The MLC Munich
The Münchner Löwen Club (Munich Lion’s Club) was founded in November 1974 in the Deutsche Eiche – as the Münchner Leder Club (“Munich Leather Club”). Among the founders were Arno Rüsing and Manfred Stavenhagen (also known as “Lohengrin“).
In Germany, leather started becoming popular among gays around 1965. Bars were a central focus for these guys and many opened in the next decade. One bar played a key role in the early days of the MLC. That bar was called “Ochsengarten” and it still exists today. Back then, it was ran by a woman, Gusti, who deserves a lot of credit for the existence of the club. She was a key supporter for the then-emerging leather community.
The Ochsengarten was the first home of the Münchner Löwen Club. Later, the club met at the Eagle. The bars were where most of the club’s life happened. There wasn’t too much talking in these locations – it was about getting to the point quickly. When traveling out of town, members also went to meet with other clubs, and these clubs’ members also came to visit Munich.
There were also more formal contacts between organizations. The MLC has been a member of the SKVdC (“Ständige Konferenz der Vertreter deutschsprachiger Clubs”) since its inception: the SKVdC is a confederation of German-speaking clubs. And, covering Western Europe, the ECMC (European Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs) was created in 1974 and the MLC has been a member from the beginning too. As early as 1975, Lohengrin managed to get the ECMC to hold one of its conventions in Munich. This gave considerable visibility to the MLC and, in the early years, the club grew at a fast pace, reaching 150 members in just a few years.
In those years, the club also had deep ties to the Berlin club which was the model for MLC as well as to “Loge 70,” the Swiss club from Zürich.
Soon after the club’s creation, its logo was created by the graphic artist Klaus. It represents two copulating lions inside a chain ring. Tom of Finland contributed a famous drawing to Lohengrin and the Münchner Löwen Club: a guy wearing short leather pants.
In 1977, the club inaugurated one of its signature traditions. That year, for the first time, the MLC reserved the whole balcony of the Bräurosl tent on the opening Sunday of Oktoberfest. This tradition started with a funny misunderstanding. Initially, the owner thought that the reservation had to do with Munich’s famous soccer team, the “TSV 1860 München” also known as the “Münchner Löwen.” They were surprised when they realized that it was not the case, but this became a major tradition nevertheless. It is believed that this “GaySunday” in the Bräurosl tent is the top-selling day during the whole Oktoberfest every year – in large part due to the MLC’s activities around that date. On this particular day, the tent hosts around 8,000, mostly gay, guests. The event is known worldwide.
The MLC has welcomed many international guests. Perhaps the most famous was Queen’s legendary singer Freddie Mercury who wore a T-shirt featuring the MLC logo and the drawing by Tom of Finland.
But it was not just celebrities that came from all over the world to MLC’s events. A number of US-Americans have always come to the MLC’s events. Manfred Stavenhagen ("Lohengrin"), co-founder of the MLC, reports that the deep and longstanding friendship between the MLC and the US-American clubs and leather guys dates back at least to 1976. The presence of a large US Military base near Munich was probably a factor here as well of course as the beauty of the area, which attracts a number of tourists. A significant number of US-American guys has continued to attend our events over the years.
By the end of the 1970s, the club had become a fairly big enterprise with a growing membership (as the leather community itself was growing), connections with a growing number of clubs and one big annual event: up to 800 people attending the festivities of Oktoberfest every year.
At that stage, it became apparent that the informal structure that had worked well for the club up to that point had become inadequate. A more formal structure was needed to allow for a clearer division of labor, with different individuals formally responsible for different tasks. It would also make dealing with businesses and authorities easier. That’s how the decision was made to register the association formally, in 1980. That’s when the Münchner Leder Club (Leather Club) became the Münchner Löwen Club (Lions’ Club).
Up to that point, the bars had been mostly used as sexual marketplaces. That would change in the 1980s, with the arrival of the AIDS crisis. It changed gay people’s mindsets as well as their behaviors. Condoms were rarely, if ever, used in the 1970s. They would soon become a familiar object for everyone, and they would soon go without saying. The club played an important role in this crisis. Members stood strong for each other, and the club was a source of comfort and support for those affected. But the club also paid a hefty price, losing a lot of members and it came close to being shut down.
Official authorities were of little help initially and the community had to come up with ways to help itself. The fight against HIV immediately became a central activity of the MLC. At an auction during Oktoberfest 1983, 3,000 DM were raised and donated to AIDS research — a lot of money back then.
Three months later, on January 16th 1984, with the workgroup “Homosexuals and Church” (HuK) and the association for sexual equality (VSG), the MLC became a founding member of the Münchner AIDS-Hilfe e.V.
The MLC was a key participant in the Münchner AIDS-Hilfe; it was instrumental in establishing a connection with the Munich health office and Dr. Jäger — one of the lead AIDS researchers in the Munich area. To this day, the MLC remains allied with the Münchner AIDS-Hilfe with whom we do prevention work. Education about HIV and other sexually transmissible diseases has remained an important part of the club’s work.
But the new, more formal structure, did not come without new challenges. At that time, the board of directors was elected only for one year: most members felt a commitment for a longer period was more than they would feel comfortable with. Nevertheless, in 1981 the situation became critical as internal conflicts among the members of the board of directors brought them very close to shutting down the club. In 1984, the club came close to splitting again. It has at times been said that “the MLC is a sinking ship that never goes down.” The club survived then too and a new board of directors even made it through two consecutive years – for the first time ever.
The club was able to continue its activities and develop new ones even during the AIDS crisis. 1982 saw the release of the first issue of Löwenspiegel, MLC’s club magazine. It reported about regional and national news in the gay world. Today, there are national magazines and they include regional news which they get from individual clubs.
