The birth of the beer garden came about in the early 19th century Bavaria, by royal decree. Photo: AFP
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the law that brought into existence one of Germany's greatest institutions, the beer garden. Yvonne Salisbury reports.
When it comes to beer-drinking, Bavarians do not do things by halves: there are more than 180 beer gardens of varying sizes in and around Munich, with seating space for 180,000 imbibers.
The birth of the beer garden came about in the early 19th century. Bavarians were allowed to brew beer in winter only, and to keep it cool for sale in the summer it was stored in cellars along the River Isar, commonly in the shade of chestnut and linden trees. These shaded areas soon became popular spots for those wanting to sample the goods before taking them home.
Oktoberfest 2011 kicks off
Munich's traditional beer festival kicked off on Saturday under heavy security, with some six million local and foreign visitors expected to attend the festival and downing some seven million litres of beer over three weeks. Photo: AFP
On January 4, 1812, King Max Joseph I stated in the "Bayerische Biergartenverordnung" (Bavarian beer garden decree) that these gardens could be places where both beer and food could be served - and the beer garden was born.
Crucially, in addition to being served food, people were allowed to bring their own, a tradition that has been maintained into the 21st century.
While most beer gardens serve a range of delicious dishes - Steckerlfisch (usually grilled mackerel on a stick), racks of ribs, spit-roasted half-chickens, pretzels - they continue to be places where people bring their own picnic spreads of breads, cold meats, cheeses, salads and radishes.
As for the beer, most of the gardens serve it by the litre (a "Mass"); it is only "Weissbier" (wheat beer) that is typically bought in half-litre glasses.
Over many years I have conducted extensive research into the beer-garden culture and have experienced life on both sides of the bar - working at beer festivals as a waitress, but more commonly enjoying beer gardens as a consumer.
Below is my selection of 10 of Munich's finest gardens. Prosit!
The Augustiner Keller on Arnulfstrasse is a short walk from the main train station and a favourite with both locals and tourists. This large beer garden has been here since 1812 and has received regular awards for its preservation of tradition, excellent service and Bavarian cuisine. The beer is stored in giant wooden barrels and is available only in one-litre steins after 4pm.
The Chinesischer Turm (tower) is in Europe's largest inner-city park, Munich's Englischer Garten, about a 15-minute walk from the centrally located Marienplatz. This is one of the three largest beer gardens in Munich, offering a mixture of sunshine and shade. It is completely self-service and offers an excellent variety of food and live oompah music on Saturdays from 1pm and Sundays from midday.
Located at the brewery on Theresienhohe street, the Hacker-Pschorr Brauhaus is somewhere to sit under umbrellas on the terrace or in the shaded beer garden across a footpath. The terrace affords good views of the Theresienwiese, where the Oktoberfest is held. I recommend the Brotzeit-teller, which is a large platter of cheese and cold meats. Indoors is a sports bar with several television screens.
Across the Isar River on Innere Wiener Strasse is one of Munich's most famous drinking establishments. Opened in 1892 as the new brewery for Hofbrau beers, it has been rebuilt several times. Whereas the Hofbrauhaus is known for its beer hall, the Hofbraukeller is renowned for its beer garden, which is large and shady. Conveniently, tram number 19 stops right outside the door.
The beer garden in Munich's Olympic Park, just at the foot of the tower, is a great place to relax while you sit and enjoy views of the tower, stadium and lake. The Olympic Park, which is 40 years old this year, is also a nice spot for a summer walk. Alternatively, take the lift to the top of the tower and look out over Munich.
Originally built in 1935 in the Old Botanical Gardens in Munich, the Park Cafe is a quiet spot close to the train station. The small beer garden has a lovely outlook over the gardens. Occasionally a jazz band plays outdoors, which adds to the relaxed ambience.
In 1634 monks began brewing Salvator, a strong, dark beer that they knew as their liquid bread, and which was designed to keep them going during long periods of fasting. It became so popular that they began selling the excess to the public. At the same location today, the Paulaner Keller on Hochstrasse is popular with locals for good food and beer - the brewery is just across the road. The speciality of the house is Nockherberger, a cloudy, unfiltered beer that is only available here. Outside, both the beer garden and the plates of spare ribs are vast. Locals have voted this Munich's best beer garden five times.
Just two minutes from Marienplatz, the food market of Viktualienmarkt is a haven for all who want a rest, refreshments and to watch the market activities. It's mainly self-service: you buy food from the surrounding stalls and take it to a table under the trees. The beer is served in rotation from all six of the Munich breweries.
The Lowenbraukeller is the flagship of the adjoining Lowenbrau brewery. There has been a beer hall here at Stiglmaierplatz since 1883. Today, the Lowenbraukeller has a small beer garden under the shade of the trees and a large, sunny, first- floor terrace. When there is an important football match on, large screens are erected in the garden and indoors in the festival room.
A beer garden at the airport? What a good idea! There is no better place in which to wait for your flight home than the Airbrau in the central courtyard between terminals 1 and 2. Here you can enjoy a glass of home-brewed, unfiltered beer and house specialities that include a "Hangman's Lunch", consisting of one glass of tap water, one bread roll and one cigarette. If this doesn't appeal, try the steak with fried bread, diced onions, crispy bacon, fried egg and a small salad.
Yvonne Salisbury is the author of Sun, Steins and Steckerlfisch - An Insiders' Guide to Over 125 Munich Beer Gardens, available from insidersmunich.com and amazon.co.uk.
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