Family trips – especially those where young children are involved – risk sending parents’ blood pressure rocketing if the wrong destination is chosen. Going somewhere where they will find plenty to do suddenly becomes the main criterion that needs to be satisfied.
And, although it might not seem the case at first glance, Munich is a great city for such a break. It is a city that lacks the overwhelming bustle of other metropolis yet still has an impeccable public transport system that makes getting around a breeze while being blessed with various child friendly attractions that make it easy to keep them entertained.
There’s the Englischer Garten, the large open park that serves as a great place to play the kind of open air games that are impossible in Malta (although be warned that there are some locals who opt to sunbathe in the nude). The Deutsches Musem offers countless hands-on experiments, while Legoland is a short train ride away. To top it all, ice cream places dot the city and these come in handy when you need to quell a bout of whining.
Yet, every mind needs its own form of pleasure and, enjoyable though such family centred attractions might be, it does get to a point where you need entertainment that is a bit more intellectual.
Again, Munich has plenty of that in the form of the Kunstareal, the art district that is to be found in the city centre. This is made up of three museums that are conveniently located quite close to each other.
The first is the Alte Pinakothek that features works of European masters from between the 14th and 18th century like Albrecht Dürer, Raphael and Peter Paul Rubens. The Neue Pinakothek, on the other hand, includes the works of artists from the Impressionist era, including the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Édouard Manet.
Then, there is the Pinakothek der Moderne, which essentially is a collection of different museums containing the Bavarian State Collection of Modern and Contemporary Arts and the Museum for Design and Applied Arts among others.
All these are well worth visiting and are covered pretty extensively in most guide books to the city. If you’re looking for something less cosmopolitan and more Bavarian, however, then you need to look elsewhere.
A city that lacks the overwhelming bustle of other metropolis yet still has an impeccable public transport system that makes getting around a breeze
Specifically, you need to look for the Lenbachhaus. This is another museum that is also to be found in the Kunstareal district but which is considerably less well known. Partly, this is down to it re-opening in 2013 after four years of renovation but it is also due to the focused nature of its collection.
This is because the Lenbachhaus boasts what is the world’s largest collection of works from Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) movement, which was one of the most important groups of avant-garde artists which formed in Munich at around 1911 and was active for the next five years before the Great War shifted attention elsewhere.
The main driver in the group was the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, around whom local artists gravitated and were influenced by. Kandinsky’s influence on this movement was such that the Blaue Reiter label is a reference to a recurring theme of the blue colour along with a horse and its rider in his work. For him, blue was the most spiritual of colours whilst the rider symbolised the ability to move beyond the objective.
During his time in Munich, Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual which became one of the most influential texts on modern art, so much that it went on to be translated into both English and French. His belief was that it wasn’t simply the view that the artist was painting that had an impact on the viewer but that the underlying components of form, movement and colour also had the ability to resonate spiritually with whoever comes across them.
This collection, then, is one of the bridges connecting Impressionism with what we think of as Modern Art. The art is impactful, colourful and intense; aimed at conveying strong feelings to the viewer and it works. It is also a great primer for the more modern and avant-garde collection of work that can be found elsewhere in the museum, including some delightful art installations.
The setting itself helps considerably. Immediately, when you enter, you are met with an imposing work of polished metal and cascading coloured glass which seems to project both light and energy. This is Olafur Eliasson’s Wirbelwerk and is one of the most visual results of the work put into the Lenbachhaus that has made into an art gallery that has been designed specifically for displaying art rather than a building that has ended up doing that almost by evolution. The result is perfect lighting while the open spaces of the galleries allow you to truly take in the art.
That’s pretty impressive for a gallery that grew from a villa built in the late nineteenth century and which has been tastefully incorporated into the new building. Indeed, the original garden designed by Max Kolb and which is a historical landmark is an oasis of peace where visitors can go for a walk to think about the feelings that the art within has brought up.
Museums, however, aren’t the only places in Munich where you can get to see art. For there is art to be found in what is probably the most unexpected of places: the underground stations. What is often a place of transit – and often a smelly and dirty one – has been transformed into an attraction of itself.
This is part of a very considered approach which is typified by the Georg-Brauchle-Ring that opened in 2003 whose walls are covered in a patchwork of colours. This is the work of Bavarian born artist Franz Ackermann who produced this installation art on the two walls of the station entitled The Great Journey and which includes more than 400 brightly coloured panels.
Yet perhaps the finest example of this, is the Westfriedhof U Bahn station. This, too, is a fairly recent addition to the city (it was opened in 1998) and is remarkable for the manner in which function has melded into design.
This impression is reinforced through a very simple mechanism... the surface of the tunnel has a rock-like texture due to the reinforced tunnel wall being left visible.
This creates a natural feel that contrasts with the rest of the station, where modernity rules. The platforms are lit up with what are known as light domes – huge bowls that light up the station and are a feature in themselves – but also in the amount of light that they give out.
To reinforce the presence of the domes, the gaps in lighting is filled with an understated blue light that gives the platforms a rather supernatural feel.