"The most splendid building in Munich". From the construction history of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

"Gärtner, this can become the most splendid building in Munich!" King Ludwig I told his architect enthusiastically. This was in 1831, one year before the construction work on the new building for the court and state library in Munich started.

Its architect, Friedrich von Gärtner, however, did not always appreciate the concepts of his principal: Ludwig I regularly corrected the blueprints of the master builder and wished to have a facade in the style of Venetian palaces. Gärtner, in turn, complained about the planned monotonous building front, "without bay, without column, without portico". He feared that it would become "a boring book barracks". In spite of all this, the architect finally realised a monumental library of ground-breaking importance: Dimensioned 152 x 78 x 24 metres, the library is one of the largest unplastered brick buildings in Germany today. The elongated facade was broken up by a perron and statues of four great thinkers of antiquity in front of the main entrance, as well as small red arches above the windows.

The building style favoured by Ludwig I can be found also in many other building facades in the Ludwigstrasse. Being fond of Italy, the king wished to have all buildings in the style of Renaissance palaces, with great floor heights and few arched windows. Instead of the individual houses and small castles usual so far, monumental, horizontal and uniform building structures were to be created.

Located in the Maxvorstadt quarter, there are numerous cultural, ecclesiastic and secular buildings in the library's vicinity today, such as the Residence, the Ludwig Maximilians University, the church of St. Louis and the Theatine Church, several ministries and the State Chancellery.

The building

"Concerning the main stairway, I promise that it will become the most pompous one existing at least in Germany", the architect Gärtner wrote to a friend in 1831. The representative staircase in the interior of the centre building must have been fairly overwhelming for his contemporaries indeed: From the windowless entrance hall, which at the time was only dimly lit, the arrival climbed the broad staircase up to the bright realm of scholarship, shielded by the impressive vault adorned with frescos and ornaments all over.

The staircase of the New Hermitage in St. Petersburg bears a striking resemblance to the Munich specimen, by the way. The Munich architect Leo von Klenze was in charge of planning this building. He probably modelled his plans on the work of his colleague and competitor Friedrich von Gärtner.

During the Second World War, the library was struck by bombs repeatedly, which also led to the collapse of the vaulted ceiling of the staircase. The reconstruction started soon after the end of the war. The staircase was rebuilt in an austere and unadorned design, with the vaulted ceiling remaining uniformly white.

In 2007, the 22 window arches and the front wall to the east with inscription were reconstructed with the aid of funds raised by the association Förderer und Freunde der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. This was followed by the restoration of the front wall to the west in 2012. The staircase continues impressing its visitors in this form up to the present day.

The staircase

In 1966, the annex, which had become an urgent necessity by then, was completed after a construction period of five years. It was designed by the group of architects Hans Döllgast, Sep Ruf and Helmut Kirsten. On its upper floor, the annex houses the General Reading Room with around 600 workplaces, on its ground floor an open-plan office for the library personnel, and on its basement floor the Periodicals Reading Room.

The new building section with a continuous glass facade has the shape of a cuboid of 65 metres in length, 45 metres in width and 22 metres in height, and deliberately contrasts with Gärtner's building in the Renaissance Revival style. Due to regulations for the protection of listed buildings, the annex was not built centrally, so as to form an extension of the central axis, but was shifted to the south. However, on the inside the transition between the old and the new building is hardly perceptible.

For this outstanding design of Munich post-war modernism, the principal and the architect group were awarded the prize of the Association of German Architects for Bavaria in 1967.

The annex


Kaindl, Annemarie: „Das großartigste Gebäude in München”: die Baugeschichte der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2023.


Image credit header image:
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek | © BSB/H.-R. Schulz