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Freddie Mercury: inimitable and unforgettable

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“Queen conquered the USA from Munich,” says Nicola Bardola, Freddie Mercury’s biographer, in conjunction with Queen frontman’s 30th death anniversary.

“Flamboyant. No other word stands out so much in connection with Freddie Mercury,” writes author Nicola Bardola in the preface to his biography “Mercury in Munich — His Best Years.”

On November 24, 1991, the extraordinary artist died of AIDS-related complications, only a day after he had publicly announced that he had contracted HIV. Until then he had kept silent about his illness, despite all the rumors. Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar in 1946, was cagey when it came to his private life and mostly kept a low profile during interviews. He once said that he hated talking to people he didn’t know. 

The cover of the book, featuring Mercury and three flamboyantly dressed men.

“Mercury in München” looks at the singer’s years in the Bavarian city of Munich

Unknown in Munich

This is one of the reasons why he felt so at home in the Bavarian metropolis of Munich, where he lived for a period between 1979 and 1985. Germanist and author Nicola Bardola has written an extensive biography of Mercury’s time in Munich, quoting the singer at the outset as saying, “I’ve found a place, which is called Munich, where I can actually walk the streets.”

The band Queen had already scored their first number one hit in the U.K. with “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 1975 and were no longer unknown in Germany. Yet, despite the fame, Mercury was left alone in Munich. He found refuge there and experienced an artistic awakening.

“Freddie changed a lot in Munich,” says Bardola in an interview with DW. “He was here for the first time in 1974. That was the very first Queen concert in Germany ever, and he already saw then that Munich was an attractive city.”

Queen “conquers” the US from Germany

Freddie Mercury was attracted to Munich’s vibrant music scene; he and his bandmates Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon were particularly fond of Musicland Studios, founded in the early 1970s by composer and music legend Giorgio Moroder. “The very first song they recorded in Munich was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Bardola says. “That song went to number one on the American charts as the very first Queen song ever. So, in a way, they conquered the US from Munich.”

Freddie Mercury with his band members at a time when they all had long hair.

From left to right: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor at the start of their career in 1974

A total of four albums — “The Game” (1980), “Hot Space” (1982), “The Works” (1984) and “A Kind of Magic” (1986) — were produced in the legendary studios where Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Donna Summer, and many more also produced their albums.

But it wasn’t just Munich’s music scene that fascinated Mercury. “Freddie also took a great liking to the liberal attitude in Munich regarding homosexuality.” By this time, Mercury was already separated from his girlfriend Mary Austin. He had already confided in her that he was gay, but he had not officially come out. He tested the waters in Munich’s Glockenbachviertel — an internationally known neighborhood among gays and lesbians back then and until now. 

“There you could live freely, also move freely, without fear of persecution as in other cities. And there were many gay clubs, discos, bars, which Freddie liked to visit.”

In Munich, Mercury practiced his sexuality freely. He partied hard and had a marriage-like relationship with Munich landlord Winnie Kirchberger, with whom he also explored the local gay scene. The artist also shared a special friendship with the well-endowed actress Barbara Valentin, who was first typecast as a sex symbol but was later cast by filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder in character roles. 

Bardola described Valentin as having her finger on the zeitgeist and was Mercury’s “Germany guide.” 

A photo of Freddy Mercury and Barbara Valentin in Munich in 1984.

Freddy Mercury had a relationship with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin

“Valentin describes him eating like a little bird. He is said to have referred to the dumplings served with roast pork as ‘f*****g footballs,'” the biographer continues. “On the one hand, he was very reserved when it came to eating — he loved champagne and caviar — but on the other hand, he also did bodybuilding in Munich. He got muscular and strong and that requires a knuckle of pork and a dumpling sometimes.”

A street named Freddie Mercury

In “Mercury in Munich,” Nicola Bardola sheds light on a period in Mercury’s life that has so far not been discussed in detail in biographies about the Queen singer. 

In addition, Bardola interviewed contemporary witnesses who have not yet spoken out. This includes, for instance, Wolfgang Simon, the cameraman who shot the Queen videos for “One Vision” and “Living On My Own.” 

The latter video was partly shot during Mercury’s 39th birthday party, to which Simon had been invited and which was held at the drag club Old Mrs. Henderson. According to Bardola, witnesses describe the decadent celebration as “the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll party and his [Mercury’s] anticipated farewell to Munich.” For years, the video was banned for “depicting promiscuity.” Today, it seems more like evidence of the times, in which we see Mercury as he possibly wanted to be seen: full of life, “flamboyant” and incomparable. 

