KPFK Public Radio and HE Travel’s Cary Harrison takes you on a special all-access tour of Germany and Austria, ‘above and below’, where we’ll explore the Secrets of The Third Reich and end with a stunning overlap into gay Oktoberfest. Not only does this tour have a higher purpose (read on!), but you’ll enjoy VIP privileges to travel beneath sealed portions of ageless European cities, have face time with extraordinary scholars and LGBT heroes, and eyewitness newly-discovered underground artifacts that have been previously covered-up—or erased by history. As we are able only to offer this trip under limited license, you will be among the few to see and photograph what others only dream about.
Highlights include Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Dachau Memorial Site, Von Trapp Residence in Salzburg (Sound of Music), multiple world-class museums, natural marvels, Nuremberg, the underground Nazi bunker systems, and the stunning architecture of Munich and Bavaria‘s castles, (gay) kings and palaces.
Join our extension to celebrate Oktoberfest while already in Munich.
I’m jazzed by the specialness of this tour. It’s really the only one of its kind, anywhere. The stuff we will have access to (including the people) was a blend of the flexibility and imagination that HE Travel offers combined with public radio’s openness to expand its world (at the no uncertain urgings of its LGBT liaison – that’d be me).
Here’s the quickie flashback: I went to boarding school in Switzerland where one of the house fathers was a former SS officer living in a “neutral“ country and the house mother, Louisa Ragazzini, was leaked to be Mussolini‘s former girlfriend in the 1920’s. Can’t make this stuff up. Can’t make this stuff up. They’d walk hand-in-hand afternoon tea. Normal upbringing, right? Certainly, many of us felt like we were surrounded by Nazi bullies while growing up, except, mine were actually real. Think about it: every year we hear of yet another geezer Nazi, corralled and kicked into the hoosegow after hiding for decades in number of run-of-the-mill democracies.
Flash forward, when I was exploring putting together this Germany tour, I had already amassed a fair amount of evidence that the Führer was most likely a ‘Friend of Dorothy‘. My research led me to OSS documents (Precursor to CIA) from early 1943 that talked about his homosexuality in a plain, dispassionate analysis. All this to benefit the War Department’s understanding of him for manipulation and as a military opponent. Effectively, young Adolf lived in a gay bathhouse before he decided to take over the world. We see evidence of these closet-to-catostrophe cases – whether it be Mel White gaily writing homophobic speeches for the late Jerry Falwell or any number of today’s Congressmen (wives dutifully waiting outside the airport restroom of your choice) while said Congressman taps the men’s room stall three times or exhibits a grandly wide, awe-inspiring, pudendal-plunging stance.
Hitler’s head of the military arm of the Nazi party, the SA (Sturmabteilung/”Storm Department“), was Ernst Röhm – a well-known Nazi gay who ran over 130 precincts all over Germany, all of which were captained by gay lieutenants. The entire phalanx all served at the pleasure of Hitler… Until 1931 when this damning political cartoon appeared in Germany’s main newspaper:
This political cartoon outed the entire all-male core gay infrastructure of who or “what” was really in charge. Here we see the gay Ernst Röhm staring at the backsides of his SA Lieutenants. Cupid’s outstretched arrow, erectly drawn, says the rest
There, problem solved. Poof – just like that! I don’t know about you, but most straight men don’t have to promise their boss to stop having sex with other men – ever. But, for everybody else, it was back into the closets – except for sex workers (both straight and DL gays) as prostitution flourished as a magnificent ancient. trade. You couldn’t be gay but you could have sex with men in the Führer’s declared decidedly non-homosexual way.
“One can organize the question of female prostitution, which by comparison with this question [of male homosexuality] in principle is completely harmless, in a way that is acceptable for a civilized people. In this area, we will be generous beyond bounds.”
– Heinrich Himmler, speech to SS commanders, Feb. 1937
As the Jewish population became more intensely targeted by the Reich, Himmler found it more advantageous to accelerate his homophobic screeds at which point the Führer could no longer be seen to turn a blind eye. That blind eye became limited to his private residence and several high-ranking Reich members.
