Monday, March 05, 2007

Open Urban Spaces: Süd Isar in Munich

Some photos (click to enlarge) from my walk along the southern parts of the Isar that flows through Munich. All along the Isar there are green open spaces, it's a giant lung, not that wide but you can walk along it through the entire city. Just north of the centre is the more famous English Garden, which I know fairly well. That's were I always go when I'm in Munich. Some lovely big meadows, the Monopteros, the Chinese Tower. That's all very much part of the known topography when I'm there. But I've always known about the open, green and less manicured spaces along the Isar in the southern parts and as you leave the city, I've just never been there before. A friend of mine, a photographer, was commissioned, sometimes in the mid -80s , to capture the impromptu life along the riverbanks as part of an exhibition exploring the way these urban spaces evolved naturally and without too much planning along the Isar. One of his specialities was/is capturing scenes that aren't posed, street scenes, people coming together etc. It's not so easy to capture life at close up without it being too obvious, without someone becoming aware and there are some really interesting photos of people using these spaces, partying, fishing, cycling, boating, you do get the sense that the urban life along the the river banks has evolved over a long period of time and is happening because the topography supports it. I've had the book with his photographs for years but always wondered about where exactly I would have to go to get to there. So on my recent trip to Munich I was sitting in the front passenger seat next to Antje, my sister in law (my niece and my brother were in the back) on the way to Schloss Nymphenburg (another location I'm not so familiar with) , discussing the latest Nelly Furtado album (no comment) for some reason, when we crossed a bridge and suddenly there I saw these open meadows, and immediately recognized that that's where it was. So the next day I took the S-Bahn to a stop near the zoo. The Isar there has about three different strands with narrow pieces of land running along or between them, there are several bridges, walkways, etc. I first walked further south where it quickly became more quiet and almost rural, it really didn't feel like being in a city anymore, though you did get joggers, people walking their dogs, or just hanging out. As I turned around and walked back and further into Munich, the scene got denser, there were more people, factories, old railway bridges, graffiti, lush little peninsulas, open meadows, old buildings looming out in the distance, walls, paths ending in dead ends. It also got more confusing, you kinda neede to know which bridge to cross to get further. It's not that wide, maybe a mile or less, but you can follow it all through Munich, and there are spaces along it that are more or less unplanned and quite interesting all along it. It's like another line of space cutting through the more regular urban space, an alternative route, where there's more nature, water, and the occasional urban marker that will make you realize you're still in a city. When you walk along the Regent's Canal in London, say, from King's Cross to Primrose Hill, or from Islington to Victoria Park you get a similar sense of walking along a slightly detached urban route that is defined by the water, it's quieter, sometimes a bit eerie, quite industrial in places, but it definitely has a different pace, a different atmosphere. The Regent's Canal hasn't got that many green spaces, it has some, and it follows a weird, almost invisible route, if you don't know the area it pops out unexpectedly, wheras the Isar in Munich runs a straight line that clearly divides the city. So the parallels end somewhere... but it's interesting to see how cities have these seemingly leftover spaces that become an escape from the regular more fast paced urban life but are also very much part of the urban experience.

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