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Munich’s New Modern Design

Christian Kerber

Photo: Christian Kerber

The inventive crowd now flocks to a number of newly buzzing establishments. In the historic center they fill the restaurant Schumann’s, a standby having a revival, and Saf im Zerwirk, a vegan eatery designed by Cohen. In nearby Glockenbach they savor tagliatelli al ragù at Heyluigi or the all-day breakfast at Café Maria, sip wine at the chilled-out Maroto Bar or the livelier Café King, and browse the tightly edited design bookstore Soda.

Not all is new here in terms of groundbreaking design. Munich was home to the Deutscher Werkbund, the seminal early-20th-century association—a Bauhaus precursor—that sought to integrate crafts with modern industry. Among its members were artists Richard Riemerschmid and Peter Behrens, who would help found the Neue Sammlung museum, which today has the world’s largest collection, at around 75,000 objects, of modern and contemporary design. In 2002, the museum left its “provisional” home of nearly 80 years for dramatically expanded quarters in the Pinakothek der Moderne. Among its soaring galleries is one of the most comprehensive design installations I’ve ever seen, spanning Art Nouveau chairs, the Bauhaus, and mid-20th-century masters, as well as Macintosh computers and Braun appliances.

Nowadays, the city’s forward-looking spirit shows up in unexpected ways. Consider the Nymphenburg porcelain manufactory, located in the 17th-century Nymphenburg Palace, its home for more than 250 years. The frilly figurines and Rococo dinner services are still handcrafted using machines powered by water. Swans ripple across the ponds of the palace grounds, where you might spot Franz, the current Duke of Bavaria, walking his dachshund, Wastl. But Nymphenburg’s kilns are also producing some of the most notable contemporary designs around: porcelain driftwood candleholders by Ted Muehling, plates by Hella Jongerius that reveal the process of applying decoration, faux-stitched teapots by Grcic. “We want to explore what’s possible in porcelain, while creating timeless pieces that have long-term value,” Nymphenburg’s CEO, Jörg Richtsfeld, tells me.

Munich is remaking itself by engaging its past. Its most radical spaces (think of Fünf Höfe or even Brennermar) have emerged from a rich historical fabric, just as Nymphenburg’s froufrou porcelain has evolved into pieces now coveted by avant-garde aficionados. The city is wresting innovation from its most entrenched traditions. And that may soon even extend—yes—to lederhosen. “It took me five years of living in Munich before I would even go to Oktoberfest, and 20 years to wear lederhosen there,” says the designer Uli Tredup. “But now it’s actually sort of cool for the kids to wear traditional clothes.”

Aric Chen is a freelance writer in New York whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New York, GQ, Elle, and House & Garden.

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