It was a beautiful, brisk morning and Munich was pulsating at a steady rhythm. Intent on a typical Bavarian breakfast, I walked into one of the most popular biergartens in the city.
Germans swear by their beer and biergartens are their favourite meeting ground during the springtime. The clink of beer mugs, laughter and chatter greeted my entrance. An aroma of beer hung around the atmospheric beer garden with scores of wooden benches where chuckling Munichers sat, some of them resplendent in Bavarian traditional attire.
Undoubtedly, Munich is the ‘Beer Capital of the World’, since it is packed with biergartens and beer halls. It is also the city where the world’s largest beer festival (Oktoberfest) is held every year. Beer and beer gardens are Bavaria’s gift to the world.
Seated under a sprawling chestnut tree, I mused about the history of biergartens. In the early 19th century, much before refrigeration was invented, brewers planted chestnut and linden trees above the cellars to keep the temperatures down. King Maximilian I, the then ruler of Bavaria, allowed the brewers to serve cold beer in these gardens and the concept of beer gardens was born.
During summers, they turn into an extension of people’s living rooms, such is the popularity of the concept. The largest one has more than 100 chestnut trees. Here beer is still served from wooden kegs in a traditional manner.
In its early days, no food was served in the biergartens so people brought their own food, and seated under the chestnut trees, they enjoyed their cold beer with home cooked food.
The practice still continues in some of the establishments though beer gardens have begun serving food. There are parts of the biergarten where the wooden tables are not covered with tablecloth and there is no waitress to serve the people who bring their own food. Traditionally, it was expected that the customers wash their own beer mugs.
After deliberating over the breakfast menu, I ordered the traditional Bavarian weisswurst breakfast, which was what I saw most locals ordering. Twenty minutes later, an unsmiling waitress set down a daintily painted ceramic pot, with a piece of bread covering its mouth, along with a basket of freshly-baked pretzels, a pot of sweet mustard sauce and a large mug of wheat beer.
Peeping into the ceramic pot, I spied two pieces of white sausages resting in salted, hot water. That was the weisswurst, brezel is what the Germans call their pretzels and the wheat beer is weissbier. Surprised that the Germans begin their day with such a large breakfast downed by beer, I looked around to find the locals engaged in the serious business of eating their breakfast.
The weisswurst has an interesting story associated with its invention, I found later. This Bavarian speciality was created right in the heart of Munich in an inn called Zum Ewigen Licht, located on the Marienplatz, way back in 1857. Story goes that the inn-keeper ran out of veal skins to encase the sausage.
He sent his assistant to procure some from the market, but the chap came back with pig casing instead. In the meantime, the customers were clamouring for their sausage, so the enterprising inn keeper used the hog casing, and fearing that the sausage would burst on grilling, he boiled them and weisswurst was born.
It soon gained popularity and is now an essential part of a Bavarian breakfast. Along with the weisswurst came a few rules for eating it. Back in the 1850s, with no refrigeration to speak of, weisswurst was made fresh every morning.
Since there was no preservative in it, the sausages had to be served before noon to prevent spoilage. A rule that the weisswurst should not hear the noon church bell tolling came into place. The practice still continues although some restaurants do serve the white sausage in the afternoon.
The second rule is that the skin of the weisswurst is not to be eaten. The traditional way to eat the white sausage is by zuzeln. This involves biting off the end of the sausage and sucking out its contents.
It sounds quite easy, but isn’t so since a certain amount of expertise is required if one were not have the entire lot of contents sprinkled over oneself. A surreptitious look around revealed that not many locals were attempting to zuzeln. Most of them were content to slice the sausage into half and tuck in the contents. I followed suit.
Slathering a generous amount of the delicious sweet mustard sauce, which is also known as weisswurstsenf since it is an essential accompaniment to the weisswurst. The sweet mustard sauce has an equally interesting history. Story goes that a businessman named Johann Conrad Develey, in 1845, set up a mustard factory in Munich. Initially, the production was limited to the French mustard, but soon new variations were tried and sold. In 1854, Develey had a revolutionary idea.
It is said that he blended the mustard with sugar, vinegar and spices and the sweet mustard sauce was born. The sweet mustard went on to become a craze with the Bavarians. Soon, its fame spread and everyone wanted a taste of it. The rest, as they say, is history. Around 150 years later, the Develey brand still manufactures its sweet mustard sauce along with other German specialities and sauces.
Coming to the brezel, they come in all shapes and sizes, sprinkled with sesame, poppy, sunflower, caraway or pumpkin seeds and occupy an essential part of the Bavarian bread basket that accompanies the weisswurst. The natural choice is the lye brezel that goes well with the white sausage.
The weissbier, of course, is another matter. The wheat beer, paler in colour, is also known as white beer. Like with the weisswurst, there is a drinking ritual for the weissbier, I was told. Since it is highly effervescent, this beer requires careful handling to prevent the loss of fizz. Long exposure to sun can render it undrinkable. To prevent extra foaming, one has to wash the glass in cold water and not dry it. Then tilting the glass, the beer is poured in carefully.
To reply to the question — did I try pouring weissbier? Of course not! Not in a mood to get into the nitty gritty of it, I sat back and enjoyed my typical Bavarian breakfast under the chestnut tree with the sound of laughter warming the cockles of my heart.
Prost! (as they say in Bavaria).
Munich has more than 100 ‘biergartens’, the largestnumber of them in Germany.
Hirschgarten, the largest‘biergarten’ in Munich, canseat up to 8,000 people.
In ‘biergartens’, beer is served bythe litre, with no serving less thanone litre.
Almost every restaurant, includingbeer gardens, inMunich andelsewhere at Bavariaserves
‘Weisswurst’ is served in pairs. Bavarians love drinking beer withtheir ‘weisswurst’. Try a glass of‘weissbier’ (white beer) with it.
Since the Bavarians love their beer,the standard serving of beer in Bavaria is 500 ml.