Germany is a fascinating country. The economic powerhouse of Europe has emerged from its problematic recent history to become a modern, industrious country that celebrates its traditions.
When you imagine old-world Germany – the world of Grimms’ Fairy Tales – chances are that you’re conjuring up images of men in lederhosen, huge steins of beer, rich comforting food, and a love of music and dancing. Chances are that you’re conjuring up Bavaria – an ancient medieval kingdom that now forms the state of Bavaria within modern-day Germany.
Munich is the capital of Bavaria, and it’s a city that traces its history back to the 12th century. It is a long and illustrious history that Bavarians are incredibly proud of and continue to enthusiastically celebrate.
Perhaps surprisingly, Munich is also a fantastic destination for the queer traveller.
Bavaria is a fairly conservative region, so despite being Germany’s third largest city its LGBTQ scene is small but friendly – think Birmingham, not Berlin. The Glockenbachviertel district is Munich’s gay neighbourhood, but the entire city is worth exploring.
Things to do
The best way to appreciate Munich is to walk its old streets – despite the bombings and reconstruction of its recent history, the old street layout has been retained and many historic buildings have survived or been faithfully reconstructed. Start in the central square of Marienplatz in front of the town hall. Old city gates that date back to the medieval fortifications are still standing.
Climb the tower of the Alten Peter church - spectacular 360-degree views across Munich.
Shop at Viktualienmarkt – a great outdoor food market for fresh produce. On sunny days this is crowded and busy with everyone drinking outside.
Immerse yourself in Asamkirche – worth a visit if you like stunningly decorated churches – and admire the Frauenkirche, the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady that defines Munich’s skyline.
Admire the architecture. The drive from the airport into town takes you past the new football stadium, the old Olympic stadium and BMW’s iconic headquarters which is designed like the four cylinders of an engine .
Appreciate the history. The spectacular town hall features an actual glockenspiel - a traditional play performed by life size figures with bells – which can be seen in action at 11 AM each day.
Feast on Bavarian cuisine. Start the day with white veal sausages and pretzels, which apparently you have to have with beer. You’ll soon learn that most dishes in Bavaria have to be consumed with beer. You peel the sausages and then wolf them down with sweet mustard and the salty pretzel. For dessert, who can resist a big slice of apple strudel with vanilla cream?
Go cycling. The locals are all equipped with bikes and it’s an easy way to get around. The city is relatively flat, and there’s thoughtfully constructed cycling lanes to keep you separated from the traffic and pedestrians.
Cool off in the river. When the weather heats up, there’s lots of swimming options to help you keep cool. Head to the massive park known as the English Gardens – there’s lots of swimming spots in amongst the open spaces. Or make your way to the banks of the Isar River – its gravel bed means that the fast-flowing water is incredibly clear and fresh. Head to the Flaucher island section of the river which is both the clothing optional and the gay area for swimming and sunbathing.
The first Sunday of Munich’s massive Oktoberfest celebration of beer includes one of the must-do events of the LGBTQ travel calendar. For one day, the Bräurosl tent gets taken over by the queers.
The tent holds 8,400 people, but you still have to get there early if you want to be part of the action – once the tent is full, it’s a one-in-one-out scenario.
We were in the queue at Bräurosl by 7 AM. The doors to the tent don’t open until 9 AM. While this seemed an unreasonably early start-time, when we arrived at 7 AM there were already plenty of eager guys ahead of us, and the queue quickly stretched a long way behind us. Everyone was in their lederhosen and eager for a day of drinking beer and singing German songs.
Once we’d made it inside the tent it was a quick scramble to find a table. The beer began flowing immediately, and we were soon happily clinking glasses and tucking into a giant salty pretzel. The band got started at 11:30 and the mood and energy of the crowd immediately lifted – everyone excitedly standing on the bench stools and enthusiastically singing. It’s surprising how much your German improves after a few enormous beers.
The crowd is fairly international – a lot of Germans, obviously, but plenty of guys from across Europe. Pretty much everyone is wearing lederhosen.
Food and beer is constantly available, with gruffly efficient waiters and waitresses working up and down the rows of tables. After a salty pretzel and a beer to kick things off, we moved on to the traditional breakfast of weisswurst – the white Bavarian sausages. Lunch was rotisserie chicken, and then after that I think maybe another giant pretzel, but I can’t really remember.
It’s amazing how much beer you can drink when you really put your mind to it. The good thing about the beer that you get at Oktoberfest is that it’s specially brewed without preservatives - they know that it’s all going to be consumed during the festival, so there’s no need to try and extend its shelf-life. This means that you don’t really get any sort of hang-over. Genius.
What makes this experience really special is the music and the singing. It’s joyous, silly, and bonkers, but a lot of fun, and really just lifts your spirits – even if you’re just making up your own words to the songs.
It’s a friendly and affectionate crowd, and it’s easy to make friends with the people on the tables surrounding you.
It was a long day – we pulled the pin at about 7 PM but the crowd was still going strong. It’s hard to describe just how much fun this is. A great day. A great event. A great excuse to wear some lederhosen.
If your visit to Munich doesn’t coincide with Oktoberfest, but you’re looking to embrace the traditional Bavarian experiences, then go for dinner at the famous Hofbraeuhaus. This is a massive Bavarian beer hall filled with large wooden tables and rammed with people.
Once you’ve found a table – you’ll probably have to squeeze onto a shared table with other people – then you need to grab the attention of one of the busy waiters to place your order. It’s pretty much pork and potatoes any way you want, washed down with enormous steins of beer. Roaming pretzel girls keep you supplied with plenty of the salty bread – it really does go very well with beer.
The lively atmosphere is supported by a live band belting out traditional numbers - they generally seem to be songs that require everyone to sing along and regularly clink glasses with everyone on your table.
If you like this kind of thing, then you’ll really love Oktoberfest.
Politics is generally a subject best avoided while on vacation, but recent German history has had such a profound impact in shaping the world as we know it today that you are a little obliged to educate yourself while you travel through this region.
It was in Munich in the early 1920s that German national socialism and the Nazi party first rose to prominence. When the National Socialists took control of Germany in 1933, Munich was a key centre of power. The first concentration camp was established at Dachau - just 10 miles out of the city.
Heavily damaged by air raids during World War II, Munich was completely rebuilt after the US took control in 1945.
Since then, Munich has prospered economically, but a further political twist came in 1972 when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and assassinated by Palestinian extremists during the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich.