03 OCT 2016: As Oktoberfest wraps up today, the Hotel Deutsche Eiche remains a gathering place brimming with gay customers and allies who rely on the Munich mainstay.
“Our hotel, probably the best-known and most historic LGBT-themed hotel in all German-speaking areas of Europe, is also at the heart of the celebrations, attracting thousands of Oktoberfest visitors,” says general manager Roger Barta.
“Business this year during the Oktoberfest has, again, been characterized by very high occupancy rates and a record number of visitors.”
But the Eiche is more than a hotel. It’s also a bath house. A restaurant. A tourist information centre. A rooftop bar. A key meeting place.
It’s appropriate that Eiche translates into oak tree, the massive timber that is known for its strength and durability. For 150 years, the gay community’s centrepiece has held ground.
Barta says visitors have been filling the restaurant and bathhouse after the Oktoberfest beer tents close. And for pre-drinks, the Eiche hosts what Barta calls “the city’s largest Oktoberfest Warmup Party” on the recently-expanded roof-top terrace which gives spectacular downtown views. And the young and handsome general manager’s assertions have cred. A man of the world, Barta studied at the University of British Columbia and then relocated to Munich to write his masters thesis which focussed on the Eiche and the accommodation needs of LGBTQ travellers.
The hotel’s thirty-six contemporary guest rooms – including a junior suite and an apartment – have hosted icons like Freddy Mercury and David Bowie, according to Barta.
Star power aside, the Eiche also takes care of the basics like food and culture. Barta insists the bath house is Germany’s largest and a magnet for gay and gay-curious men. And the restaurant known for some of the city’s best Bavarian is regularly recommended by neighbouring hotel concierges. A meal that features any of a range of schnitzel and sausage dishes is best capped off with the Kaiserschmarrn, a skillet dessert full of pancake, mousse and berries. The choice of Bavarian theme with staff dressed in traditional dirndl and lederhosen was no convenient fallback.
“There is a conscious decision on our part,” Barta says of the ambiance and menu. “We did not want just to do the typical modern minimalistic place with uncomfortable seats and designer dishes. They are also nice and they have their place in the market but we thought this place has tradition, it has been like this for 150 years so we wanted to consciously maintain this.”
The Eiche leads the city’s LGBT welcome and scene, which the city’s tourism marketing bureau is keen to foster. “Munich shines – in all the colours of the rainbow,” says Geraldine Knudson, head of München Tourismus.
“I'm glad to see a fantastic LGBT scene that enriches Munich with its vitality. Our city warmly welcomes all our guests. Our visitors can and should feel truly at home in Munich during their stay, diving into the character of this Bavarian metropolis. München Tourismus works closely with the gay community as well as the associated travel industry to appeal to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender tourists.”
And the city has plenty more to offer. For example, fashionistas will appreciate the architectural magnificence and designer shops along Germany’s longest pedestrian-only street, Stachus, which connects two impressive squares: Marienplatz and Karlsplatz.
Steps away from Karlsplatz is the Charles Hotel, a swankier alternate to the Eiche. Tucked between a botanical garden and university, views from the hotel are both lush and lively. And the interiors – think natural colours, local stone accents and tasteful contemporary art – signify the sophistication of the Rocco Forte Hotels brand.
And for travellers who’ve had their fill of sausage and sauerkraut, the hotel’s bistro, Sophia’s, is the ideal antidote. Like a Tums for tourists, the dishes are light and flavourful. “In general, we don’t cook a lot with butter and cream,” boasts executive chef Michael Hüsken. “We don’t offer German or Bavarian food. Our dishes are international, but we use regional and seasonal products. I try to work with local products and give a modern interpretation that focuses on preparation and spices.”
The restaurant – menu and ambiance combined – is a softer version of its predecessor, Davarro, which featured robust Italian dishes. Sophia’s has only been open six months but Hüsken says his customers already “love the light and fresh meals.”
And the frugal will appreciate that while the restaurant is five-star, Hüsken emphasizes that, for example, he uses all parts of meat in a lamb from local farm Gutshof Polting to “reach more people’s price points.”
Oktoberfest and beyondMunich’s appeal to the discerning LGBT traveller is increasing to near Berlin proportions.