History of the Deutsche Eiche
The Deutsche Eiche (‘The German Oak’) was built in 1864. That same year, the 18-year-old King Ludwig II ascended the throne of the Kingdom of Bavaria.
Around 1800, the second city wall was torn down, and Munich started to expand towards the north of the city (the remains of the fortifications can still be seen at Isartor, Karlstor and Sendlinger Tor). The area around the current Gärtnerplatz was also proposed for city expansion due to its proximity to Viktualienmarkt, the City Hall, and the major churches. However, frequent flooding of the River Isar delayed construction in the district until 1860, when the riverbanks were fortified and most of the streams running through the city were built over to ensure flood protection. For the first time in the city’s history, blocks of flats were constructed in rows and had shared side walls, like terraced houses, resulting in a very dense urban landscape. This architectural density is particularly noticeable in the summer, when the buildings store heat and the temperature in the Gärtnerplatz quarter is markedly higher than in the surrounding areas. The names for the streets here had already been chosen by King Ludwig I during the initial planning phase in 1830, and he chose these names with the intention of honouring the architects Gärtner and Klenze, the court painter Cornelius and the engineer Georg von Reichenbach.
After Bavaria had become a kingdom in 1806 thanks to the support of Napoleon, the newly anointed king promulgated a constitution that was heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and therefore did not include any passages criminalising homosexuality. Between 1870 and 1871, Bavaria lost its sovereignty and became part of the German Empire. This brought changes to the state’s legal stance on male homosexuality: the fact that the entire German Empire adopted the Prussian Criminal Code, with its infamous Section 175, meant that homosexuality became a criminal offence in Bavaria as well. How ironic that this should happen during the reign of Ludwig II, since he was gay himself! During the last years of his life, Ludwig II surrounded himself with burly, handsome soldiers from his light cavalry, referred to by the French name ‘Chevaux-légers’. According to one theory, the German word ‘schwul’ (gay) stems from this military expression. Bavarians tended to pronounce the words in their own, heavily accented version of the French: ‘Der Ludwig und seine Schwulischen!’ (‘Ludwig and his light cavalry’).
The war against France that led to the unification of Germany had been fought against the wishes of King Ludwig II, who was a pacifist and a great admirer of France. The victory of the German armies and the subsequent proclamation of the Empire brought a surge of national pride, and ‘German Oaks’ were established all over Germany. Many existing public houses were also renamed ‘Oak’ since oak trees were an old Germanic symbol of strength and endurance. Only a few years ago, there were still five ‘German Oaks’ in Munich. Today, luckily for us, there is only one left besides our own, and it is located on the outskirts of the city.
The Deutsche Eiche: a house of many colours
The Deutsche Eiche has always had a diverse clientele. Traders from the Great Market Hall, butchers from the slaughterhouse to the south, prostitutes working for a madam called Napoleon, and several artists were all part of the ‘Eiche crowd’. From 1921 to 1923, it was also said to be a favourite haunt of Adolf Hitler, reputedly a great fan of the male dancers of the nearby Gärtnerplatz Theatre, who would also meet up here. There is much evidence that Hitler himself may have been a closeted homosexual. Some say that he tightened the already severe Section 175 of the Criminal Code in order to silence the continued rumours about his sexual orientation. As early as 1934, many gay men were incriminated and ended up in prison or in concentration camps, where they had to wear a pink triangle.
The origins of the hotel
The building’s history as a hotel began in 1928, when the first two rooms (of our current thirty-six) were booked by overnight guests. By the end of the war, the hotel already had twenty-five rooms, albeit with an extremely low level of comfort, and the quality remained low until the early 90s. When the new owners bought the property, almost no one wanted to book a room – even during Oktoberfest – as nobody wanted to share a bathroom with other guests on the same floor. Today, the Deutsche Eiche is a stylish independent hotel that fulfils many of the criteria of both the four-star and five-star categories. However, to achieve this higher standard, we would have to build more large rooms and suites. As a ‘three-star superior’ hotel, we were the first hotel in Munich to win the German reality show Mein himmlisches Hotel (‘My Heavenly Hotel’).
