Streets are the lifeline of the city. Many are known, some are famous, others just tell good stories. A foray through Munich.
As a sender of an application, Schwarzenbergstrasse is not a cheap address. At least the recipient should raise an eyebrow when reading it. Because the people who live on this street are divided into two groups: some are there voluntarily, others are not. For the latter, staying at this address is literally a punishment and they count the days until they can leave.
At one end of the just 350 meter long arch in Obergiesing is the Munich women’s prison, at the other the Stadelheim correctional facility. The street scene is dominated by the rust red of the building for women, which was completed in 2009. After all, it looks a little more alive than the gray walls behind which the men sit. Would you plant a few olive trees and a few lavender bushes in front of it – in combination with the reddish ocher shade, an almost Mediterranean atmosphere could arise.
But unfortunately that is not possible: Planting is not allowed on a prison facade. Breakaway women could hide behind the bushes, accomplices climb trees to make contact with the inmates. Six years ago, at a citizens’ meeting, the request was made to free up the space for at least street artists to paint on, but even the prison management rejected this suggestion with reference to security: the prison walls should be smooth and uniform. And the hedges on the narrow green strip in front of them are always trimmed in a strict cuboid shape and must not grow higher than knee height.
Safety is of course an issue in such a street that you can hardly hide. The last prisoner from Stadelheim was towed in 1996. Since then, it has been upgraded properly. Like the load cranes at a container port, sensors of various shapes, sizes and frequencies protrude from the roof of the women’s prison. Swiveling headlights are installed at all corners of the building, which can illuminate the facade and the path in front of it in the event of an alarm. “This area is under video surveillance,” warns a sign on the opposite side of the street. As if by mockery, a lion fan stuck a sticker of the “Panzerknacker 1860” over it; a prime example for the observation of the sociologist Erving Goffman that even under the conditions of total surveillance the urge for individuality breaks ground and resistance is expressed in the smallest gestures.
Inside there are detention places for 160 women and another 60 places in juvenile detention. The day is strictly regulated: seven o’clock breakfast, eleven o’clock lunch, 4.30 p.m. dinner. One hour a day in the yard. Young mothers can live here with their children, there is also a playground for them. The cells are closed at 10 p.m.
No, this is not a place where visitors spontaneously exclaim: “Here you can live!” Rather one that Stadtwerke says: We can put a substation and a few glass containers there. But on a mild evening in July, the neighbors of the substation prove that you can make yourself comfortable anywhere by putting a few folding chairs in the garden and a bottle of wine on the table.
About a dozen prisoner transports roll through Schwarzenbergstrasse every day. When the gray metal gate opens, you can take a quick look behind the walls. Most women are here for drug-related offenses, theft or fraud. Murderers are the exception. Right-wing terrorist Beate Zschäpe was also held in custody here during the NSU trial. You can’t choose your neighbors, this is especially true in Schwarzenbergstrasse.
From the window ledge of her ground floor apartment, Herta Pape watches what is going on in the courtyard. Not much is happening. The neighbor walks his husky, three girls put the nest swing in the front yard to a stress test until a rain shower interrupts them. Ms. Pape has white hair and a friendly face. She was 57 when she moved into the four-story building. That was 30 years ago. Her husband was an officer, like most of her neighbors. The US Army had ceded the quarter to the Bundeswehr. After the reunification, the federal government also gave up the location and the apartments were sold. Many residents attacked, and so it happens that the neighbors here still have a connection to the military in one way or another. This is compatible with the prison system.
When the new Munich central prison on the former Stadelheim manor in Giesing went into operation at the end of the 19th century, the adjacent street was given the name of a legal scholar from the Middle Ages: Johann Freiherr von Schwarzenberg was court master of the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and wrote the so-called commission on his behalf Bamberg Neck Court Regulations. In doing so, he took Roman law and the humanistic tradition of Italian law schools as an example. In the Middle Ages, despite all humanism, one could not do without corporal punishment and the death penalty. The “Bambergensis”, in turn, served as the basis for the Carolina Charles V Constitutio Criminalis, adopted in 1532, the first general German penal code.
The Dutch legal philosopher Hugo Grotius was an early supporter of the Enlightenment almost a century after Schwarzenberg. The Grotiusweg, which starts at Schwarzenbergstraße and runs along the wall to Stadelheim prison, was formerly known as the “telephone booth” inside. Then the relatives stood and screamed over the wall. Some neighbors have had enough of the roared love vows and Kassiber in all languages of the world, says Pape. You didn’t bother. But after the residents complained to the management several years ago, things have calmed down.
Once she was visiting the neighbors, recalls Herta Pape. That was many years ago. A trip to prison, organized by the Bundeswehr Association. “I was surprised at how small the cells are,” she says. “You had to climb on the bed to be able to look out of the window.” She almost felt sorry for the inmates, but only almost. They’ll have eaten up something when they’re in there.