Munich’s only mill producing flour in the city center
Just around the corner from Hofbräuhaus, three renowned institutions characterize the row of houses at Neuturmstrasse: the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel with its Neo-Renaissance edifice, the new built Neues Haus of the Münchner Kammerspiele theater and the nightly nook Atomic Café, deemed to be one of Germany’s best nightclubs. Embraced by the three, however, a historical gem is hidden behind the façade of a 19th-century apartment house: the Hofbräuhaus Kunstmühle, a tiny mill grinding 6000 tons of grain a year.
Looking back more than 400 years to its beginnings, the mill was built as a malt grinder around 1570 for the adjacent Hofbrauerei (Royal Brewery). When the brewery moved to Innere Wienerstrasse in 1870, the mill was sold to private owners and converted into a wheat mill. During this period the apartment house was built around the mill to make the most out of the property, which already had considerably high value. This explains the inconspicuous setting of the Kunstmühle, unfortunately concealing the mill’s former façade, which was part of Munich’s old city wall. In the lower floors of the building, the original fortification walls can be still seen.
The dried-out streambed of the Katzenbach canal also remains, which used to power the mill, as well as—a little further downstream—the elevator of the Four Seasons hotel on Maximilianstrasse. The machines processing the majority of the grain stem from those pre-electric times. (An electric motor powering the machines was introduced only in 1967.) On the basement floor, grating machines from 1921 crush the grain, gradually refining it in 16 steps. The refined grain is then pumped through a labyrinth of pipes up to filter machines on the third floor. The considerable sound of these filter machines permanently wiggling back and forth has to be tolerated by the noble neighbors at the Mandarin Oriental, as the mill has an official agreement with the hotel to run for 24 hours on weekdays.
Being led through the mill’s premises by owner Stefan Blum, whose great-grandfather purchased the mill in 1921, is an experience of lived history. Blum not only shows the meter-thick city walls in the cellar; he also explains that with the introduction of light cannons, fortification walls could not serve as sufficient protection any longer. For this reason, the edifice was integrated into the wall. As for why his mill is called Kunstmühle (Art Mill), Blum references the 19th-century definition of art, which privileged a genius-oriented view as opposed to the appreciation of a craft. The term Kunstmühle is relic of the times when a complex piece of engineering was also classified as art. Even the break room for mill workers in the basement is filled with stories from the past. The typical Bavarian parlor holds a lounge in one corner and wooden lockers on the walls. Each locker features an individual motif and Blum gleefully recounts that those paintings from the 1930s characterize each of the mill’s workers. One shows a miller sleeping on a flower bag, apparently mocking the sleepiness of a worker. On another, a woman is shown crying and holding a coffer of money, which stands for the story of a worker who had a wealthy bride whose awful looks kept him from walking down the aisle. The locker with a muscleman on it is still used by Mustafa, who worked for the mill for 25 years and still helps out each day, even though he is retired.
Long gone are the times when the mill employed more than 30 workers. These days, it is run only by Blum himself and a co-worker, with whom he alternates 12-hour shifts on weekdays. This would not be possible without modern technology. Cameras ensure the smooth completion of the milling process. The filter machines are historic items, but there is one modern strainer sifting all flour that exits the mill. As Blum presents the grain purification plant he purchased in 2005, it becomes clear that this factory—as picturesque as the machines may be—is a modern competitive business, and not a museum. Blum is an entrepreneur who has taken on the additional responsibility of safeguarding history, while still paying attention to the bottom line.
Even though the competition from other mills is stiff, Blum has found a market niche for his finished product. He has developed a special flour mixture for pizza, for example, which is widely used by Munich’s Italian restaurants: The dough made out of Blum’s flour can be rolled out extra-thin while being tear-proof at the same time. Blum’s product is also used to bake the large Brezn offered at the Oktoberfest. For the Brezn, a specially milled flour is produced, which is then left to mature for a couple of weeks before it is delivered to the bakeries. Even though these deliveries make up most of the mill’s business, Blum also runs a shop on Neuturmstrasse right next to the mill, where the flour of the Kunstmühle can be purchased for private use. But be aware, once you have tried the flour mixtures concocted by Blum and his historic machines, it will be hard to switch back to the normal supermarket mass products.
© MF Adler/May 09