Schwabing Art Nouveau Buildings
A Walking Tour of Munich’s Turn of the Century Architecture
The late-19th century was a revolutionary period for Munich artists. Protesting the stuffy conservatism of the art academies and the domineering control of art patron Franz von Lenbach, more than 100 artists broke off to participate in a new movement. These painters, sculptors, writers, and architects rejected the historicism popular during the period and pioneered a new decorative style characterized by organic shapes, flowing lines, and freedom of expression. They held their first international exhibition in 1893, and received their name—Jugendstil (Youth Style)—in 1896 upon the publication of a journal of the movement called Jugend. (This term is used in German-speaking languages and the Netherlands. Names for versions of the movement in other countries include Art Nouveau, Modern Style, Secession, or Modernisme.) At the same time, Munich experienced an unprecedented growth in population: from 100,000 in 1854 to 500,000 in 1900. The demand for new homes and civil structures gave local architects the valuable opportunity to experiment with their new designs.
Though Jugendstil buildings can be found all over the city, there is no better place to explore them than in the neighborhood where their creators lived and worked: Schwabing. This short walking tour will take one or two hours.
Begin perhaps with a coffee at Münchner Freiheit, and enjoy the bustling atmosphere that was characteristic of the hub of Schwabing a century before. On the western side of the street, at Leopoldstrasse 77 lies Munich’s most famous Jugendstil dwelling. Built by architect Martin Dülfer between 1900 and 1902, the huge apartment house is bedecked with many classic Jugendstil forms. The roof line is a curving tendril echoed by ornate undulating leaf forms on the facade just below—a clear departure from the angular lines of a classic gable or pediment. The naturalistic theme continues at street level, where two trees adorn the facade. Though their angular lines seem to be a counterpoint to the organic forms above, such sharply delineated forms are also typical of Munich Jugendstil. They reference the typeface of the city’s art journals at the time, Jugend among them.
Walking back down Leopoldstrasse in the direction of the city, take a right onto Herzogstrasse and then a left onto Römerstrasse. After a few minutes walking along the quiet tree-lined street, you will come to Römerstrasse 11 on the right. It was designed in 1899 by American Henry Helbig and Ernst Haiger for a client who was obsessed with Egyptian culture. Although Jugendstil was characterized by a turn away from historicism, Egyptian themes often found their way into the art and design of the period; European explorers first visited the desert country in the 1850s, and so such designs were, in a sense, new. The house at Römerstrasse 11 is bedecked with vaguely pharaoic masks in gold, maroon, and blue tones that are characteristic of paintings found in the bowels of pyramids. Such use of color in architecture was also an original Jugendstil trademark. Typical structural innovations to be seen on this building include the distinctive roof: a curved variation of the angular gambrel roof that had been popular in the 18th century. The sharp verticals on the facade are a contrast that again, as on the Dülfer house, echo the typical forms of popular artistic journals. Flowers across the surface bring in the organic theme as well.
Moving on, take a left onto Ainmillerstrasse, and follow to Habsburgerplatz, enjoying the atmosphere of the quiet side street on which Kandinsky, Klee, and Rilke all once lived. At number 22 is another house designed by Helbig and Haiger. Here, they employed a similar color scheme and interplay of organic lines with sharp verticals. Egyptian-style masks and golden flowers also adorn the facade. The building’s most unusual feature is a frieze of Adam and Eve above the door. The languorous pose of the two original sinners was cause for uproar at the time. Today, it remains one of the only pictorial illustrations on Munich Jugendstil buildings.
Taking a left onto Friedrichstrasse, you will come to a more demure Jugendstil building at number 3. The lacy white overlays on its facade are an example of the interplay between artistic fields at the time. Not just an architectural movement, Jugendstil united innovations in fashion, painting, sculpture, design, and literature. Lace was an important part of the fashion of the period, and its forms often appear in architecture or painting as well.
Continue down Friedrichstrasse and take a left onto Georgenstrasse. The Pacelli Palais and Bissing Palais at 8 and 10 include some Jugendstil decorations that were incorporated into their early 20th-century renovations. Georgenstrasse intersects Leopoldstrasse just after the Siegestor. Take a left and walk to the Giselastrasse U-Bahn station, spending time to browse through the works of the sidewalk artists who continue to uphold the tradition of innovative creation in Schwabing.
© MF Nicholson/April 07