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December 2004

Max Factor

When it comes to class, Maximlianstrasse is streets ahead

Long the favorite promenade of Munich’s rich and famous, there is hardly a better place to see and be seen than on Maximilianstrasse. Lined with exclusive shops and luxury establishments, such as the original Vierjahreszeiten Hotel, Maximilianstrasse ranks among Europe’s most traditional and opulent boulevards. For those who prefer simply to see rather than to be seen, there is plenty on offer as well, including theater, museum exhibitions, elegant architecture and cafés from which one can comfortably sit back and observe it all.

Like most things in Munich, Maximilianstrasse comes with a bit of history. When Maximilian II (r. 1848–64) succeeded his father, Ludwig I (r. 1825–48), as king of Bavaria, he took over a city expansion and beautification project that had been running full-force for nearly 50 years. Like his father, Maximilian endeavored to fulfill his architectural dreams and, upon ascending throne, was quick to commission architect Friedrich Bürklein to design Maximilianstrasse (1852–75).

Decidedly less enthusiastic about the Neoclassical style than his father, Maximilian II set out to create a unique and completely new Maximilianstil. This, he hoped, would not only come to characterize Munich, but would also have a place of distinction in architectural history. It’s arguable whether Maximilian’s dream of architectural greatness was fully realized, but few would dispute that Maximilianstrasse is a central feature of the city’s charm and character—an unlikely pairing of opulence and Gemütlichkeit, endowing Munich with qualities of both a European capital and a Bavarian village.

With all but two of its buildings designed by Friedrich Bürklein, Maximilianstrasse benefits greatly from a sense of symmetry and consistency. Its sand-colored structures combine English Gothic architecture with Italian influences and line the 900-meter stretch between Max-Joseph-Platz and the Isar River. Just over Maximiliansbrücke, on the east side of the Isar, the majestic Maximilianeum building crowns the Maximilianstrasse with an unmistakable, if not somewhat exaggerated, sense of importance. Originally constructed as a school for the gifted, today the Maximilianeum houses the Bavarian Parliament.

Maximilianstrasse is also home to some of Munich’s most important cultural and historical institutions. The Münchner Kammerspiele im Schauspielhaus (Maximilianstrasse 26–28) is the center of Munich’s contemporary theater scene and one of Germany’s few Art Nouveau theaters. The Münchner Kammerspiele features productions of works by German and international playwrights.

At Maximilianstrasse 42 is the Völkerkundemuseum (Museum of Ethnology), which, among other things, contains one of Europe’s largest collections of East Asian artifacts. Many of the museum’s thousands of objects were once in the possession of the Wittelsbachs, Bavaria’s ruling family for more than 700 years. The collection is so large that items must be rotated for display, which ensures an ever-changing selection of exhibits. Of particular interest are artifacts from extinct Brazilian tribes collected by Bavarian explorers Johann Baptist von Spix and Carl von Martius from 1817 to 1820.

For lovers of luxury, Maximilianstrasse doesn’t disappoint. Exclusive shops adorn its sidewalks like a “Who’s Who?” of the international fashion establishment. Among them are, of course, Chanel, Gucci, Bulgari, Hermès and Cartier, to name just a few.

Unfortunately sky-rocketing real-estate prices of the last decade have forced many of the traditional family-run businesses along Maximilianstrasse to close up shop. One notable exception is Rudolph Moshammer’s Carnaval de Venise at Maximilianstrasse 14. In business since 1967, the men’s outfitter has become and remained a Munich institution. Known particularly for his tie designs and flamboyant style, Moshammer has built an international reputation and an impressive portfolio of clients. Affectionately referred to as “Mosi” in Munich’s society columns, Moshammer and his constant canine companion, Daisy, are one of Munich’s most eccentric and beloved couples.

Though the territory of Munich’s beautiful people, cafés along the Maximilianstrasse serve mere mortals as well. In fact both the Café Roma and Bar Muenchen, directly opposite one another at Maximilianstrasse 31 and 36, respectively, are worth a visit. Bar Muenchen (formerly Schumann’s) is known for its impressive bar menu, dark-wood elegance and its high-profile clientele. Without a doubt you’ll pay more at these establishments than at others in the city. However, if you compare prices to equivalents in Paris, London, Rome or Vienna, you’ll find rates in Munich to be more than fair. In fact perhaps that’s reason enough to forgo your next weekend trip to Paris. Why not don your leopard-skin shoes and handbag and join the local jetset for a taste of Munich’s home-grown glamour?

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