The German Stammtisch tradition sometimes trips up the unsuspecting tourist. Picture yourself sitting comfortably at a nice table in a typical restaurant/pub. You’re enjoying some beer and a small snack with a couple of buddies. Suddenly, someone approaches your table and starts “hollering” at you while pointing vigorously at a sign that says “Stammtisch.” Thinking the waitress will take your side in this fracas, you signal her over only to find out she is giving you the bum’s rush to a different table. “Crazy, rude Germans,” you think to yourself. Ah, but it is you, mein Freund, who are being the lout by your lack of understanding of the local tradition.
Almost every German Pub/Restaurant (Wirtschaft) has a table that is set aside for regular customers (Stammgäste). You will find a sign on or over the table indicating its status. Usually, this is the biggest table with the best location. If you are one of the regulars, you know you will always have a place in the Wirtschaft no matter how busy they are. And you know that some of your cronies will eventually show up, so there’s no worry about drinking or dining alone. If no one is sitting at the Stammtisch, you may be able to sit there, but don’t be surprised if you are told to move. If one of the regulars comes to sit down, you should, out of respect, offer to vacate the table. Most of the time, this sign of politeness and respect will be met with an offer for you to remain where you are.
In addition to the “regular” Stammtisch, there are other Stammtische that meet on some kind of regular basis. This is often a club of some kind that may meet once a week or once a month on a certain schedule. In this case, a temporary sign will be placed on the table. The place with the most Stammtische is the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. You can see the whole list by clicking on this link. In many larger places, like the Hofbräuhaus, or the Löwenbräukeller, the regulars are even allowed to have their own beer mug kept at the establishment. There is a huge array of lockers, with keys, that house these beautiful beersteins. Next to the locker area is a convenient faucet for the guest to wash out his own glass.
Sometimes you can get lucky and strike up a conversation with someone at the Stammtisch, which might even get you invited to sit in one of the honored seats. I’ve had some great memories at various Stammtische:
Zunfthaus in Ulm: My friend Michael is a regular at this wonderful Wirtschaft in Ulm’s Fisherman’s Quarter, along the Danube. Last summer, we camped out in this place for several days. We greatly enjoyed meeting all of Michael’s friends and the Zunfthaus’s friendly proprietor. Since the Zunfthaus is not tied to a specific brewery, we were able to enjoy Schneider Weisse, Augustiner, and even Andechs Doppelbock here. And the house special, only for insiders: Schwippschlapp - Schnapps with a big hunk of raw fish on the rim. OK, it wasn’t so great, but it was fun!
Kloster Andechs: Andechs is always a magical experience. In 2007, we met my good friend Karl and his friends there. After they gang from Böbing left, I fetched another Doppelbock. Right cross from the place the beer is poured, is the Andechs Stammtisch. The folks at the table looked pretty interesting and I was feeling pretty good, so I knocked on the end of the table – that’s the accepted custom when you would like to address the table. I asked if it was OK for my wife and I to sit with them. They were graciously accommodating and in no time they were sharing their food with us and we were having a great conversation. At the end of the evening, one of the ladies even gave us a ride down to the Herrsching S-Bahn station.
Weisses Brauhaus: I plan on applying for membership at this one. We have met so many of the regulars here over the years, it is my absolute favorite place to visit when I am in Munich. Many of the regulars recognize us on sight and we are never alone when we wander into this place. They have a great Weisswurst breakfast, especially on Sunday morning after mass including live music. The evenings in the Schwemme are also a ton of fun. Enjoying that great Schneider Weisse Weissbier – which the regulars do not accept on draft – they always ask for the bottle. We’ve seen it all here!
So the definition of Stammtisch is a a group of people that regularly meet in a pub. These are not organized meetings, just an informal group of friends who have gotten to know each other over the years. I once met the Brewmaster of Paulaner and he told me that his Stammtisch was on Friday nights on the first floor of the Hobräuhaus. He was quite proud that his group of friends was an eclectic gang including a lawyer, construction workers and others.
The other great thing about these tables is the conversation. In the USA, we are often loathe to discuss religion and politics. In Germany, this is a favorite topic. People get very animated and quite passionate, but are anxious to hear your opinions. It feels great to have an open free-wheeling and meaningful discussion about weighty issues while throwing back the best beer in the world!Weisses Video