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July 2007

Bite at the Museum

Munich has long been both a cultural and culinary hotspot, with a concentration of quality museums and restaurants that is practically unrivaled throughout the country. In recent years, however, those two impulses have come together as museums and galleries have devoted funds and efforts to the support of in-house dining options. The cafés in our city’s museums are wonderful places to grab some quick sustenance during a viewing, and worth a visit even if you’re just in the neighborhood.

The Golden Bar at the Haus der Kunst dates back to 1937, when Nazi officers used it as a café both for briefings and relaxation. A trace of that portentous history remains in the dark green wooden paneling and wall paintings that feature maps of the Caribbean, Hungary, France, and Germany. They were only discovered during renovations in the early 1990s. Now, they play off of angular white furniture designed by Munich modern artist Konstantin Grcic. The menu is more classic, featuring light Italian-inspired fare like meatballs, quality antipasti, and toasted panini (€ 5 to 6.90). Daily soups and one warm dish a day (Lasagna, Käsespätzle, and Apfelstrudel were recent choices) provide a bit of a variety, and a dish of ice cream on the airy terrace with a view of the English Garden is a sweet way to spend a summer afternoon. (Haus der Kunst: Prinzregentenstr. 1, Tel. 29 16 03 91)

For eating au naturel, however, there’s no better option than the leafy environs of Café Palmenhaus, at the Nymphenburg Botanical Gardens: one of three greenhouses built by King Maximilian I. The glass and metal Iron House, Geranium House, and Palm House represented the height of technological advancement in 19th-century architecture. The Palm House, in fact, housed the very first warm water heating system in Germany: an extravagance necessary to ensure the health of the tropical plants grown there. Today, temperatures are cooler for diners, though lush indoor décor and a view of the surrounding gardens through a high glass front recall the building’s former purpose. A variety of Bavarian and international dishes are served daily until 4:30 pm, but breakfast and brunch are the Café’s strong point. Each day from 10 am to 2 pm, a huge selection of generous platters are on offer. The American Breakfast, for example, features two pancakes with maple syrup, two eggs, crispy bacon, and hash browns for € 8.80. The best way to immerse yourself in your royal environs, however, is by ordering the Castle Breakfast for two (€ 25.80). It’s an imposing combination of Italian and French sausages, cheese platter, Lox, roast beef slices, granola with yogurt, a choice of eggs, and a bread basket with honey, butter and marmalade. Of course, it comes with an appropriately decadent flute of champagne. (Schloss Nymphenburg: Entrance 43, Tel. 17 53 09)

To view the achievements of other long-ago rulers, visit the glorious modern classical Glyptothek on Königsplatz. King Ludwig I commissioned Leo von Klenze to create a museum to house Greco-Roman artifacts after Carl Haller von Hallerstein’s discovery of ruins of the Greek temple at Aegina in 1811. Hallerstein himself had proposed a Greco-Egyptian design, and Karl von Fischer envisioned a Pantheon-style dome, but Klenze’s mix of neo-Classical and Italian Renaissance style won out. Much of his interior design was destroyed during the war. Visitors may still, however, take the opportunity to enjoy a sweet snack in a courtyard that he designed. As much as the home-made cakes, the design is a sweet delicacy for architecture fans to savor. (Glyptothek: Königsplatz, Tel. 28 61 00)

Close to the relics of royals on Königsplatz, the Lenbachhaus is a regal residence of another sort. The glowing Italianate villa was once home to Franz von Lenbach, king of Munich’s fin de siècle art scene. Today, it houses one of the world’s greatest collections of modern and contemporary German art, with a focus on the works of the Blue Riders. Rotating exhibitions enrich the contemporary perspective that’s reflected in the cool modern design of the in-house Café Lenbach. The white walls are naturally lit from a huge window above, through which flower petals and dandelion seeds sometimes drift. A light-art installation by Dan Flavin brings an impressive splash of color, as does the glistening glass display of rich cheesecakes and fruit tortes. Friendly servers often indulge their own artistic impulses with decorative cappuccino foam drips. (Flash a friendly smile when ordering to get your own.) The menu of light savory dishes changes daily, but usually includes a selection of soups, quiche, and panini. The fleshy tomato soup, in particular, is the best to be had in Munich. On sunny days, take your tray out to the Italian garden and eat alongside the burbling fountain. Spooning forkfuls of rich cheesecake in the sun is enough to make you feel as if you own your own villa. (Lenbachhaus: Luisenstr. 33, Tel. 523 72 14)

After exploring the painters of the Munich bohème enjoy a tribute to one of its greatest authors at Café in the Literatur Haus. New York artist Jenny Holzer suffused the space with design tributes to local writer Oskar Maria Graf (1894–1967). Excerpts from his texts grace the table settings, the backs of leather benches, granite tabletops, and an electronic message board at the entrance: “Mehr Erotik, bitte!” (More erotica, please!), “Es muss doch jetzt schon bald wahr sein, dass ich berühmt bin.” (Soon, it must be true that I am famous!), or “Mensch, friss und sauf! Wir hängen sowieso schon halb am Galgen!” (Eat and drink, man! We are practically hanging in the gallows already anyway.) All of the table settings featuring such quotes—designed by Villeroy Boch—are available for purchase. These elements were retained during a short renovation period last month, after which Café Dukatz moved to the Schäfflerhof. The new Café reopened in mid-June under the new leadership of Dino Klemencic (essneun) and Uli Springer (Café Reitschule, Gast), who face the challenge of presenting high-quality and low-cost cuisine for visitors to the house’s evening events: overflowing baguettes, vegetable quiche, wines, and petit fours that would have pleased Marie Antoinette. The atmosphere is more intellectual than indulgent, however. Members of Munich’s own intelligentsia re-create the vibrant coffeehouse scenes of old Vienna, after visiting readings or exhibitions. (Literatur Haus: Salvatorplatz 1, Tel. 29 19 34 27)

At the Alte Pinakothek, the atmosphere is decidedly more like an English tea house. The Café Klenze is a warm and sunny enclave perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Tortes stuffed with fresh apples, or deep chocolate cake with a light frosting are a sweet reward for tackling the heavy collection of works upstairs. The Victorian House supplies a wide selection of teas comparable to those at their central Frauenstrasse location. Obvious choices like Earl Grey or English Breakfast are supplemented by more interesting options like Moroccan mint tea, or Chinese Pai Mu Tan green tea. (Alte Pinakothek: Barerstr. 27, Tel. 12 13 49 80)

By day, the Völkerkundemuseum’s max2 is an oasis that’s miles away from the bustling shoppers of Maximilianstrasse. By night, however, the leafy terrace arcade becomes yet another unique hotspot. Occasional lecture and film nights are followed by sparkling afterparties, and a successful joint production with Café am Hochhaus this June hints at more great parties to come. The daily lunch menu is served from 11:30 am–2:30 pm, but drinks are available as early as 10 am and as late as 5:30 pm on regular nights. (Völkerkundemuseum: Maximilianstr. 42, Tel. 18 92 69 77)

Although Munich has room for many cultural cafés, our space for text is running low. Other spots to explore include the riverside garden of Café Isarlust at the Alpines Museum (Prater Insel) and the courtyard dining at the Stadtmuseum (St. Jakob’s Platz), where a selection of international newspapers keeps dining Süddeutsche Zeitung employees happy. This summer, sate your own taste for culture and escape the sun in any of these fine locales.

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