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Travel to Munich


Underground Art, Munich

1 May 2014

Photographer Geoff Brokate’s remarkable images show that, thanks to an ambitious public art project, The Munich U-Bahn is about much more than getting from A to B

In 188 cities around the world billions of passengers are whisked around by underground rail networks every day. While these systems often offer practical and economical ways of getting around our increasingly congested cities, they are rarely places we pause in wonderment. 

In the mid 1980s, the Munich government made the decision to begin using public spaces for artistic expression. Rolf Schirmer, from the subway planning council, felt that the stations should “radiate a positive mood” and that “the use of artistic elements should help make a passenger’s wait more pleasant, something that cannot generally be said of subterranean, mostly artificially lit, spaces”. 

The ongoing collaboration between The Munich Transportation Company, renowned architects and local and international artists has resulted in a remarkable collection of unique designs that bring to mind subterranean science fiction movie sets and Abstract Expressionistic colour-scapes. Explorations of the city’s underground system reveal seemingly endless buried architectural wonders; curves that draw the eyes to follow and fingers to trace; colours and patterns that jolt or calm the mind; shapes and images that fire the imagination and textures that point to the past and the future.

Unlike many of Europe’s old cities and their antiquated subways, Munich’s underground railway system is relatively new. Work began in 1964 and construction was stepped up to meet the deadline of the 1972 Summer Olympics. On October 19, 1971, the first line was opened between Kieferngarten and Goetheplatz covering 12 kilometres. The U-Bahn now spans more than 95km, reaching out to the city’s extremities and transporting 1.5 million people a day and 368 million annually. There are plans to continue its expansion. 

Prior to the Second World War, the Bavarian capital relied upon trams to transport the public; early plans for an underground system were scrapped in 1941 as the war took hold of the country. Eventually the ground traffic through the city reached a peak and the underground became a necessity. 

The most exciting art and design are on the U1 and U2 lines, where the most modern stations can be found. Over the last 40 years the concept of public space has changed from Modernist cement structures, to using contemporary techniques to create a transportation experience that removes the passenger from the mundane into the surreal. Gunnar Heipp, the head of strategic planning at MVG (Munich Transportation Company), explains the city’s philosophy: “The older lines were constructed with the view towards continuity, maintaining a similar look throughout the stations. Now the philosophy is that every station is individually designed, giving each station its own distinguishable character.”


Westfriedhof opened in May 1998 and is located on the northern section of the U1 line.Situated in the district of Moosach, the station name translates as ‘western cemetery’, referring to the famous nearby cemetery containing many traditional sculptures and period architecture, which was laid out in 1898. In contrast to the classical pieces found in the cemetery above, the station, designed by the architecture firm Auer-Weber, is wonderfully surreal, making it a popular photography and film location. The unique lighting concept, created by Ingo Maurer, was not installed until 2001, but the lighting complements the architectural features perfectly, as 11 dome shaped lamps measuring 3.8m in diameter bathe the station in blue, red and yellow hues. The walls of the station were left untreated, so they took the shape of the bare earth, stone and rock. With its natural, organic look the station to feel like an underground cave. Westfriedhof is an experience like no other and is a big hit with the locals, who recently voted it their favourite U-Bahn station.

Am Hart

Am Hart, opened in November 1993, is on the U2 line and is located in the borough of Milbertshofen-Am Hart in north Munich. The station runs parallel with Knorr Street and is opposite the BMW research and technology centre and museum. The station was designed by the architecture firm Hilmer and Sattler, established in Munich in 1974, and the lighting concept comes from Werner Lampl, an expert who lectures in modern lighting technology. Lampl has managed to create perfect harmony between his lighting concept and the simple architectural design. The ceiling of the platform consists of curved aluminium panels, creating a flowing wave that moves into the distance and covers the width of the platform like the wingspan of a giant bird. A line of central pillars bisects the platform, creating a channel for the two rows of lights to follow. The station is filled with indirect light, which is absorbed and refracted off the wing curve of the ceiling. The walls are covered with blue glass tiles, and the inclusion of the red band that typifies stations on line U2 creates an effective colour counterpoint. Despite consisting of a simple design and colour pallet of red, white and blue, Am Hart has a distinctive character that makes it stand out from the other stations on the U-Bahn.


This station was opened in November 1997 in the district of Untergiesing on the southern section of the U1 line. It is named after 16th century artist and sculptor Peter Candid, who worked in Munich and the surrounding area on many churches, creating altarpieces and paintings. The architectural firm Egon Konrad had to find creative solutions to the obstacles that arose during construction of this station. It is under a busy section of Munich called Candid Bridge, and the platform required extra reinforcing, which is why the station has a hat-shaped ceiling. It also runs alongside a sewage system, which gives it its curved lines. The central columns are covered with stained glass, coloured to match the rainbow-splattered walls created by artist Sabine Koschier. Koschier was asked to neutralise the harshness of the underground construction, so she decided to give the station life by covering it with the colour spectrum, beginning the process by using photographs from nature and arranging them by their essential colour. She then blurred them to such an extent that they took on a painterly look. The natural colour tones are at once uplifting and soothing, and soften the hardness of the geometric design.


