Munich’s Beer Gardens

By Jonathan Spira on 12 July 2010
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The Biergarten (literally, beer garden) dates back to Munich in the first half of the nineteenth century and the reign of Ludwig I of Bavaria. Thanks to a royal decree specifying brewing temperature (fermentation had to take place at temperatures between 4° and 8° Celsius), beer was brewed in colder months and breweries would dig beer cellars (Bierkeller) along the banks of the Isar River to keep the beer cool in warmer months.

To keep temperatures down, the banks were covered in gravel and the brewers planted chestnut trees, whose leaves provided shade. The chestnut trees were quickly followed by tables and benches and the breweries began to serve beer. To protect smaller breweries, which were afraid they would lose customers, Ludwig further decreed that visitors could bring their own food, a legally-protected practice that continues to this very day.

Typical Biergarten Schmankerl (delicacies) that one would bring along include radishes (Radi), bread (Brot), sausage (Wurst), cold cuts (Aufschnitt), and cheeses (Käse).

The traditional Biergarten is considered one of the most democratic institutions in the world. Politicians sit next to teachers who sit next to businessmen who sit next to janitors. No one is served (many are self service) and conversations between the guests take no heed of rank or status.

The largest traditional Biergarten in the world is the Royal Hirschgarten, situated in a park in the western part of Munich. The Hirschgarten, whose history goes back to 1720 as a hunting lodge, became a restaurant in 1790 and the Biergarten opened in 1890. Today it can seat up to 8,000 people under shady chestnut trees, serving Augustiner Lagerbeer as well as beer from Herzogliches Brauhaus Tegernsee and Schloßbrauerei Kaltenberg.

Although it’s no longer a wildlife preserve, the Hirschgarten is still a favorite for families and children, who can visit the 30 deer who still live in the Deer Garden (Hirsch is German for deer). In addition to almost unlimited green meadows, there is a large climbing wall and a water playground to entertain them while their parents attend to the serious business of drinking beer.

If you don’t bring your own food, there is plenty to choose from. The self-service counter offers a half chicken, spareribs, Leberkäs, Schweinswurst, Wurstsalat, and of course freshly-baked pretzels. The restaurant offers a variety of Wurst (sausage) including Münchner Weißwurst, Schweinswürstl, Wiener, hearty soups (Pfannkuchensuppe, Leberspätzlesuppe, and Kartoffelsuppe), and a variety of hearty main courses including deer, duck, and Tafelspitz (boiled beef).

Other popular Biergärten include the Biergarten am Chinesischen Turm (Chinese Tower) in the English Garden, the second-largest in Bavaria with 7,000 seats, and the Biergarten in the Viktualienmarkt in the center of Munich, with room for 1,000.

Immediately outside Munich, the Andechser Klosterbrauerei is a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike. The Andechser Klosterbrauerei is owned by the Benediktinerabtei Sankt Bonifaz in Munich and Andechs. The brewery produces over 100.000 hectoliters of beer each year.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

This is the second in a series of articles on Jonathan Spira’s Munich.  The first covered museums and music.

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