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LMU’s hidden nooks

From clammy depths to stifling heights

Munich, 08/30/2013

LMU’s Main Building is always bustling with people – students, researchers, administrators. But the University also has less frequented passages, as the following “expedition log” reports.

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Picture Gallery "LMU’s hidden nooks".

As the summer sun beats down on the lawns, the play of the fountains on Geschwister Scholl-Platz and Professor-Huber-Platz offers welcome relief and prompts thoughts of a cool dip and a long drink.

But less than a stone’s throw away, the imagined attractions of cooler temperatures soon lose their appeal – in the pump room below the fountains the air is cold and clammy. This is a place to chill out: In next to no time I’m shivering. I make my way from the bare cellar of the pump room, with my unwieldy photographic gear slung over my shoulder. As I negotiate a cramped and dimly lit vault – taking care not to bump my head – I begin to warm up again. I then crawl through a narrower tunnel that serves as a conduit for the water supply to the fountain on Professor-Huber-Square, on the opposite side of Ludwigstraße: As well as the hefty pipe that provides the water for the picturesque water jets, bundled strands of electric cable run along the brick-lined passage. I pity the repairman who has to find and fix any leaks here, and hope he remembers to bring thick knee-pads.

If Friedrich von Gärtner, the designer of the Main Building at LMU, had had his way, this tunnel probably wouldn’t be here. He had planned to erect four statues symbolizing the four faculties represented at LMU in his day where the fountains now stand. But King Ludwig I, who took a close interest in the building work at “his” university and – to put it mildly – energetically intervened whenever he saw fit, insisted on the fountains. We can be grateful for the King‘s foresight: LMU now has no less than18 faculties, whose members ensure that the wellsprings of knowledge never run dry.

Light and shade
The bright, newly renovated Atrium of the Main Building stands in striking contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the underground passage. Here students hasten past on their way to lectures, but the space also hosts career fairs and the annual reception for the latest crop of first-year students.

The Atrium is part of the so-called Bestelmeyer-Bau. Designed by German Bestelmeyer (1874-1942), it was built in the early 1900s, and extends Gärtner’s structure westward. Radiant on sunny days, lined with marble and highly ornamented, this architectural jewel nevertheless has its darker recesses. A narrow spiral stairway leads from the Gallery to the roof space that encircles the glass dome. I am reminded of a disused power-station or an abandoned factory whose furnaces are now long cold, but the air is so hot that they might have been switched off only moments ago. It is high noon and the heat here is enervating.

Following the rough-hewn wooden stairways and catwalks in the half-light, one reaches the circuit around the glass cupola that channels the daylight into the Atrium below. After the cold of the tunnel linking the fountains, the fierce heat trapped by the “skylight” is almost unbearable. There’s just time for a quick look over the clustered roofs of Munich below me. Through the wire-reinforced panes, I catch the faint sounds of visitors to a conference underway below.

Light, heat, sweat
I take a few photos, but the sweat gets between me and the viewfinder, and I beat a hasty retreat to the comparative cool of the attic spaces that span the north-south axis of the Bestelmeyer-Bau, parallel to Amalienstraße. The security guards come by on their rounds every so often especially at night. Some might find it spooky here at night, but for them it’s all part of the job.

At the end of the roof tract, where the vault of lecture-theater M 380 rises from the floorboards, an inconspicuous door leads to the University Library’s southern repository, which holds 130,000 volumes, mostly of older vintage. Over 40,000 volumes are stored in the northern repository – mainly dissertations and (fittingly enough) the holdings of the Library of Nordic Philology. The two depots are tucked between the ceiling vaults of the Audimax and the Atrium, and supplement the storage space available in the University Library’s Central Archive. From here one I can leave the lofty heights and head for the open again to recover from the tour’s temperature shocks – and hope that, on my next expedition to LMU’s remoter corners, the climate will be less forbidding.

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