In 2020, the city of Munich honored the rock icon by naming a street after him, in the “creative quarter” of Neuhausen. Thus, he remains unforgotten even in Munich, where he felt at home for six years.

This article has been translated from German.

  • A still from the film 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (2017 Twentieth Century Fox)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    For the world premiere of the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in October 2018, Freddie Mercury fans filled London’s 12,500-seat Wembley Arena, where Queen’s Live Aid concert was also held in 1985. The hit movie went on to become a surprise winner at the Golden Globes: Rami Malek (above) picked up the best actor award for his portrayal of the legendary singer, while the musical was also crowned best film.

  • Freddie Mercury sings into a microphone (Foto: Getty)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘The Great Pretender’

    There’s never been a rock star like Freddie Mercury, whose voice spanned four octaves and added a decidedly campy flavor to rock music. With his chest pushed forward like a rooster, Mercury managed to attract male and female followers alike while shaking his hips in hot pants. Even greater than his vocal talent was his personality — both on and off stage: confident, nonchalant and flamboyant.

  • Freddie Mercury as a child and as an adult (Quelle: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘Now I’m Here’

    Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar on September 5, 1946 but grew up mainly in India. At age 17, he and his parents moved to London, where he studied art while dabbling in music. That’s when he met guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. Initially, he worked as a roadie for the two musicians before sharing the limelight with them under his future stage name, Freddie Mercury.

  • Freddie Mercury and Queen members sit together (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘My Fairy King’

    In 1970, May and Taylor took bassist John Deacon on board and released Queen’s first album — with Freddie (left) on vocals. The track “My Fairy King” features the following lyrics: “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me.” The lyrics completed Freddie’s nom de plume. Asked if he meant to address his actual mother with those words, he replied, “Yes, and from now on, I am Freddie Mercury.”

  • Queen holds up record awards (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘Now I’m Here’

    During their early days, it proved quite difficult for the new band to get any recognition. It wasn’t until 1974 that tracks like “Killer Queen” and “Now I’m Here” put Queen on the map and in the charts. The big breakthrough came with “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 1975. To this day, the award-winning hit single remains Mercury’s signature song.

  • Queen Konzert in Hamburg (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘We Are The Champions’

    Queen dominated the British music charts with their fourth studio album, A Night at the Opera, and managed to gain recognition in the US and beyond. The group became one of the most successful rock bands in history. Celebrated not just for their songs but also for Mercury’s stage antics, Queen toured the world to sold-out venues.

  • Freddie Mecury sings into a microphone under yellow lighting (Foto:

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’

    As much as he reveled in his public persona, Freddie Mercury kept his personal life under lock and key. In the late 1970s, he split up with his long-term girlfriend Mary Austin, telling her in private that he would seek male companions in the future. Mercury explored his homosexuality freely before HIV and AIDS started making headline news, affecting gay communities around the world.

  • Freddie Mercury in leather sings onstage with a drummer behind him (Foto: Getty)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’

    Denying rumors that he had contracted HIV, Mercury kept the diagnosis to himself in the late 1980s, continuing to record new tracks despite looking increasingly tired and gaunt. Many thought Queen’s 1989 album, The Miracle, would be their last studio recording — with the mystery surrounding Mercury’s health remaining until the last moment.

  • Freddie Mercury sings with Monserrat Caballe in Barcelona (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen


    Freddie Mercury hit the recording studio with Spanish opera diva Montserrat Caballé to record the operatic duet “Barcelona.” Released in 1987, the song initially reached no. 8 in the UK charts. But five years later, one year after Mercury’s death in 1991, it resurfaced during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, catapulting the track to the upper regions of the charts in several countries.

  • Brit Awards 1990 - Queen - Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor & Brian May (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘The Show Must Go On’

    The Brit Awards ceremony on February 18, 1990, was the last time Mercury was seen in public. A shadow of his former self, he accepted an honorary award for Queen and their Outstanding Contribution to Music. As though in denial about the limited time he had left, Mercury went back to the studio to record Queen’s last album, Innuendo.

  • A statue in Switerzland of Freddy Mercury in front of a dramatic sunset (Foto: dpa)

    Freddie Mercury: Long live (the) Queen

    ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’

    The night before his death, Mercury finally made a public announcement admitting that he had been suffering from AIDS. Mercury died November 24, 1991 due to bronchial pneumonia brought on by the disease. After his death, Queen released one more album using material recorded in his final months. The record, released in 1995, is titled Made in Heaven.

    Author: Silke Wünsch (ss)

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