Schwabing is the best known of all of Munich’s districts – and there is hardly any local as closely connected with it as happy-go-lucky writer and filmmaker Rainer Langhans. He takes us to his favourite place in Schwabing: Luitpoldpark.
Rainer Langhans has arranged to meet us at the table tennis tables on the edge of the park bordering Karl-Theodor-Strasse. He is on time, and easily recognised from a distance as he strolls across the vast green space, past the Obelisk and the lime trees and oaks: long grey curls, metal-framed glasses, a white T-shirt and baggy white shorts.
Tanned and toned, he appears to be in great shape – especially considering Rainer Langhans turned 81 just a few days ago, making him just 30 years younger than “his” Luitpoldpark.
He greets a couple of men and a young woman who are playing ping pong at the tables. People know him here, as they do everywhere in Schwabing; he pedals his Dutch bike through the district every day and in all weathers.
The players make space for him with clear reverence; he takes out the racket he has brought with him and expertly smashes through a couple of games before heading off with us for a short stroll. A tour of Schwabing’s Luitpoldpark and – how could you expect otherwise with someone like Rainer Langhans? – also an insight into his eventful life.
The small wiry man with the huge grey mop of hair is one of the most-recognisable figures not just in this district, but also in the entire country. Some consider Langhans to be the last man standing of those involved in the 1968 movement: a member of the legendary Berlin Kommune 1 and Munich Haifisch-Kommune, and a lover of the famous model Uschi Obermaier – in common with Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.
Others see him as a whimsical old codger who stood out from his realpolitik contemporaries (Joschka Fischer, Otto Schily, Hans-Christian Ströbele, etc.) from an early stage because of his inward-looking approach. And by some of those closest to him, Rainer Langhans is considered to be a spiritual guru. In keeping with the old Kommune 1 motto, “The personal is political,” he publicly announced his cancer diagnosis last year and has since lived with it as if he had no fear of suffering or death.
Rainer Langhans, a whimsical old codger, who set himself apart from his realpolitik contemporaries from an early stage because of his inward-looking approach.
Rainer Langhans was eager to take us on a walk through his district and was insistent on meeting in Luitpoldpark – a place he has come to know a great deal about over time. “Around the turn of the century, Munich grew rapidly northwards, from Maxvorstadt upwards,” he tells us. “There was a lot of construction at that time and in 1911, the Bavarian Prince Regent Luitpold commissioned this 33-hectare park. It is my favourite place. I’ve been living here for 50 years and I take a walk through this park every day. It is my daily yard time, if you will.”
The 37-metre-high Schuttberg stands at the centre of the park and is a real landmark in the northern part of the city. The hike up to the viewing point is really quite challenging; too steep for an 81-year-old, you might think – but Rainer Langhans doesn’t even get out of breath.
A hill built entirely from the rubble of houses destroyed by the bombings during the last war. This hill and its history could be understood to symbolise Langhans’ connection to Munich in a way. After all, he has spent his entire life addressing Germany’s Nazi past.
He speaks about his cancer with great openness as we clamber up the Schuttberg – not as an enemy that he will eventually annihilate, but more like a guest who is not entirely unproblematic, but one you can definitely learn to live with. “Despite all that, I’m getting younger every day...” Langhans suddenly says, without a trace of cheekiness.
Rainer Langhans, the last man standing of those involved in the 1968 movement, a member of the legendary Berlin Kommune 1 and the Munich Haifisch-Kommune and a lover of the famous model Uschi Obermaier, in common with Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.
What does he mean by that? “I see my cancer as an invitation to meditate even more than I did before. Since my diagnosis, I have been meditating for more than three hours a day. Meditating also means learning to die, and that in turn means truly living.”
He stands at the top of the hill for a while, enjoying the panoramic view of the city which has been his city for the past 50 years. From here you can see the Georgenschwaige swimming pool, the church steeples of Munich, the Highlight Towers, the Olympic Tower and the Allianz Arena; on some days when the Foehn wind blows, you can even see the Alps.
Eventually Langhans walks over to the massive bronze cross erected in 1958, in memory of those killed in bombing raids. He bends down and reads the inscription aloud. “A part of the old Munich and its residents is buried here under our feet,” he says. During the last two years of the War, thousands upon thousands of incendiary bombs and explosive devices were dropped on the city; even to this day, unexploded bombs are constantly unearthed during construction works in the inner city. After all, Munich was not only the location of a great many armaments factories, but was also a core target for the Allied bombers because of its status as the “capital of the Nazi movement”.
By May 1945, half the buildings in the city had been destroyed. In the years that followed, thousands of Munich residents brought the rubble of their houses to the park and piled it up to form this hill, the Luitpoldhügel; the Neuhofener Berg on the eastern bank of the Isar at Sendling and the Olympiaberg (Olympic hill) on the former Oberwiesenfeld army airfield were formed in the same way. Here on the top of the hill we can intuit that the key theme of Langhans’ life continues to be liberating the Republic from old Nazis and addressing German history.
We have also been joined by Gisela Getty – one of Langhans’ closest friends and truly a life companion of his – and she sparks a memory of distant days when Rainer Langhans consulted an Indian guru after Kommune 1. Then in the 1970s he lived with five women, his so-called “harem”, with whom he realised various cultural projects. Jutta Winkelmann and her twin sister Gisela Getty also worked on some of those projects. They wrote books, took photographs and made films together. Langhans appeared on countless talk shows, some of them very memorable, and even went to the RTL celebrity jungle camp in 2011. Together with Gisela Getty and the others, he filmed a Big Brother-style series in an apartment in Schwabing, just around the corner from Luitpoldpark.
“One of the main things that connects me to Gisela is the common search for an inner path, because we were never content with the external paths in the inhospitable, normal world. We were in paradise for a short while and then we flew back out; since then, we have been trying to get back in. In a sense we are even more committed members of the 1968 movement now than we were back then, because we have expanded the long march through our own internal institutions over 50 years – unlike the few other remaining members, who are now just depressed and think we are crazy. We sought paradise and found it through Eastern spiritualism.”
On the way back, Langhans returns to the here and now; he stands for a moment in the park and points out another elevation: “That steeply sloping meadow is popular with children in the winter – it’s where they go tobogganing and try out skiing for the first time.” He smiles. “Sometimes I stand here and enjoy watching the children.”
At the end of our tour we arrive at an old yellow villa – Bamberger Haus, one of the most beautiful coffee houses in Schwabing, which was built as a park café in 1911. It got the name because part of its façade came from a Baroque villa in Bamberg. The café was destroyed during the war and was only renovated and reopened during the 1980s.
No, he is not a coffee house kind of person, Langhans says. “I live rather a reclusive life and I don’t need a lot of people around me.” In summer he enjoys swimming in Feldmoching Lake, to the west of Schwabing (“naked of course!”). And when he does feel like company, he goes to the table tennis tables in Luitpoldpark.
Then he takes out his table tennis bat, gets in position and smashes a few hard balls across the table at an opponent 50 years his junior.
But before he breaks out his bat again to burn off some of his energy this afternoon, there’s one more thing he wants to talk about because he’s so happy about it: “Uschi Obermaier! 45 years after we broke up and after 15 years of radio silence, she’s just written to me,” Langhans says as we take our leave. “She remembers our time together as a beautiful love story and she wants to reconcile after the long falling-out we had about her filming ‘Eight Miles High’!”
Then Rainer Langhans, one of the most prominent Schwabing residents of all time, takes out his table tennis bat, gets in position and smashes a few hard balls across the table at an opponent 50 years his junior, before retiring to his modest abode for some evening meditation.