It is not just for Oktoberfest that locals and tourists gather around long picnic tables to drink endless liters of beer. Biergartens (or simply "beer gardens" in English) open as soon as the chill is gone and continue until the last German gives in to fall. Biergarten season is a beautiful season in Germany.
History of Biergartens
There is something special about drinking outside. Fortifying yourself against the more unpleasant aspects of life - or just enjoying the company of good friends - in a Biergarten has been going on since the 18th century.
Early brewers did not have refrigeration or a reliable way to keep beer from spoiling in warm weather. Clever beer-lovers figured out that by digging a cellar into the cool earth and serving their frothy beverage as close as possible to the source, they could have their beer and sunshine too. Entrepreneurial souls put up some rudimentary tables, started charging by the mass, and the concept of the Biergarten was born.
Guide to German Biergartens
Once you've found a gathering of tables beneath the big blue sky, you must find your spot. There are no waiters to escort you to a private table. This is communal seating. If there is a open spot, ask the nearest group "Ist dieser Platz frei?" (Is this seat taken?) and take your place.
After sitting there is no need to keep socializing. Even though you may be literally rubbing shoulders with the Biergarten-goer next to you, Germans are expert at erecting an invisible wall and preserving their own space in a crowded setting.
The first beer gardens were purely drinking establishments with no food provided.
Many locations still allow you to bring in your meal. If you prefer to buy your sustenance, there are many hearty German bites to choose from and nothing usually costs more than 10 euros.
Regional specialties pop up in many areas of Germany, but biergarten fare is usually pretty standard. This is typical German food, and it is delicious.
- Brotzeit - Some form of "bread time" is the basic snack of the biergarten menu. In Munich this might be black bread, Obatzter (soft white cheese mixed with onions and chives), sausage, pickle and radish.
- Brezeln (soft pretzel) - The quintessential German snack has a place on almost every Speisekarte (menu).
- Wurst – Another classic, sausage is a favorite of the beer-swilling crowd. In Bavaria, this is usually a Weisswurst (but only before noon). Thuringian Bratwurst is another usual suspect. Around Berlin you can usually find currywurst on the menu.
- German salads - Offered as sides to some of the meatier options, Kartoffelsalat and Sauerkraut can be found at many a beer garden. However, vegetarians beware that salat does not necessarily mean meat-free. Bacon (speck) can find its way into any German dish.
- Spätzle - An excellent vegetarian option for a belly that needs more than beer, this egg noodle dish is best served with fried onions lots of cheese.
- Hendl - Half a chicken with a savory rub and garlic sauce is a meal fit for any biergarten barbarian..
- Flammkuchen - This Alsatian thin-crust pizza usually comes with crème fraîche, onions and - of course - bacon.
- Schweinshaxe – For those with a serious appetite, a huge pork knuckle is the meal of choice. Impress your friends by tearing into this mountain of pork.
Beer at the Biergarten
The most important words at a Biergarten,
Ein Mass Bier bitte!
As many biergartens are attached to a brewery, note that only that brewery's beer may be served. In general, most breweries serve a:
- Helles (light)
- Weizen (wheat)
- Dunkel (dark)
If you would like to enjoy a day at the biergarten without having to spend the next day in bed, you can opt for lighter alcohol content with drinks like a radler - a beer and lemonade mix.
For other lightweight options, refer to our list of 8 Non-Alcoholic Summer Drinks in Germany.
Germany's Best Biergartens
- Munich's Best Beer Gardens
- Berlin's Best Biergartens (Plus Part 2)
- Best Biergartens in Dresden
- Beer in Bamberg