During the last century, the area of Munich known as the Isarvarstadt was not much of an attraction. Before the war, it was a Jewish neighborhood. Then, in more recent years, it became a district overrun with pushers and addicts. But visitors to the popular Viktualienmarkt, which sits just north of the Isarvarstadt, never found much of a reason to journey into the district. Even today, the Isarvarstadt is absent its tourists. But unlike the last century, when the area served as a home or gathering point for specific populations and groups, today it's one of Munich's best kept secrets, at least from tourists, who are distracted by all the grandeur and beer halls in the center of the city.
The streets that run from the Gartnerplatz--the little park at the center of Gartnerplatzviertel, one section of the Isarvarstadt--extend like bicycle spokes, and connect to a boxy tire of roads that encircles the neighborhood.
The most interesting street extending off the Gartnerplatz is Reichenbachstrasse. Wonderful cafes, like Trachtenvogl, and shops tell the story of the neighborhood's past and future. For instance, a few schmucks line the street. While it's possible that there are fools in the Isarvarstadt, as well, German- and English-speakers have different definitions of the word. In German, a schmuck is a jeweler, and the trade has existed on Reichenbachstrasse ever since the neighborhood was a Jewish quarter. Other cool shops include Delikattessen, which sells an eclectic mix of kitchen furniture and colorful kitchenware, and Auryn, where baby and kid's clothing is both organic and fair trade.
Stores get a bit more high-end and less independent once you reach the Gartnerplatz, where flowers are in bloom in the park at the center and young people gather (especially at night). But the shopping around the Gartnerplatz offers nothing unique about the district; spending some time in the park, however, reading or people watching is highly recommended.
Afterward, head to Kohlstrasse to visit Schuh-Bertl, where a leather man works in the back designing shoes, as well as lederhosen and jackets to match. Around the corner, at the intersection of Corneliusstrasse and Baaderstrasse, two establishments make the corner intriguing at any time of the day: In the morning, Phasen Reich is an eclectic little shop that will appeal to coffee drinking, fashion-thinking deejays, among others with their offering of espressos, clothing and vinyl records; at dusk shift to the bar next door, where an interesting crowd, to say the least, is attracted to Metzer.
The friendliest of shop is just down Baaderstrasse, where Niko, who runs the small, eponymous grocery, sells Greek specialty items, fresh fruit, and espressos. His walls tell an abbreviated version of his life story: one of family and charity. Most of the photographs are of neighborhood football teams that he donates to or of the rally cars he sponsors, which bring medical supplies to people in troubled nations. While the old grocer seems to represent the yesteryears of the district, even though his shop is bright and immaculate, further down Baaderstrasse the storefronts whisper of the old neighborhood. Most of the shops are quaint, providing a glimpse of how the street once looked before retailers broke through walls and demanded more space.
At night, the Gartnerplatzviertel evolves. Once a predominately gay nightclub, famous for where Freddy Mercury celebrated his birthdays, today the Paradisio attracts a more diverse crowd, though the sexually-posed Barbies and Kens atop a birthday cake in a street-side window still speaks to the club's appeal to counterculture. Next door Chi Chi's goes from dinner to disco. For those seeking a more relaxed, upscale vibe, you can find that on Fraunhoefstrasse at the district's coolest hotel. The Flushing Meadows Hotel has an inventive cocktail bar with rooftop views of the city, and most of the rooms are uniquely designed by prominent artists and famous locals from Munich. One room, designed by DJ Hell, is, expectedly, painted black and has a trio of skeletons in concert above the bed. A local Eisbach surfer--Munich has a river wave right in the city that land-locked surfers flock to--was asked to design another room in the hotel and chose to loft the bed and have a hammock stretch across the space. His broken surfboard adorns the wall.
A late-night snack that's apropos of Munich is near the underground entrance at the end of the street. Bergwolf, at street-level, dishes up cheap currywurst and affordable beers.
Crossing over Fraunhoefstrasse means exiting the Gartnerplatzviertel. But it also brings visitors to the Isarvarstadt's second emerging neighborhood: the Glochenbachviertel. While a district line might separate the two Viertels, the feel of the neighborhood remains as culturally interesting on the other side of the road. Best are the shops and eateries along Westmuhlerstrasse and Hans Sachs Strasse. If you're in the mood for a bite, variety in cuisine lines the block. On a summer day, you can literally rotate in your stool out in front of the Burger House and you'll be sitting at a table at the Mediterranean Kitchen. If the person across spins one hundred eighty degrees and they're in Kaiser Otto, where affordable lunches can be had.
For those with a sweet tooth, head to Gottlerspeise. The uber-specialized candy shop sells chocolates at one counter and ropes of licorice at another. True Bavarian food and Augustiner beer--the last of the large, privately owned Munich breweries--can be had across the road at Faun. Inside it looks like a French cafe, but once the food comes out, it is Bavarian through and through.
Turning down Hans Sachs Strasse takes visitors from food to handicrafts. Ladies should pop into 7 Himmel for funky women's clothing, and those soon-to-be-parents or those already established can head next door to Thierchen. This beautiful and bright shop sells handmade children's clothing, where the seamstress sews in the back room. Thierchen also sells hand-crafted toys. The next few doors bring shoppers to Eisenblatter Teiska for stylish handmade hats and then Glockenbach Buchhandlung, one of the last independent bookshops in the city, (though it's collection is limited to those who can read German). Jewelers, bakers, barbers, lounges, and a variety of Asian restaurants continue down Hans Sachs, making this street a day-long destination for some.
While most emerging neighborhoods are lucky if they emulate a noxious charm, the Isarvarstadt is in an interesting phase. The seediness has dissipated and the socioeconomic charge to push out the artists is just getting started. While this district will likely remain inviting far into the future, it certainly won't remain skipped by travelers forever.