A meeting place for artists
After WWII, more and more artists, set designers and a truly diverse clientele would gather at the quaint tavern. An article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung even stated that the Deutsche Eiche was popular with homosexuals. This angered the landlady at the time, Ella Reichenbach: ‘Utter rubbish! In this house, 90 per cent of my guests are artists and 10 per cent are men who have been disappointed by women!’ This was in some way true, but besides the landladies themselves, women have always been part of the Eiche and felt at home here. Many will remember names such as Margot Werner, Elisabeth Volkmann, Barbara Valentin and Donna Summer, to name but a few.
After the war, it was Ernst Craemer, a world-renowned choreographer, who established the tradition of carnival at the Eiche. Landladies Ella and Tony would play the protagonists of the parodies that were staged here. Today, the festive tradition continues with large parties at the end of January and for Mardi Gras. On these occasions, our boys put on their dance shows – in drag, of course. In the 60s, John Cranko, the world-famous ballet choreographer, would also celebrate his successes at the Eiche, together with his team from the National Theatre. From 1974 onwards, the Deutsche Eiche became the second home of world-renowned film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who always celebrated the completion of his films here. The Deutsche Eiche was even used as a film location for some of them, such as Satansbraten (‘Satan’s Brew’) and Lola. In order to live as close to his regular haunt as he could, Fassbinder moved into a flat across the road (Reichenbachstrasse 12) with his lover Armin, who was a waiter at the Eiche. Deutschland im Herbst (‘Germany in Autumn’), a film about the terrorist attacks of the Red Army Faction, was shot in that apartment. It now houses the administrative offices of the Deutsche Eiche.
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, also lived in Munich in the 80s and liked to spend time at the Deutsche Eiche. Unfortunately, the great star then became a symbol of the new, fast-spreading disease AIDS and died in 1991. During this period, Dr Peter Gauweiler, head administrative officer for the city council, provoked uproar with a list of restrictive measures aimed at destroying all establishments that were part of the LGBT scene. Nowadays, he would probably admit that these measures were a mistake on his part. He has even explicitly praised our initiative to rebuild the Ludwig II monument.
The new era
AIDS caused great alarm amongst the gay community, and many would no longer go out for fear of discrimination. The Löwenbräu brewery, owner of the Deutsche Eiche, reacted by deciding to convert the building into offices. However, this decision met with strong resistance, so, in the end, Löwenbräu decided to simply rid itself of the building. In December 1993, Dietmar Holzapfel and Sepp Sattler became the owners of the property. Since then, not a year has gone by without some form of renovation, expansion or redecorating.
Today, the Deutsche Eiche is considered to be the jewel of the street. Just like society itself, the clientele of the Eiche has also changed. Nowadays, all kinds of guests visit the location: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and heterosexuals – all of whom revel in the interesting mix! This has included such famous guests as Nobel laureate Günter Grass, fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier, bestselling author Frank Schätzing and his wife, Ulli Lommel – the ‘James Dean’ of the Fassbinder era, actor Ralf Morgenstern, comedian Thomas Hermanns, Hollywood actress Nastassja Kinski, and German-British pop singer Ireen Sheer, to name but a few.
The men’s sauna
The sauna at the Deutsche Eiche was opened in 1995 in two of the courtyard buildings, targeting a male-only clientele. The sauna was hugely popular from the very beginning. Luckily, the owners were able to acquire additional properties in the courtyard so that the expanded sauna now occupies an area spread over five buildings and four floors. There are plans afoot to extend it further still. The steam bath with its five separate halls, the two Finnish saunas and the large Jacuzzi are just as attractive as the extensive cruising areas and the sauna restaurant. Approximately 10,000 male guests visit the sauna every month from all over the world to relax, but also to meet other men.
The roof terrace
In Munich, it can be difficult to receive planning permission for projects that differ somewhat from the norm. It took years of struggle until one of the most beautiful roof terraces in Munich could be opened on the top floor of our hotel. The local conservation officer claimed that the plans would disrupt the architectural unity of the Gärtnerplatz quarter. Fortunately, the local planning authority did not agree, and thanks to their decision, both Munich residents and tourists alike can now enjoy a wonderful view over our beautiful city. Various travel agencies and other organisations end their city tours with a visit to our roof terrace on an almost daily basis.
The Deutsche Eiche is a unique combination of a cosy restaurant serving Bavarian and international cuisine, a stylish independent hotel, an attractive rooftop bar, and one of Europe’s largest male-only saunas – and is therefore a real ONE OF A KIND!