On Reichenbachstraße, in the heart of Munich, just a short walk from central Marienplatz, sits a gay landmark, Hotel Deutsche Eiche. With a gay history spanning back nearly a century, it’s only fitting that it’s run by the “king of the village,” Dietmar Holzapfel. A former teacher, he and his partner bought the aging hotel and breathed new life into it, ensuring that it continued to function as the effective capital of the city’s gay community. With a restaurant that serves the very best Bavarian cuisine, a rooftop bar with views out the alps, and a gay sauna, it attracts a wide international clientele. We sat down with Holzapfel over breakfast, and, after speaking with him, it’s easy to see why he’s made Munich his home.
Are you from Munich originally?
I grew up in Ingolstadt, which is a small city 70 km north from Munich. But the University of Munich was founded in Ingolstadt, so it's a historical combination, and I had to come here when I was studying in the 80s.
So you came for university? Did you stay after that?
After my studies, I had to go to Augsburg, which is a big city to the west of Munich. It was a part of Bavaria that needed teachers. So for four years I was a teacher in Fussen, which is known for the Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the three castles of King Ludwig II—our gay king.
When did you move back to Munich? And how did you come into the Hotel Deutsche Eiche?
The owner of this place was thinking of selling it, and offered it to my father, who asked if my partner and I wanted to buy it with him. It was very old, no bathrooms in the rooms, and when the first Oktoberfest happened, we had trouble renting! So we were able to get help from the state, we renovated the rooms and built the sauna in the back, and that was the deciding step. From the beginning, that was 1995, the sauna was full of people. And then a few years later we were able to extend our property backwards, so we were really lucky.
So even before you guys came in, the building had a gay history?
I think the gay roots of this house have been the dancers of Gärtnerplatz Theatre. And then after the war, more and more artists came here, and gay artists. Freddy Mercury was a guest, Rainer Fassbinder the filmmaker, he brought a lot of international stars to this place. Even today, fans of Fassbinder come here to discover his roots.
What do you make of the gay scene in Munich? How would you describe it?
I think it's like a village within the city. It’s very close. People know each other. It’s just a small distance from one place to the next. And we can live here very free and open, accepted, and very comfortable. Outside the city, Bavaria has been a country of agriculture, but even their ways have changed.
In Munich, the city itself is very supportive, right?
Yes. Our mayor of the last 19 years, Christian Ude, was the first to lead the gay parade; he was the first to put rainbow flags in front of the Town Hall; he was the first to open the Town Hall for the Christopher Street Day gay party. Today, every politician wants to take part in the parade. Everyone knows you need the gays to win elections.
More than just the gay scene, why do you like living in Munich?
Munich has three world famous orchestras, we have a lot of culture, the best museums, and a lot of nature. It's a very green city. The English Garden is one of the biggest city parks in the world, bigger than Central Park. So you can live here very comfortably. Every evening, there’s something else to explore.
Would you move away from Munich?
No, no. Never. We are traveling a lot, my partner and I, because I love traveling, and tourism is my main interest. I would like to live in Tel Aviv, for example, Chicago, that's very nice, in the South of France perhaps.
You're very involved in the gay scene. Can you talk about the statue of King Ludwig II?
Yes, there was a monument of him on a bridge over the water, it was three meters high, and during the war, it was melted down for weapons. From our kings, he was the only gay one, and the head was rescued—we have a copy of it here in the hotel. The original is in the Opera House, and the stones that had housed the statue still exist. So last year was our 150th anniversary, so we said that we’d give €150,000 to rebuild the monument.
King Ludwig II is an icon. He also did so much for Munich. For example, he got Wagner to come to Munich, so we are a Wagner city. He was the founder of the technical university, and, of course, he was gay. He lived his life, that's good, that symbol.
What would your ideal day be in the city?
I like very much to sit outside here, because people walk past this way to the market, the pedestrian area. So you can see girls with girls going hand-in-hand, boys, drag queens, transgender people, it's like the cinema! So I prefer to sit out here. My favorite restaurant is Tantris, but it's very expensive, so I can only afford once a year. It's international cuisine, and it’s very good. With gay bars, I like the Nil. It's on Hans-Sachs-Straße, and I’ve known the owner for like 40 years. I do a lot with my bike, because in Munich there are a lot of ways only accessible with bikes, along the river for example.
Photography by Przemek Czaicki