Deserted Cities of the Heart

For a long time, world city with a heart – “Weltstadt mit Herz” – was the official marketing slogan of the city of Munich. Nowadays, like any city subject to a stay-at-home-order aimed at mitigating the impact of the Corona pandemic, it resembles more the character of the deserted cities. Munich is thus a “deserted city with a heart”.

The eyes of the few observers who dare (or need to) venture into the city center see the buildings, streets and infrastructure as they have never seen them before. They seem depleted of their magic that used to attract as many people possible from as many places conceivable. #desertedcities is a popular hashtag on Instagram, as is #ghosttown.

Skeletal structure of urban culture

The eye gazes solitarily along the facades, almost as if one had been shifted into a painting by the Italian master of the scuola metafisica, Giorgio de Chirico. In his art, as in the present, the cityscape is laid bare, devoid of human life, exposing the skeletal structure of urban culture. Gaze wandering, we are startled. In the words of British rock supergroup Cream, “if I could catch your dancing eye, it was on the way, on the road to dreams, yea.” Perhaps it is an urban dreamscape we are witnessing – we might as well hope for a gentle awakening.

Half a year later …

That was half a year ago. In the meantime, societies across the world attempted a return to normal life. This didn’t succeed, and the euphemistic way of describing the outcomes is encapsulated in the term “new normal”, which simply indicates “change”. Our ways of life have changed, and some of us cope with it, while others deny it. Currently, Munich’s city center is under a mandatory mask order. A stroll downtown these days shows a rather heterogeneous picture. Some adhere to the order while others don’t.

Glimpses of Oktoberfest normality

Likely more relevant to the life, image and business this city thrives on is the cancellation of the Oktoberfest. The attempt is made to transform it into a more local and spatially limited form supported by local restaurants. Glimpses of Oktoberfest normality also meet the eye of the observer at the central Königsplatz, where a “Mini-Wiesn” complete with food stalls, kiddie rides and ferris wheel is taking place. This event is part of a city-wide initiative called “Sommer in der Stadt” (Summer in the City). In this sense the song has changed, and Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” tickles ears across town – at least before the autumn leaves begin to fall.

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Read the article about the effects of the pandemic on the built environment.