It’s Munich’s unofficial party district: whether Bahnwärter Thiel, Frisches Bier, the terrace of the Alte Utting (disused pleasure boat) or Zur Gruam: you can easily party the night away in Schlachthofviertel – Munich’s “Slaughterhouse District”.
“You can’t go out in Munich and not drink beer – that’s just not on,” said Paul when I wished him a happy birthday yesterday. He’s over visiting from London and partied so hard that he’s going to make up for it today with a Radler – a mixture of beer and lemonade. When we arranged our get-together, I suggested we meet on the ship in Munich’s Schlachthof district and sent him the address. Perhaps he thought he’d misheard: when he arrived, he had a look of surprise on his face. It's Pauls first time on the Alte Utting – a disused excursion steamer that sits enthroned on a warehouse bridge and has been converted into a venue for arts, culture and food, offering a magnificent view of the former Südbahnof, as well as a little corner building with colourful bird graffiti and Munich’s wholesale market, the Grossmarkthalle.
The Schlachthofviertel combines market hall flair with subculture, and since the arrival of the Volkstheater, there’s even a dash of high culture, too. It’s Munich’s unofficial party district.
In recent years, the part of town where Isarvorstadt meets Sendling has become transformed into a world of its own that never sleeps. The trucks arrive with their deliveries at three in the morning, and traders sell their goods from six onwards – fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. This has been going on for more than a hundred years: in the “cosmopolitan city with a heart” – as Munich is commonly referred to – the Grossmarkthalle is affectionately known as the “belly”. The Schlachthofviertel (literally: “Slaughterhouse District”) combines market hall flair with subculture, and since the arrival of the Volkstheater, there’s even a dash of high culture, too. It’s Munich’s unofficial party district.
You must have to have been living on an island – like Paul in the UK – not to have heard of the Alte Utting. Even the New York Times carried a piece about the “boat on the bridge”. For 66 years, the MS Utting was used to ferry tourists across Lake Ammersee and as a venue for weddings. When the ship began to get rusty, it was originally going to be scrapped but was saved from its fate by one Daniel Hahn: he had it transported 50 kilometres from the lake to Munich and it finally came to rest on the bridge over Lagerhausstrasse in 2017. The four of us are sitting up on deck by the railing, dangling our legs and holding our faces up into the last rays of sunshine.
The ship is our first stop tonight. Someone’s celebrating their 30th birthday on board – there are golden balloons hanging in the windows, and I overhear snippets of conversation in Spanish, French and English. At the rear there’s a beer garden with a food market atmosphere: electric music from a small rave wafts over. “If I lived in Munich I'd take everyone here,” says Paul. Then he heads off: his hangover is kicking in and he wants to hit the sack again.
You must have to have been living on an island – like Paul in the UK – not to have heard of the Alte Utting. Even the New York Times carried a piece about the “boat on the bridge”.
“I made sure I got plenty of sleep in advance,” says Frank with a grin. He’s taking photos today: his outfit consists of blue socks, a blue shirt and a blue jacket. “I need a fresh beer – ‘ein frisches Bier’,” I say with a laugh as we get off the boat. The next stop of our tour is a bar which is actually called Frisches Bier.
The ale here is drawn from 14 taps. I’m about to order one at the counter, but first I have to decide which one it’s going to be. There are lots of types to choose from – dark, lager, Pils, pale ale, IPA. A blackboard extends right up to the ceiling with all kinds of varieties written on it in chalk. Tonight it says: Ocrabrau, Mad Scientist and the pub’s own Tilmans Biere. Brewer Tilman Ludwig used to be a regular guest of restaurateur Maximilian Heisler at Geyerwally, an unpretentious watering hole in Glockenbachviertel. Together they opened Frisches Bier, an oasis for beer diversity, in 2018 and have been serving beer here on tap ever since – all of it produced by small breweries. When one runs out, a new barrel is opened and the list is changed accordingly.
The guests here are as international and regional as the beer. Three Finnish girls are sitting outside, while inside I’m enjoying a drink with hop farmer Sebastian. He and a friend have come to Munich from Hallertau – the largest hop-growing region in the world – to go to the Helge Schneider concert. Before heading back home on the train, he wanted to make the most of what Munich has to offer.
The next stop of our tour is a bar which is actually called Frisches Bier.
Sebastian is holding a glass of dark beer that bears a print of a hop blossom. He takes a sip – tasty! “Of course, it has to be – it’s got my hops in it,” he says with a laugh. According to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, hops have to make up one third of the permitted ingredients: the others are barley malt and water. Sebastian started twining his hop bines back in April; they need the same climate as marijuana because they belong to the hemp family. Before we can delve more deeply into the topic of hop cultivation, he has to leave for the station – it’s half past eleven.
If you want to make really sure the evening remains unforgettable the next day too, it’s advisable to mix and muddle your drinks. Next up: Aperol Spritz! They don’t have it at the Frisches Bier, so we decide to move on. We see Sebastian from Hallertau wake up his buddy, who's asleep at a bus stop across the road, then we wave to the Finnish girls and head off to Le Hygge. Here the windows are sprayed with graffiti and on the door it says Leben (“life”): this café/bar looks as if it has been in Ehrengutstrasse since time immemorial – but in fact’s it’s one of the exciting new places to have opened during the pandemic.
