It’s the 200th anniversary of one of Bavaria’s best-loved institutions
In 2012, Bavaria’s beer gardens celebrated a big birthday: it was 200 years since King Maximilian I’s edict which granted permission to the city’s brewers to sell their own beer from their own cellars.
Back in those days there was no refrigeration, so brewers planted trees (usually horse chestnuts) above their cellars to protect them from the summer sun. For their customers, this combination of leafy shade and liquid bread proved too much of a temptation, and rather than lug the beer home, they settled under the trees to get on the outside of it. And as the custom grew, so they brought their own food, too, and the concept of the beer garden was born.
These days they say you can still bring your own food to Munich’s beer gardens, but frankly it is not particularly encouraged. Drinking is still the key, and by the litre (or Maß) – not by the half! Food is available, often from surrounding stalls, with mainstays like spare ribs, various sausages, smoked fish and Backhendl (chicken). Pretzels are everywhere, to soak it all up.
Service is by waitresses in dirndls and waiters in lederhosen, although in the larger establishments there’s an element of self-service, too. Conviviality is the key, so don’t go to a beer-garden for a quiet private chat; your neighbours will likely want to clink glasses (or steins). Here, as in the rest of Germany, if you don’t look them in the eye as you do so, apparently you will be damned to seven years of bad sex!
Four of the best Munich beer gardens
Viktualienmarkt is the most central, right in the middle of the food market area, just south of Marienplatz. Surrounded by speciality produce stalls, this beergarden is frequented by tourists, locals and workers going about their daily lives. Its owners style it as ‘Munich’s green living room’, and it is certainly a more relaxed (and cheaper) alternative to the Höfbrauhaus, which is just to the north, where a lot of tourists end up. A place to observe and be observed.
Hirschgarten When it’s full, Munich’s largest beergarden (over 8,000 seats) gives a flavour of what Oktoberfest must be like. As the name suggests, it is set in a deer park (deer are in enclosures) so you can always end up sleeping off what you’ve just drunk under a tree somewhere. Getting here (Hirschgarten station is three stops west of the Hauptbahnhof) is a cultural experience, too, as the park is surrounded by Schrebergärten where slightly overweight men wearing not enough clothes watch their vegetables grow.
Seehaus Much loved by the schicki-micki (ie trendy) crowd, this is a place for people who know exactly how much roughage they like in their muesli. It sits on its own lake on the edge of the Englischen Garten, where it borders the groovy Münchener Freiheit district of town, much loved by architects and musicians. It’s a brilliant place to be on a summer’s evening, but rubbish when wet. Expect to pay more (pretzels €1.50, as opposed to 90c in the Hirschgarten) for the privilege of being here.
Waldwirtschaft Großhesselohe A great location on the banks of the river Isar in the south of the city makes the WaWi – the most bucolic of all the Munich beer gardens – a popular destination for walkers and cyclists. There are also regular live jazz sessions.
Bavarian Tourism has its own page on the 200th anniversary.