There was plenty to celebrate in 1980s’ Munich: the economy was booming and Munich had gained global recognition because of the Olympic Games. So a well-heeled jet set moved into the city – along with stars from all over the world. Find out what the key hotspots were and where you can still experience the ’80s in Munich today.
The 1972 Olympic Games had made Munich famous all over the world, and the city revelled in its prominence through the 1980s. The party-loving jet set indulged their taste for luxury there, while famous bands from all over the world came to the city to record new albums and to party. Only in the field of architecture were developments less confident, with playful shapes and a mish-mash of different eras prevailing – as can still be seen in the Neue Pinakothek art gallery today.
While the hippie and alternative countercultures defined Munich’s lively nightlife during the raucous ’70s, the scene gradually became wealthier and more conservative in the 1980s as Munich’s jet set moved in. One of the most popular clubs in the city at that time was the Sugar Shack, a discotheque which attracted many global stars between the 1970s and the 1990s: Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa and Freddie Mercury all partied there, as well as bands including Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, who were usually in the city to record at Musicland Studios.
This recording studio was well-known in the industry because so many of the biggest stars of the time recorded albums there, including ’80s legends Falco, Queen, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden. The Musicland Studios occupied the basement of Arabella House, next to Arabella Park – and, along with the infrastructure boom, that is what ultimately led to its demise: when the U-Bahn underground train system in Munich was expanded to the suburbs in the late ’80s, the rattling of nearby trains became clearly perceptible during recording sessions. The studio was forced to close when it was no longer possible to create high-quality recordings there.
„The Queen frontman was a regular visitor between 1979 and 1985 and he even had his own apartment in Glockenbachviertel.“
Freddie Mercury had other reasons for coming to Munich too: he loved to join revellers on the city’s LGBTQ+ scene. The Queen frontman was a regular visitor between 1979 and 1985 and he even had his own apartment in Glockenbachviertel. He celebrated his 39th birthday at Old Mrs. Henderson, known today as Paradiso, and scenes from that evening inspired his music video for “Living on my Own”. Freddie was also a regular visitor to the Deutschen Eiche hotel, which is still home to Germany’s largest men’s sauna. You can discover all of these sites in the context of a guided tour with Peter Ambacher, who was a local companion to the global star during the ’80s.
The Glockenbachviertel district was completely transformed during the 1980s. Artists and city celebrities moved into the buildings around Gärtnerplatz, where they were able to live cheaply and centrally; at the same time, the district increasingly became a hub of the party and LGBTQ+ scene. As the city became more and more inclusive in many ways though, an exclusion culture also began to emerge: Maximilians opened as Munich’s first members-only bar, admitting only famous people or those who could pay their way in.
„The Glockenbachviertel district was completely transformed during the 1980s. Artists and city celebrities moved into the buildings around Gärtnerplatz, where they were able to live cheaply and centrally.“
For the first time, a two-tier society had been introduced within Munich’s otherwise-diverse nightlife. Clubs such as Parkcafé and P1 took up the same door policy, and in doing so contributed to a slow deterioration in the image of Munich’s popular party scene. However, the end of the 1980s also brought an influx of new music to the city, as Munich native DJ Hell introduced techno music into clubs such as the Größenwahn dance hall and Ultraschall, laying the foundations for a new era.
Locals mocked the red-brick building of the Gasteig cultural centre when it opened in 1985, dubbing it the “Kulturvollzugsanstalt” (cultural correctional facility) or the “Kulturbunker” (culture bunker). Certainly the structure did not fit comfortably into the cityscape amid the beautiful old buildings of Haidhausen and the art nouveau magnificence of the Müllersches Volksbad baths. Even though the Gasteig is now one of the most important libraries and concert halls in the city, its appearance – typically ’80s with a stone façade and lots of glass – has never really been accepted. By the end of 2021, operations and functions will be moved to a premises in Sendling while the building undergoes extensive construction works, due to be completed by 2025.
Another controversial building from the 1980s is the Neue Pinakothek art gallery. After the destruction of the original museum during the Second World War, the building was redesigned by architect Alexander von Branca and reopened in 1981. The clever arrangement of rooms and the interior lighting mean that it is considered one of the best thought-out museum buildings in Germany – although not necessarily the most beautiful, with its reinforced concrete and natural stone façade. The building combines architectural elements from various styles and eras, so curved archways meet oriel windows and open steps sit alongside ornamental fountains. The building is set to be completely renovated by 2025.
Westpark was completed around the same time, to tie in with the Bundesgartenschau national garden show which took place in Munich in 1983. The park was intended to showcase the diversity of the plant world, from Mediterranean vegetation to Japanese gardening and from graveyard-style planting to typical small garden design. The grounds were fortunately preserved unchanged after the exhibition, and now constitute one of the most popular city parks in Munich. One of the highlights is the East Asian ensemble, with its Chinese garden, Nepalese pagoda and Thai sala complete with a Buddha statue.
„The clever arrangement of rooms and the interior lighting mean that it is considered one of the best thought-out museum buildings in Germany – with its reinforced concrete and natural stone façade.“
Another building-façade-related trend of the era has since become a firmly established fixture of the cityscape: graffiti. Street art made its way from the USA to Europe along with hip hop music. Munich was the first German city to have a graffiti scene, and it won international recognition in 1984 when the first freight wagon in Germany was fully painted; one year later the police established the first “special committee for graffiti”. Today you can experience the wealth of Munich’s street art on a guided bike tour, for example.
The 1980s was the golden age for the privileged party class. The economic prosperity of the preceding decades had given rise to a clique of affluent pleasure-seekers who preferred to spend their time drinking Champagne in the street cafés of Schwabing. Free spirits and art creators had moved to the city in ever-larger numbers, drawn to the liberal climate that prevailed at the time; these locals had become rather smug as they considered Munich to be a secret capital. A particular hedonistic in-crowd was the eventual expression of these developments.
„Munich’s schickeria scene included figures such as Rudolph Moshammer, restaurateur Gerd Käfer, director Helmut Dietl, gossip columnist Michael Graeter and playboy James Graser.“
Writer Gregor von Rezzori coined the term “schickeria” to refer to them, in a magazine article of 1984, succinctly deriving the word from a combination of the French “chic” and the Yiddish word “schickern”, which can be translated as “to get drunk”. Munich’s schickeria scene included figures such as Rudolph Moshammer, restaurateur Gerd Käfer, director Helmut Dietl, gossip columnist Michael Graeter and playboy James Graser, meaning it encompassed not only the worlds of gastronomy and nightlife, but also art and culture.
TV series such as “Kir Royal” and “Monaco Franze” perfectly embodied the Munich attitude to life at that time. It was all about parties and nights at the opera, crazy nights and even crazier love lives. Gossip columnist Baby Schimmerlos – following in the footsteps of Michael Graeter – dealt in what really mattered in Munich back then: stardom, celebrities and scandal. ZEIT magazine wrote: “Munich is the only city in Germany where gossip columnists are taken seriously.”
It was like living in a parallel party world – an impression that was intensified by regular incursions from Hollywood, as Brigitte Bardot, Tina Turner and Sean Connery were all gladly received visitors to the city. You will sometimes still hear the schickeria talked about in Munich today – and although things are not quite as glamorous any more, among the football stars and parties in P1 and on Maximiliansstrasse: a bisserl was geht immer – there’s always something that can be done.