If you know one thing about Munich, it's probably that the city is host to Oktoberfest, the 16-day beer festival in the fall. Since Bavarians drink beer like Americans drink sodas, truly nothing says Munich like a beer hall.
Strangely, visiting the Hofbräuhaus was one of my favorite parts of our entire trip, even though I don't like beer. (I did enjoy my glass of wine, though.) The location at Marienplatz is the original, dating back to 1589 when it was founded as a brewery for the Bavarian royals. Even today, it's owned by the Bavarian government. Hmm ... I'm thinking I have an idea for how to get the American government out of debt!
It's hard to describe how large this place is, since the photo above shows just a small portion of it. There are probably around 100 long tables flanked by benches. If it weren't pouring rain outside, there would have been people seated outside, too. There are no hosts/hostesses here to seat you at a table. You just find an open spot and plop down next to whoever is already sitting at the communal table. We sat down with four Germans around ages 45 - 65. They were super-nice, and one of them even helped Jason choose a beer. After they left, a young American couple who was backpacking through Europe found us. It was a nice change of pace to speak in English for a little while.
Not long later, a 72-year-old German man named Charles joined us. Like most Germans in Bavaria, he said he only spoke "a little bit" of English. And, like the others who said that, his English was very good. Charles lives about 25 minutes away from the Hofbräuhaus by train, but comes down about once a week to have some beers and socialize. It's definitely a social atmosphere!
The oompah band was on break most of the time we were there, but the whole place roared constantly. Occasionally a group would break out into song, and everyone else would join along. There was also buzz about FC Bayern München's (that's soccer for us out-of-the-know Americans) recent league championship win over their German rival, so many locals were wearing team colors and jerseys and were in a particularly good mood.
There were two things that surprised me at the Hofbräuhaus. First was how many people were wearing the traditional Lederhosen (men) and Dirndl (women). Second was how many stag/hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties started or ended there. Each stag or hen party had matching outfits, whether it was just screenprinted shirts or full costumes. Maybe it helps them find each other after a long night of beer drinking!
For those who wanted sustenance of the solid variety, the Hofbräuhaus also had a full menu. We passed on that, but Zachary did partake in a giant pretzel. There were pretzel girls (wearing traditional Dirndl, of course) walking around with baskets hanging from their necks. They were all good looking. I assume it' a job requirement.
Since Bavaria is known for beer and traditional German food, both of my guys were pleased when I suggested we try out another beer house the next day, this time for dinner. This time it was the Augustiner-Keller, near the main train station. If it wasn't cold and wet, we would have sat in their lovely outdoor beirgarten, under the chestnut trees.
Augustiner-Keller was much more subdued and less crowded than the Hofbräuhaus, I must say. They do have a stage and a giant TV screen at the end of the big hall where they show soccer games, etc. I'm sure it was a much livelier atmosphere the prior night (Saturday). A group of traveling senior-aged singers did break out into song once. Not quite the same ....
I talked Jason into trying the pork knuckle, which is nothing we would want to find on a menu at home, but is apparently popular in Bavaria. I had read raves about it online, and figured Jason would love it. The group of young Americans at the table next to us highly recommended it too. Surprisingly, Jason thought it was just okay. The Augustiner beer was a hit, though. Zachary enjoyed his Wiener schnitzel ... again. By the fifth day in Germany, I was ready for something a little lighter, so I had some cheese spread and bread. Meh. I would have paid $15 for just a small bowl of yogurt and fruit at that point!
Because two beer houses in Bavaria still isn't enough, Jason also did a brewery tour at the Paulaner Bräuhaus. The rest of the group in his guided tour were high schoolers, ironically.
The tour was in German but the guide was kind enough to translate the most interesting parts for him. At the end of the tour they were given not just a beer tasting, but a full lunch. The main dish was Leberkäse, which literally translates to "liver cheese" but it's a type of German meatloaf that tastes like bologna. On the side were German potatoes and pretzels, of course.
While I'm not a beer lover myself, I certainly appreciate the traditions of the Bavarians and their beer. It's an extremely important part of their culture, and a must-try while in the area.
There are other things in Munich besides beer, believe it or not. I'll share a few with you in my next update. Until then, check out my new Travel page for details about some of our other favorite vacation destinations.