Friday, April 6, 2018

When and How German Beer Gardens Fall Short.

It's early April, a wonderful and frustrating time to be a beer garden enthusiast in Germany. Spring has sprung, the sun has too, and as the warmth grows so does our thirst. We need to get out there. Our kids need things to climb and room to run; our skins need Vitamin D; we need beer and laughs in the out of doors.

It's a great feeling -- to work all day or all week then go into the warm sun for cool beers with friends, while our kids run rampant in a place where such things are encouraged. The Biergärten are the best things for thirsty families. They kill a lot of birds with one cool, shady stone. Their existence is absolutely one of the highlights of living here.

But they are not perfect. Rather than get all rhapsodic it's far more interesting, as usual, to get cranky and talk about the bad stuff. There are drawbacks. Maybe they will help you to feel a little bit better about that place in the city you like to go that charges and arm and a leg for imported beer and is full of twentysomethings who give your kids the hairy eyeball for daring to be in the presence of fermented beverages.

1. We all wish they'd open sooner.

The first problem is, they don't officially open until the first weekend of May -- or thereabouts. So right now is when the flipping of calendar pages seems to slow down or even reverse, like the watched clock in the classroom that ticks backwards (Risky Business, was it?). A few places start earlier -- some open for nice weather, no matter what. The thing is, you've got to guess, or check in advance. Come May you can pretty much rely on them to be open, no planning needed. But then there is the additional problem of false springs... There is always another cold snap or rainy weekend just around the corner, especially in the north, and especially in spring.

2. Most of them are pretty shit for beer.

Granted, this is a matter of perspective. Many people would be happy as clams to drink fresh Warsteiner at long tables among the trees at a fair price (but it ain't always; see No. 3). Germany's most boring beers are still of a relatively high quality, ensuring that you can drink something reasonably decent if you are not very fussy. I can be fussy though. All things considered I'd prefer to be out there drinking beer of character, especially if I'm going to make an afternoon of it. Oh I can drink Berliner Kindl Pils, sure, but I'd prefer an Augustiner Hell. Got something Franconian? Even better. Got Schönramer? I may weep. But finding the places with this stuff takes another level of research (unless you're in Franconia). One local pitfall in Berlin is the Prater Garten, where the "house pils" is really just re-labeled Berliner Kindl. At least the price (€3.50 for 40cl) is fair, compared to some others in town...

3. They can be expensive.

This is another point where Franconia is an exception. Generally, beer gardens there are cheap and plentiful and likely to have local beer well worth drinking. The rest of Bavaria is pretty reliable but then the country varies widely, with the bigger cities offering more than their share of traps. One of the loveliest spots in Berlin, for example, is near the Zoo at the shady, lakeside biergarten of Café am Neuen See... where you can pay Tokyo-like prices for half-liters of Franziskaner. Makes no sense unless you're a tourist. Nice alternatives include the Zollpackhof, near the Hauptbahnhof, with its Augustiner Edelstoff vom Holzfass (from a spigoted barrel) and huge ancient chestnut tree; or Eschenbräu, a Wedding brewpub with nice urban-but-leafy garden and underrated beers.

4. The playgrounds can be junk, or non-existent.

This is not a priority for everyone. The "non-breeders" offended by children may want to look for the beer gardens that lack Spielplätze altogether. Many others offer only a pit of sand, or tiny, rickety pieces of rusted-out equipment that ought to require liability waivers. The real winners have huge, sturdy play structures though -- in Upper Franconia, be sure to check out Roppelt's Keller in Stiebarlimbach, or the Schmausenkeller in Reundorf. In Berlin, the rooftop garden at Golgatha in Kreuzberg has full views of the public park's equipment, while the long-running Fischerhütte on Schlachtensee has a big playground, swimmin' hole, smoked mackerel, and fresh Augustiner.

The best will have enough to do that you can enjoy your beers while your kids run off and forget their Apfelschorle... in which case you'd best cover the glass with a deckel, lest you attract No. 5... my nemesis.

5. The fucking wasps.

They don't tell you about this in the tourist guides. A culture that loves eating and drinking outdoors all spring, summer and fall also nourishes a certain kind of wildlife. These aggressive, pitiless creature feed on ice cream, soda pop, various leftovers, innocent children, and any parents willing to fight. Remember when you were a kid, and your parents said those wasps will leave you alone, if you just leave them alone? Yeah, that's bullshit. These "wasps" look like at first glance like black-and-yellow bees but are really what we call hornets or yellow-jackets in the States. And they are mean bastards. In my opinion, having defended my kids from them on multiple occasions -- not always successfully -- they are evil incarnate. And so, naturally, they are protected by various German laws. Back home we would find and wipe out their nests with a powerful spray bought for a few bucks from the hardware store. Here, it's not so easy. They feed and feed and are allowed to propagate.

The best defense, frankly, is (1) to avoid sweets and messes, (2) cover your drinks with deckels, and (3) drink enough beer to heighten pain tolerance, get brave, and possibly tolerate a sting or two.

After all, it would be a damn shame to let those pests -- or that overpriced, corporate beer; or that tetanus-trap of a playground -- ruin such a beautiful day.

(This is my contribution to The Session; for more info see here. Pictured above, twice, is the Wilde-Rose Keller in Bamberg. Pictured below is the Bootshaus on the Regnitz river, also in Bamberg.)

No comments:

Post a Comment