JoHN KELLY HEADS To Bavaria To SAMPLE THE DELIGHTS of MUNiCH AND ITS SuRRouNDING AREAS…
We hadn’t wanted to believe those tired german clichés, but our arrival at Munich airport left us little choice. first the bang-on-time arrival of our Lufthansa flight caused us to innocuously pass comment on German punctuality, then our seamless delivery through departures saw us more vocally lament Heathrow’s lack of Teutonic efficiency… but it was our subsequent transfer through the terminals that left us lost for words. Little past midday and directly facing us were rows of drinkers dedicatedly downing pints of frothy German beer from the airport’s on-site brewery, while nearby an elderly gentleman discreetly readjusted his Lederhosen as he made his way from the airport’s sex shop. only 15 minutes on German soil and it seemed the arrivals hall had insidiously, incrementally, arranged for our entire gamut of German preconceptions to greet us directly. But then it’s also the German way to be direct, isn’t it? While Berlin may brazenly boast about its debauched nightlife, Munich remains unabashedly proud of German tradition. As well it should. An 850-year-old city, it’s been chiselled into majestic shape following many centuries as a commercial and cultural centre, and its wellto-do citizens have inherited some of Europe’s best museums and galleries, boutiques and restaurants. While Berlin may be the German city that offers hedonism and hangovers, Munich has discreetly carved its niche as a sophisticated alternative for those more interested in class and calibre. rather than immediately exploring all it had to offer, however, many gay visitors’ first port of call after arrival is Deutsche Eiche (Reichenbachstrasse 13; www.deutsche-eiche. com), a gay hotel in the fashionable gärtnerplatz
Berchtesgaden Winter Watzmann
district. Another triumph of competent German design, its unassuming exterior belies the fact that one of Germany’s biggest gay saunas nestles in the bowels of the building, while the recently refurbished and modernised rooms now make it the most stylish gay-accommodation option in the city. The area is a gay district of sorts since freddie Mercury was seen socialising there in the ‘80s. Some of Munich’s longestestablished and best gay venues cluster around the neighbourhood and nearby Müllerstraße. But before exploring, take time to get your bearings over coffee and cakes in Café Selig (Hans-Sachs-Straße 3). An Austrian-inspired café and bar, anyone who’s been to Vienna will
already have experienced the city’s custom of offering Kaffee and Kuchen, whereby steaming mugs of freshly ground coffee are served with a selection of artery-clogging pastries. Generally the complementary component in Viennese establishments is surly service from a disdainful waiter, but prepare to be disorientated, as Selig (and everywhere else we went on to dine) seem to have forgone this vital element in favour of friendly waiting staff who are genuinely pleased to welcome tourists to the city. obviously for visitors from London it’s a disorientating experience to drink and dine in reasonably priced establishments where staff actually show some form of interest in your wellbeing, and during the
for by Pimpernel (Müllerstraße 56), which was once a rent-boy bar but is now a mixed electro-venue, and the Sunday-night dance parties at Café am Hochhaus (Blumenstraße 29a), while more laidback visitors head to Pop as (Thalkirchner Straße 12), bear-friendly Edelheiss (Pestalozzistraße 6) and Bar Jeans (Blumenstraße 15). In a city where the men wear cowhide to church, leather lovers may find themselves frequently thinking sacrilegious thoughts but that particular scene’s most notorious leather-and-fetish bar remains the 40year-old ochsengarten (Müllerstraße 47), while everyone seems to end up in the tiny Sunshine Pub (Müllerstraße 17) at some point. open 21 hours a day, its clientele is one shot waifs, strays and the socially unsalvageable, one measure club casualties and drag queens.
although Munich’s mixture of nocturnal pursuits and languid daytime atmosphere make it easy to commit an entire holiday sampling its easy spoils, Londoners with a sense of adventure should seize the opportunity of exploring further afield. BMW is a Bavarian brand – running an excellent museum and exhibition space, BMW Welt (www.bmwwelt.com) in Munich – and affluent locals regularly load up their Bimmers for weekends in the countryside. A quick zip
course of our weekend in Munich and Bavaria we found we had to repeatedly endure a litany of interferences from locals asking us how we were enjoying our stay; strangers clamouring to help us as we struggled with maps and guidebooks; well-behaved blonde children smiling at us for no reason. All deeply unsettling.