“This isn’t a party district,” says the man in hippie garb: it’s Sobi Darcal, the owner. He has black curls, a grey beard, and there are tufts of chest hair emerging between a necklace with a blue gemstone and another with a peace symbol. His café is a work of art in shabby chic: the chairs are a motley mixture – from velvet couch to rocking chair – musical instruments are hanging up on the partially unplastered brick walls between black-and-white photographs, and there’s a diverse array of bric-à-brac items standing around as if it were an antiques flea market.
Our order: Aperol Spritz, Whiskey Sour and Liquid Cocaine. We take a guitar off the wall for a little jam session: after a slow boogie-woogie and the first chords of Wonderwall, the guitar then gets passed on to the next table. There are some talented musicians sitting next to us: one of them plays a song by Amy MacDonald. It sounds a bit off because the strings are out of tune. Sobi’s dream was to create an alternative artists’ meeting place that would bring people together, and it has certainly worked for us this evening. Our group soon starts to mix with another group.
I’m surprised how busy it is. It’s about one o'clock: I've never been here this early.
We decide to head off to the next place together. We think about going to Valentin-Stüberl, a bar that used to be accessible only with a key that you had to pick up at the restaurant across the street. But there are too many of us to go there. Maybe better to go and play foosball at Südstadt – a kind of punk rock living room right next to Pigalle, a former table dance bar. Or maybe we could just grab a beer at the petrol station and hang out together on the street corner?
At that moment, Padi comes in. He’s wearing his festival look: with glitter on his face and lilac cycling shorts, he’s clearly up for some dancing. He was actually intending to go to the Wannda Open Air in Freimann, but then he had to stand in at the ice cream parlour because of the sunny weather. A friend of his is a DJ at Zur Gruam. The others would rather go to Charlie on the other side of the Isa.
But Sobi isn’t going to let us go just yet. He built the bar out of old petrol barrels and covered the walls with books. The daytime menu includes vegetarian and vegan delicacies made of okra, chickpeas and aubergines. He pours Frangelico into shot glasses, squeezes a few drops out of a lemon and accompanies us to the door, where he gives the photographer some tips on his wardrobe: “The socks are ghastly, but the jacket’s awesome.” And: “Why so much blue?” He laughs, his curls bouncing. It’s not exactly very friendly, but he means well in a kind of warped way. “Love is my thing!” Sobi shouts into the silence of the neighbourhood, his arms outstretched. “Everyone else can go stuff it!”
You’re really supposed to go dancing at the Gruam last because it stays open until eleven in the morning. It’s an after-hours joint with a nasty past.
We link arms – it’s the first time we’ve been out partying together since November. From the underpass we can already see a queue in front of the little corner shack. I’m surprised how busy it is. It’s about one o'clock: I've never been here this early. You’re really supposed to go dancing at the Gruam last because it stays open until eleven in the morning. It’s an after-hours joint with a nasty past – formerly a meeting place for prostitutes and shady characters. Today it attracts a much more harmless clientele: men in shirt sleeves and gelled hair, women with pastel pink caps. I peer through the crowd to see if I can see the priest of St. Maximilian, the Notre Dame of the river Isar. He had his 51st birthday party at this place. Unfortunately I fail to spot him.
The Gruam is Munich’s most popular bar for close-up dancing – people step on each other’s toes all the time. I’m glad I’m not wearing Birkenstock sandals. I squeeze my way through to the bar to order a beer. Through the window I see that there are now just as many people standing outside as there are inside, swaying to the techno music. It’s too crowded for boisterous dancing – that’s why people tend to come here later. I think to myself: at least there’s no chance of falling over.
The Bahnwärter Thiel is a plot of land with containers, graffiti and several underground train carriages; there are colourful flags, bonfires in barrels and people dancing in tight leggings, wreaths of flowers and lots of glitter.
Although Gruam really is a pretty small place, we manage to lose sight of Frank. We search inside and out – and suddenly, there he is standing in front of us again. “Off to Bahni,” calls Kati. “See you!” we shout to the bouncer. We head off again through the underpass, and passing through a huge iron gateway we get to Bahnwärter Thiel.
It’s a plot of land with containers, graffiti and several underground train carriages; there are colourful flags, bonfires in barrels and people dancing in tight leggings, wreaths of flowers and lots of glitter. Big-city subculture – straight out of Hollywood. This was also the work of Daniel Hahn – the culinary captain of the ship on the bridge. For anyone who thinks this city is all about Oktoberfest, traditional dresses and Bayern Munich, this might feel a bit out of character.
Kati presses a mate into my hand. I see a friend: she tells me about the Wannda Festival in Freimann – they’ve come to Schlachthofviertel for the after-party. A chain of links made of transparent purple plastic hangs down from her sunglasses. Hot samosas are on sale at a stall, the underground train carriage is shaking – people are jumping, stomping, yelling. “What’s keeping you guys?” calls Padi. He drags us onto the dance floor with him. It’s at least ten degrees warmer inside than outside. Hundreds of bodies are moving in sync.
The basses boom to the driving beat as the lights flash – blue, red, purple, blue. And again: blue, red, purple, blue. Next to me people are making out, in front of me they’re smoking, and everyone around me is dancing like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve been out and about for ten hours, so I grab my jacket and go outside. The sun is hanging over the grounds of Bahnwärter Thiel, doing its best to shine through the clouds: I’ve danced through the break of day. I walk past a few indecisive-looking individuals and some colourful graffiti, head back through the underpass and end up in front of the Gruam again. They’re still partying away there, too. I think about it for a moment, but then I decide that my night in the Schlachthof is over.