Odeonsplatz & Theatiner Church
A central meeting point on many occasions
It was 7 pm, September 12, 2001, and Odeonsplatz was getting more crowded by the minute. Shuffling onto the square from Residenzstrasse, Briennerstrasse and Ludwigstrasse, but mostly pouring out of the subway into the early autumn rain, mourners came, many cradling flowers or cupping candles against the wind. They came looking for catharsis and most, it seemed, chose to find it by looking at the roses and carnations slowly covering the steps of the Feldherrnhalle.
While hardly typical for Odeonsplatz, this gathering, held to demonstrate solidarity with the United States after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, represented another in a long series of rallies, events and marches the square has hosted in the last century and a half. From a gathering point for rioters protesting a rise in beer prices in 1845, just after the completion of the Feldherrnhalle in 1844, to a display site for Fasching revelers in 1912, to more recently, an annual open-air stage for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Odeonsplatz, despite its location on the fringes of the old town, continues to be one of the centers of Munich’s public life.
This wasn’t, of course, always the case. For most of Munich’s history, the area that is now referred to as Odeonsplatz was occupied by the Schwabinger Tor, one of the gates of the walled city in medieval times. There was, to be sure, a small square pinned between the city walls, the west side of the Residenz, the Bauerngirgl inn, located where the Feldherrnhalle now stands, and the Theatinerkirche (Theatiner Church), but its location at the edge of the city meant that it was primarily a transit point either for those entering or leaving the city or for those on their way to the church or the Theatiner monastery. In fact, it was, and still is, the majestic Baroque facade of the Theatinerkirche that gives the square its character. Built from 1663 to 1690, it was funded by Elector Ferdinand Maria and his wife, Henriette Adelaide of Savoy, as a gesture of thanks for the birth of the long-awaited heir to the Bavarian throne, Prince Max Emanuel, in 1662.
In 1806, however, Munich became a kingdom and King Maximilian I Joseph became Munich’s first modern-day monarch. One of his first projects as regent was to limit the power of the Catholic Church in Munich. To that end, a number of monasteries and convents in the city, including the Theatiner monastery, were converted into public buildings or torn down.
This secularization process paved the way for the transformation of the Theatiner monastery’s cloisters into their present-day function of accommodating expensive fashion shops and boutiques. In addition, King Max immediately began making plans to expand the city to the northwest and to transform Munich into the capital city of a kingdom—plans that resulted in the dismantling of the city walls and the building of Maxvorstadt.
It was his son, King Ludwig I, who is responsible for the current appearance of Odeonsplatz. As part of his plan to create the Ludwigstrasse, a grand avenue stretching north from Schwabinger Tor, Ludwig I wanted to erect a structure that would provide an appropriate, monumental terminus. Out of this idea came the Feldherrnhalle, a monument to the Bavarian army and graced with the statues of Field Marshals Johann Terklas, Graf von Tilly and Karl Fürst von Wrede—and two lifelike lions, which have the model “Bubi,” an early 20th-century resident at Munich’s zoo, to thank. Designed by court architect Friedrich von Gärtner, who borrowed heavily from the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, the Feldherrnhalle replaced the Schwabinger Tor and changed the character of Odeonsplatz from a quaint courtyard somewhat removed from the action, to an expansive square with none-too-faint nationalistic overtones.
Many of the gatherings on Odeonsplatz during the first 100 years after the building of the Feldherrnhalle, in fact, reflected the military nature of the monument. In 1871, the square became the site of a victory celebration to commemorate the end of the Franco-Prussian War and in 1914, the Feldherrnhalle witnessed a number of pro-war demonstrations.
It is its role as the endpoint of Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch on November 8 and 9 of 1923 for which the square is most remembered today, however. Following a long night of agitation the revolutionaries were parading toward the Ministry of War on Schönfeldstrasse on the morning of the 9th when they were confronted with a police barricade spread out across Odeonsplatz. Sixteen Nazis and four police officers were killed in the subsequent riots and once the Nazis came to power, in 1933, the square became a kind of shrine to the fallen Nazi “martyrs.” National Socialist flags covered the hall and a small monument was set up on its east wall. All passers-by were required on threat of arrest to greet the honor guard posted there with a Nazi salute. During this time the bronze lions’ noses on the shields that guard the entrances to the Residenz across the street became symbols of resistance to the Nazis. Many residents would salute the guards, and then walk across the street to touch the lion’s nose to indicate their support of the monarchy, a practice that, minus the salute, continues today.
The Feldherrnhalle survived World War II almost undamaged. Its role as a gathering point of nationalists and warmongers, however, did not. Today the square is, as it was in its early days, something of a transit point. Those who do stop for the periodic gatherings still held on Odeonsplatz, though, are more likely to be wearing jeans and carrying flowers than wearing uniforms and carrying guns.
© MF Hawley/Dec. 02