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Absolutely abstract: Munich’s major Kandinsky retrospective

Awash in colour and form, Ben Knight saddles up for ride through Munich’s major Kandinsky retrospective.

Absolutely abstract: Munich’s major Kandinsky retrospective
Photo: DPA

Munich’s place in art history was sealed on an afternoon in Moscow in 1896 when a young lawyer laid eyes on one of Monet’s famous haystack pictures.

“The catalogue told me they were haystacks, but for the life of me I couldn’t see them. I was embarrassed by my inability to recognise what the painting was meant to be of,” Wassily Kandinsky said later.

According to the documentary that accompanies the major new retrospective in Munich’s Lenbachhaus, the 30-year-old Kandinsky was so mesmerised by Monet’s shimmering, unreal mushroom-like piles of grass, that he immediately rejected a job offer as lecturer in law at a prominent university, and enrolled in a western art school, a private institute in Munich.

Apocryphal as this story may be, the fact is that this promising lawyer spent the turn of the new century living in Munich’s bohemian district of Schwabing, forming movements and having scandalous affairs with other avant-garde artists impatient to dissolve the realistic representation of the nineteenth century.

This important new exhibition in Munich, which exhaustively charts his career, is in cooperation with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It gathers around 95 major works from these three collections of the Russian artist’s oeuvre.

The Lenbachhaus specialises in his pre-World War I period in Munich and Murnau, drawing particularly on the works from the famous Blue Rider collection. The gallery’s permanent Blue Rider exhibition is included in the ticket, as is a unique exhibition of Kandinsky’s 230 art prints, which serve as beautifully formed pendants to the magnificent paintings.

But Kandinsky’s artistic journey started with the Blue Rider, a tightly knit artist collective that spent weeks in the village of Murnau, re-imagining the Bavarian countryside as a vivid expressionist pageant. The house he shared with the likes of Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc and August Macke was suspiciously called das Russenhaus (the Russian House) by the villagers, and there are photos of the great abstractionist cheerfully trying to fit into rural Bavaria by gardening in lederhosen.

The exhibition then traces his subsequent travels: back to Moscow in time for the October Revolution, teaching in the Bauhaus school (as a neighbour to Paul Klee) in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin, and finally his exiled late period in Paris, where he died in 1944.

The chronological arrangement makes it satisfyingly easy to follow his search for a purer form of depiction. In early works like “The Motley Life,” a sentimental, homesick painting of a snowy Moscow street scene, realistic images are merely broken up into little elements of bright colour floating in a black background – effectively, a richly coloured mosaic without the stones.

The Bauhaus era sees him exploring the geometrical roots of painting – “point and line to plane,” as he summarised it – while the later Paris work, apparently influenced by Miro-esque surrealism, seems to invest organic life into his intricate shapes and figures. Sky Blue looks like yellow alien Ren and Stimpy-style foetuses floating in chlorine water.

Being prone to the neurological condition known as synaesthesia (being able to hear colours as notes and see music in colour) clearly enhanced Kandinsky’s sense of the platonic essence of objects. But in his later work we see him opening the door to his synaesthesia a little more consciously – the titles become musically inspired (Reciprocal Accord), and the forms resemble musical notation.

The development of colours can also be followed nicely in this exhibition – the rich heavy primary colours of his Blue Rider years give way to darker, heavier greys and browns in Moscow, before Paris inspires him to those brash cartoonish turquoises and purples.

He was the world’s pioneering abstractionist, but Kandinsky’s sense of the abstract, which he preferred oxymoronically to call “concrete,” was never cerebral, always spiritual. He rejected the mechanical approach of his constructivist contemporaries, and invested an almost religious, supernatural fervour into his paintings.

This project was not always successful. One early curator in Munich claimed he had to dry off the paintings of Kandinsky and his friends every evening, because visitors would continually spit on them. Happily, the paintings on display in this comprehensive and accessible exhibition are saliva-free.

More Information

The exhibition runs through February 22.

Open: Tues – Sun 10:00 am – 10:00 pm

Price: €12 / reduced €6

Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau

Luisenstraße 33

Munich

Tel. 089 233 32000

For members

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Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Summer is upon us, and travelling around Germany is cheaper than ever. If you're keen to get away from the bustle of the Bavarian capital for the day, here are nine day trip ideas to get you started.

Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Germany’s long-waited €9 ticket is finally on the scene, giving people the chance to snap up unlimited travel on regional and local transport for less than ten euros a month.

Since the offer is running through the whole of June, July and August, it’s the perfect opportunity to do some exploring outside of the major cities. In the case of Bavaria, there’s so much on offer: from dazzling alpine lakes to fairytale castles and UNESCO towns. 

