This is the sixth in a series of blog posts about our recent epic trip to Germany and the Czech Republic in search of food, castles, and of course beer. My travel companions included my wife Sarajo (Sj for short), as well as Jim and Lori Stroner. Jim is a seasoned beer geek (and part owner of Tin Whisker’s Brewing in St. Paul) as well as a great photographer. He did most of the organizational work for the trip, so he gets extra kudos! Our hero’s journey continues now with day 6…
This fine morning in Bamberg Jim and I once again woke up too early just to beat the crowds and tourists on our quest to take pictures. We wandered quite a bit looking for likely options. This particular day was a holiday so the city was a bit quieter than usual.
After a bit we gave up our complimentary European breakfast at the hotel for a breakfast of sausages and smoked beer at Schlenkerla! This early, before the street sweepers, just outside the brewery the cobbles were coated in shattered glass and cigarette butts from the previous night’s street drinking. Let me just say this: nothing is quite like breakfasting in a historic building, surrounded by old dark woods, creaky floors, and surly waitresses. We had the place mostly to ourselves, and could start to hear the city awaken from outside the nearby windows. There we sat, happily sipping a malty smoked marzen beer at 9 AM and voraciously decimating a mess of sausages. Sj and Lori joined us after a while, shaking their heads at us, and gaining scowls from our waitress for not ordering anything. Ah service in Germany!
After our gloriously meat-centric European breakfast, we walked around this ancient town looking for new things to photograph and experience. This was our last day in Bamberg and we wanted to make it count. Today was Assumption Day and with a large proportion of Catholics in the region, much of the city was closed down for celebration or visiting church, limiting our options a bit. Flags were out on houses, while many doors had bouquets of flowers hanging from them. We ended up at one point being in just the right place to have a parade or procession pass us on the street.
We found ourselves soon at the Franconian Brewery Museum, which was surprisingly open. This was a paid entry and a self guided tour, but did have English information and maps. It is located in an old monastery brewery, so the building itself is pretty cool, even more so when you fill it with old machinery, bottles, mugs, and beer signs from the past 200+ years. We had a good time checking out all the old brewerania and trying to take pictures in the low light environment. The only thing that would have made this better would be to actually have a beer in hand during the tour! On our way out we discovered a mound of stuff they were selling at a discount and I discovered a 1970’s Jacob Leinenkugel tray that I had to purchase. Sure, I can find swag from a Wisconsin brewery in Germany, but not any from German breweries? See my observations on swag in my Day 5 post here.
By this time it was getting to be legitimate opening time for places so we headed over to Brauerei Greifenklau. It was starting to get hot and sticky again, as per usual for this trip, so we sat ourselves in the pleasant courtyard biergarten. The tables were spaced a bit farther apart than most such places so it seemed a bit quieter and more comfortable to us. Our server was a nice young man who claimed not to speak English well, but probably does better than I do! This broke our streak of crabby wait staff. The beers were decent, on par with most of the others we had on the trip. The star of this stop was the wild boar braten that Sj and shared.
Not too far from here, now getting a bit more on the outskirts of town, we found the Keller for Brauerei Spezial. We had already been to the brewery for lunch on our first day in Bamberg and knew we liked the beers, so why not check it out? The keller is located in more of a residential area that has likely grown up around the old keller site. Through an archway we gained access to a trail up a hill and past some fields, winding up to an elevated area topped with a classic outdoor beirkeller. The walk alone was relaxing (though tiring up that hill) and the breeze up on top of the hill was much needed by the time we crested it. We found a table and settled in with a stellar view of the clay tiled rooftops, the fallow field, and even a small playground for the kids. Being a holiday, the place was not crowded and we again had helpful server with great English skills. We sipped at smoked beers and simply reveled in our spot. At risk of sounding silly, this was truly a special place.
We could have stayed at the keller for ages, but hey, we had other places to check out before the day ran down on us. Our next destination was the Wilde Rose Keller. This was another bit of a hike, and we nearly gave up when our GPS led us to a blocked stairway that looked closed down for the day or perhaps even the season, the old sign half rotted and faded. Jim was unwilling to give up and we kept looking, eventually drawn by the sound of revelry up ahead. There, we found another keller, this one hidden within the city but still up a very small hill. The grounds were very spacious with mostly outdoor seating but some covered and even what looked like a band shell. This place had counter service for beers and for food. We got the one beer they offered, no knowing who actually brewed it, and sat around for a bit resting and sipping. This is one of the more sought-after kellers in the city, but we all felt it didn’t hold a candle to Spezial.
We were starting to get hungry but figured one more stop would be the time to eat. Our next stop was a bit of a hike but we figured we’d be even hungrier on arrival. It looked about like a 30-40 minute walk. After about 15-20 minutes, all those half-liter mugs of beers seem to have caught up with me, resulting in a steadily increasing pressure on the old bladder. “How much longer?” I gritted out.
“Just another 11 minutes according to GPS,” replied Jim.
11 minutes my %$@!#. After a verifiable eternity, we were still not there. Torn between outright running and the increased pressure from the jiggling, I sort of rigidly fast-walked as best I could. Where is a public WC when you need one? Oh, yeah, there really aren’t such things unless you are at tourist attractions. Even a dark alley, a dumpster, a nearby bush? Just lots of people and open street.
Finally, sharp pain radiating up my kidneys, about 1 minute from dropping-trou and doing my business right there against a public building, Jim spotted the sign! Bolting forward with much more speed than was recommended I skidded around the outside of the building, into the restaurant, and to ultimate relief.
So, now I would take crap about this incident for the rest of the trip. From here on out I was always scoping the next bathroom.
So the Fassla Bierkeller! Now that I could think about something other than my bladder rupturing, I was able to enjoy the final keller of the day. We had been to the Fassla brewery earlier in the trip and enjoyed the beers and the gnomes adorning their mugs and signs. Apparently the religious festivities for the day were done, because the place was packed! It took a while but eventually a server came over and took our drink orders. Apparently the place was so busy that the restaurant wasn’t taking any food orders for about another hour. We had our beer and headed out. After going the bathroom one more time.
We ended our day back where it started, Schlenkerla. We were able to get right in and seated, soon eating our last Bamberg Onion, crispy pork belly, and liver dumpling soup. Hey, we kept trying to find other places for dinner but getting stymied! Schlenkerla ended up being one of our very favorite breweries and restaurants of the trip, and staying a few doors down from it was excellent planning on Jim’s part.
Cultural Observation: RGF (Resting German Face)
I’m not trying to bemean here, but felt this deserved a spot in my story. Even early on in our trip we discovered that many of the German people we interacted with or even just passed on the street had…what we ended up calling Resting German Face. This is made up of furrowed brow, narrowed eyes, and perhaps a hint of a scowl. Or outright scowl depending on the circumstance. Sometimes this seemed to be aimed specifically at us: perhaps from driving a giant black SUV through their small town, or because loud Americans sat next to them at a brewery, or perhaps they just didn’t like the look of Jim (#Strider) and his long hair and tattoos. Other times it seemed to just be the standard expression, rarely broken up by a smile (nearly every server we had). We certainly interacted with people who smiled or had senses of humor over our trip, but they were sure in the minority. I’m guessing the German people are just very stoic, and can appreciate a bit that based on growing up in German/Scandinavian Minnesota.
Breweries visited: 14
Bierkellers visited: 7
Cities visited: 11
Brewery museums visited: 1
Bladders nearly ruptured: 1
Mileage walked today: 8.6