Welcome to the second installment of Instinct’s three-part gay travel series looking at a trio of Europe’s most charming locations. Yesterday we gave you a glimpse into gay Vienna, and tomorrow we take you to historical Cologne. But today let’s visit the capital of Bavaria: Munich.
English-speaking residents have a nickname for this city: Toytown (apparently due to its great quality of life, which I can vouch for). I first visited in 2007 and fell in love, with both the city and a resident. Jochen and I were drinking beer at an outdoor community table, at a café that no longer exists, when I addressed the waitress as fraülein. Major faux pas. He leaned over to educate me. “We don’t use that word anymore,” he said. “It’s considered sexist.” Always one for political correctness paired with an accent, a long distance romance lasting a year-plus was born.
Die Deutsche Eiche (“the German oak”) is home to a restaurant, hotel and sauna all in one. A former epicenter of gay culture for decades, glass-enclosed wall displays present a brief history lesson evidenced by photos and video of German drag queens fighting for social change. Continue to the back and either check into your room or hit a buzzer to be let into the sauna, a massive four-story facility complete with locker rooms, showers, mazes, cubicles, movie theatre, Jacuzzi, saunas and steam room. The hotel has been renovated and the rooms are very comfortable (if expensive) with tasteful wood floors, double-paned windows, new beds and modern bath fixtures. I prefer rooms in the back, away from the street, for their peaceful urban garden setting.
The restaurant’s charm makes you feel you are in the Bavarian countryside. The food is fair, the service professional, and the draft beer delicious. Jochen, now 46, and I remain friends after all these years and we met for dinner. Besides being a landscape architect, he is also a talented water colorist and has been married for six years to a Frenchman who works for Cartier. When asked about Munich’s current gay culture he said, “I’m not sure that there is one anymore. I think there are these places called ‘subs.’”
Indeed, we walked along Müllerstrasse, once the gay boulevard of Munich. Stopping in front of a sterile-looking building, on the street level was a bar/cafe doing its best not to look like a gay community center. A green neon sign flashed “Sub,” as in subculture. Roughly twenty people under 35, men and women, chatted, drank and played pool. Continuing down Müllerstrasse I saw former LGBT clubs – including one I once saw filled with soap suds for an all-night sex party – now gone, either empty or now simply mainstream businesses.
Having been to Germany so many times now, I’ve seen Munich change. Gärtnerplatz, once the LGBT Ground Zero is now a fashionable neighborhood notable for its roundabout mini-park, historic theatre, trendy eateries and moms pushing strollers. You may also spot German soccer superstars and celebrities lunching at the charming Café Cotidiano, though it helps to have a national with you to appreciate the honor.
Tomorrow’s destination: Cologne (via train from Munich: 5-6 hours)
If You Go – Munich
Munich Airport is served by all major airlines, with nonstop flights from a number of U.S. cities. You can also travel by train when already in Europe.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Cocoon Sendlinger Tor, Lindwurmstraße 35; +49 89 59993907; cocoon-hotels.de/?lang=en
Hotel Deutsche Eiche, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Hotel
WHERE TO EAT
Deutsche Eiche, traditional Bavarian cuisine; Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Restaurant
Restaurant Cotidiano, fashionable atmosphere, fresh pastries and teas; Gärtnerplatz 6; +49 (0) 89 2420786-10
WHAT TO DO
Gärtnerplatz, charming circular park and neighborhood in the middle of the city, former center of LGBT Munich; muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120320.htmlDeutsche Eiche Sauna, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Bathhouse
Sub, Müllerstr. 14; +49 0 89 8563464-00; subonline.org/english/
Munich Gay Oktoberfest, annual beer-loving event for LGBTs. Plan ahead! gaytravel4u.com/event/munich-gay-oktoberfest/