Tao Schirrmacher is a man of many talents. The artist and entrepreneur counts among the best known – and most radical – surfers of Munich’s famous Eisbach wave. In a smart fortwo cabrio, he takes us for a spin around his city, surfboard strapped into the passenger seat.
We’re on Prinzregentenstraße in Munich‘s Lehel district. Sunny morning rays flicker through the swaying tree tops, heralding a gloriously balmy day. Across the open door of the smart fortwo cabrio: a dripping wet suit. At this time of day, the streets are still almost empty. Yet there’s no trace of birdsong in the air – the strong, steady rush and roar of the nearby Eisbach wave reaches our ears from the banks below. This particular wave (and surfers’ dream) is triggered by a special construction anchored within the fast-moving channel traversing Munich’s famous English Garden – and has become a welcome playground for urban river surfers like Tao Schirrmacher.
Hey, Tao. Sounds like you have plenty of things on the go. You are a surfer, diver, artist, designer, entrepreneur … which of these is most important to you?
Tao Schirrmacher: At heart, I am a surfer – 100 percent. All the people who surf the Eisbach with me have scheduled their lives, work, and everyday tasks around surfing. We’ve all been surfing since we were teenagers; I guess I started out a little later than most. Surfing simply takes a hold of you and won’t let you go.
During summer, the Eisbach wave becomes a veritable attraction. The bridge right above it offers fans and viewers plenty of space – it’s almost like you’re on stage, performing. What’s it like surfing with so much public attention?
Tao Schirrmacher: It’s kind of funny you say that. Obviously, spectators see the whole thing with different eyes. But myself, once I’m tackling the wave, I simply stop noticing everything else around me. Sure, it can get busy at times, but when I’m surfing, everything else just switches off.
What’s the main draw of this particular spot?
Tao Schirrmacher: Surfing in Munich is seriously special. There’s simply no spot like the Eisbach wave anywhere else in the world. Here, the surf scene of an entire city congregates in one place – on a coastline, people would spread out a lot more. And unlike the sea, the Eisbach wave is a sure constant – you know you’re going to have perfect surfing conditions every day.
So, who gathers at the Eisbach?
Tao Schirrmacher: The great thing about river surfers is that they are less prone to the massive marketing hype the rest of the lifestyle and board scene is exposed to. The scene grows organically and has attracted a global subculture of people who do a bunch of mad things. If you check who’s involved – it’s definitely the crazy ones (laughs). And our network is global, reaching from Switzerland and France all the way to California and Idaho …
You’re also an avid diver, right?
Tao Schirrmacher: I love to dive, but it’s a bit tricky at the moment since the water is so incredibly dirty due to all the recent rainfall. I’ve been diving for a decade now. The story behind it is actually quite fun. I was out in the water, looking for my surfboard fins. Many surfers lose their stabilizing fins to the strong current at the Eisbach wave. That day, I found a Bulgari ring. Real gold – I checked with a jeweler. So, I thought there’s bound to be more interesting treasure hidden in the river – and I started to systematically work my way down the Eisbach.
So, when did this turn into an art project?
Tao Schirrmacher: In 2013, I exhibited my collective finds at Haus der Kunst. My partner Johannes Maur helped me develop a conceptual framework and we came up with the title Lost n‘ Drowned. Johannes added plenty of soul and spirit to the whole thing: He took photographs of the found objects and together with another friend, the artist Christian Hundertmark, I am planning to turn the project into a proper coffee-table book. He’s a surfer like me and publishes a book series called Art of Rebellion. Our scene is quite connected like that. Surfing sparks creativity.
What about entrepreneurial aspects?
Tao Schirrmacher: I want to create and emphasize that link between arts, sports, and music. Beyond Lost n‘ Drowned, there are many interesting stories that expand and enrich the collective. It’s definitely keeping me busy. Big Ding, my surfboard repair kit brand, is now available across Europe and there’s almost always something to do. I find it extremely fulfilling to create and push something worthwhile.
