History of the Münchner Stadtmuseum

The scale of this museum is only really evident from the air. The extensive site comprises two spacious interior courtyards that are framed by four unusually diverse buildings. The oldest of these, the historic armory built in 1500, faces St.-Jakobs-Platz. The collections annex, which was designed by Gustav Gsaenger at the end of the 1950s, extends to Rindermarkt; the medieval royal stables – which were reconstructed in 1977 – reach as far as Sebastiansplatz. Both in terms of its physical magnitude and the scope of its collections, it is Germany's largest municipal museum. The value of its collections is beyond calculation.

It only formally became a history museum in 1888 following an initiative by Ernst von Destouches, the keeper of the city’s archives. And with the Maillinger Collection, the museum came into the possession of over 100,000 pieces of graphic art which shared a common theme: Munich. The princely sum required to purchase them was raised in a lottery. This collection, together with displays illustrating typical rooms from period homes formed the centerpiece of a museum which took an affectionate look at local history. But beyond the fact that the museum’s graphics collections were shown in constantly changing exhibitions, nothing spectacular happened. The royal stables and armory roof were then destroyed in the Second World War, as was the new annex designed by city council member Hans Grässel and built in 1927. However, having been brought to safety in good time, the collections survived the war largely unscathed.

Following World War II, the building was soon being used for exhibitions on aspects of cultural history. Photographs and films were collected and exhibited, an absolute premiere for German museums. Existing municipal collections like the musical instruments and the puppet theater were consolidated in a single building. The Münchner Stadtmuseum gradually began to focus on areas that had been neglected or viewed as unworthy of display by other institutions. By the early 1950s, examples of art nouveau from Munich were already claiming places in the museum – including genuine masterpieces such as "The Whiplash" by Hermann Obrist and August Endell’s earliest furniture designs. Posters, printed ephemera, satirical pictures, fairground attractions, everyday objects, fashions etc. began to augment the more traditional exhibitions items.

During the 1970s, this curiosity for things significant but largely disregarded spawned a popular exhibition style that soon found many disciples. With this new appetite for ephemera, ostensibly worthless objects were increasingly seen as documenting significant trends and developments, and the stories behind the exhibits were examined in entertaining, and occasionally sentimental, style. And there were scandals aplenty. With its connotations of political extremism, "National Frenzy" – the subtitle of an exhibition on the city’s world-famous Oktoberfest (1985) – sparked a major controversy, while catalog texts on the now decommissioned nuclear power plant Ohu for the exhibit "The River Isar, A Resumé" (1983) also ignited a heated debate. The ten commandments proved far from sacred too, with the 100,000 visitors to the photography exhibition "The Nude" (1985) posting an all-time museum record. And then, when subjects like "The 1920s in Munich" (1979) and finally the Nazi era ("Munich. Capital City of the Movement" from 1993) were spotlighted in major exhibitions, the organizers needed strong nerves to handle the emotional upheaval. Then, however, funds available for the host of temporary and increasingly elaborate exhibitions began to dwindle and the lack of an attractive permanent exhibition began to take its toll.

A project to redevelop St.-Jakobs-Platz around 2000 provided the impetus to realize long-cherished plans to transform the museum. The result is a permanent exhibition entitled "Typically Munich!" which, drawing exclusively on the museum’s own resources, represents an initial attempt to capture the city's history, character and residents in pictures, sculptures and display cabinets. Alongside familiar exhibits, such as the ten wood carvings of Morris dancers by Erasmus Grasser, visitors will discover lots of surprises and items that have rarely seen the light of day before.

Another building on the square was added to the museum complex in 1977: the former home and workshop of Ignaz Günther, a leading sculptor from Munich during the Rococo period. This structure was created around the middle of the 18th century when two medieval houses on Oberer and Unterer Anger streets were joined. The small interior courtyard with its fountain, the steep steps better known as the "Stairway to Heaven", a ceiling with wooden beams, and the dormer window affectionately known as "Ohrwaschl" ("earhole") all testify to its former life. Today the house is home to the Münchner Stadtmuseum’s administration. The Director of the Jewish Museum and his team have their offices on the ground floor.

In addition to the numerous temporary exhibitions, the Münchner Stadtmuseum has been organizing an array of regular events since its early days. These, of course, begin with the Film Museum’s cinema with its changing daily program of films, some of which come from the museum’s own stocks but the majority from major archives and cinematography collections around the world. In the Film Museum, films are restored to the highest professional standards, with much of this conservation work concentrated on German silent movies from the 1920s. The works of Karl Valentin, a pioneer of this medium in Munich, form a strong focus.

The events held by the Musical Instrument Collection in the evening and on Sunday mornings can boast a uniquely loyal audience. Top-class artists, rarely played pieces, and performances featuring long-defunct instruments have successfully ensured that every event is sold out – and that in a city claiming the highest ratio of concerts worldwide. The regular puppet shows, which are usually held in the museum’s main hall (Saal des Münchner Stadtmuseums), are not designed for children alone. Here too the organizers indulge their audiences with international productions that might otherwise pass Munich by.

The next phase of construction will see the Gsaengertrakt being developed and opening out onto Rindermarkt and Rosental streets, although the museum's address will still remain St.-Jakobs-Platz: the best possible location for the city’s memory.