifts, to be displayed on rotating turntables in a glitzy catwalk-show way, before being driven off by their proud owners.

Such a walkway also leads from the double helix to the four-cylinder building, as the BMW HQ is nicknamed, and the newly enlarged company museum, where the multimedia installations are art: the walls of the vast exhibition space, including the iconic bowl that comprised the original museum in its entirety, are alive with moving, visual scenographies; even straightforward information points come to life with video footage; and knowledge is accessed with hand gestures, mimicking the finger commands used on an iPad. A highlight is the kinetic sculpture of suspended metal spheres which create the form of a vehicle through an animated narrative in which the silver balls float in and out of unison. This museum is a must for lovers of design, even if they are not car fanatics.

Munich is a green city and its people know how to make the most of it

The Hofbräuhaus beer hall

The Hofbräuhaus beer hall

Closer to the city centre and a short walk from the hotel is the Kunstareal, or Art Quarter, in leafy Maxvorstadt. Here, the Museum Brandhorst, Munich’s newest art exhibition space, has art on the outside as well as the inside. The formal architectural language of the structure by the Berlin-based practice Sauerbruch Hutton is reserved, plain, even. Or so it seems. Covered with a dual shell of painted sheet metal and 36,000 coloured ceramic rods, the twin polychromatic façades appear to oscillate as the viewer moves past. Disconcerting but fascinating. Hidden behind them are huge spaces, all ingeniously receiving daylight – even the Pop Art hall in the ‘drawer’ of the basement. The museum is so new the smell of Danish pine that lines the floors and sculptural staircases is still fresh in the air.

The Brandhorst Foundation’s collection is strongly led by works from Cy Twombly, featuring the most important pieces outside of America. Significant, too, is Pop Art protagonist Andy Warhol. With more than one-hundred pieces, the collection is one of the largest in Europe. His creations are rotated alongside those from Ed Ruscha, Sigmar Polke and Damien Hirst, among others.

The Allianz Arena

The Allianz Arena

The museum’s street-level café is pleasant enough for a break, but just across the street, establishments on two corners have, between them, the seasons covered. At the Barer Strasse end of Theresienstrasse is the cosy, wood-panelled interior of Brasserie Tresznjewski. Delicious creamy cakes in a tall glass display cabinet greet you at the entrance, a perfect accompaniment to a hot drink or more. At the other end of the short Theresienstrasse block, on the corner with Türkenstrasse, is Balla Beni and the best ice cream in town. Grab a cornet and head for the lawns.

A masterpiece of museum architecture, the Museum Brandhorst is a development of the Kunstareal, a process in the making since the 19th century with the construction of the art museums, Glyptothek, Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek. More is to come in 2011 with the opening of an Egyptian museum beneath the new building for the University of Television and Film. Inspired by ancient Egyptian burial chambers, the contemporary German architect practice Peter Böhm has designed the entrance to resemble that of a tomb. The year after, Lenbachhaus, home to a great permanent collection of works from Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) group of artists – including Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter – will reopen after significant renovations by Foster + Partners. Along with the Pinakothek der Moderne, which opened in 2002, these buildings represent, for a city normally associated with the retrospective celebration of its past, one now firmly engaged with its modern future.

The Tower Suite at Mandarin Oriental, Munich

The Tower Suite at Mandarin Oriental, Munich

Understandably, all around this quarter are private galleries. Galerie Thomas Modern occupies such a large site, complete with a terraced area for sculptures, that many visitors mistake it for one of the museums in the complex across the street. A few doors along is the city’s most comprehensive architecture and design bookshop, L Werner. Another neighbouring gallery is that of Andreas Grimm, which usually shows a more affordable selection. A short stroll brings you to Ludwigstrasse and Odeonsplatz and a further collective of galleries. Side by side are Sabine Knust and Galerie f5,6. Whereas Knust shows 20th-century work led by the likes of Baselitz, Galerie f5,6, as the name implies, focuses solely on photography and the process of it. Jump across the multiple lanes of traffic, if you dare, to reach Galerie Daniel Blau, which majors in contemporary art and photography of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Italianate façades of Ludwigstrasse are adjacent to the green expanse of the Englischer Garten, Munich’s Central Park, and then some. On its southern boarder, the monumental, neoclassical façade of the Haus der Kunst, or House of Arts, comes into view; look up and see the portico’s ceiling mosaics. Exhibitions here are always ambitious. The recently spruced-up, original Deco styling of the Goldene Bar to the rear of the Haus der Kunst is one option for a mid-museum pause. And should you be visiting in the early evening, the bar across the road, Ed Moses, is all fun-loving class, like the eponymous 400m hurdles master.

A Chinese pagoda in the Englischer Garten

A Chinese pagoda in the Englischer Garten

Munich is a green city and its people know how to make the most of it, with runners and cyclists everywhere. If a trip to the Olympiapark hasn’t yet given you a taste of the exercise endorphins, then the city’s surfers will. Next to the Haus der Kunst, the Eisbach, a tributary of the Isar River, surges out from under a road bridge to form a perfect, permanent wave. Whatever the weather, wetsuit-clad surfers snap their boards this way and that as they try to master the pitching swell, much to the delight of the crowds above. Similar but more placid streams criss-cross the open lawns of the adjacent Englischer Garten that stretch alongside the Isar, the park getting progressively wilder the further you get from the city – as if you could follow it all the way north to the Danube.

And there’s no excuse if you have left your kit behind. In Sporthaus Schuster, the city boasts a world-class sports store, the envy of all others. While Sebastian Berg, at his Sportskitchen, will help you through a more selected, seasonal range with a high cool factor. If two wheels are more your thing – the city is a joy for cyclists – there are numerous rental options, and the best accessories come from Stilrad. After a turn around the park, head back to the hotel and relax with a chilled beer, something Müncheners also know how to appreciate.

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Neuturmstrasse 1,
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