Thursday, December 10, 2015

A gripping political & architectural contest in Munich

Gasteig Philharmonie [Source: Schlaier – own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]
What size breeches?

By Rolf Dumke

An architectural and political contest is gripping Munich. It concerns the location and design for a second concert hall for Munich’s homeless Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, under chief conductor Mariss Jansons. It is one of the top ten orchestras in the world, besides the number one in Munich, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Valery Gergiev and Zubin Mehta.
Mariss Jansons conducts Viennas 2012 new year concert
[Source: The Guardian]
    Unfortunately, its handsome concert hall, the Gasteig, is possibly the worst symphony hall in the world acoustically. Years ago my wife and I gave up on the Gasteig after Daniel Barenboim’s dynamic performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with fine conducting by Sergiu Celibidache, when extensive right-hand trills and passages in the upper register could not be heard. The third movement, with its quiet, chamber-music kind of Adante, would have been the charming high point of the concert, but it was almost indistinguishable from our seats in Row 27 on the left side of the hall.
    Below is a video of the performance we presumably heard at the Gasteig two decades ago:

Ironically, the video finally gives us an idea of how fine this concert actually was.
    The more Mariss Jansons improved the reputation of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the more political pressure rose to build a second concert hall – one with good acoustics for this excellent orchestra. But the problems have been to find a good central location, one that does not destroy Munich’s fine architectural landscape, and to find the cash from the city of Munich and the Bavarian Parliament to build it.
    There has understandably been much dithering by the Bavarian Parliament. How many cities in the world are blessed with two excellent symphony orchestras? Other Bavarian regions demanded that cultural spending in their cities should come first, seeing that Munich has been historically overly blessed with cultural attractions.

 Pinakothek der Moderne [Source: Blouin Art Info]
Munich had built a big modern art museum, the Pinakothek der Moderne, in 2002, a top European and world venue for art of the 20th and 21st centuries, designed by the architect Stephan Braunfels.
    This was planned to cost 200 million Deutsche Mark, rising to 237.5 million Deutsche Mark, i.e. 121.4 million Euro, because of the repair of shoddy construction. For example, the signature huge rotunda in the entry hall threatened to crash down on visitors as cracks appeared and prompted the museum’s being shut down for seven months at a cost of 750,000 Euros. The shoddy construction was a result of too early putting a limit on construction costs while planning was still continuing and by unreasonable haste to try to finish construction on the millennial year 2000. The government appointed its own construction manager with a priority of cutting costs, against the warning of the architect. Braunfels was, thus, not responsible, according to a report of the Bavarian General Accounting Bureau in 2010. (See Süddeutsche Zeitung of May 17, 2010.) The cost overruns on this project burned the public hand and put further big projects in Munich on hold for about fifteen years.
    Public revenues have improved in the last five years, other regions have gotten their share of public spending, and memories of shoddy, cheap public construction have faded. So now is the time to splurge on a second symphony concert hall, before the need for large new expenditures becomes too apparent to the voters. Today’s news headlines state that by the end of November one million refugees had crossed German borders in 2015. The costs to support Syrian and other refugees, and to house, train, and educate them in the next decade will be very expensive.
    The Gasteig needs substantial renovations, which would require its closure for years. Building a second concert hall fast would solve the problem of where the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra could play. The new concert hall could be shared with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra while the Gasteig was being renovated. The cost of establishing a temporary venue for rehearsals and performances for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra would be eliminated.

Orleansplatz Ostbahnhof Muenchen
[Source: Rufus46 – own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]
    Thus, the Munich Oberbürgermeister (lord mayor) and the Bavarian Minister-President, Horst Seehofer, suddenly want to act fast to build the new hall in a former factory district located behind the Ostbahnhof (Munich East).
    This area has become a hip place in Munich in the last quarter century, the location of popular music, dance, modern art, bars, and night life. But it is still scruffy. The hope is that a new temple of music would improve the veneer of the location and lower the age of the symphony audience, which is now old and excessively educated. This population will die out in the next ten to twenty years unless it is replenished by younger persons from a more diverse background.
    I think that the political planning for the new concert hall is excellent. Mariss Jansons is in favor of these plans, too. He is happy that, finally, his long-wished-for new house will be constructed. The venue promises to lure a new and younger audience to hear the symphony. However, the planning has been kept almost secret and seems to rate different possible venues by an unclear weighting scheme, receiving the ire of the conservative national newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which wants a more central location.

West side of the Odeonsplatz,
looking south to...Feldherrnhalle
[Source: Kai Effelsberg – own work.
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons]
And now comes a bombshell from Stephan Braunfels in Munich’s Abendzeitung (Evening Paper). Braunfels demands a central location for the new concert hall, near the Odeonsplatz, on the Ludwigstrasse, the “via triumphalis” commissioned by King Ludwig I in the early 19th century and developed by Leo von Klenze, who also designed the fine Alte Pinakothek for the king, the first modern art museum with natural light entering from the ceiling, an idea he got after visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
    Von Klenze designed the Ludwigstrasse as a one-kilometer-long promenade, from the “Siegestor,” Victory Gate, at one end – inspired by the Roman Constantine Arch – celebrating the Bavarian army’s war against Napoleon,
Siegestor, Victory Gate [Source: Google images]
with a square and fountain for the University of Munich, the imposing Bavarian State Library at its center, where, in 1974, I found important data for my University of Wisconsin dissertation on the German Zollverein,
The Bavarian State Library
[Source: Hans-Rudolf Schulz - Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
Licensed under Copyrighted free use via Commons]
and the Feldherrnhalle at the other end in the center of the city, both designed by Friedrich von Gärtner, who later replaced von Klenze. (The Halle is a fine copy of the famous Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, near the entrance of the Uffizi Gallery.)
The Feldherrnhalle on the Odeonsplatz
[Source: Wikiuser100 – own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons]
    The Ludwigstrasse is lined with a fine variety of copies of the best model of a high Renaissance palace von Klenze could find, the handsome Palazzo Farnese of 1534 in Rome, presently owned by the French government, housing its Italian embassy. This must be the most beautiful embassy in the whole world, with its glorious ceiling frescos. (A couple of years ago The New York Times announced a cultural novelty – guided tours in English had become possible in the Palazzo.)

