Schuhplattln mit den Schwuhplattlern
We are queer!

The “Schwuhplattler” – a play on the German words “Schuh” for “Shoe” and “Schwul” (the colloquial word for “Gay”) – are the world’s first (and only) gay association dedicated to Bavaria’s rich history of customs and traditions. Founder Sepp Stückl and his fellow campaigners initially had to battle some serious resistance. Today, the much-honoured dance group stands for its homeland and the principles of diversity, tradition and tolerance – as well as for plenty of fun

Reading time: 13 minutes

Dancing the “Schuhplattler” – a traditional folk dance – with Munich’s Schwuhplattler

Sepp is particularly fond of telling the story of Christopher Street Day 2004 in Altötting. Many esteemed “Schwuhplattler” dancers travelled by train from Munich to attend the colourful parade put on by the gay and lesbian community at this renowned pilgrimage site among Catholics. Everyone dressed in traditional costume, each with a long stick made out of hazelnut.

As soon as they got off the train at Altötting station, the police arrived and confiscated the poles. “Because they thought we were organising an illegal counter-demonstration,” recalls Sepp, “and that we wanted to infiltrate the party and beat up those people in attendance.”

That’s when the officials from Altötting couldn’t believe their eyes: these guys are part of the parade? The wooden sticks are not intended for a brawl, but are props for an old folk dance known as the "Steckentanz"? And why would these burly men in traditional “lederhosen” want to join the colourful ranks of waving rainbow flags and dazzling drag queens?

Die Schwuhplattler während einer Aufführung

A Dazzling White and Blue with Rainbow Colours

The “Schwuhplattler” – the first gay Bavarian traditional association – has long since established its foothold in society. They are celebrated on TV programmes in the “Komödienstadl”, on the stage of the “Hofbräuhaus” or at the Oktoberfest’s "Oide Wiesn" fairground.

The “Schwuhplattler” have received awards and honours, from the City of Munich for the preservation of Bavarian customs and even the Bavarian Order of Merit from Minister-President Markus Söder – for Sepp’s commitment to promoting cosmopolitanism and a sense of home, tolerance and tradition. For the love of Bavaria in all its colourful glory.

And now, the question of all questions: when to clap, where and how?

A Friday evening in the “Döllingersaal” hall of St Willibrod’s, located on Munich’s Blumenstraße. The “Schwuhplattler” meet there every fortnight to rehearse. In the beginning, it’s always about going over the basics. For beginners and newcomers like Ole from Norway on this evening.

Ole has been living in Munich for a few years now and heard about this Bavarian dance group from a friend, but he doesn’t really get into the mix that evening. So what’s the right coordination then? When do you clap where and how? On the thigh, the shoe, in the heel, in the hand. And all in the correct rhythm. A science in itself. A dance like no other.

Steckentanz Training der Schwuhplattler
Auch Sprungtraining gehört zur Ausbildung der Schwuhplattler

Brazilians Dance “Heisei” and “Glöckerl”

Stomp, stomp, one, two, three, four, change.“

The 110+ members also hail from America, Brazil, Sweden, and from as far away as North Rhine-Westphalia. Just like Christian – the instructor that evening – who demonstrates the “Heisei” for the warm-up and later the “Ruhpoldinger”, the “Inzell” and the “Glöckerl”.

These are the names given to the different variants. In between, he talks about the “five-stroke technique” or gives commands such as: “Stomp, stomp, one, two, three, four, change.”

During a rehearsal break, Sepp Stückl comes to one of the tables at the back of the hall. Sepp is over 70, the history of the “Schwuhplattler” began with him roughly 25 years ago. He comes from Bavaria’s “Uffing am Staffelsee” municipality, and grew up with customs, tradition and folk music.

Grandpa, mum, dad – they were all in their local “Trachtenverein” – a cultural association dedicated to traditional dresses and customs from the region. Just like Sepp. He even became a board member at the age of 21. At a time when he also went out with women, for coffee, for dinner, to the cinema. “But whenever there was more at stake,” says Sepp, “I didn’t fancy it.

It became an eternal battle with myself because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was gay. But, at some point, you just can’t fight it any more.” Sepp was 28 when he admitted to himself that he would rather have a relationship with a man than a woman.

Tradition and Homosexuality

The outcry he witnessed within his region’s traditional “Trachtenverein” was huge at the time, especially when Sepp founded the “Schwuhplattler” in Munich in 1997. There were pockets of resistance and hostility, he says, and he was unwelcome at parades. “They justified it by saying that they couldn’t guarantee my safety,” says Sepp.

And so Sepp, along with a handful of gay “Plattler” dancers who made their first big appearance at the Summer-Tollwood-Festival in 1998, all felt a deep sense of scepticism. “We wondered whether they would first throw tomatoes at us, eggs or even stones,” recalls Sepp.

Instead, they were celebrated with such intensity. And one of the audience members enthusiastically came on stage and happily asked if he could dance along. He, too, is a long-established “custom-guy”, gay and yet with a strong connection to the region’s traditions.

