When tourists think of Munich, they picture lads in lederhosen, lasses in dirndls, beer and the typical Bavarian veal sausages, the “weisswurst”, but do they also associate it with beer gardens? There are lots and lots of beer gardens in Munich, and the natives like nothing better than to spend their after-work hours there in the summer months. Beer gardens are much more than drinking beer and having a bite to eat; they are part of Bavaria’s philosophy and tradition. And traditions must be upheld at all costs..
Little wonder, therefore, that there are strong ties between tradition and the authority of the Bavarian state. It will come as no surprise to learn that beer gardens are governed by state law in the form of the Bavarian Beer Garden Decree. This lays down regulations governing the main features of beer garden tradition. However, this does not mean that everything that might look like a beer garden really is one. But allow me first to give you a brief introduction to the Bavarian tradition of “beer gardening”, as the people of Munich fondly refer to their favourite hobby.
How did this custom originate?
Beer gardens, as we now know them, are a relatively recent phenomenon. Actually, no such concept was even considered. However, there seems always to have been beer, a brew which unfortunately tended to turn sour quickly on hot days. This prompted the breweries to devise a way of making their beer keep longer. As in other parts of Germany, beer cellars were dug: the beer was stored in large quantities below ground, with more or less constantly low temperatures, so that the beer stayed fresh longer, meaning it could also be sold for a longer period. It was, however, not long before they noticed that these beer cellars posed two problems. On hot days temperatures did indeed rise somewhat, even in the cellars, especially when the sun burned down on them. Besides this, after heavy downpours or long periods of rain, the cellars soon became damp. The solution was to plant trees on top of the cellars, serving the dual purpose of creating cool shade whilst providing shelter from the rain and absorbing it too. Here again new lessons had to be learned, because not every type of tree was suitable. Many varieties had deep roots which penetrated the cellars, making the structures unstable. After some trial and error the “right” tree was found: the horse chestnut. It has a good rate of water intake, its large leaves provide plenty of shade, and it has shallow roots. As a result, the horse chestnut became the only tree to be planted on top of all the beer
cellars. That is how our beer garden tradition started. This tree is now so strongly associated with Bavarian beer gardens that nearly all of them have horse chestnut trees, even those not situated on top of beer cellars :-).
more will follow in part 2… (soon)