On Track: The History of the Munich Music Scene

Where legendary albums were born, where the best clubs were, and where Freddie Mercury and Prince hosted their birthday parties: a tour of the most significant discos, stages, and studios

Das Logo des Blitz-Clubs (2020)Deutsches Museum

The Sound of Munich

Munich is a global city with a heart, but also a long musical history. Yet it's repeatedly mocked for its poor nightlife, as well as its status as a millionaire's village by the Alps. The Bavarian capital gradually gained pace as a vibrant and world-famous epicenter of the music world over the past few decades—in clubs frequently visited by big names in showbiz, and in studios which released timeless albums. An expedition to the most legendary locations shaping the Munich music scene: the music keepers.

The Schauburg on Elisabethplatz was once the location of the first large-scale disco in 1960s Germany: the Blow Up, opened by brothers Temur and Anusch Samy, the current kings of the flower power era of Schwabing, in 1967. The crowds were huge, even on their first evening. The disco was soon considered the hottest and hippest club in Europe. The list of performers who played live here include Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bill Haley, and Yes. After Anusch died in an airplane crash in 1970, the Samy business was gradually dismantled, and by 1972 the Blow Up was a bust.

Jimi Hendrix visited, along with Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Uriah Heep. The Crash next to the tracks on Lindwurmstraße was the stage for unforgettable nights. Tales are still told of the sauerkraut eating competition today, where guests would fall face-first into huge bowls of cabbage. Another great moment was when the DJ promised any guest who rode in the next evening on horseback a bottle of whisky. The next day, 12 horses stood outside the door. Oh, and there was always some good music playing there, too. After it closed in 1993, the Strom took its place and, after a brief stint as electro club Garden, is still there today.

The Schwabinger Tor is a newly built quarter for offices, businesses, and apartments on Leopoldstraße. It was once the location of the legendary shopping and recreation center Schwabylon in the 1970s with its adjacent and equally notorious nightclub Yellow Submarine, which housed a huge aquarium with 650,000 liters of seawater where more than 30 sharks and giant tortoises splashed about. As well as cocktails and whisky, the eccentric seventies joint also served up shark fin soup. The club was later renamed Aquarius and shut down altogether in 1982.

Further south on Leopoldstraße in the very epicenter of the vibrant Schwabing nightlife, two of the most legendary clubs of the 1960s were long-time neighbors. At number 23 was the Big Apple, where a still-unknown Jimi Hendrix gave his first concert in Germany one Tuesday evening in November in 1966 before a half-empty crowd. And next to this was the PN Hit House founded by Peter Naumann, that was more of a meeting point for young beat fans. One of the best moments of the late 1960s was the guest appearance of a band called Daddy, who only just managed to fill an evening-long concert in the PN with their handful of songs. The band had to change their name a short while later as it was shared with another band. From then on they were called Supertramp. Little remains of the old club's charm. Today two telecoms stores remain in its place.

The Gärtnerplatzviertel was a long-established hotspot of the Munich LGBT community. In the 1970s and 1980s the Old Mrs. Henderson on Rumfordstraße 2 was an institution for the gay subculture which hosted eccentric parties. Mick Jagger once dropped in, as well as David Bowie, and of course Freddie Mercury, pictured here celebrating his 39th birthday. He immortalized that same evening in his music video for Living on my Own.

The Arabella-Haus in Bogenhausen, construction on which began in 1966, was a 490 feet long building complex with hotel rooms and apartments, offices and medical practices, and at one time one of the most famous music studios in the world: the Musicland Studios founded by Giorgio Moroder at the start of the 1970s in the Arabella basement. Many great albums were produced here. The Rolling Stones did It's Only Rock 'n Roll and Black 'n Blue. Elton John recorded Victim of Love. And Queen had four albums recorded here at the same time. But the track that's always associated with the studio is 1977's I Feel Love by Donna Summer, which became the prototype for electronic dance music with its innovative synthesizer instrumentation.

The Wirtshaus in der Au was a great Bavarian local on Lilienstraße with its own events room for private parties on the floor above the guest room. It was this location on the first floor which was once home to the Pop Club, the precursor to beat club Sahara Dancing, managed by DJ Chuck Hermann at the start of the 1970s. Hermann played good old rock 'n' roll records here every Friday and Sunday. Thursdays were for songs from the sixties and seventies, and Saturdays were wild with punks meeting up here. The Pop Club had strict restrictions. It was only open from 7 to 11 PM. There were complaints from residents almost every day. After huge riots on Lilienstraße, the premises were closed forever in 1986.

Another once-great but now almost forgotten location of Munich eighties subculture was the Cola-Halle on Steinstraße. The old Coca-Cola factory building was once managed by the president of TSV 1860 Munich Adalbert Wetzel. After it closed, young artists and students turned the building into a club where anyone who wanted to spend a loud weekend here and hold noisy parties until the early hours of the morning could do so. However, it didn't last long—in 1987 the hall was torn down to construct a residential and office building.

The MOTORAMA Ladenstadt is an architecturally charming concrete relic of the seventies. It not only housed the largest car showroom in the country after opening in 1973, but also one of the most exciting discotheques in the city just in front of the S-Bahn exit. The Eastside was a lavish disco with some great anecdotes still doing the rounds today, such as Mick Jagger being refused entry by the bouncer with the words "I don't know you." After Eastside came Liberty. It was much easier to get into this loose and relaxed 1980s disco where, in contrast to Eastside, drugs like hash and cocaine were frowned upon. Thanks to the great-value offer of 4 tequilas for 10 marks, however, partygoers could still get inebriated.