Luckily, however, Munich also caters to visitors who are also interested in spending a less-thanwholesome time in the city. As you’d expect from the city that introduced oktoberfest to the world, the drinking scene here is well developed and there’s a multitude of venues for every gay contingent. Shoreditch-style clubbers are catered
Neuschwanstein Castle along the Autobahn, for example, leads to Neuschwanstein Castle. A fantastical flourish of turrets and spires, the towering structure is wedged into a mountaintop and its magical setting has long led American visitors to label it Disney-like, inaccurately as it happens. Neuschwanstein came first and Disney’s chimerical structure is actually inspired by the dreamlike building whose construction was commissioned by King Ludwig ii, rumoured insane and known as the ‘fairy king’ (not solely for his predilection for building fairytale buildings). The unprecedented scale and expense of the project almost led Bavaria to financial ruin, and he was found dead in suspicious, never-explained circumstances shortly before its completion. Now the building is one of Bavaria’s most celebrated sights, with over 6,000 tourists each day visiting what was Ludwig’s own swan song. Equally beautiful, but far less crowded, is the alpine region of Berchtesgaden. A municipality that ripples along the Austrian border, it’s shadowed by the 2713m Mount Watzmann,, and is pretty much a real-life version of every Heidithe-milkmaid fantasy you care to
think of. Verdant valleys; soaring peaks; wooden chalets swamped by flowerboxes; chirpy blonde children (again); cows wearing bells… it’s all here in abundance but the overall effect is blissful calm rather than small-town angst. Beautiful all year round, the area is also popular in winter when deep snow means skiing is possible and bobsleighing and lugeing are practised in the lakeside resort of Königssee. for longer stays in the area, the best accommodation option is the five-star intercontinental Berchtesgaden (Hintereck 1, Berchtesgaden; www. intercontinental.com). Supremely comfortable, it offers an excellent spa, great restaurant and roaring log fires every night, but it’s the setting that’s the main draw – 1,000 metres up, the vista is spectacular and the site was once the holiday destination of choice for a former German premier. Admittedly, the endorsement is tainted somewhat when you consider that the leader in question was Hitler, but the location itself remains regarded one of the most beautiful parts of the country, a sky-high setting from which to survey the very best Bavaria has to offer.
BAVARIA: HOW TO GET THERE With regular departures from Heathrow, Germany’s national airline lufthansa offers the most convenient way to reach all parts of the country. Flights to Munich cost from just £49 one way, including all taxes. www.lufthansa.com
Bryan rodrigues enjoys aﬀordable luxury at park plaza county Hall The park plaza county Hall is tucked away on Addington Street, London, SE1, right opposite County Hall and a quick stroll from Waterloo – which means if you’re heading for the gay (de)lights of Soho, you’re not far off track. The hotel, somewhat Manhattanesque in style, only opened in 2008, so still feels fairly new. It has a cool yet accomplished feel and look, with a set of guest services to match. Park Plaza County Hall may be a pleasant surprise for a hotel that is part of this chain. The Senior Guest Services Manager, Luke, showed me to my room – with a spectacular view across to the London Eye and with really nice touches including toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames in the junior suites and the penthouses. Excellent customer service, with the correct balance of attention to the needs of guests and their respect for privacy, was definitely the norm - clearly preferable to a crew which may be more easy on the eye but possibly clueless. The beautifully lit Spectrum bar is open to the public and is worth visiting if you happen to be passing or work in the area – particularly for its cocktails list. Dinner in the restaurant is also recommended – we enjoyed a tian of white crab (£7.50), followed by halibut (£15), which the chef grilled for me at my request and which was delicious. The wine list also has variety and is well-priced. Park Plaza County Hall has a young attitude and is undoubtedly gay friendly. Best available rates are via www.parkplaza.com
LONDON GAY TOURIST OFFICE LAUNCHED
Any visitors to London will be interested to know that a new gay tourist oﬃce has opened its doors. In the evening it may be a glamorous Champagne Bar, but during the day, the first floor bar at the Ku Bar is now a Gay Tourist Office – a dedicated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender visitor centre for anyone new to London, or for London’s own LGBT residents looking for information. The centre plans to offer information on the gay scene, hotels, travel services, community events, sexual health, cultural events, charities and voluntary opportunities. There will be maps, magazines and brochures, plus a laptop hub for getting online. You’ll be able to buy tickets for events and activities, and take advantage of theatre deals and discounted entry flyers. Check out the new Gay Tourist Office upstairs at the Ku Bar, 30 Lisle Street, WC2. Doors will be open Monday to Saturday from noon till 6pm. Further information can be taken from the newly-launched website at www. gaytouristoﬃce.co.uk