If you’re based in Munich, these stunning destinations can all be reached on regional transport in under three hours, making them perfect for a day trip or even a weekend getaway. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Salzburg 

Salzburg

Salzburg’s historic centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Anita Arneitz

Surrounded by soaring Alpine peaks, the Austrian city of Salzburg is a must-visit if you’re ever nearby. Immaculately preserved baroque buildings line the historic streets, giving visitors the sense of stepping back in time to the era of the city’s most famous resident: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Visiting Hagenauer Haus – the birthplace of Mozart – is a must while you’re there, as is a trip to the city’s striking modern art museum and the charming toy museum

If you decide to stay in Salzburg for longer than a day, it’s definitely worth scheduling a trip out to Germany’s Königsee. This alpine lake is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful locations in Germany – and if you make it there, you’ll see why. Simply hop on the 840 bus from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden and then switch to the 841 to Königsee. The journey takes an hour and a half but with breathtaking views to look at the whole time, the time will fly by.

Incredibly, the €9 deal will even take you across the border into Austria and as far as Salzburg for no extra charge. Simply take the RB40 from Munich East and then change to RE45 at Mühldorf. The whole journey shouldn’t take longer than 2 hours and 45 minutes. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein

View over Schloss Neuschwanstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Ludwig II’s masterpiece of neo-gothic architecture is immensely popular with tourists – and it’s no wonder. Surrounded by dizzying peaks and pine forests, Schloss Neuschwanstein is straight out of a fairytale, and famously inspired the Walt Disney logo. 

Take a walking tour around the castle to hear all about the escapades of mad King Ludwig II and discover why people nicknamed him the ‘Swan King’. Just a stone’s throw away is Ludwig’s equally stunning but less famous summer residence – the colourful Schloss Hohenschwangau – which is also well worth a visit. And if you still haven’t had your fill of royalty, you can find out even more about Ludwig and his relatives at the Museum of Bavarian Kings. Otherwise, take a refreshing dip in the nearby Alpsee or enjoy some hearty southern German fare and a Helles at the atmospheric Schloss Bräustüberl Hohenschwangau

To get to Schloss Neuschwanstein, take the RB70/74/76 train from Munich Central Station to Buchloe and then change to the BRB RB77 to Füssen, which is about an hour’s walk or a short bus ride from the castles. 

READ ALSO: Five haunted castles in Germany that will creep you out

Regensburg

Regensburg's old stone bridge

Regensburg’s Old Stone Bridge and Old Town. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

The university town of Regensburg, to the north of Munich, is an essential day trip for history buffs and lovers of medieval architecture. Located on the banks of the Danube, Regensburg is believed to be the northernmost Roman fort in Europe and the town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006. 

Incredibly, Regenburg’s Old Town managed to make it through two world wars unscathed and the town is now considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. To soak up the atmosphere, take a meandering walk around the Altstadt and cross the old stone bridge to colourful neighbourhood of Stadtamhof – and keep an eye out for Regenburg’s iconic tower houses on the way. If you get peckish, you can stop by at Germany’s oldest sausage kitchen, which has been serving delicious Wurst to locals since the 12th Century. You can also learn about the region’s Jewish and Roman past at the fascinating Document Neupfarrplatz museum, or see a who’s-who of brilliant German men and women in the historic Hall of Fame.

To get to Regensburg from Munich, you have a choice of regional trains. The RE2 or RE25 only take around 1 hour and 20 minutes, while others such as the RE50 tend to take more of a scenic route.

Tegernsee 

Tegernsee

A view of Tegernsee and the surrounding mountains. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

If you’re looking for all the natural highs that Bavaria has to offer, then look no further than the lakeside resort of Tegernsee. This stunning spot has everything from mountain peaks to a crystalline lake – not to mention endless fun activities that the whole family can enjoy. There are some immensely popular hiking and biking trails both around the lake and in the mountains – and for those who want to skip the sweaty part, the Wallbergbahn gondola will take you 1,600 feet above sea level to enjoy the best views of Tegernsee and its surroundings. 

During the summer, adrenaline junkies will love taking a ride down the hillside on the summer toboggan at nearby Oedberg or even trying their hand at paragliding. And of course, there are numerous charming Bavaria eateries and swimming beaches dotted around the lake itself.

There are great train connections between Munich and Tegernsee. The BRB RB57, for example, will take you from Munich Central Station to Gmund am Tegelsee in just over an hour. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: 10 of the best hiking day trips from Munich

Garmisch and Zugspitze 

Wankbahn

Visitors enjoy a ride on the ‘Wankbahn’ gondola to the tip of Mount Wank. Photo: picture alliance / Sven Hoppe/dpa | Sven Hoppe

For fans of winter sports, Germany’s highest mountain should need no introduction. In summer, however, the popular ski resort of Garmisch-Patenkirchen and its famous peaks are no less captivating.