Stephan Braunfels’s design for a concert hall
[Source: Abendzeitung]
    Braunfels wants to bust up this beautiful “via triumphalis” with a horribly white elephant, an exploding Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim art museum, to replace the Bavarian Ministry of Agriculture’s main building, built in 1939 in the style of the Renaissance palazzos of the rest of the Ludwigstrasse. Braunfels states that replacing this “Nazi” building with his modern design would be a good idea.
Bavarian Ministry of Agriculture [Same source]
    Actually, I think that Braunfels is taking a cheap shot at a well-designed building that preserves the harmony and symmetry of the original designs by von Klenze and von Gärtner. Braunfels is simply too big for his breeches. As Davy Crockett properly suggested, “When a man gets too big for his breeches, I say good-bye.”

For more images along Ludwigstrasse, see here. For an excellent architectural history, see “Ludwigstrasse: The ‘via triumphalis’ of King Ludwig I.”
    The most important cultural commentary about all this appeared in the December 5 Feuilleton [feature pages] of the FAZ (the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), which criticizes the unclear Munich planning procedure that led to favor a location for the new concert hall outside the cultural center, and mentions Stephan Braunfels’s plans to replace the Ministry of Agriculture’s main building with his design. And the NY Times commented in December 2014 on “Mariss Jansons Fights for New Concert Hall in Munich,” including Leonard Bernstein’s view of the Gasteig, “Burn it.”
    Two articles in the Süddeutsche Zeitung this week present opposing cases for the location of the new concert hall. “The Classics Belong in the Middle of Social Life” argues for the placement of the new concert hall behind the Ostbahnhof as part of a residential renewal program. “The New Munich Concert Hall. Hidden between Factory Buildings” is a critique of the Ostbahnhof location’s inaccessibility, its cramped location, and the problems of dampening noise from nearby railways and subway trains.

Copyright © 2015 by Rolf Dumke


  1. Rolf, thanks for this. Carolyn and I stayed for several nights in central Munich in September 2014 (as you know, since we visited you and Susan in Rosenheim for a day). It is a pleasure to be reminded by word and photograph of some of the sites we enjoyed there. We didn't attend any performances, however, although, if there had been one in the Gasteig, we might have been disappointed by what we heard (or failed to hear).

    1. Morris, today I attended the traditional Friday lunch of old friends and colleagues at the IFO Institute of Economic Research in the stand-up Italian restaurant da Baffo (at the guy with the mustach) to eat spicy spaghetti arrabiata.

      Two different views of the appropriate response to the Munich quandary of no decent and one too few concert halls emerged.

      One former colleage argued that the acoustics in the Gasteig are not bad for every seat, only for the seats on both sides - on the extreme left and right - of the ground f!oor suffered, and that is where we sat. This cultural gentleman, thus, argues that a complete renovation is unnecessary, and so was the push to build a new concert hall. The existing halls sufficed to create two world class symphonies.

      The seecond view by a specialist in urban planning thought that the city is doing the right thing to create a new cultural center outside center city behind the Ostbahnhof. This would not only be a good urban renewal but would spur new housing construction around the new cultural center and accomodate the rising population in one of the most attractive cities in Germany and disperse it, diminishing the jams in the center.

      I agree with the second view.


  2. Munich has three world-class orchestras, maybe more than any other city in the world. Two problems, however. (1) The concert hall of one of the orchestras is lousy, and (2) another of the orchestras has no hall of its own and must rent a hall for performances, but it has reached such international prominence that Munich and Bavaria have caved to its conductor's demand for a new hall. Fascinating back story....

  3. Mariss Jansons won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2013, the Nobel Prize for music with 250,000 Euros and he donated it to the new planned concert hall, which had been promised him for so long. This put the Bavarian politicians behind the eight ball.

    Moreover, because of health reasons early this year Jansons wanted to give up one of his double positions at the Concertgebouw and the Bayerische Rundfunk. I think he threatened to leave Munich if the politicians did not cough up the hall.
    They did, and he retired from Amsterdam.

    Do you need a great hall to create a great symphony?

    Not if you hire a top director and pay him well, like the Bayerische Rundfunk. This may be a lot cheaper than the 250 million Euro which the new concert hall is supposed to cost.

    Mariss Jansons increased the number of ticket subscribers to the orchestra by a factor of three. This is about a thousand professional people with an avid interest in culture who have gained press and political backing for their cultural desires. A resignation of Jansons would have raised a storm of emotions and damage to leading politcians.

    All these reasons strengthened Jansons hand.

    Still, as a concerned mail from an old college friend points out, the Munich conflict about the new concert hall is a sign of a happy Germany,joustling over internal, family issues, ignoring the international terrorist threat that has engulfed the rest of Europe and the world.