My Wirtshaus – The Weisses Bräuhaus
When my German friend gently chastised his daughter to "behave yourself in the restaurant," the precocious 5 year old replied, "Daddy, it's not a restaurant - it's a Wirtshaus!"
In Munich's Tal 7 stands the most traditional and interesting "Wirtshaus" in Germany. Roughly translated, a "Wirtshaus" is partly a bar and partly a restaurant. In England, perhaps the word "Pub" comes closest to the mark. It's an institution and an essential part of any beer lover's visit to Munich.
When foreigners enter, they believe they are simply in a restaurant. They slowly figure out that it's strictly seat yourself, and that if you actually want to eat or drink you going to have to sit at common table with others. Even if they figure all this out and actually manage to order food and drink, most will leave without even grasping where it is they have been. Maybe it's the language or maybe it's the culture that is the barrier. Perhaps both.
I visit the Weisses Brauhaus several times each week. With an atmosphere reminiscent of "Cheers," I love to meet up with the other regulars and watch the tourists wander by our table. Interacting with the staff is particularly entertaining and they genuinely enjoy the special relationship they have with their "Stammgäste."
The regulars, the "Stammgäste" have become like family. Some of them you like, and some of them you don't. But you love them all just the same - just like your family. They are a cast of characters each with great stories to tell and often with a great nickname. We have Trainman George, Climber Kurt, Uncle Scrooge, and Philosopher Hans, just to name a few. Other regulars we just know from passing though we always recognize one another and give a wink or a nod, acknowledging we are members of the same club.
Everyone comes from a different background. Maybe even a different culture. Some are highly educated. Some like the symphony and others like AC/DC, but we all love the beer and atmosphere at the Weisses Brauhaus, so in some way we all feel related. So many nights here, I have laughed myself to death and on other nights I have cried with my Stammtisch brothers. I have heard stories from the war and stories of escape from East Germany. Stories of buildings built, stories of death, and stories of faraway lands. Told in the first person over a few beers, these stories are better than any TV show and more revealing than any book. The conversation flows as easily as the beer and everyone revels in the camaraderie of being together in this place together.
Grumpy, rude, inattentive or impatient are all words I have seen describe the waitresses here. Those words are usually only spoken by tourists who are new here and haven't taken time to learn anything about the culture. The waitresses are hardworking, funny, efficient, and committed to ensure their guests are provided for. Many of these ladies seem to work the entire day from open until close and are on their feet all day. Servers in Germany typically need to take care of more tables than their counterparts in America, so patience is required. It also helps if you can quickly communicate your order and avoid tying to customize or substitute items. This is a busy place full of thirsty people, so you can't monopolize the server's time. There is room for 600 guests inside and another 200 outside in the summer time!
The beer is the main attraction and the focus is on the Weissbier. The George Schneider and Sons brewery has been in business since 1872 And is currently in the 6th generation - all the proprietors using the name George. Instead of just resting on his laurels, the current owner, George VI, has expanded the Weissbier offerings of his brewery. He has faithfully recreated a Weissbier once served at Munich's Oktoberfest during his grandfather's era and George VI has even collaborated with American brewing sensation, Garret Oliver, of the Brooklyn Brewery to create a Weissbier that pays homage to the IPA craze in America - even using hops from the Pacific Northwest. (Tap 5 Hopfenweisse). Even better, success hasn't gone to his head and George VI is often seen at his flagship tap in Munich. On such occasions, he greets all his customers and always tries to make time for a short chat.
First you must realize that Weissbier was reserved for royalty until the 1800's. Comprised of at least 50% wheat, the government didn't want to see the valuable wheat crop repurposed to beer, thus driving up the cost of bread. Today, when you drink the "Bavarian Champagne" or "Bavarian Cappuccino," you are showing the world that you are as good as a king.
Here are the two beers you must try when you visit:
• Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original: Starting with George Schneider I, George Schneider VI is now in control of this family run brewery in Kelheim. Still brewed according to the original recipe from 1872, this is a darker colored Weissbier. It's rich, dark amber color has just a wisp of banana and is more associated with its clove aroma. It's a fully bodied beer with sweet, dark bread flavored malt and lingering wheat flavors with light touch of lemon and banana at the finish. Alcohol: 5.4 %. Beer Advocate: 89, "Good." Rate Beer: 97 Overall / 95 Style.
• Schneider Aventinus Tap 6: Aventinus is the quintessential Weizen Bock (Strong Hefe-Weizen). It's dark brown in color with a ruby red tinge and offers an aromatic hint of ripe banana, dried rasins, and plums which plays off its licorice and roast malt profile. It's well balanced nature and rich flavors hide it's true alcohol content, so be careful! Alcohol: 8.2%. Beer Advocate: 96, "World Class." Rate Beer: 100 Overall / 100.
If you still have anything left in the tank, you can try the Eisbock - a super strong version of the Aventinus whereby the mash is frozen, forming ice crystals that can be removed from the beer, driving up the the alcohol level. Then I would go for the aforementioned Hopfenweisse - but only if you can sleep in the next day!
Additionally, Schneider offers a great alcohol free version, and a light version with1/2 the alcohol of an original. Further you can try a "blond" Weissbier, or the "green" one which recreates Schneider's version of an Oktoberfest style beer. If you don't like the yeast,you can also get a filtered version called "Kristall Weizen." If for some incompressible reason you don't like Weissbier, you can order a Helles from the Tegernseer brewery, or various soda's produced by Schneider und Söhne. Also, a Rotling or a Silvaner wine would be worthwhile.
