Munich – Shopping that outsizzles the sausages
While Munich has become somewhat synonymous with its legendary Oktoberfest, there's an altogether more interesting side to the city that offers much more than simply warm beer and sausages, as our resident retail specialist Karl McKeever of Visual Thinking finds out on his quest to experience the best in world retailing.
As Germany's third largest city and the capital of Bavaria, Munich's motto is "München mag Dich" (Munich Loves You). When recently visiting on business one thing was clear, the city certainly loves shopping and shopaholics are in for a treat in this special place.
Munich is a wealthy city and home to major companies such as engineering giant BMW and accountancy firms Ernst & Young and Deloitte. This affluence is reflected in the impressive cityscape that combines breathtaking modern buildings, which sit comfortably next to fine examples of traditional architecture. Munich's wealth is also apparent in its vast array of stores - there are leading international brands, popular national retailers and different types of traditional Bavarian craft stores with outlets across the city.
The main shopping areas are conveniently located around one easily accessible axis point, with the magnificent Neues Rathaus (new City Hall) forming the striking central focal point within the bustling Marienplatz. Make sure to visit here on the turn of the hour as the famous clock in the tower has a few hidden surprises when the bells toll! Stores can be found in the adjacent Neuhauserstrasse and Kaufingerstrasse. These expansive streets are lined with large, smart department stores and multiple retail chains. Look out for smaller, more exclusive boutiques dotted among the historic architecture around Maximilianstrasse and Theatinerstrasse. Overall, the compact geography makes for an easy and enjoyable way to combine some retail therapy whilst consuming the city's impressive landmarks and monuments at the same time. Also a great range of high-quality restaurants and bars are never far away to refresh the weary.
One thing I particularly like about visiting German cities is how they manage to retain a distinctive and individual local character in each place. Having in recent months visited the city centres of Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, I recall a very different atmosphere and emphasis to the stores in each location, that helps to mark out a sense of place, purpose and fulfilment for shopping in each very different destination.
This unique city branding is sadly missing from many of the homogeneous and bland 'clone towns', which seem to typify our shopping experiences back home. With our endless and repeating branches of the same store and restaurant chains, it's often only each city's 'non retail' real estate, residents and local accents that define each place.
In Germany, the retail offer has developed along different lines, with stores being much more of a reflection of each city, its inhabitants and local attractions. Shops in Cologne cater strongly to young adults, Hamburg stores have a distinctly tourist feel and in Munich the retailers and brands have a predominantly upscale, luxury proposition.
With this profile, Munich offers many premium brands and stores with excellent shopping experiences. Apple chose Munich ahead of bigger city rivals Hamburg and Frankfurt for its first German outpost. Even Giorgio Armani offers a lifestyle department store with every part of its brand offer stylishly housed under one roof.
One store that particularly stands out is the Sporthaus Schuster store, Rosenstraße 1-5 (next to Apple). This five-storey emporium is dedicated to outdoor and alpine sports and is truly magnificent. Each floor has a carefully selected, specialist sport offer, which is presented with excellent store design and visual merchandising. The store maximises show-stopping impact from the street by way of a full-height climbing wall with various rock terrains that is used as a 'live' window display by local amateurs and sports enthusiasts. For me this store, like its new American neighbour, demonstrates what can be achieved when a brand has product focus, range authority, excellent instore delivery and service expertise.
Not to be beaten, Germany's own Sportscheck has recently located to a street where branches of other leading outdoor and sports brands rub shoulders together. Here Footlocker, North Face, Columbia and Timberland have one of their two smart city outlets.
Many national chains have big outlets in Munich such as New Yorker, Esprit and Pimkie, which has a new identity and concept store here, the latest in a series of dramatically different retail incarnations for the brand in recent years. Other European brands from Zara, Camper, Massimo Dutti, H&M and Cos etc., ensure that both Spanish and Scandinavian fascias are well represented across the city.
Whilst trendy youth stores are somewhat thin on the ground, two shops do stand out. Magasin, for homewares and furniture, and Pod, for street clothing and accessories. Both stores offer a good range of independent brands expertly presented within well-considered store environments.
Manu Factum is another interesting homegrown German store. With a curious mix of classic and heritage product lines - it's like a vintage Muji, selling everything from garden implements to kitchenware to fine tailored clothing. Products stocked are made mostly from only natural materials and in nature's colours. With both a mail order catalogue and online shop (delivers to Germany only) it offers products that have both a nostalgic, novelty value and offer essential, everyday use at the same time. A great concept and a constantly busy store, in part due to the Brot & Butter café and restaurant within with its own delicious deli concept.
Department stores are also well represented with major branches of Karstadt and Kaufhof, along with the city's upscale outlets Hirmer and Munich's iconic Loden-Frey. This famous store has been in the city since 1842, with its five-floor, 7,000 square metre space currently undergoing a massive renovation programme which will see its transformation into a chic temple of designer goodies completed later this year. As a taster, the ground floor accessories hall recently re opened with offerings from Herme's, Givenchy and Loeve.
As I leave Munich and head for home, it's clear that this is a must-see for those who wish to experience the upmarket end of German retail, but it's Britain's Town Centre Management Teams that I most urge to visit this and other key German cities. I think they could learn a lot and see how the distinctive branding of each city could help British cities, regions and nations to redefine themselves and promote their own distinctive shopping experiences. This would give British consumers and importantly tourists alike more reasons to visit and shop in other places instead of simply slipping into the indistinct (and increasingly extinct) 'open air malls' that many of our major cities have now become.