The last two posts have been downers. It’s true. It took me over a week to write the article about the Holocaust, so that meant hours each day thinking about some pretty tragic stuff. And then our last post, in which I wrote about the assassination of a President, well, that wasn’t very jolly, either. So suffice it to say…
I need a drink.
Or at least a blog post about one.
So in this post, we talk about the wonders of German beer and how much we enjoyed drinking it when we were in Berlin and Hamburg. So without further ado…
First off, beer in Germany is dirt cheap. How cheap? A pack of Doublemint costs more than a pint of Warsteiner:
We were shocked when we walked into the supermarket for the first time and saw the beer aisle lined on both sides with almost nothing but German beer (Ja!) and then did somersaults when we realized just how cheap it was (Ja! Ja! Ja!).
The only expensive beer in the store was Desperados, imported from the United States. (And I’m sorry, but “tequila beer”? In Germany? AS IF.)
And guess what we discovered next. In Germany, you can drink beer in public.
We first realized this when we spotted a guy on the subway drinking a bottle of beer and looking mighty pleased with himself. Meanwhile, I was looking around for the cops, expecting him to be arrested at any time. But in Germany it’s legal to drink in public. No jail time for open containers in Berlin, baby.
After this wonderful discovery, we bought an afternoon snack of beer and locally-sourced Emmental cheese and carried it to the Tiergarten. We drank our beer IN A PUBLIC PARK. In most parts of the United States, if you drink in a public area, you’re a vagrant; in Germany, you’re just one of the crowd!
And there’s entire acreage dedicated to beer in the form of huge biergartens, including Prater Garten, Berlin’s oldest.
And at these biergarten places, they serve delicious foods that go perfectly with beer, such as warm pretzels and this sandwich, made with Fleischkäse, Bavarian meatloaf, which Dale described as tasting like “really, really good Spam.” (And he loves his Spam).
Germans also drink beer at all hours of the day. We went to the Hamburg Fischmarkt, which runs every Sunday morning from 5:00-9:30 a.m. (7:00-9:30 from November to March). What used to be a fish auction is now a huge market place where everything from fruits and veggies to flowers and, of course fish, are sold. But what distinguishes it from your average farmers market is the bierhalle, pictured below, which, when we were there at 8:00 a.m., was rockin’–with a live rock band, food and beer stalls, and hundreds of Germans drinking beer, eating fish sandwiches, and dancing. Granted, I’m pretty sure most of these people were finishing up their night of revelries and not fresh out of bed, but it’s quite a festive way to start (or end) your day.
Germans and beer
At an average of 110 liters per person, Germany consumes more beer per capita than any country other than the Czech Republic. (The United States didn’t make the top 10.)
Germany did not invent beer–there’s evidence demonstrating that humans have been making beer for at least 7000 years. It’s one of the oldest beverages around. And it may just be the reason why we humans are such an advanced species. According to Wikipedia’s “History of Beer,” some historians argue that the invention of bread and beer have directly contributed to humanity’s ability to “develop technology and build civilization.” This statement is supported by three respectable bibliographical sources, including one called, “Beer, the Midwife of Civilization.” Very nice.
Even though the Germans didn’t invent beer, they raised the brewing standards to a whole new level. For centuries, German beer was brewed according to a strict code called the Reinheitsgrebot (literally, “purity law”), also called the “German Beer Purity Law of 1516,” referring to the year that the law was instated. The Reinheitsgrebot limited the ingredients used for making German beer to water, hops, and malt, and, after its discovery, yeast. If brewers were caught violating these terms, their beer would be confiscated, so if anyone had the loopy notion of adding fruit extract, corn syrup, or formaldehyde to their brew, they would be punished, and rightfully so!
Reinheitsgrebot was repealed in 1987 and replaced with more flexible guidelines, but many German breweries still use the purity guidelines to distinguish themselves and their products as ones that meet traditional German beer standards.
Is the German beer industry in trouble?
While doing research for this post, I came across several articles claiming that, for various reasons, the German beer industry is in trouble. First, Germans have supposedly grown more health conscious and are therefore drinking less alcohol. Also, Germany’s birth rate has declined and so there are fewer young people around to drink beer, and on top of that, those who do drink are opting for mixed drinks and other alcoholic beverages instead. (Silly, ungrateful children.)
Also, in 2013 the industry was rocked by scandal. Four of the biggest companies in the German beer industry, Bitburger, Krombacher, Veltins, and Warsteiner, were caught in a price-fixing scheme where they kept the price of beer artificially high, and in 2014 they were fined €106.5 million.
Finally, critics of German breweries argue that the Reinheitsgrebot stifles creativity and experimentation by limiting brewers to those four simple ingredients. Many of today’s most popular beers have a wide variety of flavors, and craft breweries also have the ability to easily experiment with different ingredients.
There may be hope yet. German breweries are trying to rebound by increasing the amount of beer that they export, and craft breweries are also becoming more popular. The German brewers’ union also recently applied to have the Reinheitsgebot designated a Unesco world treasure because Germany has long had such high brewing standards that should be a source of national pride.
Truthfully, none of this matters much to Dale or I. We love German beer, period, so much so that we continue to buy it even now that we’re back in the United States, where it’s not quite so cheap.
Ultimately, whether in Germany or here in the United States, the solution is this: we should all drink more German beer!
For an introduction to German beer, Lonely Planet has a basic overview, including a handy glossary of terms.
The German Beer Institute offers a comprehensive guide to German beer. For example, German brewers have created five dozen different types of brew styles over the centuries, and they offer a description of each one!
And while it seems like much ado over nothing to us (because every German beer we’ve consumed was so damned good), if you’re interested in learning more about the problems facing Germany’s beer industry, The New Yorker published a 2014 article called “German Beer’s Existential Crisis” that summarizes some of the issues.