Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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October 1999

A La Carte

Munich’s Stadtmuseum (city museum) combines a variety of independent museums of cultural history under one expansive roof.

A favorite fall activity for city dwellers when summer days are but a distant memory and the ski slopes have not yet opened is museum touring. Housed in a medieval armory, the former Marstall (stables) and in four newer tracts on the Jakobsplatz, Munich’s Stadtmuseum (city museum) combines a variety of independent museums of cultural history under one expansive roof. The museum’s star attractions are the ten “Morris dancers” (Morisken Tänzer), carved by Erasmus Grasser in 1480 for the old town hall. Originally placed on consoles just below the Gothic-arched ceiling, the dancers naughtily regarded the assembly in grotesque postures, mocking anyone who dared overstep the rigid rank and order of medieval times. The figures formed part of the museum’s founding collection when it opened to the public in 1888. Until recently, however, the figures could only be admired from a distance, having previously been displayed on columns in a sealed-off section of the entrance hall. Earlier this year they were moved to the renovated armory and set in glass cases in the center of the hall. Now, for the first time, the figures can be admired from every angle and at a much closer range. Enthusiasts of these jesters with their bright colors and dynamic, contorted bodies can buy smaller versions in many of the souvenir shops around Marienplatz, and indeed such copies are found in many South German households. While in the armory, take time to examine the four armored putti that adorned the base of the Mariensäule (Column of the Virgin) on the Marienplatz until 1991. This column was erected in 1638 by Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria to commemorate his victory over the Protestant king Frederick Palatine in the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague in 1620. The putti are depicted vanquishing various monsters, namely the snake, the basilisk — a fantastic creature with the crest of a cock and the body of a serpent — the lion and the dragon, representing the four main threats to Munich’s population at the time: heresy, plague, war and starvation, respectively. These bronze angels, whose creator remains unknown, are among the most important works of art from Munich’s early Baroque period. Other objects in the armory offer a brief introduction to the history and political structure of Munich from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. Key subjects include religion, with particular emphasis on the cult of Mary and the life and suffering of Christ, the political constitution, featuring the city council, guilds and commerce. On display are portraits of members of the ruling patrician families, a painting of the vital grain market (now Marienplatz), and such everyday objects as cutlery, tankards and weights. A small section is usually devoted to Munich’s symbol, the Münchner Kindl. But in honor of an extensive exhibition from October 8, 1999 through January 9, 2000 the museum’s permanent collection will be on display on the second floor of the main museum along with more than 1,000 exhibits chronicling the history and development of the Münchner Kindl from the 15th to the 20th century. The name Munich derives from Munichen meaning “at the monks.” Correspondingly, the figure on the town’s coat of arms originally represented a monk in a black cloak. From the 16th century onward, the representations became increasingly diminutive and childlike in appearance, finally turning into the famous Child of Munich. Unfortunately, the armory is the only section of the Stadtmuseum in which information panels in English are provided. However, this should not deter intrepid visitors from the other collections housed in the complex, as many objects are a visual delight in and of themselves. the fashion museum displays rotating exhibitions of clothes, accessories and related objects from the 18th century to today. Through October 17, an exhibit of 28 original designs by celebrated German designer Gabrielle Blachnek can be viewed. The Film Museum on the first floor documents the development of photography from 1839 to 1914. Noteworthy attractions include the reconstruction of a turn-of-the-century photographic studio, with all its props and painted background scenery, and the so-called Kaiserpanorama (Emperor’s panorama), a carousel displaying hand-colored stereoscopic views of late 19th-century Rome. The section called Stadtbild (cityscape) München shows a selection of city models and views dating from 1493 to 1985 and traces the development of Bavaria’s capital. The city’s destruction during WWII and its reconstruction are vividly documented with blown-up photographs. A separate display of photographs and oil paintings focuses on the former working-class districts of Haidhausen, Au and Giesing, with their narrow lanes and low buildings incorporating architectural elements of rural upper Bavaria (Oberbayern). These rickety structures, called Herbergen (inns), were day-laborer homes. With their wooden frames and cheap construction, the houses did not withstand the bombing in WWII. The few buildings that survived were subsequently torn down in the fifties and sixties. Today, the Kriechbaum cottage at Preysingstraße 71 is the last surviving example of the wooden architecture once so typical of these neighborhoods. Visitors will enjoy the puppet theater museum. Exhibits include Chinese shadow puppets, marionettes, numerous antique mechanical puppets as well as a full reconstruction of a 19th-century shooting gallery. A separate room in the collection houses a cabinet of horrors similar to those that toured European cities a century ago. Here, wax models, pamphlets, photographs and other paraphernalia document our love of the bizarre and grotesque — the bearded woman, throat-slitter Fritz Hammer, and the twins Cheng and Eng from Siam (Thailand), who lived from 1811 to 1874. Joined at the torso, the brothers gave birth to the expression Siamese Twins. The fourth floor contains the Museum of Musical Instruments, where noisemakers from four continents are on permanent display. A special section on classical instruments comprises 2,000 objects of its own. Through October 31 visitors may view an exhibition celebrating the life of poet, children’s book author and novelist Erich Kästner. Different aspects of the Dresden native’s life are covered in the display — his life as beloved author and creative storyteller and his role in the anti-Nazi movement for example. During your tour you might even come to the conclusion that the Stadtmuseum, with its rich and varied collections and regularly changing exhibitions, is worthy of a regular slot on your family’s Sunday agenda. <<< Münchener Stadtmuseum, St. Jakobs-Platz 1. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10-18. Entrance free on Sundays.

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