The Bavaria Filmstadt in Geiselgasteig: as a filming location, the studios here have set the scenes for countless film productions, with blockbusters like The NeverEnding Story, Vicky the Viking, and even cult film Das Boot.

However, the Filmstadt was also an important engine room for music in the eighties. Episodes of the chart show Formel Eins with Peter Illman, later with Ingolf Lück and Stefanie Tücking, were recorded here each week. Many pop stars started their career on this show—from Depeche Mode, to Whitney Houston, to Madonna with her first appearance in Germany where she presented her debut hit Holiday.

Not much remains of the old Munich-Riem Airport. The tower is one of the last remaining relics. What have stuck around are the memories of the first flights across the world, as well as unforgettable party nights. Because two years after the airport moved to Erdinger Moos, Dorothea Zenker, Peter Wacha, and David Süss opened the Ultraschall in 1994 in the large kitchen of the former canteen, which soon became one of the best known techno clubs worldwide. Other clubs here which made quite a splash included the Charterhalle, the Terminal 1, the Hit FM Hall, and the Wappensaal. Two years later it closed for the construction of the Messestadt. The Ultraschall moved to…

Kunstpark Ost on the grounds of the former Pfanni factory. The Ultraschall remained in the old potato drying hall until its closure in 2003. The Kunstpark was Europe's biggest party district at the time, with clubs like the K41, the Babylon, the Natraj Temple, and the KW—Das Heizkraftwerk. Under new management, the grounds were renamed the Kultfabrik in 2003. In 2015, the last remaining clubs were closed to make way for renovations for the new Werksviertel city district.

Probably the wildest and most famous out of all the city's clubs is surely the P1, called the Oanser on the West side in the Haus der Kunst. Founded as an officers club for US troops in 1949 when it was still on the East side of the city, it was during the 1980s when it became a favorite hangout for Munich trendsetters who were also joined by international showbiz celebrities like Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Woody Allen, and Robert de Niro. The in-crowd met in the Oanser. The P1, a club with over 4,000 square feet of floor space and a 6,500 square feet terrace, is still a hot spot of Munich nightlife today.

A very trendy location back in the 1960s and 1970s was the Park Café bordering the Old Botanical Garden. It was built in the mid 1930s on the site where the Glass Palace once stood. It closed in 1984 with a wonderful tea dance. Hansi Grandl then took over the premises and established what was probably the hardest place to get into across the city. When asked why he was so brutally selective with who came in, he said: "Either you get tough at the doorway or you unhinge it altogether." One of the most prominent guests was Prince, pictured here at his 30th birthday celebrations.

Even the middle of the city center featured amazing clubs, like the Wunderbar from 1986 to 1999 where Sportfreunde Stiller performed one of their very first concerts. People later went here to Erste Liga. It's now home to cocktail bar Americanos City.

A high-class store for textiles, the Kosttor is now a prestigious address. The gray door formerly stood in one of the most closely watched entryways in the Munich nightlife scene, first as part of Mirage from the early 1980s, then as part of the disco Far Out from 1986. This number 12 was later home to the Crown's Club. Just around the corner to the left was another extremely grandiose club: the Atomic Café on Neuturmstraße 5. For 17 years from 1997 to 2014 it was managed by Christian Heine and Roland Schunk. It was a home for indie and beat, drum and bass, garage, soul and funk, and more. Basically, everything except techno.

From 2003, the old Technische Rathaus registrar was home to the Registratur—a somewhat casual techno club with DJs including Grandmaster Flash, Major Lazer, and DJ Hell. This location where letters had once been sorted as part of city management now truly delivered—particularly through rocktronik parties and zombocombo nights. It later closed in 2009. The last evening was called The Party's Over. Today it's the site of an advertising agency.

Nostalgics might gloomily claim that clubs dying out is part and parcel of the story of Munich, along with the Marienplatz and the Olympiapark. In fact, there are still unbelievably good party locations around, like the Harry Klein founded in the Optimolwerke near Munich East station in 2003. Since 2010 it's been hidden behind this plain-looking front at Sonnenstraße 8 and is considered the legitimate successor to the old Ultraschall. Even the space itself—a 350 tonne concrete cube supported by just over 9-inch thick reinforced concrete walls on 11 steel springs for sound insulation—is unique. It's just one of the reasons why the club constantly vibrates.

The Alte Utting, an old decommissioned passenger ship, had spent 65 years chugging across Lake Ammer. After its withdrawal from service in 2015 it was brought to Munich by cultural events organizer Daniel Hahn who let the anchor down under an old disused railway bridge. Today, with its beer garden on deck, it's a hip hangout on balmy summer evenings, as well as for live concerts and club evenings with DJs. Another cultural hotspot and techno club was established right next door in the old Viehhof, including an old U-Bahn train: the Bahnwärter Thiel.

Credits: Story

Mirko Hecktor, Moritz von Uslar, Patti Smith, Andreas Neumeister: Mjunik Disco - von 1949 bis heute. Blumenbar Verlag, München 2008
ISBN 9783936738476

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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