Preserving and building Munich

Karl Meitinger (1882–1970) was born in Munich on 11 February 1882. He studied architecture at the technical universities of Munich and Berlin. After graduating, he worked for the Stöhr building company. He joined the Munich municipal administration in 1910. From 1928 onwards, he was the city’s building surveyor; from 1936, he directed the structural engineering department; and, in 1938, he became head of the municipal planning and building control office. Until 1945, he was responsible for the Dantebad and the neighboring stadium Stadion der Jugend (1926–28; together with Heinrich Bergthold), the settlement Siedlung am Hart (1933–35), the municipal pool Nordbad in Munich (1936–41; together with Philipp Zametzer), the Schwabing retirement home on Rümannstraße (1938–42), as well as a number of high-rise bunkers (1941).

The father: preserver of Munich’s historic center

Shortly before the invasion of the US Army, Meitinger forestalled the order to blow up the bridges over the Isar. From 1945-46, he served again as head of the municipal planning office, this time appointed by the US military. His exposé “Das Neue München – Vorschläge zum Wiederaufbau” [“The New Munich – Proposals for Rebuilding”] (1946), oriented the city’s reconstruction on its historical structures. The plan focused on the layouts and streets that had evolved organically over time in the historic center and called for the reconstruction of landmark structures to restore their historical look and feel. He was the first to envision an “Old-City Ring” around the city center – a vision that would first materialize 20 years later in connection with the Olympic Games. His recommendation for the construction of an underground railway was, too, realized years after his proposal.

While his concept for the city’s reconstruction was strongly criticized after the end of the war by representatives of modernism, it is now considered a successful synthesis of tradition and modernity. The Department of Architecture at the Technical University Munich awarded Karl Meitinger an honorary doctorate in 1965. The architect died on 2 March 1970 and is buried in Munich’s Westfriedhof.

His son Otto (1927–2017) was born in Munich on 8 May 1927 and was closely linked to his place of birth throughout his life. He graduated from the Theresiengymnasium, an upper-secondary school specialized in the classics. After labor service, military service and internment (1944-45), he voluntarily helped clean up the debris and ruins at the TH Munich and was thus admitted to study architecture already in the first semester after the war, obtaining his diploma in 1949.

After serving as a research assistant to Hermann Leitenstorfer at the Chair for Design, Sacred Architecture and Monument Preservation at the TH Munich, he completed the state examination in 1952. One year later, he married the dentist Dr. Erika Schweiger.

The son: much acclaimed reconstruction of the Residenz Palace

In 1953, at the age of just 25, he was appointed head of the planning authority of Munich’s residential palace, the Residenz, on the recommendation of his mentor Rudolf Esterer, president of the Bavarian State Administration for Palaces, Gardens and Lakes and professor at TH Munich. In the wake of a devastating air raid, a mere 50 of a total of 23,500 square meters of the palace’s roof surface remained intact. Many contemporaries expected the reconstruction, if it ever were completed, to take decades. The young Meitinger, however, would gain international acclaim for his energetic reconstruction of the Residenz, faithful enough to the original that the palace workshops had to revive the age-old techniques of traditional artisans. The Antiquarium and the Cuvilliés Theatre, the court chapel, the treasury and the “Rich Chambers” arose again in their former glory.

We must try to carry over as much as possible of the spirit and fabric of the old city into the new time.1

Eager to fill the Residenz with life, he situated within it the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, the Spanish Cultural Institute, the Herkulessaal for concerts, and the Cuvilliés Theatre. Meitinger’s Residenz project became an example for the reconstruction of many historical buildings destroyed by war in Europe. It was to Meitinger’s credit that he made use of events such as the 800-year anniversary celebration of Munich (1958), the 200th anniversary of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (1959), and the Eucharist World Congress (1960) to secure urgently needed additional resources for the rebuilding of the Residenz.

In 1963, Otto Meitinger was appointed head of the construction department of the Max Planck Society, where he was responsible for more than 60 large institute buildings in Germany and abroad. He was also in charge of the outstanding conversion projects Palazzo Zuccari in Rome, the Laxenburg castle near Vienna, and the Ringberg Castle at Tegernsee.

In 1970, Meitinger wrote his doctoral thesis under the supervision of TUM professor Josef Wiedemann on the “Neuveste,” the medieval precursor of the Munich Residenz, for which he earned the approbation “with distinction”.

Initiator of graduate studies in monument preservation at TUM

Six years later, Otto Meitinger was appointed successor to Josef Wiedemann at the Chair for Design and Monument Preservation at TUM. For three years, he was dean of the Department of Architecture, where he initiated graduate studies in the preservation of historical monuments in 1978, a program that would gain an international reputation. He devoted himself to an intensive exchange with other countries and frequently traveled abroad, even to countries in the Eastern Bloc. In addition to the conversion of the Laxenburg castle in Vienna and the Palazzo Zuccari in Rome, his work as an architect included the remodeling of the official residences of the German President in Bonn (Villa Hammerschmidt) and Berlin (Schloss Bellevue).

From 1987 until he retired as professor emeritus in 1995, Otto Meitinger held the office of President at TUM for two terms of office. At the same time, he continued to head his Chair and regularly held lectures. Characteristic of his time in office were the approx. 100 new professorial appointments, a consequence of a generational change among the professors. In the many appointment processes he recognized a significant opportunity to attract first-rate university professors to ensure the TUM’s top position in teaching and research. As President of the TUM, Meitinger also prepared the way for executing the neutron research facility FRM-II, initiated an expansion concept for the university associated with major construction projects, and laid the foundation for a consistent image of the TUM.

Meitinger’s work as TUM President

More than his predecessors, Meitinger worked to strengthen the feeling of community at the ever-expanding university. He also embedded the university in the life of the state capital – the Dean of the Department of Mathematics Roland Bulirsch summed up: “Meitinger managed the real feat of making the Technical University a genuine part of the city. No longer do the city, the municipal administration and the mayor see the university as an undesirable cluster of buildings that merely disturb the harmony of the Königsplatz and its surroundings.”2

One of the concerns particularly close to Meitinger’s heart was the internationalization of the university. Important partnerships and cooperation agreements with foreign universities were concluded during his time in office, including institutions behind the “Iron Curtain”, which was beginning to open up (Budapest, Kiev). For special guests, the TUM President conducted legendary special tours of the Residenz, featuring rooms otherwise not accessible – he had been conferred a master key for life.

New Department of Mechanical Engineering and the third Pinakothek

From the outset, Otto Meitinger supported the far-sighted plans of Minister of Science Hans Zehetmair to keep the site of the Türkenkaserne barracks free for a third Pinakothek. In fact, new buildings for TUM and the LMU had been decided upon there. Meitinger managed the threefold feat of getting the Bavarian state government to define an acceptable alternative solution in Garching, convincing the hesitant professors of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of this plan and attracting BMW AG as a private sponsor to accelerate the building project. The decisive factor here was Meitinger’s good personal contact to the former chairman of BMW’s board, Eberhard von Kuenheim. After only three years of construction, in April 1997, the new building for the TUM Department of Mechanical Engineering in Garching, meeting the most modern requirements, was handed over by BMW AG (which had taken on the builder/owner function). Meitinger also attained a firm commitment to a subway connection to Garching.

A Splendid TUM anniversary in 1993

A particular high point of his time in office as TUM President was the university’s 125th anniversary celebrations in June 1993, which Meitinger brilliantly organized as an opulent mixture of technology and art, history and philosophy. Because of his good personal connections, he succeeded in winning over German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker as an honorary guest of the celebrations. In his ceremonial address, Meitinger highlighted TUM’s contribution to Bavaria’s industrial development. One guiding theme of the university anniversary was the relationship between ethics and technology.

Even after becoming an emeritus professor, Meitinger was much in demand as an architect. For example, the Free State of Saxony appointed him to the advisory committee on rebuilding the historic “Green Vault” in Dresden, Augustus the Strong’s world-famous treasury. He also played a role in the German Academy for Urban and Regional Spatial Planning (Deutsche Akademie für Städtebau), the Bavarian state architectural committee, the state monument council, the selection board of the state foundation of Bavaria, and the Hypo Foundation for Culture, the Bavarian state association for preserving local traditions, the board of trustees of the Philip Morris Foundation and the Bavarian Club, as well as in working groups of the German Scientific Council. He served more than 100 times as a judge for architectural competitions.

Memberships and honors

Otto Meitinger was a member of the Hanns Seidel Foundation from 1994 to 2015; he was actively engaged in the “Friends and Patrons” society of the German Museum and on the board of the Messerschmitt Foundation, the largest private heritage conservation organization in Germany. The Meitinger Foundation, founded by himself, his wife, and his sister to support heritage conservation projects, devoted itself to commendable projects, such as the restoration of the outer fresco of Munich’s Isartor.

Otto Meitinger was honored with a number of awards. For example, he received Bavaria’s Maximilian Order for Science and the Arts, the Grand Cross of Merit, the Bavarian Order of Merit, the silver “Bene Merenti” medal of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, the Commander’s Cross of the Étoile noir of the French Legion of Honor, and the Pontifical Order of Pope St. Sylvester. The Technical University Timişoara (Temeschburg) in Romania awarded him an honorary doctorate. His Munich fraternity Stauffia conferred on him its honorary ribbon, and the state capital of Munich made him an honorary citizen in 2005, a distinction rarely bestowed.


When leave was ceremonially taken from Otto Meitinger as TUM’s President in 1995, his successor Wolfgang Herrmann characterized him with the words: “Proactively hands-on and dogged in pursuing his goals, yet always with a measured generosity, a calming influence internally despite tireless activity externally – integratively and humanly a genial gentleman, a real gentleman, and – much more rarely and very quietly – an impatient grouch, simply an old Bavarian through and through.”3

Even after his retirement, Otto Meitinger, always agile and active, was a regular guest at TUM events and was much in demand behind the scenes as an advisor and mediator. On 9 September 2017, he died at the age of 90 in his beloved home city of Munich, where he was laid to rest, as was his father, in the Westfriedhof.

1. Karl Meitinger: Das Neue München. Vorschläge zum Wiederaufbau, München 1946, S. 62.

2. »Die Präsidentschaft Meitinger« – Festvortrag des Dekans der Fakultät für Mathematik Roland Bulirsch. In: TUM-Mitteilungen (1994/95) 6, S. 23.

3. Grußadresse des designierten Präsidenten der TUM Wolfgang A. Herrmann, in: TUM-Mitteilungen 6 (1994/95), S. 6.