It seemed a bit strange starting off a beery tour of Berlin in a traditional Munich based brewers tavern, conveniently the Hofbraü Wirsthaus was only two blocks away from where I was staying, so München it was.
It said Biergarten on the traditional sign outside but the only garden was a paved area for smokers between the door and the footpath, which morphed into curling rinks and a mobile wurst vendor in early December.
From what I could gather, apart from the original Munich Hofbraühaus, the Alexanderplatz Hofbraü tavern is one of only three enterprises outside the Bavarian heartland; the other two being a tavern and a separate biergarten in Hamburg. Note, the clear distinction between the two, a biergarten is what it says it is; beer in a garden, opening between April and October when it’s pleasant enough to sit outside.
I’m trying to write this as a bit of a beginners guide, so the first thing I would point out is there’s an expectation you’re going to sit down in most Berlin drinking establishments. In fact in a lot of places people will look at you gone out if you stand at the bar or adopt a vertical drinking position. Most Berliners will find a table, or a seat at the bar before they order and will walk if there’s no where to sit.
If you want to just grab a quick beer then you need to go to one of the many ‘Getrancke’ shops. A straight translation is ‘drinks’, but we’d think of it as an off licence. Often with a very interesting selection of local, regional and global beers. The big difference with a UK off licence is that most of them have a table and a couple of benches outside, and sometimes inside, where people congregate, smoke and drink. I didn’t quite get it myself because Berlin in December is very cold, a dry nithering cold that seeps into your bones.
I told the guy who showed us to our table that the place was busy for a Monday evening. He looked at me daft and said it was quiet, they hadn’t even opened the upstairs bit. Either way you couldn’t get a seat near the band in the middle of the vast hall, but he managed to sort us out, slipping in that when it was busy they could seat 4000.
I thought the friendly people sat opposite us were Germans until they mentioned the 2 – 1 defeat of England at Euro 2016. To be fair, a ‘lets have a try in here’ turned into a full night out with Aðalsteinn and Lilja, more than one too many pots and an excellent value meal. Turned out Aðalsteinn was the Captain of a fishing boat called Fjoiner (GK 157) running out of Grindavik with a crew of 27, a bit like the massive trawlers they had in Hull and Grimsby before the Cod Wars. I wasn’t gong to mention it though because he was about six foot fifteen when he stood up! Mind you it didn’t stop us having a good laugh.
Service is brilliantly efficient, every couple of tables have a dedicated, cheeky server who makes sure you don’t run out of beer or anything else for that matter. Dashing to and fro from the main counter where several bar staff just pour and stack glass upon glass of beer for the servers to take away.
I tried both the Hofbraü Original, a Munich Helles and the Hofbraü Dark, a more malty, roastier tasting beer. Both excellent and a far cry from most of the stuff that flows out of UK lager taps. They don’t serve anyone else’s beer neither. Everything is dispensed from the keg and probably won’t please the real ale purists; it didn’t seem to bother the 1500 folk knocking it back in large amounts, nor the rest of Berlin to that matter. I didn’t expect to find any cask beer, although I did manage it eventually; wooden cask too, albeit bright racked.
Outside the colours of Berlin in winter are grey, grey and more grey, but inside the massive beer hall it’s the blue and white of Bavaria all the way with flags and German hunting lodge elements everywhere. They’ve even got an in-house Lederhosen store, although the only people I saw wearing them were the staff, including the band who stood there bored rigid knocking out traditional drinking songs and ditties. Pity the Oompah player didn’t turn up.
The biggest bogs in the known world were impressively clean with a friendly attendant, the urinals stretched into the far distance, a reminder that on my visit the place wasn’t even half full.
Overall I really enjoyed the whole experience. Thing was I couldn’t work out whether it was just a tourist trap or a part of real Germany? Visits to a similar, more authentic drinking place told me it is traditional, Bavarian themed, and full of tourists.
Verdict: Two of us pissed, entertained and heartily fed for under €45 in central Berlin in a place that both inspired and made the 1970’s UK Bier Kellers look gimcrack.
Categories: Beer Blog