Case Study: Munich’s Schlachthof District

Case Study: Munich’s Schlachthof District

The Schlachthof is Munich’s historical slaughterhouse district, with the word “Schlachthof” literally translating to “slaughterhouse” in English. It represents our second case study of Spaces of Living in Transformation in Munich. Over the past decades, the area has undergone a fundamental transformation from a slaughter district to a cultural and artistic hub on the cusp of city-center gentrification. Nevertheless, today, although greatly reduced, the district still serves as a hub for animal slaughter while acting as a bourgeoning center for the creative side of Munich. First, a few notes on its origin. 

Built between 1876 and 1878, the impetus for the centralized slaughter operation was to uphold hygiene, easily connect to existing rail lines, provide potential space for expansion, and to have ready access to water (hence its proximity to the Isar river (see map further below).

A photograph from the Schlachthof's official opening on 31 August 1878. Source: GMH~commonswiki via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The size of the operation grew precipitately, and by the early 1900s, several hundred thousand cattle, pigs, and poultry were being transported, slaughtered, packaged, and distributed from the district. Additionally, it was the site of the popular Munich Horse Market from 1876 to 2006. 

Fast forward a hundred years, with a gradual shift in consumer behavior, the amount of slaughter began to decrease. Between 2000 and 2004, the privatization of cattle and pig slaughter occurred and in 2007, the Munich slaughterhouse merged with the Munich wholesale market under the heading of “Martkhallen München” (Munich market halls). In fact, the enterprise has since been run as a municipal operation for historical and local political reasons. 

Today—though at a reduced scale—the area is still an important hub of wholesale meat, poultry, fish, and delicatessen, earning the nickname of “Bauch von München” (Belly of Munich). 

View of the Schlachthof's Viehhof area from above. This was and continues to be the central site of the slaughter and wholesale operations. Today, it is undergoing several important transformations. Source: Münchner Wochen Anzeiger.

With the demolition of the main cattle halls in 2008, a large portion of the Viehhof, located at the center of the Viehhof was opened up. This quickly became an ideal space for artists and cultural activities due to its large surface area and ideal location within the city. 

Located within the larger area of Ludwigsvorstadt immediately to the south of the city center, the area represents a veritable frontier of gentrification in a city with some of the highest rents in the country. Nevertheless, for the time being, the large, rather open spaces have been reinvented into cultural gathering spots and are currently in the process of being developed for other-than-food purposes. For a  detailed lay of the land, consult the map below (the Viehhof area is highlighted in blue). 

When walking along the neighborhood’s sidewalks, you encounter a mix of railroad bridges, refrigerated transport trucks making their rounds, old brick buildings, and staked towers of storage containers covered in graffiti. This latter site is the alternative fortress of Bahnwärter Thiel located on the southwest corner of the Viehhof in the heart of the Schlachthof. The area is a space for a wide variety of cultural events including film screenings, open-air concerts, and other artistic gatherings. 

The Bahnwärter Thiel area located in the SW corner of the Viehhof has become a nexus of subculture in the city. Source: München mit Kind.

Further up the street, another cultural project is under construction. The Volkstheater (“people’s theater”) is currently under construction. Located exactly where the former cattle-yard once stood, the three-year construction project is set to be completed in 2021. The building itself seeks to integrate the district’s urban character and history, which serve as inspiration for its design and materials. The completion of this massive yet eloquent brick-built complex will cement the district’s transformed nature as a modern cultural hub in the city. 

A preliminary glimpse of the Volkstheater's final appearance. It will be located on the Schlachthof's former cattle-yard. Source: Münchner Volkstheater.

While the Schlachthof District is undergoing immense transformation, there are of course concerns. As with many other examples in other urban contexts, the arrival or artists in post-industrial spaces, followed by major building developments could be construed as the preemptive signs of the unstoppable force of gentrification. With additional residential projects planned for the area, the neighborhood’s residents are adamant in their wish for the historic district to maintain its distinct and diverse identity. 

As consumer behavior and animal slaughter have undergone changes, so too as the physical space that has served as its center of operations for nearly 145 years. Today, the Schlachthof embodies transformation—past, present, and future—and continues to serve as a fascinating site of intersecting commercial, cultural, and residential interests.

Cover image: A representation of the newly-opened Schlachthof in Munich in 1878. The main halls located in the upper half of the complex formed the Viehhof. Also notice in the background, the rising Alps with Zugspitze to the far right. Source: GMH~commonswiki via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Burt, NYU Abu Dhabi

    It’s interesting to read about the evolution of this area of Munich, which I was unfamiliar with. Given the massive numbers of animals flowing through the market in its heyday (and the consequent waste that would have been produced and presumably disposed of in the Isar), I wonder if anyone has looked at related social issues [i.e. income/social equality of those up Vs downstream of the effluents, which would have led to eutrophication and very likely health issues in the summer months]?

    1. Dorothee Rummel

      Actually, at the moment, the Health and Environment Unit of the City of Munich is under a lot of pressure of the district committee. More and more residents complain about almost unbearable odor emission in the Schlachthof distict. After the recent reconstruction of the wastewater treatment and the renewal of the flotation plant, which were thought to have been the cause, the “bad odors” haven’t vanished. Now they are searching for other possible sources (e.g. open windows of old roof ventilation systems). John’s very interesting comment about the (historical) social issues made me think of this recent issue, as the complaints rise in proportion to the rents in this meanwhile very hip quarter, it seems.

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