Study Abroad: Technical University of Munich

said by: Zachary Keiser, (M.Arch 19’)

Englischer Garten

Englischer Garten

I remember when I was an undergraduate student at DAAP. Many of the all-school meetings I attended included a presentation about a study abroad program in Munich, Germany for architecture graduate students. Although I did complete my final undergrad co-op in Berlin, I had never studied abroad. This opportunity was one of many reasons why I wanted to return to DAAP for grad school. As an undergraduate I majored in German studies as well as architecture. Continuing what I learned in the German Department at UC has always been an important goal of mine. Due to the way German semesters are structured, I could only study abroad during the summer. I was disappointed when I learned that a class I was required to take during my first fall semester in grad school was pushed to the following summer (my only summer academic semester). This prevented me from studying abroad during that time.

With some help and guidance, I devised a plan to swap my final co-op semester with the preceding academic semester, allowing me to complete my second and third grad school co-ops consecutively. I would then be able to complete the academic semester at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) during the summer. Therefore, I negotiated to stay with the same design firm in Portland, Oregon for both of those co-ops. I then flew home to Cincinnati for a few days, and I was in Munich by the end of March.

View from dorm

View from dorm

The student services in Munich provided housing for me in the Olympic Village, where athletes stayed during the 1972 Olympics. The Olympic Stadium (designed by Frei Otto and Günter Behnisch) and BMW World were both within walking distance from my new temporary home. My dorm, which was more comparable to a small studio apartment, included a small kitchen and bathroom. Conveniently, there was also a large student center right next to my building which included a laundromat and a bar. Given that nothing else was included, an hour train ride to Ikea was essential. Nonetheless, I was very content. My dorm was on the 9th floor, I had it all to myself, and I could see the sunset every night. 

I attended the orientations and events for international students, architecture students, and of course international architecture students. They were overwhelming, but not in a bad way. I have never felt so welcome at a University. I’ve never consumed so much beer in my life. Germany and Bavaria are very proud of their beer. During my time there, we were given many opportunities to take excursions to small towns and lakes around Munich, as well as tours of a brewery and BMW. 

There were many other travel opportunities as well. By the time classes started, with the privilege of meeting so many people from all over the world, I had a solid group of friends. I was actually pleased that I didn’t encounter that many Americans. In fact, the bulk of my friends came from Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

TUM has multiple campuses. The main campus, where I attended all my classes, is located close to the city center. I was able to take the subway to campus, which was really convenient. The main campus envelopes an entire city block and includes a central courtyard. Surrounding the campus are a myriad of museums, shops, restaurants, and bars. Not too far is another university and the Englischer Garten, which is the central park of Munich—the best place to soak up the sun in the summertime. There is also a rooftop café on campus, which just so happens to be where the architecture faculty is located. Architecture students get free coffee between 9:00am and 10:00am and all students get a 30% discount. On a clear day, you can see the Alps from the rooftop. This was one of my favorite spots in Munich, even though it attracted a lot of tourists and people outside the university.

Of all the possible studio projects presented at the beginning of the semester, the studio I chose was called Gross Stadt Form, or Big City Form. It dealt with the incorporation of a megastructure in Munich, where traditional architecture is highly valued. A seminar class accompanied this studio. Our site was right next to a powerplant, which would eventually have no use given that Germany plans to rely completely on renewable resources by 2040. The concept was such that an existing big form, such as the powerplant with a huge site adjacent to it, allowed for another big form to be constructed alongside it. We took an excursion (most studios had an excursion built into them) to all of the big forms around Munich. My partner and I decided on a program that would include a train station, a grand hall, and necessities for apartments and tourists. One of the requirements of the program was to include at least 50% housing, since that is a major issue in Munich.

Although I really enjoyed this studio, it did have its challenges. 

My partner was rather difficult to work with; so much so that at the end of the semester, multiple people apologized to me for having to work with him. They obviously saw that we struggled working together. At times, our work looked like two different people working on the same project. That being said, our professors urged us to stay together the entire semester and, despite the challenges, I really enjoyed this studio and learned a lot about the city of Munich. 

At the end of the semester, my seminar class hosted a symposium. Our professors invited various local architects and planners to come and speak about urban issues in Munich. It was a bit difficult to follow since it was an all-day event and held entirely in German. The school rented a public bus and various speakers spoke at different locations throughout the city. We started and ended at the rooftop café on campus. It was an honor to be a part of an event with such respected German architects and planners. 

Overall, I enjoyed my electives significantly more than my studio. 

The first elective I took was a course contemplating how gender plays a role in spatial use. The elective took place over three weekends and concluded with an exhibition. Given that gender could be incorporated into anything, we were given the freedom to focus on the topic of our choice for our final presentation. I chose to research the disappearance of queer spaces in Munich. I interviewed multiple people who lived or worked in a neighborhood called the Glockenbachviertel where there used to be a predominantly LGBTQ presence in previous decades. Although that presence is still there, rising rents and changing technology have posed little incentive for people to stay. I recorded these interviews and made a film that was projected on a loop at the exhibition.

I also took a course on the International Building Exhibition that took place in Berlin during the late 1980s. Berlin is one of my favorite cities. For this course, my classmates and I researched previous exhibitions in Germany and the Postmodernist projects that came out of this 1987 Exhibition. The Exhibition took place in West Berlin. However, I focused on a reconstruction project in the Nikolaiviertel in East Berlin that took place during that same time. I stated that the use of plattenbau construction for the reconstruction of this quarter is considered a type of postmodern architecture. 

Once I finished all of my courses, there was an end of the semester event held in the central courtyard of campus. Coincidentally, it occurred on my very last day of classes. I was able to celebrate the completion of all my coursework dancing with my friends. And of course, there was beer. Rather than returning home immediately, I spent the remaining month of my summer exploring Europe. 

It is extremely easy and convenient to travel in and around Europe. Over the entire summer, I was able to travel to Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Berlin, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Prague, Czech Republic. I also had multiple friends from the U.S. visit me during my stay, so I took advantage of their company and traveled to many of these places with them. In addition to marching with TUM during the annual pride parade this summer, I attended the pride parades in Berlin and Dublin.

Me with the Oberbaumbrücke behind me

Me with the Oberbaumbrücke behind me

I am incredibly grateful and privileged to have had an opportunity to study abroad in Munich. I love Germany and I know I will return again one day. Perhaps I will even be able to live and work in Berlin again. I’ve heard people say that you either love Berlin or Munich. Although I do prefer Berlin, that doesn’t mean I don’t value the incredible beauty of Bavaria. Southern Germany is much more traditional and there is a lot of natural beauty due to its close proximity to the Alps. Munich is very peaceful, clean and quaint, and I highly recommend traveling there. 

This entire experience did have its challenges. The application process was irritating, the communicating with two universities while on co-op was difficult, the living and studying style in Munich was an adjustment, and finally returning to DAAP after being away for a year has definitely been a transition. However, I don’t regret any of it. I highly encourage everyone to pursue going abroad whether to study or to work or just to travel. It’s a truly humbling experience. You learn something new every day.

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