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The “via triumphalis” of King Ludwig I

Ludwigstrasse is the grand thoroughfare stretching over a kilometer from Odeonsplatz in the south to Siegestor (Triumphal Arch) in the north. It was commissioned in 1816 by King Ludwig I, who was determined to transform Munich into a cultural and artistic center. And, indeed, as he had hoped, the building of Ludwigstrasse marked Munich’s transition from a medieval town to a city fit for kings.
Ludwigstrasse 276x
The general plan for Ludwigstrasse was created by architect Leo von Klenze (1784–1864), who designed and completed the first group of buildings on this avenue. A keen advocate of city planning, Klenze favored severe geometrical lines, which is immediately apparent to anyone who has looked at the austere panorama of the Ludwigstrasse. It is not only Klenze’s style, however, that defined the buildings along this street. In 1827 King Ludwig, a notoriously fickle character, who had previously done much to promote Klenze’s career, transferred his loyalties to a young man named Friedrich Gärtner (1792–1847)—later given the honorary title “von” by the king. Although Gärtner’s father had been court architect, replaced on the whim of Bavaria’s capricious king by Klenze, the younger Gärtner took over the project and is responsible for the Romanesque and Byzantine elements on many facades. In fact the street is as much a monument to these two architects as to their royal patron. It was also Gärtner, again commissioned by Ludwig, who designed the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall), an appropriately monumental terminus for Ludwig’s via triumphalis on the southern side of Odeonsplatz.
The two buildings that link Odeonsplatz with Ludwigstrasse were originally among the most important but now house government offices and are often overlooked in favor of more opulent buildings further along the street. The first of these two (Odeonsplatz 3) is Odeon, after which the square was named. Built from 1826 to 1828 to Klenze’s designs, it was a music and dance hall for many years until Allied bombing destroyed most of the structure in World War II—in fact only the inner walls remained standing. It was rebuilt in 1954 (without the concert hall) and now houses the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior. The second building (Odeonsplatz 4) is the Leuchtenberg Palais. Klenze’s creation served as a model for many other buildings on Ludwigstrasse and was itself based on the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The stately Renaissance Revival mansion, originally an exclusive private residence, was converted into a hotel during the Revolution of 1848 and is now home to the Bavarian Ministry of Finance. In front of the building is an equestrian statue of King Ludwig I, which was erected 14 years after his abdication.

Further along the street, on the right, is the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (BSB; Bavarian State Library), which was founded by Duke Albrecht V, a great patron of the arts and sciences, in 1558, though the structure we see today was built much later by Gärtner. It may never have gotten further than the drawing board had Leo von Klenze been able to exert greater influence. The library was designed by his archrival, Gärtner, in 1827 and Klenze, who was on the city’s architectural council, managed to delay commencement of the project for five years. Work finally got underway on the Neo-Renaissance building in 1832. The balustrade at the main entrance is decorated with replicas of statues by Ludwig Schwanthaler (1802–1848), of the four Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, Homer and Thucydides. The institution has certainly done its noble heritage proud: Manfred Hank and Peter Schnitzlein from the public relations department of the library explain that not only is the BSB the second-largest library in the German-speaking world, “its quality is of international standard.” It holds nearly eight million volumes and boasts one of the largest science libraries in Germany, the second-largest newspaper collection in Europe (after the British Library) and one of the most important manuscript collections worldwide. Around 85 percent of the library was destroyed during the war and 500,000 books went up in flames. Damage was so extensive that it took nearly 20 years to rebuild this monumental structure.