• Wait until everyone has a beverage before you take a sip
• Raise your glass and say "Prost!"
• Leading with Bottom of your glass (the rim is much to delicate!), look into each persons eyes as you clink glasses. Failure to do so results in 7 years of bad sex.
• Be sure never to reach over or under other's extended arms. This is a bad omen and all too often results in a broken glass and spilled beer
• Never fail to take a sip after you clink glasses. Failure to drink after saying Prost will be taken as an insult.
• Never play with your cellphone while sitting with others - this is rude behavior and tells your tablemates that they are boring. If you really need to do something, first excuse yourself from the table.
• If you are with others at the table, tick marks are often made on your coaster so you don't screw the others at your table. It is hard to keep track of how many you had!
The kitchen at the Weisses Brauhaus shows continual improvement. Under the leadership of Sepp Nagler, they continue to offer old Bavarian specialties from the "Kronfleischküche." Granted that this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's reassuring that these old recipes continued to be on offer at the Weisses Brauhaus. On the regular menu, Bavarian dishes dominate, but often are given a slight modern twist. My favorites are the Zwiebelrostbraten and the Kaiserschmarrn, but you can't go astray with any of the items. Something new is the movement called "BayernOx" which is being led by several of the major establishments in downtown Munich. If you see an item labeled "BayernOx" you are assured of organic, local beef.
The menus are available in an assortment of languages so you shouldn't have any trouble with that. However, translation is not an exact science, so you can never be 100% sure. For instance, the Bavarian dish called Leberkäse has no Liver nor cheese in it and is often translated as "meat loaf." It is meat (a mild sausage in the direction of Baloney, formed in a loaf. So, it is "meat loaf," but it definitely not what someone from North America would think of as "meat loaf." Get the problem?
• Don't be picky.
• Refrain from asking for substitutions. This isn't Starbucks.
• If you have a food allergy, tell the server. They are professionals and know if the substance you need to avoid is in the dish you are trying to order. No one wants to see you go to the hospital, so don't try to guess. Try to have a good translation of your allergic condition written clearly before come to Germany, just in case.
• When you are served, begin eating right away. As the kitchen finishes the orders, the food is served immediately and not held under heat lamps.
• When someone at your table is served, wish them a "Guten Appetit"
• Finish everything on your plate. Not finishing your dinner insults the kitchen and is wasteful.
• The Pretzels are not free. If you touch it, you take it. Don't ever put a half of a pretzel back in the basket.
• You are welcome to occupy your seat as long as you want. Bavarians consider it rude to have the server slap the bill on the table after the food is served. You need to ask for the check.
• You need to give the tip to her directly at this point. Do not leave the money on the table. To others, finding money on the table is like finding it on the ground outside - its finders keepers.
• Once she tells you the amount, it's most common to round up the bill. for example, a bill of 37 Euros would result in a tip of 3 euros. If you hand her a €50, you say "40" and she'll give you a €10.
• Germany is a cash based society and credit cards are not readily accepted. At the Weisses Bräuhaus, they will accept a Visa if the bill is over a certain limit. If you pay with Visa, tell her the amount to charge you before she runs the card (they have a hand help device and do this right at the table). If you aren't fast enough, then give her a cash tip - which is preferred.
• Splitting the check is normal. Just tell the waitress what you had and she will split the bill, no big deal.
• Don't try to cheat. If you short the waitress, she has to pay the difference out of her purse. Karma being what it is, you will punished some time in the future.
• When you enter and are looking for a table, don't block the aisles - they are narrow.
• Don't forget that there is seating in the back and upstairs. On busy nights, there is a manager standing inside helping to direct people to where their might be space.
• If you see an empty seat, ask, "Ist heir frei?, it the seat is free, you will be told it is OK to sit down.
• Some of the tables are for "Stammtisch" and have a "Reserviert" sign the table.
• The "reserviert" sign will have a time on it. If it says 18.30 and it's now 17.00, you can sit there for 90 minutes.
• When you go to the restroom, give the attendant at least a €.20 tip.
• All of Bavaria is no smoking inside - go outside to light up.
• Your waitress is your waitress - the other waitresses can't help you. When you make your first order, pay attention to what she looks like.
• Never whistle for the waitress. You need to make eye contact to get her attention.
• It's hard to say this, but we Americans tend to be very loud. Try to dial down the volume.
• Most everyone speaks, or at least understands, some English. Keep your requests simple and clear and don't be overly wordy: If you want a Weissbier, just say "Weissbier, bitte/please. Don't say, for example, "When you got a sec, we'd love to put in a food order..." Huh?
• Weissbier is pronounced "Vice beer" not, "Wees beer"
• If there is a problem, be kind and calm. Yelling here will get you nowhere except thrown out.
If you decide to visit, it's important that you take your time and enjoy the evening. If you have any luck at all, you'll somehow converse with your table mates and have an entertaining and enlightening conversation. The Weisses Bräuhaus is an institution that must be savored!
Scott Stephens owns and operates a boutique touring company in Munich. BayernTrips LLC offers one-of-a-kind tours which unlock the richness of Bavarian culture and history. Visit him at www.bayerntrips.com for more information