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Beers of Germany

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It is posited by some as a well-known fact throughout the world that the average German drinks about as much beer as a whole platoon of construction workers... on a good day. The intimate relationship that the average German shares with his beer often makes him very particular about his brand. The result of this commitment is a century-old war with countless opponents and little hope for a peaceful settlement. For the unprepared foreign visitor, entering a bar in Germany and ordering a beer without knowing the local preference is the equivalent of tap dancing in a minefield...

That the true diversity of the German beer market is not very well known outside of the country itself can be accounted for by the fact that the only beers that Germans allow their breweries to export are the ones they 'wouldn't even rinse [their] mouths with'.

The documented history of German breweries begins in the year 1040, when the monastery of Weihenstephan, near Munich, received the right to brew beer on behalf of the bishop in Freising. Brewing strong beer at this time was the way the clergy used to evade the rules of fasting. Two or three litres a day left you drunk enough not to care about your rumbling stomach anymore. The brewery is still there today.

Ordering a Glass of Beer

In Düsseldorf or Cologne what you will get is a test-tube-like glass of 0.2l capacity, filled with a dark brown liquid or yellow liquid, respectively. Since these two cities provide a major focal point of the beer war, try to remember that you should never ever order an Alt1 in Cologne, or a Kölsch2 in Düsseldorf. Anyway, the biggest advantage of these glasses is that you can quickly lose count of what you really drank, have a wild evening and wake up next morning to someone you can't remember going to bed with the night before. The biggest drawback is that the waitress never loses count, since she usually marks every new glass on your beer mat. Incidentally, your beer gets automatically replaced the minute you've emptied your previous one. This goes on until you say stop or until you fall off your chair.

In Munich and most of Bavaria what you will get is a 1-litre mug filled with Helles3, or, depending on the time of year, Märzen4, Starkbier5), Bock, which is drunk in the month of May, and, only on the 'Wies'n' and only in late September, the notorious Oktoberfestbier.

The only exception from this rule is the Weizen6, which is used instead of barley in the brewing process. It comes either as a light or a dark beer and is sold in 0.5l glasses which look like small hollow baseball bats with their heads sawn off. And of course there's Pilsener, the most widespread of German beers, curiously enough named after a Czech city.

1Alt means 'old'.2Kölsch means 'Cologne-ish'.3Helles means 'light'. You will understand the irony of this when you have seen your first waitress carrying around about 20 of these mugs at a time.4Märzen means 'March' beer.5Starkbier means 'strong beer'. As noted above, Starkbier is a speciality around the fasting time between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.6Weizen means 'wheat'.

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