In sharp contrast to the neighboring library, Ludwigskirche (St. Ludwig’s Church), also by Gärtner, is a unique combination of Byzantine and Romanesque elements. Construction began in 1829, took 15 years and the result is one of Germany’s most elegant 19th-century churches. The pointed twin towers are 71 meters high and the triple-arched entrance is watched over by Schwanthaler’s carved figures of Christ and the four evangelists. The tranquil blue and gold interior is enhanced by the frescoes of Nazarene painter Peter Cornelius (1783–1867). Among them is the "Last Judgment in the choir, a painting intended to rival Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel. Despite being 18.3 meters high, 11.3 meters wide and containing more than 100 figures, Cornelius’ work was not well received, although it is one of the largest frescoes in the world. Gärtner was also responsible for much of the interior, including the altar and the confession box. Luckily Ludwigskirche was one of the few churches in Munich to survive World War II relatively unscathed and restoration work was completed by 1958.

A little further down Ludwigstrasse is another Gärtner edifice, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), built in the late 1830s. The university is the second largest in the country—after the Free University in Berlin—with more than 50,000 registered students, though many departments are housed at other sites in Munich. The university had begun life in Ingolstadt, where it was founded by Ludwig der Reiche (the Rich) in 1472. Later it was moved to Landshut, before being housed at its current location on Ludwigstrasse in 1840. The university has a distinguished academic record—13 Nobel Prize winners studied here—and if uplifting architecture is in any way an aid to learning, the large vaulted Aula (assembly hall) and airy Lichthof (atrium) have probably done their part. The main building and many institutes were very badly damaged by bombing during the war and they lost 400,000 books (one-third of their collection). Although the university reopened in July 1946, the chaotic book-storing situation improved only in 1967, when a new building was completed. Outside the LMU Bibliothek (library), bullet marks are still visible on the red brick walls.

On the west side of Ludwigstrasse outside the LMU is Geschwister-Scholl-Platz and on the east side directly opposite, Professor-Huber-Platz, both large squares graced with fountains. These squares commemorate members of Die Weisse Rose (White Rose), an anti-Nazi resistance group. The siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl were students at the university and along with other members of Die Weisse Rose produced leaflets calling for passive resistance to the Nazi regime. Professor Kurt Huber was a popular man and has been described as “one of Germany’s most competent musicologists.” He joined the Scholls’ circle of friends and became their spiritual mentor. They courageously produced and distributed six leaflets, the following is an extract from the third: “Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eliminate this system”? The Scholls were arrested on February 18, 1943, when they were caught throwing the sixth Weisse Rose leaflet from the gallery of the atrium in the university (where there is a commemorative plaque now). They were tried on February 22, 1943, and executed just three and a half hours later, along with their friend Christoph Probst. Determined to be heard until the end, Hans’ last words were “long live freedom” and Sophie wrote the word Freiheit (freedom) on the back of her indictment papers. Professor Huber was prosecuted in a second trial and along with two other members of Die Weisse Rose was executed on July 13, 1943. On the ground floor of the LMU there is a small memorial and documentation center dedicated to the memory of Die Weisse Rose movement. It was opened in 1997 by the then German Federal President, Roman Herzog, and contains a permanent exhibition, an impressive reading library and memorabilia (such as a diary, a typewriter, notebooks, etc.). The center is open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and Thursday from 10 am to 9 pm (admission free) and is certainly worth a visit.

The final crowning of the spectacular Ludwigstrasse is Siegestor (Triumphal Arch). Completed in 1852, this last work of Gärtner was modeled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. It marks the north end of Ludwigstrasse, where Leopoldstrasse begins. The monument was built to honor the Bavarian army and to commemorate its role in the wars against Napoleon from 1813 to 1815. It has three grand arches and is crowned by a statue of Bavaria accompanied by a quadriga of four lions. The bas-reliefs depict battle scenes, the medallions allegorical depictions of the Bavarian provinces, and figures of victory grace the top of the columns. Translated, the inscription added in 1958 reads: “Dedicated to victory, destroyed in war, exhorting to peace.” When walking past Siegestor onto Leopoldstrasse there is a noticeable change of atmosphere; the architectural uniformity of Ludwigstrasse is replaced by a variety of architectural styles.

The grand, palatial architecture of Ludwigstrasse is overlooked in many travel guides, despite the fact that it marks a significant transformation of the city, making it an important part of Munich’s history and culture.

© MF Perl/March 03

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