MUNICH: Werksviertel

Time to read:

5 minutes

This is Munich’s “cool” area.

In the Werksviertel (factory quarter) behind the East Train Station, a new district is growing up on a 100-acre former industrial zone. For decades, among the commercial ventures, it has been home to clubs, concerts and cafes.

What’s happening here depends on whom you talk to. Property owners, investors, architects, residents, artists, city officials and others bring a seemingly infinite number of ideas to be realized in concrete, glass and steel.

On past visits, scarred buildings, chain-link fences and rusting machinery made parts of this area look like a war zone.

Drawings and paintings on abandoned factory walls — astronaut, fox, monsters, flowers, freckle-faced girl — created a huge temporary outdoor gallery by artists known around the world to graffiti aficionados.

But during a walk-through, you could count the people you ran into on one hand.

The 1990s roared here, ruled by concert halls, a canteen, discos and bars, many of which didn’t come alive until after dark.

Pick your way through today, and you’ll run into striking high-rise apartment buildings, loft offices with 17-foot ceilings, media companies, fitness studios, restaurants, supermarket, drug store — and concert halls, discos and bars.

But also an elementary school and a nascent central park. Now people live here and children play here. The dress code seems to have changed from overalls to business casual.

Movers and shakers of the Werksviertel want to set standards in urban planning and architecture that ripple far beyond Munich. In 2021, the German Architecture Museum’s national prize for best building went to Werk 12 (Plant 12).

Five two-story floors, fronted with glass, are not hard to find. The building’s “high-stacking” facade displays terms from German comics such as “AAHHH,” “OH,” “PUH” and “WOW” in prefab letters about 15-feet high. 

The plan for Werk 12 includes offices, fitness studio and restaurants — but owners say the floor plan is deliberately flexible and uses can change. 

The widest building, Plant 3, is something of a center to the area. About 100 yards long, it offers the most first-floor space, precious to designers and retailers who want restaurants and shops to give the area a “public” feel. A grassy, rooftop “pasture” featuring chickens and sheep helps make it family friendly.

Plans by the owner of the former lubricating oils plant include 1,150 apartments for 2,600 people, more than 12,600 jobs, more than 10,000 hotel beds and culture and leisure opportunities. Many plans for the area already are reality; some are underway; more are still on the drawing board. Literally.

Nobody promised “forever” to the temporary users who waited for the investors and architects of this emerging sector. A three-year feature of the Werksviertel was the urban landscape created from 39 colorful stacked shipping containers.

The “projects” of the Container Collection included a skate shop, web radio, a Kölsch party bar, a cocktail school and coffee at Kaserne de Janeiro. But ultimately, a hotel is to go up on the site.

Dozens of finished and half-finished buildings compete for your attention. “Media Bridge” will be a three-story horizontal high-rise on columns. Atlas, a 40-year-old former arts center is to be preserved. Media Works, a former ammunition factory, is under construction. Rhenania Villa will be glass offices and events.

At night, a brightly lighted ferris wheel called “Umadum” could be seen for miles. The ride took 30 minutes, and the wheel paused at the top so people could take a long look.

Last summer, what producers called the first ferris-wheel opera premiered here. The composer said he was inspired by Italian people during the pandemic. Isolated on their balconies, they sang together. 

At the ferris wheel, musicians and volunteer customers sat in each of the gondola cars. The rest of the audience watched on screens at the base of the wheel. There was no director, so musicians kept time via stopwatches.

In the cabins, riders could only hear their own musician. The only ones to hear the complete opera were the people on the ground. Price was whatever you felt like paying. On your way out.

The ferris wheel was to come down in 2022. At the moment, it still stands. But it’s going to make room for the permanent change to the character of the Werksviertel.

You saw a yellow phone booth before in this post, but they’re hard to find. The booth, a feature of German cities and towns since WWII, is vanishing, a victim of the mobile phone.

In most cases, the law no longer requires phone companies to maintain phones that don’t pay their way. In busy spots, you may find a phone “pillar.” Or a hotspot, from which mobile phones can surf the net. Phone cards have gone the way of the booths.

A couple of years ago, another use was found for a yellow phone booth in Munich. In 2021, artists placed an old booth, found on a farm in lower Bavaria, as a time capsule at a resident-created green spot where two major roads met. Visitors could hear and see places, stories and faces in recordings such as a chimney sweep’s view of the area.

Debate still surrounds a possible 1,900-seat “signature” concert hall in the Werksviertel for the prestigious Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Questions have been raised about the need, cost and fitness for the times.

But the hall is central to plans for the area, and critics in city council blame a local slowdown in affordable-housing construction on a “thinking pause” demanded months ago by the Bavarian president.

If there’s an overarching theme among so many diverse players, it seems to be “rough urbanity.” Dense but diverse. No chains allowed. Business chic with factory roots. In the Werksviertel, a metamorphosis is going on before your eyes.

Next: Airport


2 responses to “MUNICH: Werksviertel”

  1. Nizzy Avatar

    I love the ferris wheel opera! Id love to see that but sounds like it is going away. If you have a video link please share.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar

      There was no sign of the opera at Umadum in September and I never saw a link to a video. But producers savvy enough to come up with the concept must have thought of a video, especially as the opera’s expected shelf life must have been short.

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