Celebrating Beer in Bavaria

When states or counties put on exhibitions or fairs showcasing themselves, they usually focus on important historical events, natural sights, or maybe important figures. But Bavaria’s current state exhibition is about beer – of course. After all, beer was named Bavaria’s fifth element already in 1752 by Bavarian Chancellor Kreittmayr. Since beer brewing is historically closely connected with monasteries in Central Europe, it also makes sense that this exhibition is hosted in the Abbey in Aldersbach in southeast Bavaria.

The exhibition offers much – plenty of historical background on the production and cultural impact of beer, beer facts, interactive displays, curiosities connected to beer, a large beer tent with special exhibition beers and live bands, a tour through a modern brewery, and the art of the historical abbey buildings. We spent a whole afternoon at the exhibit and would have stayed longer had it not closed at six (the beer tent often stays open longer, but was closed early on the day we visited to prepare for a special event).


Typical Interior of a Bavarian Pub (Photo from Pixbay – artist Stux)

Like many others, I have always connected Bavaria with beer, but many historical details highlighted by the exhibit were new to me while others were “oldies but goodies.” Of course, displays mention the Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) from 1516 that limits ingredients used in beer brewing to water, barley, and hops, but I did not know that until the 16th century wine was more popular in Bavaria than beer. Beer started to become a more popular choice because less wine was produced following cold summers and the destruction of vineyards during wars. In 1784, Bavaria wall already called the “beer country” in travel notes.

Wall of Beer Steins

Wall of Beer Steins


Currently, about a half of all German breweries are located in Bavaria, where in 1900 the average annual consumption of beer per person was 250 liters or 66 US gallons. This number has decreased to about 145 liters (38 gallons) per person per year in Bavaria, which is still higher than anywhere else in Germany. In comparison, the average number for 2012 in the US was 27.6 gallon according to USA Today. Bavaria used to be the land of the breweries with 4,777 different breweries in 1905. This number sank to 1,566 breweries in 1960 and 616 breweries in 2014.


Number of Breweries in Bavaria over the Years


The exhibition includes a display of typical pub games as well as other artifacts connected with the Wirtshaus (pub), such as a beer mat from 1900. According to the displays, beer mats used to be made out of hair felt and are thus still called beer felts, “Bierfilzl;” paper beer mats were introduced in 1890.

Beer Mat

Beer Mat/Coaster Made out of Hair Felt from 1900


Memorable curiosities connected with beer are a display of motorized beer crates that are raced on race ways, a game of wearing “beer goggles” that create the visual impact of being over the driving limit, and a competition of carrying 27 beer-filled liter steins, which add up to 63 kilos (nearly 139 pounds) and were once carried by one waiter at the Munich Oktoberfest. Even Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria, is depicted carrying only 12 beer steins on posters and beer mats throughout the exhibition, so I decided it was not worth my wait at the display to even try carrying that many beer steins.

Motorized Beer Crate

Motorized Beer Crate


Carry Beersteims

How many full beer steins can you carry?



Beer in the Fest Tent – The glass depicts Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria

The large beer tent with live music, Bavarian culinary specialties, and specially brewed exhibition beers as well as two additional on-site pubs encouraged us to make a day out of the exhibition and we enjoyed lunch but the tent was closed later on to prepare for a special evening event.


A nice break from all the information about and tastings of beer is a stroll through the monastery grounds (founded in 1136) and a visit to its pink Baroque church Maria Himmelfahrt with its bejeweled skeletons of saints, which are pretty common in the Alpine region and completely fascinated me (more about the bejeweled saints in this posting). I was in awe by the amount of precious stones, pearls, and gold covering the bones and amused by some of the body positions that are much more creative than just lying on the back and looking up the ceiling.


Room Inside the Monastery as Part of the Exhibit


Bejeweled Saint

Reclining Bejeweled Saint in the Church Maria Himmelfahrt


If you are in the south-eastern part of Bavaria and are somewhat interested in beer, I highly recommend this exhibition that is open daily from 9AM till 6PM until 30 October 2016. Check the exhibition’s website for entrance fees, special events, and directions: http://www.landesausstellung-bier.de/


PS: All data is from the displays in the exhibition or from the official website.

Food Stamps

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria's Beer Culture

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria’s Beer Culture

Stamps have long been involved in the history of nations and highlight the nation’s culture and its values. Many stamps show important historical figures, current rulers and other political figures, and famous landmarks. Stamps also celebrate holidays and highlight plants and animals. Current stamps on sale in the U.S. show Paul Newman, Elvis Presley, Maya Angelou, Wilt Chamberlain, the forget-me-not, and the battle of New Orleans.