With its historic alleys lined with chocolatiers and cafes, Garmsich-Patenkirchen is worthy of a day trip in itself. But for lovers of the great outdoors, the hiking and cycling opportunities in the surrounding alps are what really makes the area special. From Garmisch, you can ascend approximately 2,600 feet to the top of Zugspitze by cable car, where you can follow adventurous hiking trials and experience a real glacier up close. Beyond Germany’s highest mountain, Garmisch is also a good starting point for a trip up the hilariously named Mount Wank, another soaring mountain with panoramic views of the valley.  

Due to a tragic train derailment, a part of the railway between Oberau and Garmisch is closed. Currently, passengers can get the RE6 from Munich to Oberau and then change to a bus to Garmisch. The journey takes about an hour and a half.

Nuremberg 

Nuremberg old town

Nuremberg’s quaint city centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

From fascist rallies in the 1930s to the courthouse where prominent Nazi figures were put on trial in the aftermath of WWII, nowhere quite represents the darker side of German history as much as Nuremburg. If you visit for the day, the exhibition at the Documentation Centre – housed in the old site of the famous Nazi rallies – will help you understand Nuremburg’s unique role in the far-right’s rise to power. You can also visit the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, which is housed on the top floor of the Palace of Justice where the trials took place.

It’s also worth taking a walk around the historic centre, which was largely destroyed in the Second World War but subsequently rebuilt in all its medieval charm. 

The ICE fast speed train is by far the quickest way to get from Munich to Nuremburg, but if you want to use the €9 ticket, the RE1 will take you there in 1 hour and 45 minutes. 

Taufkirchen

Body-flying at Jochen Schweizer Arena

‘Body flying’ at the Jochen Schweizer Arena. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Just south of Munich in the unassuming suburb of Taufkirchen, you’ll find the ultimate pilgrimage site for German adrenaline junkies: the Jochen Schweizer Arena. For those who don’t know, Jochen Schweizer is a German stuntman and extreme athlete who made his fortune by setting up an ‘experiences’ business which sells every type of gift experience imaginable, from wine tasting to skydiving. 

At his flagship arena, you can try anything from indoor surfing to bungee-jumping and body flying – otherwise known as indoor skydiving. On sunny afternoons, adults and kids alike can have hours of fun clambering around the outdoor high-ropes climbing course and whizzing through the air on the ‘Flying Fox’ zipwire. 

Getting to Taufkirchen from central Munich couldn’t be easier: it takes around 20 minutes on the S3. 

READ ALSO: The 9 best day trips from Berlin with the €9 ticket

Dachau 

Arbeit macht frei

The infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ inscription at the entrance to Dachau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Spending a morning or afternoon at the former concentration camp at Dachau is a heart-wrenching experience, but it’s also a powerful way to keep the atrocities in living memory and bear witness to the stories of those who were incarcerated there. 

The former factory at Dachau was turned into Germany’s first concentration camp in March 1933 – just a few months after Adolf Hiter was appointed Chancellor of the Reich. It acted as a prototype for similar death camps elsewhere in Germany and housed about 200,000 Jewish and political prisoners during Nazi rule. 

To get the best understanding of the history of the camp, it’s a good idea to book a guided tour, though walking around the site alone can be equally moving.

It takes about 40 minutes to get to Dachau from Munich city centre. Travel north on the S2 or the RB16 regional train, and then transfer to the 726 bus from Dachau train station. 

Oberammergau

Oberammergau

A house in Oberammergau with traditional ‘Lüftlmalerei’, or frescoes. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Ammergauer Alpen

Nestled in the mountains and just a stone’s throw from the Austrian border, you’ll find Oberammergau – a tiny alpine town with an incredibly vibrant cultural history. For almost 400 years, the people of Oberammergau have had a tradition of putting on a series of passion plays – historic performances of biblical stories – though unfortunately these only take place every 10 years. 

If you’re not lucky enough to make it there at the right time, the town still has plenty to offer. Walking around, you’ll see facades emblazoned with colourful frescoes and traditional wood carvings. For the full alpine experience, head to the Erlebnisbad Wellenberg – a huge outdoor swimming pool surrounded by breathtaking mountains. Another exciting way to see the mountains is to take a ride on the Alpine Coaster, a summer toboggan run that speeds down the hillside through meadows and pine forests. 

The quickest way to get Oberammergau from Munich is to take the RE6 or RE60 towards Innsbruck and then change at Murnau to the RE63. This route takes about an hour and 40 minutes. 

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