Oberwiesenfeld opened in October 2007 and is located at the northern end of the Olympic Park on the U3 line. The building of the Olympic area took place on a large industrial area called Oberwiesenfeld, which used to contain an airfield and army barracks. This area no longer exists, but the station remains a monument for locals who have watched their city evolve and be shaped by its population’s changing demands. The station is an elongated space, which doesn’t contain any columns for support. The space inspired Rudolf Herz, the artist commissioned to put his fingerprint on Oberwiesenfeld, tp create his piece, Ornament; through manipulation of perception and movement he was able to exaggerate and add to the expansive nature of the space. On one of the walls Herz used black and white panels that appear to be random, until the passengers make their way off the platform. The magic of the piece is that the wall appears to move and shape itself into what is eventually revealed to be a labyrinth. On the opposing wall are orange panels, a colour theme that is continued through the stations on the U3 line.


This station was opened in November 1993 and is located at the northern end of the U2 line. Dülferstrasse is a main road in the borough of Hasenbergl, and it’s named after a famous mountaineer, Hans Dulfer (1892 to 1915), who was known for inventing his own abseiling technique. As one of the earlier stations to be adorned with public art, it has a simple yet very effective design. Architects Peter Lanz and Jürgen Rauch have designed a wonderfully symmetrical station with central columns decorated with aqua glass panels. Compared to the imposing, futuristic scale of the design elements in other stations, Dülferstrasse has a delicate and intimate feel that creates a chic look reminiscent of 1920s art deco. The stained glass panels along the sidewalls of the station were created by Ricarda Dietz, a popular local artist who has made her career from creating public art. The panels mirror each other along both walls forming a colourful rainbow gradient like the rhythmic unravelling of a colour wheel.


The first in a new generation of artist-designed stations, Georg-Brauchle-Ring opened in October 2003 and is on the U1 line, located in the northwest on the border of the Moosach and Milbertshofen districts. It is named for Georg Brauchle, who from 1960 to 1968 was deputy mayor of Munich. He was involved in urban development planning, including overseeing the construction of the U-Bahn and the transportation plan for the 1972 Olympics. The artist Franz Akerman was commissioned to install his concept entitled The Great Journey. The two walls running along the platform are transformed by 400 metallic colour panels, creating a patchwork grid integrated with prints of photographs, paintings, postcards and maps referring to different places around the world. It is a dramatic space that feels like a giant kaleidoscope or Rubik’s Cube. The use of pop-art colours enlivens the giant space, which is free of pillars. Its reflective ceiling of polished stainless steel makes its 7.5m walls appear more like a vast open concert hall than an inner city underground station.


Olympia-Einkaufszentrum, or ‘Olypmic Shopping Centre’, is at the junction between the U1 and U3 lines. The station is located in the district of Moosach and connects to a large shopping centre, which was built during the construction boom of the 1972 Games. Both platforms were designed by the architecture firm Betz. At first glance, this station doesn’t look to be one of Munich’s most avant-garde, but as you pass through the large open concourse and head to the lower level of the U3 line, you discover an original design with bold colours, shapes and textures that are like a cross between a pop art sculpture and a futuristic military defence system. Along the walls covering the length of the platform are tiny stainless steel pyramids. Each triangular shape reflects the light in different directions, depending on where the viewer stands. It creates a shimmering effect, which adds movement and rhythm to the experience. The upper walls are coloured blue, with suspended yellow ellipsoid shaped casings, which hold the lighting fixtures. This station is a major hub with a lot of traffic and the design adds some respite from the hectic atmosphere of shoppers and commuters.


Hasenbergl opened in October 1996 and is situated at the north-western end of the U2 line. The Hasenbergl district was once known for its low-income social housing estates, poor infrastructure and lack of transport links to the city centre, but through new construction projects, such as the extension of the U2 line, the quality of life has increased and the district has been successfully reinvented.The futuristic design is in clear contrast to the past reputation of the area, an indication of the city’s intention to transform and bring attention to this borough. The station was designed by architecture firm Braun, Hesselberger + Partner, with the original lighting designed by Kramer Lighting. The centre point of the station is a suspended mother of pearl lenticular sail, and the overall effect is something like a space station with the mothership coming in to land. Below the reflective surface of the sail is a ring of florescent light that illuminates and echoes its teardrop-like shape sending out atmospheric indirect light. The surrounding walls are basked in blue reflective light, while the white granite floor is dissected by black patterned triangles that look like the floor of a grand monument, creating a balance between classical architecture and futuristic vision.



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