U.S. Stamp in Honor of author Maya Angelou (found on usps.com)

While Austrian stamps celebrate famous sights and people as well, they also show how important food is in its culture (I wrote about food in my last posting). I was excited to see that the Austrian postal service is paying homage to beer and food. Of course the Wiener Schnitzel is famous enough and important enough to get its own stamp!


Austrian Stamps Celebrating Food – The Wiener Schnitzel Is the Stamp in the Upper Left Corner

Fabulous May

Maypole at the Main Square in Linz, Upper Austria

Maypole at the Main Square in Linz, Upper Austria

In many regions of Central Europe, May is the month with its own decoration – the maypole, also called the Maibaum. In Upper Austria, it consists of a large tree trunk (usually a birch or fir tree) without bark but still the green tree top; several wreaths with colorful ribbons decorate the top. The Maibaum is usually erected in the main square of the village/town and stays up for the whole month. Plenty of sites and sources list 1466 as the year in which the tradition is first mentioned in writing. In Upper Austria and many other places, the maypole may be stolen by residents from neighboring villages and thus must be guarded for the first three days of the month. If the Maibaum is stolen even with all these precautions, it can be “bought” back from the thieves – usually with the currency of beer.

The Maypole Is Set Up in Linz, Upper Austria (Image by Stadt Linz via Facebook: Linz Veraendert)

Traditions connected with the Maibaum include maypole dances/ribbon dances and climbing the maypole. Climbers usually prep their bare feet with tar to stick to the trunk more easily. No other help is allowed to reach the top of the 10-15 meter high and slick tree trunk; at the top awaits a pair bratwurst for the successful climber.

Maypole Climbing in Bad Hofgastein, Austria (photo from meinbezirk.at)

May also has its own beer – the so-called Maibock, a stronger beer with 6-7% alcohol but always a golden color and rather hoppy. With its many traditions, its own beer,  plenty of official federal holidays in Austria (four working days off in May 2015) and the weather finally warming up, May is truly a fabulous month in Austria.

What Is the Best Beer Country?

An Empty Glass of Hobo PIlsner from the Dust Bowl Brewing Company in Turlock, CA

An Empty Glass of Hobo Pilsner from the Dust Bowl Brewing Company in Turlock, CA: http://www.dustbowlbrewing.com

Fitting for St. Patrick’s Day, Yahoo Food posted an article about the 13 best beer countries in the world. Of course it is difficult to decide on objective criteria for such a  ranking, but the article focused on quality, innovation, and overall beer scene. A few countries surprised me – New Zealand in 12th place for example. If someone mentions beer, I would not think New Zealand; I am not even sure I have ever drunk a beer from New Zealand. Italy in 10th place was another surprise for me since I associate Italy more with red wine, but I am excited that I will work abroad in Italy for a semester next year and will have the opportunity to test whether Italian beer is worth the high ranking. The article also promises that Italy’s potential will come to fruition in the next few years, so it seems I will be there just at the right time.

Germany is in the surprising fourth place since I assumed Germany would be first or second – going head to head with Austria but that was clearly patriotic delusion mixed with a love for tradition. The article listed innovation but not tradition as a criterion and this in my opinion is the reason why Germany placed only fourth and Austria was not even mentioned (really – New Zealand over Austria?!?). The UK placed third and reasons mentioned are that the UK has the highest number of breweries in the country since WWII and the highest number of breweries per capita in the world.

Collection of Bottles after a Beer tasting Party

Collection of Bottles after a Beer tasting Party

The biggest surprise was the US in second place (but on the other hand, this is an American article, so the high ranking of the US is not that surprising after all). The article explains that new breweries are opening up at a rate of 1.5 breweries a day! But the article does not list a source for this number. In first place is Belgium, which is lauded for its combination of tradition meeting innovation.

Maybe based on what type of beer I started drinking when I was younger or maybe based on nostalgia, I still prefer Austrian, Bavarian or Czech beers, and choose a Pilsner or Lager over the popular US IPA beers so dominated by hops. And I am still a little suspicious about a ranking that has a none-European country in second place.

Here is the link to the article: Yahoo Article by Zach Mack

Green Beer for St. Patrick's Day - This is actually a Guinness Blond American Lager camouflaged in green.

Green Beer for St. Patrick’s Day – This is actually a Guinness Blond American Lager camouflaged in green.

Oans, Zwoa, Oktoberfest

Sacramento Alpentaenzer Dance Group and Band at an Octoberfest in Sacramento, CA

Sacramento Alpentaenzer Dance Group and Band at an Octoberfest in Sacramento, CA

Another weekend and then Octoberfests in Northern California are nearly over for this year. I am amazed that this Bavarian tradition/event has become so popular in the U.S. According to data from the German Magazine Spiegel, this is not that unusual since over 3,000 Oktoberfests are celebrated worldwide. I have to admit that I have never been to the Oktoberfest in Munich when I lived in Europe; I am now kind of regretting that oversight. In contrast to most American tourists to Germany, I have not even been to the Hofbraeuhaus even though I have been to Munich plenty of times. The irony is that I have attended many American versions of the Oktoberfest since I have moved here. Since I have joined a Bavarian folk dance group, I am now also performing at plenty of these events; the weeks of performances have become a fifth season with its own traditions, atmosphere, and energy.

