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Bamberg, A Beer Miracle
When making the grand tour of Germany, the Cologne Cathedral, Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, a boat trip on the Rhine past The Lorelei, Heidelberg’s Castle, Modern Berlin and a beer in Munich’s Hofbraühaus, the city of Bamberg is generally also on the itinerary. As well it should be. As a recent recipient of UNISCO’s “World Cultural Heritage” award, a visit to this land would not be complete without a stop in that beautiful city.
Any tourist would find something interesting to do and see in Bamberg. The architecture is fascinating. The city center’s twisted streets built on two waterways are filled with buildings dating back to the 17th century. There are various museums and art works, including the well known Bamberger Rider, to be seen. The local people are open and friendly and the cost of living is very reasonable compared to the rest of Germany.
For the beer friend this area, with Bamberg as a middle point is unbelievable. No where else in the world does one find such a concentration of breweries as here. Bamberg itself with a population of some 70 thousand, has nine breweries. All producing beer that’s so good it’s heavenly.
I’ve been to Bamberg half a dozen times, I know the place
well. I’ve toured all the breweries and tasted all the beers. Yet each
filled with a child like excitement, as if it was Christmas morning
and my presents were under the tree. Parking the car and transferring
to hotel rooms seems to take forever. Finally you sit down for that
first one. You’re a bit nervous. It can’t be as good as you remember,
to be disappointed. You take that half liter of beautiful liquid, hold
it under your nose and smell the freshness of a brew served within
50 meters of where it was born. “Prost”, and you drink. You look up
and glance into
the eyes of your companions and you see exactly what you feel, contentment.
We all have our favorites, mine is the Brauerei Fässla on Obere Königstrasse. They brew a Gold Pils, a Lager, a dark beer named Zwergla and a Weizen beer. All excellent, and after retrying them all, I settle into the Lager, which suits me best.
Fässla in the hands of the Kalb family, has been around since 1649. You enter through a half enclosed courtyard, with tables running it’s length. This area acts as a sort of Bamberg “public bar” the men’s clothing attesting to a hard days work done. Into the pub proper, you find a long narrow room, and as in Bavarian style you sit at shared tables with no real bar to stand at.
Just out the back door, in contrast to the rusticality of the building is the state of the art brewery, with a 35 hectoliter capacity. Just above are the guest rooms. The business is very much a family affair, you start the day having breakfast with the kids playing underfoot, and you finish it by being served a last round by their grandfather, Sebastian “Bast’l” Kalb.
The atmosphere of the bar is a curious mix of local folk and beer lovers from around the globe. I don’t think I’ve ever been there without bumping into a few CAMRA members quaffing the suds, and if you want to talk beer, not only have you got father and son Kalb on hand but any table might have a brewmaster or two among them.
If you’re lucky you might even meet Robert Pawelczak. He teachers brewing science and has his own experimental brewery, and after a day at the office he can often be found in Fässla discussing his favorite subject, beer. Robert’s brewery, “Robesbierre” is a somewhat rebuilt old defunct Bamberg brewery filled with strange gadgets that would look at home in Dr Frankenstein’s lab, yet he manages to produce some tasty beers in that cold damp cellar. Unfortunately Robesbierre Brewery is not open to the public, however, if you meet Robert and get him talking, and buy him a few beers, maybe.....
If you’ve got the time, and really if you’re here for beer, you should find the time, all eight of the other local breweries are very much worth a visit, each with it’s own distinctions. Probably the most famous is Schlenkerla on Dominikaner Strasse, home of the classic Bamberger Rauchbier, a beechwood smoke flavored beer. It sounds strange to the uninitiated, but once you’ve got a taste for it, there’s nothing like it. Another smoky beer is brewed by the Spezial Brewery, right across from Fässla.
A must while in town, is a pilgrimage up to Michaelsberg to the Fränkisches Brauereimuseum. Michaelsberg has a beer history going back to 1122 when Benedictine monks took up residence here and it’s a wonderful place for such a museum. The view from here affords one a good panoramic look over the city. Inside is a fine collection of old brewing paraphernalia. One of the best I’ve ever seen, with new objects being added every year.
Among my favorite items are a simple mini copper brewery, two meters high by three long. This is a complete 10 liter brewery, used by students on their final exams. It’s so simple it’s beautiful. For those people who find brewing a mysterious process, akin to alchemy perhaps, you must see this.
Another thing that catches my eye is a blue colored enamel sign. It is from the 50’s-60’s, and advertised beer as a generic product, mentioning no single brewery by name. It pictures a tall golden beer crowned by a frothy white head, with the inviting words” Kühles Bier”. (cool beer) I could never have gotten past this sign on a warm day. If you’re as serious a student of all things beer, as I am, prepare to spend a couple hours looking over the exhibits. Much of the memorabilia is from long gone brewing names that sadly, we’ll never have a chance to try. Who knows what treasures we’ve lost forever.
The Fränkisches Brauereimuseum group hosted the XXIV meeting of the European Beer Consumers Union last November and are very much interested in the idea of a CAMRA type organization for Germany. With many professional brewers and beer writers within it’s membership, such as Director Johannes Schulters, the FBM could be the start of that much needed German group. With luck, you might see Johannes there, as the locals tend to meet often in the museum’s communal room for a peaceful drink and a chat. The FBM Association is open to anyone to join, if supporting beer culture is important to you.
Finally, no matter how much time you’ve got, it always comes to an end. Only those 70 thousand blessed inhabitants of Bamberg remain. Luggage back to the car, and trying to find space for that case of Fässla beer that Sebastian Kalb always makes a parting gesture of presenting us with, and with a wave you drive off, wondering if the last few days were real or not. Beer couldn’t be that good, could it?
Wait until next time.....
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