Winters are long in Germany and, especially in Bavaria but spreading all over the country, from early Spring through the Summer and Autumn, it is Biergaerten time. Sitting at simple tables shaded by chestnut trees, eating, drinking and enjoying the outdoors. Often deep into the night.
Hardly changed since the beer garden tradition officially began during the reign of Bavaria's King Maximilian I in 1812, it's one of those customs which has never gone out of fashion.
From the 16th century there had been a law that dark beer, the most popular variety, must be brewed only in colder months, from St. Michael's Day, 29th September, until St. George's Day, 23rd April. As a way of working around these rules some brewers moved to the banks of the River Isar just outside Munich, and dug deep cellars in which to store their beer during the summer months.
These were also filled with ice taken from the frozen river during the winter, and to ensure the earth remained cool trees were planted over the cellars. The chestnut tree, which had originally been introduced into Germany by the Romans, as their large leaves would give the best protection against the Bavarian summer sun.
As an additional safeguard against heat gravel was spread over the area covering the cellars, and as in Munich the selling of beer for consumption elsewhere continued.
It was some years later before the first large basic wooden tables and benches appeared, customers decided to stay rather than arrive, buy and leave with their Masskruege, two pint containers, and before too long a visit to a rustic Beer Garden by the Isar had become a fashionable, and popular, outing.
Meanwhile, because a beer garden was open and enjoyed by anyone who was interested, it also crossed the rigid social boundaries of the day.
Maximilian's son, King Ludwig I, whose wedding in 1810 had been the reason for the first Munich Oktoberfest, had to deal with the complaints of inn keepers, who had enjoyed a beer selling monopoly, and those brewers who had not left Munich, because the 'out of town' Kellerbiergaerten, cellar beer gardens, began to affect their businesses.
He created a law allowing drinks to be sold in the countryside beer gardens but banning the serving of any food. This meant any one who wanted something to eat with their cold beer had to bring a Brotzeit, a snack, with them, which was an idea that the Biergaerten owners naturally supported, especially it is usually meant that their customers would also drink more.
To this day the beer garden culture and custom remain. It has spread across the country and is ever more popular, although the only remaining beer cellars from the era are Paulaner-Beer-Garden and the Hofbraeukeller in Munich. The type of beer and size of the beer glass varies according to the region, with a beer glass in northern Germany containing 0.5 liter, about a pint, while in Bavaria the usual size is a "Mass" which holds a liter or two pints.
But then in Bavaria beer is classed as a "food".
King Ludwig’s law is no longer in force so there is always a choice of simple, regional, traditional German food available at any beer garden, not only to satisfy the home grown visitors used to their own cuisine, but also the many tourists and travelers who have a 'visit to a Beer Garden' on their bucket list.
No longer just the "Cold Snack" from the King's days, beer garden food can range from Steckerlfisch, grilled fish on a stick, Gebratene Rippchen, Pork ribs, Swinehaxe, pork knuckle, Weiss Wurst, Bavarian veal sausage with sweet mustard, to Reiberdatschi, potato pancakes, Obatzda, a mixed cheese combination, extra large Brezeln, Pretzels, and slices of white radish.
Although many beer garden patrons follow the tradition as it was originally intended: order beer or another beverage and bring a small snack from home, one they have purchased, or choose something from the beer garden menu, increasingly advantage is being taken of the situation.
Weekend visitors will arrive carrying cool boxes filled with prepared meals, and overflowing bread baskets and cheese plates, or order a take-away Pizza from the local Italian to be delivered to the beer garden, set out table clothes and silverware and take over several tables. One for their buffet, and one for themselves.
Some even bring their own drinks, with the excuse for example that they like Rhubarb and Strawberry Cocktail and this is not offered on the beer garden menu.
As a result they are there only to make use of the Biergarten tables, this is known as the annual Kampf um die Brotzeit, "fight over the snacks", and publicans are beginning to throw out those people who they see as breaking the rules of the tradition. Including bringing too much food.
Of course only drinking what has been bought somewhere else is certainly not part of the tradition, however what constitutes "too much food" is a debatable point, the truth of which is only known by the chestnut trees which have shaded visitors enjoying the "Gemuetlichkeit" of beer gardens for generations.
Illustrations: Can only be titled "Enjoying a Beer in a Bavarian Beer Garden" - courtesy Dein Bayern - Beers from different regions, Beer Garden alongside Starnberg Lake photographer Aloisius, via de.Wikipedia
Be transported to a Bavarian Beer Garden with these German Drinking and Beer Garden Songs: Includes the famous, 'In Munich Steht ein Hofbrauhaus', the title of which loses something after being carefully translated to 'In Munich Stands A Royal Drinking House'. Just Wunderbar.
Just like those in a Beer Garden or Munich Oktoberfest:
A genuine 1 Liter HB "Hofbrauhaus Munchen" Dimpled Glass Beer Stein
And the "Masskrug" or Mass krug with its traditional Hacker-Pschorr logo - the other remaining original brewery
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