Performance at the Sacramento Turnverein Octoberfest

Performance at the Sacramento Turnverein Octoberfest

Audience Participation at the Sacramento Turnverein Octoberfest

Audience Participation at the Sacramento Turnverein Octoberfest

Since joining the Bavarian folk dance group at the beginning of the year, I have learned about other German and Austrian folk dance groups in North America, which are organized into something called a Gau [which I see as odd choice but more about this some other time]. A whole new sub-culture has revealed itself. The irony for me is that I have learned more about traditional Austrian and Bavarian dress, hairstyles, dances, and songs than I have ever known when I actually lived in Austria. Now that I am living in the U.S., I dance landler and polkas and dress in a dirndl nearly every weekend day throughout September and October while I would not have been caught dead at these events as a teenager in Austria. I am not sure if this change had occurred because I am now older or because I have moved away from Austria or maybe it is a mixture of both.

Bavarian Phrases Deemed Important at an Octoberfest

Bavarian Phrases Deemed Important at an Octoberfest

Gingerbread Hearts Imported from Germany at an Octoberfest in California

Gingerbread Hearts Imported from Germany at an Octoberfest in California

No matter the reason, I am fully enjoying my first Oktoberfest season as dancer and the camaraderie of the other dancers. Many of the other dancers do have German or Austrian roots, but few were actually born and raised in Austria or Germany. Many of the dancers in the U.S. dream about attending the Oktoberfest in Munich and some do make the trip and walk in the official parade. Germans seem rather surprised and a little confused by the strong support for Bavarian culture by the Americans as seen by this news segment by Bavarian Public Television: http://www.br.de/mediathek/video/sendungen/abendschau-der-sueden/amerikaner-bayern-100.html


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Drinking Radler at Lake Traunsee

Another example of how common it is to drink beer not just at any time but also anywhere is a recent trip to Gmunden on Traunsee. The city was getting ready for a mountain marathon or some type of race along those lines, and athletes already arrived on that evening to pick up numbers, start packages, and more on the town square by the lakeside. Sponsors of the race had little stands with advertising material and also products. Not a competitor but a wandering tourist, I nevertheless received a free goodie bag with food and of course beer – ok, not beer per se but a Radler. Since there is no open-container law (that I am aware of), the late afternoon now included a beer at the lakeside of Traunsee while I was watching sailing students practice turns and tourists maneuvering small motorboats across the lake.

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Wheat Beer with Elderflower Soda from the Stiegl Brewery

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Beer with Almdudler – an Austrian Mountain-Herb Soda

Radlers – a mixture of beer with soda – come in a variety of options. The traditional Radler consists of beer with lemon soda [more or less sparkling lemonade]. Recently, I found more options such as beer with grapefruit soda, with elderflower soda, with mountain-herb soda, and with a pink energy drink. It seems pretty much anything can be mixed with beer.

Fruehschoppen, an Austrian Sunday Activity

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Beer Tent at 10 in the Morning on a Sunday

It is common to drink beer and Radler anywhere and at any time. This is the most obvious in the practice of Fruehschoppen typically on Sunday mornings. In the past reserved for men/farmers after Sunday mass, this early beer fest with plenty of beer, bratwurst, and of course a band starts usually around 10 in the morning [I have seen some advertised as starting at 8]and can last deep into the afternoon. Nowadays, whole families attend together, but the atmosphere usually becomes rowdy and loud rather quickly.

One Sunday, my cousin and I attended the Fruehschoppen of the local marching band competition. Just half an hour into the Fruehschoppen, groups/bands were standing on benches, singing along, and “prosting” with their beersteins. Somehow bratwurst with sauerkraut in the morning did not sound bad to me even at 10 a.m. but beer did, and so I chose white wine [Gruener Veltliner] mixed with sparkling water (“A G’spritzter”). Of course, Fruehschoppen means Dirndl and Lederhosen.

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Still Early in the Morning but People Are Already Dancing on Beer Benches

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Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, and a White Wine Spritzer for Breakfast










More people joined us at our table, regular repetitions of “Ein Prosit auf die Gemuetlichkeit” were sung, and more rain fell outside the beer tent; all in all, a pleasant morning that turned into mid-afternoon before we left.

PS: Gemuetlichkeit is a tough term to translate – it describes a mixture of coziness, laziness, comfort, feeling of being home, and sociability. That a place, event, or visit has become gemuetlich is a great reason why one does not want to leave.