And, most importantly, in 1984, the MLC organized a big tour for the continental bikers during the annual ECMC motorbike event. The tour crossed Great Britain and ended in Edinburgh in Scotland. This strengthened the links between British and German participants.
As years went by, and particularly as the AIDS crisis came under control, a need was felt that the club have its own clubhouse. One of the reasons was the legal situations which prohibited the existence of darkrooms and play facilities in public bars. In order to cater to the needs of its members, the only option was for the club to have a dedicated place with private membership and strict access limitations: a clubhouse accessible only to members and registered friends.
The first “UnderGround“ opened in the fall of 1999. It was located in northern "Schwabing," a neighborhood situated to the north of the center of the city of Munich. The building used to belong to the German military. The rooms used for the UnderGround were in the basement of that building and they offered a perfect environment for fetish parties.
Thanks to the board of directors led by Dr. Thomas Tetzner at the time, the “UnderGround” became a central locus for the gay fetish life in Munich and far beyond. It offered a protected environment for play. The physical location of the club — not too close to the gay gastronomic scene in Munich — was an important factor in that it discouraged unwanted visitors.
Unfortunately, the building had to be allocated to other uses, and the rental contract for this first UnderGround was terminated in 2005.
Fortunately, a new location was found relatively quickly. That place was rented out by the Munich Public Services and it served us well for many years. However, that place too ended up being reallocated for different uses by the owner and that contract too was terminated, in 2011.
The author of this biography, as a member of the board of directors, spent about 8 months looking at potential places and reaching out to potential landlords. Finding a location with an adequate layout owned by a landlord willing to rent their space to a gay club like ours turned out to be pretty difficult.
During a meeting, the landlord from whom we would eventually rent the space for the 3rd Underground told me that “Politics shows us the way.” He was referring to the increasing acceptance and tolerance for the LGBTIQ community. Following the way, then, he offered us a good contract and we have had a relationship characterized by mutual respect.
The current UnderGround was designed in a special, modular way, with shipping containers. Each container is allocated to a specific use. There is one sanitary container with toilets, douching and shower facilities; another container is dedicated to fucking and fisting; a third is for glory holes; another hosts the darkroom; there is also a yellow container and a container dedicated to SM sex. There are also larger, open, play areas and a bar area with affordable drinks to allow for socializing before, and/or after, sexualizing!
The hygienic conditions of the parties are outstanding: there are douching facilities and showers; condoms and lube are available throughout the venue; and there are disposable gloves, paper towels, and sinks with soap and sanitizing fluid.
On weekends, the UnderGround regularly hosts different theme nights. There are leather, rubber, sneaker parties as well as special fist or yellow nights. The variety of the themes is well received by members and friends from near and far. In total, the venue hosts around 130 parties every year for approximately 10,000 guests.
In addition to operating the UnderGround, the MLC hosts several social events:
There is a “MLC club evening” once a month at different gay locations where members, friends and interested newcomers meet and socialize.
Every summer, there is the popular “MLC Beer gardening”, where guys meet in one of the many different Munich beer gardens. In the winter, the club has some sportive events: the “MLC Bowling” once a month and the “MLC Curling” in January.
Members and friends are also invited to the “MLC BBQ” in August and the annual “MLC Christmas Party” that has been held in the cellar vault of the Augustiner beer garden in central Munich for a few years now.
It should also be mentioned that the MLC regularly participates in the Munich Pride (“CSD”) to fly the fetish flag there. We show up as a colorful, proud and diverse group: Leather and rubber men march together with guys who represent the fetishes that are more recent or on the rise, like puppy play and sportswear. Thus, the MLC is proud to have started as a leather club and also proud to have become home to other fetishes along the way.
Two major events each year attract up to 1.000 guests from all over the world to come to Munich: The “MLC-Starkbierfest“ in February/March and the “MLC-Oktoberfest“.
Since 2001, during the MLC-Starkbierfest, we hold the Bavarian Mister Leather contest. The titleholder generally flies to Chicago in May in order to run for International Mister Leather. That must have been a good decision since that same year, 2001, “Bavarian Mister Leather” Stefan Müller became “International Mister Leather”!
It has been over 40 years since we had the first MLC participation in the festivities of Oktoberfest. Since then, a visible gay participation has become a key feature of these enormous popular gatherings in Bayern. In 2017, the MLC celebrated its 40th Oktoberfest meeting! For that anniversary, the famous German gay comic artist Ralf König drew the motive called “Münchennasen” (“Munich noses”) for the Münchner Löwen Club. The MLC holds the rights for this motive and uses it on beer steins, mugs, T-shirts and back packs to further merchandise the club.
That 40th Oktoberfest meeting also received important media coverage. Together with Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter and other local politicians, the board of directors of the MLC was invited to join the Heide-Volm family at the “Wirte-Tisch” (hosts’ table) in the “Bräurosl” beer tent – the tent that hosts “GaySunday” on the first Sunday during Oktoberfest.
With more than 630 and more than 2.000 registered guests visiting us every year, the Münchner Löwen Club e.V. is without question one of the world’s largest gay fetish clubs. It is a vital component of the Munich gay fetish community which would not be the same without it.
The size of the club and its visibility comes with challenges. The need to change and adapt doesn’t go without creating tensions. But we always find ways to push the club forward while remaining faithful to the principles that have guided the club since its very first day. And we find ways to keep it attractive and fresh for all generations and fetishes. This is actually a major point that defines the MLC: participation is possible and explicitly desired.
The current leadership (Dieter Weissenborn, Werner Hall and Raymund Spiegl), elected for two years, and our more than 50 honorary helpers, are working tirelessly in the hope of keeping the club going for many more decades.
Our homepage contains information about the MLC in general and current developments in our club. It is being maintained in German and English.