While on a press tour of the Munich luxury Hotel Königshof a few years ago for a British newspaper, I could never quite work out why architects had built such a dreary, uninspiring façade to house such a high-class hotel. It was, I guessed, likely a question of post-war expediency over style.
Now, the hotel is currently being dismantled, and though I disliked the exterior, it’s still slightly sad to see it being torn down. Similar to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof, it’ll be rebuilt, modernised, and fit for the 21st-century. The major revamp of the main station (part of which is also currently being dismantled) is happening at the same time as the preparatory stages of the hugely controversial – not to say colossal – creation of a second S-Bahn tunnel.
Do, however, all three projects – luxury hotel at Stachus, new Hauptbahnhof and second S-Bahn tunnel – betray the fact that Munich is building for the past, not for the future? In a more rational world, the plot for the new hotel would be given over to affordable housing (yes, it’s idealistic, and I’m not against luxury hotels, but I’m also not always rational). And while the modernisation of the main station is no doubt necessary to some degree, surely such a project should be coordinated with a more honest discussion about whether the second S-Bahn tunnel is needed.
Of course, the second S-Bahn tunnel has been discussed endlessly, with some critics saying it was only approved because decision-makers had had enough of the talking about it. But for a city already packed with vehicles and people, with significant housing problems (from availability to cost), should city planners really be directing even more people into the city centre? Another luxury hotel (and office space, it seems) project was announced this week, in what looks like the spectacular setting of the heritage-protected former Postpalast building. While not right in the centre of the city, its location between the main station and the famous Zirkus Krone means it’s still central-ish.
The strains on modern European cities is reflected in Amsterdam’s latest announcement this week that it would try to address the boom in visitor numbers (Spiegel reported the city’s worries in 2018). Apparently, Amsterdam cites quality of life for residents as one reason for lowering visitor numbers. In Munich, ‘overnight stays’ were up 9.3% in 2018 to 17.1 million, with ‘8.3 million arrivals’ (up 6.5%), according to official figures. Is there reason for Munich to follow Amsterdam’s lead and do the same? Such as quality of life reasons, or the wider environmental impact of so much travel? Considering the UN report about the urgent threat to diversity, should Munich somehow discourage ever-greater number of visitors into the city? Is there an optimal figure that takes into consideration, that balances, economy, quality of life and environment?
While Munich has plenty of environmental plans, aims and ambitions, including to be carbon neutral by 2050 (German), what it doesn’t seem to have is an overall climate strategy. It isn’t alone in its lack of joined-up thinking on the environment.
Perhaps, however, it’s actually beyond human capacity to sufficiently join the dots: dots such as new luxury hotels, a new S-Bahn line to the city centre’s new main station, more visitors and greater GDP – and connecting all these to the climate emergency that increasing numbers of experts, city councils and governments accept as an accurate assessment of where the planet is.
For now, we’re left hoping planners and decision-makers know what they’re doing.