When I moved to Munich I was quite excited about the beer garden culture. Sure, we have beer gardens up north, too, but they are not the real thing. I was intrigued by the idea of sitting outside in the sun, sipping a cool beverage and having a jolly good time.
A national obsession turned passtime
You might have noticed the German obsession with “sitting outside”– in spring, after a grim winter, when the sun peaks out from behind the clouds and the temperatures rise to a two-digit number, Germans will flock to the outdoor tables of any given café, restaurant or bar. Even if it requires enormous gas heaters and three layers of blankets thrown all over the outside seating to prevent them from freezing to death, they are determined to sit outside. So the concept of a beer garden hits straight at the national soul.
It turns out that beer gardens are one of the few things where my expectations were met: they are as wonderful as I had imagined them to be. Beer gardens are truly an integral part of Bavarian culture. Just like pubs are “public houses” beer gardens are public gardens – a place to come together and have a good time.
So, naturally, in summer they are THE place to be. They make your weekend planning easy: instead of coming up with an educative, sensible and unique activity, you can just say, “Oh, let’s head to a beer garden”. They are a wonderful haven to come to after spending long hours in the office on a sunny day… and the best excuse for daytime drinking. Plus, most beer gardens have a playground as well so you can bring your kids, let them run about and have your pint in peace. What’s not to love?
Now, I’ll give you a quick primer on how-to enjoy the Beergarten as a Bavarian would do. Let me know if you have anything to add in the comments!
How to reach them
There are beer gardens all over the city as well as in its outskirts. Believe me, they are everywhere. Usually associated with a regular restaurant, with indoor seating and all its luxury, so you always have the option of heading inside if –well, let me rephrase that —
when it rains. A peculiarity of German restaurants is that they are often tied to a certain brewery and serve only one kind of beer on tap. Because of this reason, the restaurants and their beer gardens sometimes sport the brewery in their name, e.g. Augustiner, Löwenbräu or Hofbräukeller.
The most popular beer gardens tend to be in the English Garden (such as the Chinese Tower, Aumeister, Hirschau and Seehaus) and along the Isar (such as Waldwirtschaft, Menterschwaige, Floßlände, Hinterbrühl, Muffatbiergarten). As such, they make perfect destinations for a nice bike ride. Which is just as well; you should avoid going by car — other than the obvious, you’d also struggle to find parking, especially near the popular ones. Bike, foot or public transport are your best options. The MVG even provides you with a beer garden map!
Once you’re there…
There is usually a serviced and a self-service area. You’ll recognize the self service area by the typical wooden benches and tables (or else you can stop and observe where the waiters run to and fro). Unless you have a broken leg, go for the self-service as this is the proper way of doing it. When it’s busy, it is common to ask someone or a group to share a table. Take note of the trees providing the shade; if it’s a classic they will be chestnut trees.
What to eat
Beer garden food tends to be quite repetitive. There are a lot of Bavarian classics such as pork knuckles and Leberkäse (a type of meatloaf) as well as sausages and fast food like fries, potato salad, chicken wings, ribs and so on. More traditional choices are the cold dishes, like Obatzda (camembert mixed with cream cheese and paprika), cold cuts and cheese, Swiss meat salad (don’t expect any lettuce) and Radi (radish) — a white, wavy vegetable which is wonderfully refreshing if you just want something to nibble. You can also expect huge pretzels, ice-cream and the occasional offer of more sophisticated fare such as Flammkuchen (a type of pizza with cream, onions and ham) or Crêpe (crepes with sweet or savory fillings).
An important-to-know peculiarity of beer gardens is that you can bring your own food. In fact, that’s how it’s supposed to work according to tradition! You’ll notice that in many beer gardens people — usually in large groups — spread a plastic table cloth over one of the tables and load it with food, creating basically a picnic without having to sit on the grass or haul your drinks along. Note: you can bring your food but you HAVE to buy the drinks there.
What to drink
Once, after it had been suggested that we go to a beer garden, my mother in law -not much of a drinker- timidly asked me, “Do they only serve beer?” Not too daft of a question, I have to admit, but in this case the name is misleading. Don’t expect any flower beds and trimmed boxwood but, yes, do expect all kinds of libations including soft drinks, Radler (beer with lemonade), Russn (wheat beer with lemonade) and wine.
Since I personally don’t like beer, I tend to go for the Weinschorle (wine mixed with water). But if you are a fan of beer, keep in mind that from a certain time in the afternoon, it will only be served as a Mass (that is, in one-litre glasses). Don’t ask me why but I’m guessing that is when “leisure time” turns into “drinking time”. Before that, you can have Halbe, which is roughly a pint. Noetheless, it is totally OK to share a Mass.
In most places you will pay a deposit for your glass and will be handed a token. If you return the glass and token to the Pfandrückgabestelle you’ll get your money back. If you don’t, well, you’ll have glasses for when your pals come visiting.
When to go home
Beer gardens, like other outdoor seating areas, have a curfew, especially to protect the neighbors’ sleeping cycles. Since beer gardens tend to accomodate large groups, the curfew is a little earlier than that of other outdoor spaces — between ten and ten thirty at night. If you have drunk a little too much, don’t worry if you wobble on the way home on your bike — if you don’t cause an accident or any other turmoil, you can legally have a blood alcohol of up to 1.6 (which is enough to be properly drunk) when riding. No cars though! Remember to always be safe.
P.S. Every two years there is a World or Euro cup tournament (football/soccer) and Germans love to watch it outdoors, if possible. Beer gardens are the prime spot to watch the matches as they are big enough for huge groups. A huge screen is put up so patrons can enjoy the game… unless there is a tree blocking the view. Don’t be irritated though if the Germans refer to this as “public viewing” as it is the German term for it, albeit not a very well-chosen one!
Karina worked as TV producer before being cursed with two kids. In her previous life, she was used to writing. She’s been in Munich for ten years now but still doesn’t understand the menu and probably never will. As a German herself, with close ties to the expat community, she provides LMBB with a different angle on life in Munich.
Photo credits: Feature image by Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons
Bavarian lunch by By User: (WT-shared) Jakednb at wts wikivoyage (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Beer Mass by Lesekreis (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons