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Where to find the stunning, avant-garde, 'Jugendstil' in Munich, Germany

by Duncan J.D. Smith

The late-19th century was a revolutionary period for Munich’s artists. Frustrated by the oppressive conservatism of the city’s art academies, as well as the domineering control of art patron Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904), many of them broke away to participate in a new artistic movement. Inspired by the success of Art Nouveau in Paris they rejected backwards-looking Historicism in favour of a dramatically different style characterised by stylised organic motifs, flowing lines and freedom of expression. As a group they staged their first international exhibition in 1893 and in 1896 adopted the name Jugendstil (literally ‘Youth Style’) following publication of their avant-garde journal, Jugend.

Suburb of Schwabing

At the same time Munich was experiencing an unprecedented growth in population from 100,000 in 1854 to 500,000 in 1900. This created demand for new housing and civic architecture, which, combined with the introduction of new industrial processes, gave Munich’s architects the opportunity to experiment with their new style.

Jugendstil buildings were subsequently erected across the city, including several notable public buildings. For a more intimate appreciation of the style, however, a visit to the northern suburb of Schwabing is highly recommended, since it was there around 1900 that several of the city’s Jugendstil architects congregated.

Egyptian Culture

Our tour begins outside the bustling Münchner Freiheit U-Bahn station, where on the western side of the street at Leopoldstrasse 77 can be seen a huge apartment house adorned with several typical Jugendstil forms. Built in 1900–1902 to a design by Breslau-born Martin Dülfer (1859–1942), it features a roof line in the form of a curling plant tendril, which is echoed by undulating leaf forms on the façade below. As such, it represents a dramatic departure from the neo-Classical gables popular during much of the preceding century. The organic theme is continued at street level by a row of sharply delineated stucco rose trees, such angular forms being another Jugendstil characteristic, mirroring the typeface popular in contemporary art journals.

We walk down Leopoldstrasse now in the direction of the city centre and turn right onto Herzogstrasse, then fourth left onto peaceful Römerstrasse. Here, at number 11, stands a rather different Jugendstil house. It was designed by Ernst Haiger (1874–1952) and Henry Helbig (1872–1943) for a client fascinated in Egyptian culture, hence the pseudo-pharaonic masks worked into the façade. Although Jugendstil turned its back on Historicism, Egyptian themes proved an exception, probably because the country was still in the throes of being explored by Europeans. Other Jugendstil trademarks employed here include the bold use of colour and sharp verticals, which again echo motifs found in art journals.

Adam and Eve

We continue down Römerstrasse and turn left onto Ainmillerstrasse, a smart street on which artists Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Paul Klee (1879–1940), as well as writer Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) all once lived. Here another Helbig and Haiger house can be seen at number 22. Erected in 1899–1900 it is notable for being the first residential building in Munich to be given a Jugendstil façade. Once again we find Egyptian-style masks, stylised flowers and sharp verticals. Most unusual, however, is a frieze depicting Adam and Eve, one of very few figurative representations on the city’s Jugendstil buildings.

We now walk southwards along Friedrichstrasse, stopping off at Franz-Joseph-Strasse 19 to see another fine Jugendstil façade, this time featuring pairs of golden snakes on one side and peacocks on the other. Near the end of Friedrichstrasse, at number 3, there is a different type of Jugendstil house. Erected in 1904, its lace-like surface treatment is a reminder that Jugendstil, like Art Nouveau, was not simply an architectural movement, but rather a multi-disciplinary one, in which fashion, painting, sculpture, and literature were all involved. As lace was an important medium at the time, it seems right that it found its way into Jugendstil into architecture too.

Villa Stuck

At the bottom of Friedrichstrasse we turn left onto Georgenstrasse, where the Pacelli Palais at number 8–10 facilitates a direct comparison between Historicism and Jugendstil. The right-hand half of the building constructed in the early 1880s still sports its originally façade made up of solid but conservative neo-Classical columns, tympana, loggias and sculptures. By contrast, the left-hand side, which was renovated in the early-20thcentury, carries a pared-down but comparatively colourful and exciting Jugendstil façade.

For anyone interested in seeing other examples of Jugendstil art, a visit should be made to the Villa Stuck at Prinzregentenstrasse 60. The painter, sculptor and graphic artist Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was instrumental in the success of Munich’s Jugendstil, and his former home and studio now pays permanent homage both to his work and the style.

Adapted from the book, Only in Munich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects, by Duncan J.D. Smith (published by The Urban Explorer).


Also in this series by Duncan J.D. Smith:


About the Author

Explorer and travel writer Duncan JD Smith first got the history bug when his grandfather unearthed the grave of a Roman soldier. He opened his own museum aged eleven and went on to study archaeology at Birmingham. After many years in travel publishing, in 2003 he relocated to Vienna, where he writes and publishes his Only In Guides, a series of city guides for independent cultural travellers. Duncan is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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