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Beyond the Lederhosen: Munich's Good Times for Gay Travelers

by Jill Gleeson
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 15, 2015

You'd think a land where leather pants are commonplace and a flamboyant king ensconced in fairytale castles while mooning over Wagner would be the undisputed champ of gay tourism. But Munich, Germany -- despite its love for lederhosen and closeted 19th-century Bavarian monarch Ludwig II -- often gets overlooked by LGBT travelers in favor of Berlin's infamous decadence. That's a shame because Munich has a throwback charm unique from its artsy brother to the north.

Munich's hospitality has long extended to members of the gay community, according to Dietmar Holzapfel, uncrowned sovereign of the scene and with husband Josef Sattler, proprietor of Hotel Deutsche Eiche.

"Our former mayor Christian Ude was the patron of Pride 22 years ago, when other politicians didn't dare do this," he explains. "Munich was also the first city in Europe to host the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Alliance) convention. Another good example...my husband and I recently celebrated our 37th anniversary with a garden party. Mayor Dieter Reiter and his wife were guests. The feeling here is live and let live!"

For a guide to all things great and gay in Munich we tapped the delightful Holzapfel, whose ardent affection for the city is utterly contagious.


All Year Long

With an LGBT festival nearly every month, Munich is a party that never stops. Even the legendary beer-drinking extravaganza Oktoberfest turns one of its massive tents over to gay brew enthusiasts several times during its run. For his part, Holzapfel digs Pink Christmas on Stephansplatz, when attendees keep warm with German sausages and hot wine while warbling carols.

Mark your calendar for next August's Schwules Strassenfest Munich Gay street festival, which draws crowds of 15,000. The climax comes at 6 p.m., when roses by the hundreds are tossed from balconies as the crowd sings the classic German song "Für mich soll's rote Rosen regnen" (Red roses should rain for me).

"I also love Shrove Tuesday," Holzapfel adds, "because there is a very good mixture -- heteros come to admire the crazy outfits of the drag queens. And Christopher Street Day, of course, the second weekend in July...we celebrate with a festival on Marienplatz, the most important place in Munich. And in the evening City Hall is turned into a giant club for the LGBT community to celebrate in -- no other city does this!"


It Takes a Village

Munich is home to a bustling gay quarter, Glockenbachviertel, located within easy strolling distance of the grand and glorious Altstadt (old city). There are dozens of shops, bars and restaurants located within its confines, though the trend is toward a more mixed crowd. "In our rainbow area there are a lot of modern shops with specialties like chocolate, clothes and sex toys," notes Holzapfel. "I like very much SpeXter for leather and sex toys, the clothing store Seba's and Kunstbehandlung, a gay art gallery."

Among Holzapfel's top choices for nightlife are Bau, which offers a newly remodeled super-stylish space upstairs and a basement darkroom; NiL, a relaxed, long-popular café with an Egyptian design theme and good German fare; and Kraftwerk, trendy with both queers and queer-allies, who flock to its outdoor seating.


Hot Stuff

But the gay village's greatest treasure might be Holzapfel and Sattler's joint. Boasting sophisticated, modern rooms at reasonable rates and a fashionable
bar/restaurant, Hotel Deutsche Eiche has been packing in LGBT travelers and locals since the pair bought and renovated the building 20 years ago. It's got a hell of a history, too. Freddie Mercury hung out there and renowned gay filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, crushing on one of the property's bartenders, turned it into what he dubbed his "second living room."

The Deutsche Eiche is a constant work in progress to offer new amenities for guests -- like the rooftop terrace with a 360-degree view of the city -- but it all just might be dwarfed by the jaw-dropping sauna Holzapfel and Sattler built alongside the hotel. Holzapfel calls it "one of the world's largest and best" and with more than 5,500 square feet covering four floors it just might be. Among the amenities are 40 cabins, a steam bath labyrinth with five rooms, an S&M chamber, and darkrooms with 30 curtained beds. According to Holzapfel, one recent Oktoberfest day nearly 1,000 men walked through the sauna's doors.


Take Me to the River

Sunbathing in the buff at the Isar River in warm weather is a tradition in Munich and a good time for visitors as well. The Flaucher area is especially popular with the gay community. To get there, take bus 52 from Marienplatz, or hike or bike along the river's east side until you hit the wooden bridge. There's long been cruising here, but if you're looking for a more wholesome activity Holzapfel suggests taking a dip. "Just remember, you can bathe in the river," he stresses. "It's very clean water."

For more information about Munich, visit www.muenchen.de/int/en/tourism.


Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.


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