Breathe in and smell the sausages! Summer in Munich is synonymous with das Isargrillen — a riverside barbecue that is as much a custom as an art form. Read on to learn how to partake the #minga way…
A local phenomenon
In summer, especially on the weekend while you’re riding your bicycle over one of Munich’s numerous bridges, you will likely observe masses flocking to the banks of the river Isar, which flows through the city. They set up their barbecues, picnic blankets and, sometimes, chairs and tables to enjoy a day of eating grilled meat, drinking cold beer, splashing in the even-cooler water of the river or just relaxing in the sun. This is such a popular Munich pastime that there is even a word for it: “das Isargrillen” meaning BBQing on the Isar.
The Isar Plan
Anywhere else, a suggestion of spending time on the banks of the city’s river would probably raise eyebrows. City rivers tend to be dirty with concrete banks. Usually, the best you can hope for is a riverside café! The Isar was like that, too, up until the year 2000. That year, the so-called, “Isar Plan” — which removed the concrete banks in favor of terrace-like gravel banks, trees and meadows to turn the river back to its natural state — came into action. The result is a unique and fabulous recreation area in the middle of the city.
You can go for a walk, ride your bike or have a picnic while feeling like you’re in the countryside when in reality you’re only a stone’s throw from Marienplatz.
The Isar barbecue is the indisputable queen of all Isar activities. Popular with all age groups, cultures and among members of other typically-divisive categories, it brings unity by gathering everyone around a barbecue. Here is a quick how-to:
You can always take your car but given the season, the parking situation and accessibility of the river bank, you’re better off getting there by bike. Now you’re thinking: “How do I carry a barbecue, all the food, a case of beer and some chairs on my bike?“. Good question! The key is to invite friends. Barbecuing is a group activity and the more people there are, the more they can carry.
As for the barbecue itself, the easiest way is to buy an Einweggrill (disposable barbecue). Most supermarkets have them during the summer season. They are quite small and light. If you’ve been in Germany for too long and the idea of “disposable” is incompatible with your environmental consciousness, you could buy a small version of a barbecue on the internet – they come in minuscule sizes. And, of course, don’t forget the charcoal and the lighter fluid.
Next, bring some meat, fruit, and vegetables (zucchini, aubergines and bell peppers do well), some bread, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, a rubbish bag, a sharp knife, a fork, (disposable) plates and paper towels. Try to avoid bringing too much. You can buy beer in some places — most famously the conveniently located, “Kiosk an der Reichenbachbrücke” (a kiosk is a little booth where you can buy newspapers, sweets, cigarettes, alcohol and sometimes even more, bridging the gap of the unrealistic German opening hours, since it is usually open most of the time) but also in some restaurants along the river.
If you don’t mind cold water, bring your swimming gear. The river is clean enough to enjoy a nice swim but be aware of the strong current. Since you might not always find a shady spot (especially for children) bring a pop-up tent. Last, put some air in your bike’s tire so it can cope with the overload.
When you’re there:
Once you’re settled in, set up your barbecue on the gravel, soak the charcoal in lighter fluid and light it on fire. The trick is to let the fire go out but keep the charcoal glowing. But be aware, this may take a few attempts. Try fanning the coal with a piece of cardboard if unsuccessful. Next, make use of the freezing river water to cool your beverages. Make sure to secure them with some stones or they might float away with the current! Now there is not much more to do than to eat, drink and be merry.
Where to go:
It might be difficult to find a spot since like I said, Isargrillen is very popular. Also, there are some spots where barbecuing is not allowed: the entire inner city is smoke-free, so the fun starts to the north and the south. The most popular region in the south is the “Flaucher”. It stretches from just north of the Brudermühlbrücke to the Zoo. It has wide banks and shallow patches of water which make it a perfect barbecue spot. Alas, many people think so too, which makes it really hard on a hot weekend to put your towel down without stepping on your neighbor’s toes.
In general, the further south you go, the better your chances are. The north, behind the Oberföhringer Wehr (dam), also has nice spots to settle in. The city of Munich takes its barbecuing very seriously — so much so that it has created an app and a barbecue hotline (see here along with more information). Again, the further north you go, the quieter it gets. Look out for signs letting you know if barbecuing is allowed.
There actually is a barbecue police – probably the most sought-after job in the whole of the Munich police force. Patrolling in the sunshine, spying on the revelers and, yes, making sure people follow the barbecue rules, which are:
– Be considerate to other visitors: keep noise levels down, in particular, no loud music.
– Please remember there are residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
– Barbecuing is only permitted on suitable equipment in the approved areas (gravel banks).
– Charcoal fires on the ground and campfires are prohibited.
– Maintain an adequate distance of at least 10 meters to trees and shrubbery and other flammable objects.
– Prevent sparks from flying (except for sparks of love…) by extinguishing all embers after barbecuing and allowing the ash to cool completely.
– Please use the provided garbage containers and ash receptacles.
– Persons who fail to comply with these rules or with instructions issued by the authorities may be fined.
You may find that the one about the loud music isn’t always followed! An absolute must is to clean up after yourself and not to leave any glass debris (from beer bottles).
P.S. If you’re going on this adventure with your German pals, you might encounter a so-called false friend: some Germans might refer to having a barbecue as “to grill” or “grilling” which is the German word for it. They probably know the word “barbecue” but it might not be in their active vocabulary. Have fun!
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 Declan Rex on Unsplash
Isar image 01 by Rufus46 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Isar image 02 y Florian Schütz [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons