MUNICH, GERMANY — I watch in amazement as Frau Singh slaloms around some drunken Hofbräuhaus patrons while clutching four large glass beer steins in her slender arms. She doesn’t spill a drop of the golden nectar and I applaud when she deposits them on the long wooden table where I’m sitting.
The lovely server is talking but I can’t hear. The band is playing some traditional Bavarian marching music and people are enthusiastically singing along — many are dancing on their chairs.
She leans forward and asks if we’d like a plate of sausages and a crisp suckling pig’s knuckle — “our speciality” — to go along with my foamy brew.
Yes! I enthusiastically respond. Oh, and don’t forget some Bavarian kraut (sauerkraut) on the side, I yell at her as she disappears into the crowd again.
Above: Servers like Frau Singh are required to carry heavy beer mugs.
“It’s a quiet night tonight,” says Werner Hillermann, my seatmate and one of the famed Munich beer hall’s “118 regulars” who have their own personal steins locked away in what Werner calls a “beer safe.”
“It takes on average of 17 years to get a beer safe,” says my drinking partner, who retrieved his from a locked wine-style rack at the entrance. “Many of the regulars leave their safe to their kids in their will. It costs just three euros a year to have one but if you are lucky enough to get one, well, you become part of a very privileged society.”
Hofbräuhaus, which is Ground Zero with tourists during Munich’s annual Oktoberfest celebrations each year — it started Sept. 22 and ended Oct. 7 in 2018 — started out as a brewery in 1589 and supplied the nearby royal palace with ale. In 1828, King Ludwig I declared by Royal Decree that the Hofbräuhaus be open to the public and the rest, as they say, is history.
Each day — the Hofbräuhaus is open every day of the year from 10 a.m until 11:30 p.m. — servers pour over 35,000 litres of beer and serve up almost 10,000 meals in the massive beer hall that can seat 3,500 over three floors.
Needless to say, it’s the largest beer hall in the world and several smaller branches have opened up in cities like Shanghai and Las Vegas. But they can’t match the noise, atmosphere or enthusiasm I see on display at Munich’s Hofbräuhaus.
“It’s crazy in here during Oktoberfest,” says Werner, a part-time taxi driver and guide in this delightful city filled with fairytale buildings. “During that time I always eat upstairs — it’s much quieter.”
The massive beer hall located in Munich’s iconic Old Quarter is always filled with tourists. Asians, Canadians, Indians, Americans, Australians — people from all over the world make this a must stop while visiting this Bavarian beauty.
Small Asian women struggle with the giant steins while some muscular Australians show they can easily clutch three in each of their hands.
“This is one of the most visited places in Munich,” says Werner, who claims 60 per cent of the Hofbräuhaus’ customers each night are made up of foreigners.
Frau Singh, an Indian immigrant whose been serving at the Hofbräuhaus for eight years, returns with our meals and the large plates are overflowing with food.
Above: Pretzels and Bavarian music are all part of the fun.
“Genießen (enjoy),” she commands before slipping back into the crowd.
Another server, dressed, like all employees, in traditional Bavarian garb, suddenly appears and offers to sell us a pretzel the size of a baseball catcher’s glove.
Werner suggests we forgo the pretzel in favour of a “nice apple strudel after our meals.”
He then pushes closer and loudly whispers in my ear: “I wonder how many of these people know that this is where the Nazi party was founded.”
Huh? This is sobering news.
Above: in one of the rooms above the Hofbräuhaus is where the Nazi party was born.
“Yes, upstairs in one of the back rooms, Hitler and his followers founded the Nazi party on Feb. 24, 1920. Ironically, the Hofbräuhaus was owned by a Jewish family at the time,” says Werner matter of factly as he dives back into his massive pig’s knuckle.
There are many beer halls in Munich but none can match Hofbräuhaus for atmosphere. And while many cities around the world now hold Oktoberfest celebrations, experiencing the real thing in Munich is a life-changing adventure for real beer drinkers.
As we push through the crowd at the end of our meals, Werner tells me: “People say they want to go to heaven when they die but Germans say they want to come to Munich and that’s because we have beer halls like this.”
There’s only one answer to that: Prost! (Cheers!) •