What height was Freddie Mercury
A bon vivant at heart with sneakers and a jute bag: We meet Peter Ambacher at Marienplatz. He wants to take us to where the once greatest rock star in the world fell in love 40 years ago, where he ate his knuckle and celebrated the best parties. Ambacher walks through a couple of side streets - he stops at number two on Stollbergstrasse. It all started here.
Where are we?
At this point there used to be the Stollberg Plaza, a boarding house, a kind of long-term hotel. Freddie lived there for the first few months after moving to Munich.
Why exactly the tranquil Munich and not, shall we say, West Berlin?
Freddie wanted to record music in the Musicland Studios in the basement of the Arabella skyscraper and to work with the producer Reinhold Mack. They all recorded their records with him: Elton John, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones.
Were you here in his apartment too?
Often even! Most of the time I was still with him after a night in a bar or a disco, when Freddie often said: "Come on, we'll go to my place." We hung out together. The apartment wasn't particularly beautiful. That was because the Stollberg Plaza only had furnished rooms and Freddie didn't bother to change anything.
"Freddie was a queen on stage. I think he came to Munich because he wanted to be a queen in real life. "Peter Ambacher
Let's turn back the time again: How did you find out that Freddie Mercury lives in Munich?
I was often in Jeans, a gay bar. At that time it was in the same block as the Stollberg Plaza. At the bar I heard rumors that Freddie Mercury was in town.
Were you a fan of him and Queen at the time?
I saw the appearances on television at the time. Freddie was a queen on stage. I've always thought to myself: He's gay. But in 1979, when he moved to Munich, he was not yet out in public. I think he came to Munich because he wanted to be a queen in real life.
The year 1979: Freddie Mercury, then 33, is at the peak of his career with Queen, with singles like “We will rock you”, “We are the champions” and - above all - “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In his hometown of London, Mercury is pursued by paparazzi. In Munich, the rock star hopes, he can concentrate on his music in peace and: live without being constantly disturbed by autograph hunters.
Peter Ambacher vividly remembers the Glockenbachviertel of that time. He was in his late twenties then and took every party he could take with him. Today he has to take breaks on the tour, take a short rest, the medication he has to take is causing him to "gasp". He recently got a new hip. After walking a few hundred meters, Ambacher stops in front of an office complex. Not far from the Isartor, in the valley, he scurries into a narrow building passage at number 48. This is the place where he met Freddie Mercury.
In front of an office building?
This used to be the Fisherman’s, a sauna for gay men. You had to ring the doorbell and look into a camera right here. Then the door buzzed open. Most of the men were looking for a quick number in a cabin or by the pool.
And one evening the great Freddie Mercury just walked in there?
Suddenly there was this guy in front of me: very hairy torso, he only wore a towel around his waist. We started talking, I thought he was really nice, I just wondered why he speaks English. It was only his assistant who pointed out to me who I was talking to.
You didn't recognize Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest pop stars in the world?
I noticed his distinctive mustache. But that wasn't anything special. Back then everyone in Munich wore a mustache. Freddie was just a normal guy - like you and me. He was shy and never played out.
“In the Frisco the windows were taped up so that you couldn't see the time of day. I'm often out there in the early morning and thought to myself: What kind of crazy party was that again? "Peter Ambacher
Last year, the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a biopic about Freddie Mercury, hit theaters. Ironically, the time in Munich is shown as the low point: Freddie on the ground, surrounded by false friends. Of course not true, says Ambacher - and tells his version of the story at the next stop on the tour at Sebastiansplatz.
Where are we now?
This is the former Sebastianseck. This is where Freddie met his great love: Winnie. So Winfried Kirchberger, the landlord in the Sebastianseck. He also introduced Freddie to Bavarian cuisine.
Did he like it?
He loved pork knuckle. Winnie took care of him. Once, for Winnie's birthday, Freddy put a brand new Mercedes Coupé in front of the shop with a huge bow on it. By then at the latest we were a real clique: Freddy, Winnie, me and a few other guys that Freddie had met in the sauna or in the clubs. It was a wonderful time.
The time was wonderful while they were among themselves. But at that time there were “gay haters”, that's what Ambacher calls the men who hunted and beat gay men like him. The police also harassed homosexuals. In the German code of law there was also Section 175, which made sex between men a criminal offense. Gay men met in bars and clubs in the Glockenbachviertel. Peter Ambacher ran a bar himself at Blumenstrasse 43: the former Frisco. Ambacher sits down on the steps in front of the St. Willibrord church and points to the opposite side of the street.
This used to be the Frisco, where you served yourself?
The bar was on the first floor and was open six evenings a week. Our shop was so popular that the restaurateurs and innkeepers in the area wondered why their guests fled at 11 p.m. to come to us!
Why exactly this time?
The Frisco Girls performed at midnight! So two friends and I as "Miss Piggy". I put on my pig's nose and ears, sang playback and danced.
And Freddie was a fan of the Frisco Girls?
He was often there to see our shows. But he mostly stood in the corner, drank his vodka and orange juice and watched the crowd.
Was it wild parties at the Frisco?
We drank, we coke, actually we took everything. It was really insane. In the Frisco the windows were taped up so that you couldn't see the time of day. I often only got out there early in the morning and thought to myself: What kind of crazy party was that again?
Were there any quiet moments that you experienced with Freddie Mercury?
Once we traveled to New York: my partner Rainer and I, Winnie and Freddie. We had actually decided to go on a very quiet vacation. But the others wanted to go to the tough leather clubs. Today I'm sure they got infected. With HIV.
“Freddie was gone overnight. He only sent greetings and a thank you through his assistant. "Peter Ambacher
Ambacher takes an envelope with photos from his backpack. He doesn't really like to look at them. Freddie Mercury died in 1991 of complications from AIDS, Winnie Kirchberger two years later.
How did the Frisco end then?
I worked there for 13 years, until 1987. Then Rainer, my life partner, also died of AIDS. I didn't want to go on alone.
Ambacher continues, about the old "Tuntenrevue", as he calls it: the shops that were around Müllerstrasse at the time: the old Pimpernel, the Peppermint, the violin, the BAU with its dark room, the Teddy Bar with the plush bears on the ceiling. Today the gay subculture in the Glockenbachviertel has almost disappeared. Homosexuality is now normal. In Munich of 2019, gay men can hold hands and kiss on the street - in public. Before he finishes the tour, Peter Ambacher wants to show us the Old Mrs. Henderson in Rumfordstrasse, which is now called Paradiso Tanzbar.
This is where Mercury shot the music video for his song "Living on my Own", right?
First Freddie celebrated his 39th birthday here, that must have been in 1985. We all came in disguise. One as Maria Stuart, one as Queen Elizabeth, me as a lady-in-waiting because I didn't fit into any fumble at the time. We walked a red carpet, past television broadcasters' outside vans, even one from the BBC. That was the best party of my life. We drank Cristal champagne by the bottle.
And during the party the music video for “Living on my Own” was made?
We had to shoot that the next day. Totally hungover! But that didn't matter, for me it was just the best present to be able to spend this time with Freddie.
1985: Freddie Mercury's solo career is not as successful as he imagines it to be. At the same time, his band received a request to perform at Live Aid in London, the biggest benefit concert of all time. Mercury leaves Munich.
Did Freddie say goodbye?
He was gone overnight. He only sent greetings and a thank you through his assistant. That was strange, a few days before we had dinner together, we celebrated together. And then he was gone. I think Munich was Freddie's paradise. But it wasn't a paradise for the ages.
Text: Nansen & Piccard; Photos: Frank Stolle
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