FREISING (Germany), Aug 12 — There are days when city life can be suffocating.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a city boy through and through. I love the buzz and the bustle, the amenities and the air pollution (well, maybe not that last one). Pure country living conjures up images of using an outhouse on a regular basis. Or worse, a hole in the ground, with leaves to wipe; too Bear Grylls for my taste.
Ever so often though, I ponder how nice it’d be to get away from the smog and the hordes of humanity that come with living in any major Asian metropolis. Which may be one explanation why we are walking up the hill in the small town of Freising just north of Munich. That, and the beer that Freising is famous for (but more on that later).
Unlike, say Berlin or Frankfurt, the buildings in Freising don’t reach for the sky; they are low and squat and pretty in pink or a creamy eggshell or a baby blue. No vertical towers of steel and glass. Running brooks and water fountains instead of clogged canals. Stone statues of lions, the mascot of Bavaria, aged by the seasons cycling through the centuries.
It’s a quiet place but not desolate. Not the wilderness. For one thing, they brew their own beer so one never has to worry about going thirsty here.
The beer in question is made at the Weihenstephan Brewery atop the Weihenstephan Hill (the other hill, the Cathedral Hill, is where the bishop’s castle is located). Which explains why we are undergoing this not unpleasant hike uphill.
Founded in 1040, the Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan (“Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan”) claims to be the “World’s Oldest Brewery” and is located where the former Weihenstephan Abbey used to be. If this sounds strange, consider that the roots of Bavarian beer began in many a monastery; the German monks were masters of brewing!
This Benedictine monastery in particular was said to have been erected by Saint Corbinian. Legend has it that after a bear killed his horse, the saint commanded the bear to carry his luggage over the Alps. That is why till today, the saddled bear remains an integral part of Freising’s coat of arms.
The summer heatwave plaguing Germany this year meant everyone is reaching out for a cold beer to the point that some breweries are in danger of running out. Judging by the number of crates (and presumably bottles of beer within), that’s not a problem at the Weihenstephan Brewery.
It would be cruel punishment indeed to marvel at the brewery and these seemingly endless rows and stacks of beer casks if we didn’t get the opportunity to sample any.
Fortunately, in Bavaria there is always a bräustüberl, a tavern located next to every brewery. At Freising, that means the Bräustüberl Weihenstephan, complete with a biergarten for dining outdoors.
Inside is where the real beer tavern ambience awaits us, however, and so we enter the bräustüberl. We hang our jackets on the hooks and take in the warm atmosphere: wood panels, kitschy memorabilia, friendly locals already tucking into their lunch.
We begin with my favourite Weißbier. Literally “white beer”, this cloudy, unfiltered beer is produced when malted barley is replaced with malted wheat during brewing.
Whether it’s a helles Bier (“blonde beer”) or a Dunkel (dark lager), Germans drink over 100 litres of beer each every year on average. With beer this good, it’s no surprise why.
Our drinks arrive, chilled glasses full of pale amber brew topped with just the right amount of foam. We toast each other by exclaiming “Prost!”
At Oktoberfest, the default drinking vessel is the Maß or one-litre glass flagons; there is a certain beauty about the vaguely vase-shaped Weißbier glass, however.
The Weihenstephaner Hefe Weißbier has a complex flavour — a delicious blend of malty sweetness, earthy yeast and a long citrus finish. It’s refreshing and an easy drink. It feels contemporary yet it’s a classic, given that it’s been brewed using the same recipe for centuries now. Every sip lives up to their “World’s Oldest Brewery” moniker.
Naturally, nothing goes better with Bavarian beer than hearty Bavarian food. Even starters such as Cremesüppchen (cream soup with morels) and gemischter Salatteller (mixed salad with yoghurt-sauerkraut dressing) have a heft to them.
Come hungry for the mains: whether a traditional Bayrischer Schweinsbraten (Bavarian roast pork) moistened with a dark beer sauce and accompanied by a humongous Kartoffelknödel (potato dumpling), or my favourite comfort food, Käsespätzle. These egg dumplings topped with fried onions are made with three different types of cheese from the Allgaeu, making it a heavy but oh so satisfying meal.
Other Austro-Bavarian specialties include Schweinshaxe in Dunkelbiersauce (broiled pork knuckle in dark beer sauce), Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese fried veal cutlet) and Tafelspitz (boiled beef with horse radish sauce). Of course, sometimes a simple Brezn (Bavarian pretzel) is all one needs to go with another round of beer.
We depart with our bellies full and our hearts full of good cheer. (It’s always amusing trying to strike up a conversation with Bavarians, with whatever limited Deutsch we might command. Presumably it’s more amusing for the Bavarians.)
We make our way downhill, back to the town square, to walk off our meal among the charming old buildings painted shades of pastel, the gentle streams and those garden gnomes that are the ultimate symbol of pride (and, yet again, kitsch) of a happy homeowner here. With these and some of the best beer in the world, it’s not hard to understand the draw of small town life in Bavaria.
What do we say to that but a resounding “Prost!”
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Alte Akademie 2, D-85354 Freising, Bavaria, Germany
Open Mon-Fri 8:30am-4pm
Tel: +49 8161 5360