One only knows what went up in Berchtesgaden under the mustache of the world’s longest unmarried bachelor. A full decade of no dates, no intimate dinners, no girl-cuddling, no necking in the back seat of the family Plymouth. Color films from the early 1940s routinely feature Hitler’s private butler – a young man of particular pulchritude as seen above. What happens up in Berchtesgaden has stayed in Berchtesgaden.
What’s been helpful was getting special permission to travel beneath the current Berlin subway system into the abandoned WWII-era Subway and tram tunnels which were part of an elaborate bunker system (above) complete with state-of-the-art electronics – even a massive air-conditioning system. By 1940, Hitler ordered the construction massive above-ground anti-aircraft, or “Flak” towers to defend Berlin from enemy aircraft that simultaneously descended seven stories underground. Though only one stands today, a Berlin non-profit has spent a total of over 8,000 hours removing over 49,000 cubic feet of rubble, allowing us to enter and observe this extraordinary construction. When I first went in, my guide was an Olympic lesbian Hockey player WWII historian – no kidding. This is why I shy away from tours that are rinse-and-repeat, plug-and-play, one-size-fits-all, group motorcoach tours. Yawn. My philosophy: “show us everything we are not supposed to know about”.
Revealing all this hidden history also comes, in my opinion, with some creative efforts to correct the past by finding a higher purpose while accessing what most people will never know about. One of our unpublished stops (on purpose) will be to visit an elderly man who rescued one of each book that was burned by the Nazis in 1933. He stored these exquisite books of philosophy. sexuality, and fiction under his floorboards almost 90 years ago and they still remain there today. Among the books are those from the extensive library of Magnus Hirschfeld who campaigned on progressive and rational grounds for LGBT rights and tolerance. Hirschfeld built a unique library on same-sex love and eroticism which one up in smoke in 1933. Helen Keller, whom many of us only know as death and mute, was also a prolific author, lesbian, and socialist. It was Helen Keller‘s writings that sparked Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, into torching her pamphlets to kindle the entire book-burning campaign. Keller wrote an open letter to German students, the enduring power of ideas against tyranny.
At Munich’s Dachau, Albert Knoll, the senior archivist, is gay and has recently won Germany’s top honors for historians and archivists. His research has procured list of several hundred LGBT people that went through the camp. While the German government still claims they know of none, <em>we</em> have the documented evidence. In my public radio journalism, I recently interviewed Dr. Bert Neuborne who was the attorney who successfully litigated on behalf of Holocaust survivors, a $1 billion settlement from both the German and Swiss governments (ah, the neutral Swiss can’t seem to stay out of all of this). There was a vast pile of money for gay Holocaust survivors but both governments said there ain’t no such thing as a gay holocaust survivor. So, part of the mission of our tour will be to link the names of the known camp victims with Professor Neuborne’s legal framework and for the first time, ever, get our brothers and sisters codified into world history as real people. Here in California, we have the Fairness In Education Act which will allow us to present this story as part of the historical narrative. These are simply tidbits of hidden history; inconvenient to the mass-produced history book and mainstream publishers, alike.
To that end, our (optional) Sound of Music Tour goes into the von Trapp house in Salzburg, Austria. We are among the few to actually go inside the von Trapp residence as our special tour bypass the dreadful bus photo drive-by. it’s a rare opportunity to see all the romantic spots made famous by the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. I can hear you saying, “but, what’s under the von Trapp house,” as if you suspect there might be something under it?
Turns out, it was the secret underground bunker & housing for Heinrich Himmler. Of course, we gain entry to that, as well.
Have you ever been to gay Oktoberfest in Munich – the “Rosa Wiesn”? They are somehow able to fit 7000 of your closest friends under one tent in a series of long tables of reverie and merriment. This is our spectacular and moment, but well before that adventure, one of my favorite historical figures gets a nod. I’m talking about Germany’s only gay King – the former king of Bavaria. We’ve all seen pictures of King Ludwig II’s fabulous “fairy palace”, Neuschwanstein.
