Have you ever wondered how the German beer garden tradition came about? The dark lager beer so popular in the 1800’s brewed best when it was cold, so the beer sellers in Munich dug their cellars along the banks of the icy Isar River. Gravel was strewn in the area and chestnut trees, used for their lush foliage, were planted to keep the beer cool. The German beer brewers hit upon the idea of selling their beer conveniently close to the cellars, so they set up wooden benches in the trees. Pub and guesthouse owners were not pleased by the competition and tensions grew until King Ludwig I came up with a solution. The beer gardens would be allowed to sell beer, but not food, a concession to the pubs. Out of this rule the tradition of people bringing their own food to the gardens was created.
Beer gardens extend far beyond the beer served. They are a community where people can enjoy the outdoors and relax with family and friends or make new friends. The long wooden benches which are a staple at beer gardens encourage strangers to strike up conversations. The beer gardens are even family friendly as many have playgrounds to keep kids entertained while parents chat.
In Munich the beer gardens typically serve only one brand of beer from the city’s main breweries. The standard serving size is one liter, so for those wanting to take it easy on the alcohol, Helles, a combination of beer and sweet lemonade, can be ordered. For those not old enough, or who choose not to drink, Spezi, a type of soda is popular and still allows anyone to enjoy the ‘gemütlichkeit’ atmosphere of the beer gardens. Since the decree is no longer in force, many beer gardens do serve food today, typically grilled chicken and potato salad, though many locals still enjoy bringing their own food, such as bread, obatzda (a cheese and onion spread), radishes, sliced meats and pretzels.
This year, 2012, marks the 200th anniversary of the beer garden edict being passed and the tourist boards of Germany are planning numerous events to celebrate. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy this German tradition courtesy of King Ludwig.