Early afternoon, Ludwigsvorstadt. The Wirtshaus am Bavariapark beer garden is teeming with tables and benches, strategically placed under shady trees – time for a short break and breather. Tao orders the obligatory Bavarian spread of soft pretzel and pork knuckles. He’s sporting a grin – surfer’s delight!
Hang on, a surfer in a beer garden?
Tao Schirrmacher: I’m more Bavarian than you might expect at first glance. I grew up here and the whole beer garden thing is definitely part of Munich. Lazing about under the chestnut trees on a day like this is super relaxing. And just around the corner, you’ll find the famous Bavaria statue with a view of Theresienwiese, the site of every fall’s Octoberfest.
Where else are we likely to bump into you when you’re not in the water?
Tao Schirrmacher: I’m a huge fan of Pinakothek der Moderne. And the meadow in front of the museum is a great hangout spot. There’s also plenty of nature to explore, especially close to the Isar River, like the spring gardens near Reichenbach Bridge – an expansive green space jutting out into the river … and the perfect place for a BBQ.
Outsiders often think of Munich as posh. What’s your take on the city?
Tao Schirrmacher: If you look at Munich’s districts, there’s a lot of variation. Sure, Schwabing or the Gärtnerplatz Quarter are more of a draw for those enjoying a detox (laughs). But I wouldn’t really want to pigeonhole it like that. Munich’s undergoing a lot of change at the moment. Take the Westend, where I’m based. It used to be a fairly run-down area. Now, there’s new jewelry stores, boutiques, and architectural studios popping up all over the place.
What about some recommendations for non-locals, then?
Tao Schirrmacher: If I’m out and looking for an energy boost, I go to SuperDanke!, an amazing place in Maxvorstadt. My buddy Max is one of the founders. It’s a really great spot for tasty smoothies or cold-pressed juices to go.
Hang on, didn’t you just diss the detox crowd …?
Tao Schirrmacher: You caught me (laughs). Also, right around the corner, on Barer Straße, I’d recommend Daddy Longlegs. It’s a fantastic spot for hanging out. They offer delicious banana bread or healthy snacks like the yummy açai bowl. Not to forget: Miri makes the best coffee. I’ve known her for ages and her boyfriend works for my sponsor, Vans. He’s another person I’ve known forever, from surfing. I guess the detox scene is pretty tight-knit (laughs).
Where do you head at the end of the day?
Tao Schirrmacher: Tonight, we’re hosting the FUS Jam at the Eisbach wave. Once a year, we get a large bunch of people together for a nighttime surfing session under flood lights. There’s music and it’s always huge fun. Afterwards, we all go to Goldene Bar. It’s a watering hole inside Haus der Kunst and combines a great atmosphere with really good cocktails by a changing roster of international bar pros.
What does urban mobility mean to you?
Tao Schirrmacher: Without a car, life can occasionally be tricky in the city – not to forget all those trips to the countryside for snowboarding and other excursions. At the same time, I guess I’m not your average city driver. In Munich, I get by quite well with carsharing services like car2go, but I also like to cycle or skateboard all over the place.
Surfer and artist Tao Schirrmacher loves to spend his free time on the world-famous Eisbach wave in Munich’s English Garden. Beyond taking on commissioned work, the trained designer also runs Big Ding, his own surf accessories brand. His art project Lost n‘ Drowned was born out of his passion for urban diving.
Experience Munich – with the myLike app. It’s your personal city guide that lets you store and share all those inspiring places you love and discover on the way. Sign up now to explore and experience Tao’s favorite spots around Munich.
Local Secrets Munich:
Prinzregentenstraße, 80538 Munich
Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstraße 1, 80538 Munich
Wirtshaus am Bavariapark beer garden
Theresienhöhe 15, 80339 Munich
Theresienhöhe 16, 80339 Munich
Pinakothek der Moderne
Barer Straße 40, 80333 Munich
Isar spring gardens
Eduard-Schmid-Straße/Reichenbachbrücke, 81541 Munich
Türkenstraße 66, 80799 Munich
Barer Straße 42, 80799 Munich
Prinzregentenstraße 1, 80538 Munich