The main concern shared by the “Schwuhplattler” was (and remains) to show that upholding tradition and safeguarding the mainstream acceptance of homosexuality are not a contradiction in terms. The love of home, the love of men. Of course, both are possible, why not? Especially in the land of “Liberalitas Bavariae”.

Tanzaufführung der Schwuhplattler

Anything but Slapstick!

Of course, they don’t perform in pink "dirndls", as they sometimes get asked with a little smile. They also don’t go in for any silly jokes. You only have to watch one of the three-hour rehearsals to realise the seriousness and concentration with which they practise for their upcoming performances.

The performances in the “Herzkasperl” tent at the Oktoberfest's "Oide Wiesn" are a near-to-established tradition. They are also one of the annual highlights in Paul’s calendar. The US-American has been part of the squad from the very beginning. As one of the original “Schwuhplattler”, he came to Munich from his home in Kansas in the wild 1980s. “It was only with the ‘Schwuhplattler’ that I truly arrived in Munich and Bavaria,” says Paul. “It gave me the feeling that I had found a home.”

Sensation at the Church Fair in Geldersheim!

Christoph from Sennfeld in Lower Franconia – who was born in 1997 – comes from a different generation. Born in the year in which the “Schwuhplattler” were founded. He came out when he was 15: “I didn’t have any problems in the local community,” he says, “it was simply accepted. It wasn’t even an issue.”

Christoph talks about the “Geldersheim Kirchweih”, the Franconian traditional festival situated very close to Sennfeld. As always, the parish fair dance was also on the agenda, and with it, the selection of the best dance duet to become the so-called “Hammelkönigspaar”. Only now, for the first time, it wasn’t a male-female combination that took top spot.

But rather Christoph with his partner from Bremen. “We were celebrated just like the other winners,” says Christoph, “it made no difference at all.” Not everything must have been better in the past. Society has welcomed us with open arms. In today’s great times.

„We want to come into the star-formation"

Rehearsals are drawing to a close in the “Döllingersaal” hall. Christian asks to rehearse the aforementioned “Steckentanz” dance routine. After all, it has been a long time since they put on this particular performance. That was in 2016, at the “Schrobenhausen” asparagus market. Roland and Wolfgang, Marco and Justin find themselves still struggling at the beginning. They are not quite up to speed yet. “We want to be celebrated for our dancing skill,” says Christian and: “Swing, swing, turn.” Until, in the end, they have the perfect choreography.

As we say goodbye, Sepp tells us outside that there are now many straight men among the 115 members. Because the “Schwuhplattler” don’t see things so narrowly, they are open-minded. True Bavarian tolerance in action.

Interview with the Schwuhplattler

“Schuhplatteln” – a brief introduction

1. Timing
Stomp with your right foot.
Hit your left thigh with your left hand.
Hit with the right hand on your right thigh.

2. Timing
Strike the sole of the left shoe from behind with the right hand.
Hit your left thigh with your left hand.
Hit your right thigh with your right hand.

3. Timing
Strike the sole of the left shoe from behind with the right hand.
Hit your left thigh with your left hand.
Hit your right thigh with your right hand.
Hit your left thigh with your left hand.
Strike the sole of the left shoe from the front with your right hand.
Hit your left thigh with your left hand.

Meet More of Our Bavaria Insiders

Sandra Müller, Trachtenschneiderin und Posamentenknopfmacherin

Buttoned down, sewn up!

Traditional costume tailor Sandra Müller from Waldstetten is reviving an almost forgotten Bavarian craft. She makes trimmed buttons

Read more
Dagmar Rosenbauer an ihrem Arbeitsplatz

Franconian Bling-Bling

Dagmar Rosenbauer makes Franconian tinsel crowns according to historical models. This is how the traditional costume expert keeps an old custom alive

Read more
Fischen früh am Morgen auf dem Chiemsee

Fishery Tradition

Tassilo and Florian Lex continue their family's fishing with passion. We accompanied the fishermen for a day at Lake Chiemsee

Read more
Florian Karg: Der Hirte leistet einen wichtigen Beitrag für die Erhaltung der Landschaft der Alpe

Shepherd and opera singer Florian Karg

All summer long Florian Karg works and lives as shepherd in the Allgäu mountains. In wintertimes he returns to the stage as an opera singer

Read more
Katharina Mayer ist Tanzmeisterin aus Leidenschaft für den bayerischen Volkstanz

At the Kocherlball in Munich

Dance master Katharina Mayer lives her joy of Bavarian dance, not only at Munich's largest open-air dance event, the Kocherlball

Read more
Timm Buckley in seiner Werkstatt: Er braucht 35 - 40 Stunden um eine Maske aus Zirbenholz herauszuarbeiten

Mask carver Timm Buckley

The scary masks made by Timm Buckley are sure to give you goosebumps at festivals such as Perchtenläufen, Walpurgisnacht or Johannesfeuer

Read more

News from Bavaria

Get first-hand tips on stories, travel reports and events!