King Ludwig was among the first to own a working telephone though there was no-one yet to call. So, he made long, in-person calls to the stable boys at the bottom of the castle, no doubt to ensure the health and happiness of the many horses. Record books suggest the king had only one visitor to his castle, that being his mother. Fortunately, the stable boys kept His Highness company between visits with mom. But apart from the kings royal telephone collection of a single phone, our King Ludwig was an early pacifist and led Bavaria to enjoy one of its longest peacetime periods, ever. There were massive expenditures in art, culture, architecture, theater, poetry, and music to the point of nearly bankrupting the treasury while the king transformed Bavaria into his own gigantic arts gallery – all of which remains today for us to see.
And it wasn’t called the fairy palace without good reason. This is the same exquisite castle after which Walt Disney fashioned the Magic Kingdom. His golden swan boats still float in the man-made underground grotto where His Royal Highness would splash around well before Disney was even born.
Side note: In World War II, the Nazis melted down the gigantic bronze statue of King Ludwig II but left the other (non-fairy) kings’ statues standing. They melted poor Lud down into munitions shells and fired him out of Panzer tanks.
In Munich itself, there’s an old hotel from the mid-1800s called “Die Deutsche Eiche” (The German Oak) which is owned and operated by a gay couple, considered the gay leaders of the city. The owner, Demarco Irma became a fast friend and also shared with me some of the extraordinary history that took place in this part of old town Munich. The owner, Dietmar Holzapfel, became a fast friend and also shared with me some of the extraordinary history that took place in this part of old-town Munich. As he gave me lunch he said, “guess who’s seat you’re sitting in”? I thought from moment and said, “I don’t know… Goethe, Heidiger, Einstein”? He said, “No, the Fuhrer.”
I nearly spat out my coffee. That answer wasn’t even on the radar of possibility but it made complete sense, given the location and age of all the buildings in this part of Munich. Turns out, next door is one of king Ludwig’s monumental art palaces which functioned as both opera house and 1920’s cabaret – like the movie made famous by Liza Minnelli. Like many performers of the day (today may not be so different), the dancers hit the bar after the show to flirt and pocket a few extra Deutschmarks if Cupid’s arm once again found itself outstretched. Many of the customers sat in the bar of the Eiche (where I was having this lunch) in order to pick up the dancing girls. Adolf sat quietly in his chair waiting, waiting, to pick up the dancing… boys. Can we prove this empirically? What we do have are sheets of music, written by none other than Berthold Brecht about the Führer and the classic hotel – which is today Munich’s only full-on gay hotel. It’s also the same hotel bar where former Munich resident, Freddie Mercury, coiffed many a martini and groped a glute or two.
The 150-year-old hotel has a gorgeous rooftop bar and city view. But again, I hear you asking: “so, what’s underneath such an old hotel”? What was once wine cellars and storage is now the <em>largest</em> gay sauna in Munich – the envy, possibly of King Ludwig who never lived to see it. This Sauna is spectacularly modern and even features a gourmet below-ground restaurant with live palm trees, smoothies, and restful steam rooms and cabins.
It was a preferred hangout for the now-retired Pope, Benny XVI, who discretely enjoyed a shot of subterranean steam and a warm bratwurst. This didn’t jibe with his public rigidity and overt homophobia or the fact that he kept his home digs in Munich. Gay city gossip wasn’t good for the papal brand and His Eminence was recalled and swiftly retired, only to be replaced by the new and improved, progressive Pope; gay-friendly, climate conscious, and always in a cheery mood.
After we’d made a toast, former President Obama came in for a cameo appearance. As you can see, this is one of the most exciting, one-of-it’s-kind experiences available today. I’d love you to join meAs you can see, this is one of the most exciting, one-of-it’s-kind experiences available today. I’d love you to join me as we see history together and make history together.
– Cary Harrison