The Bavarian capital is not only famous for its Beer Festival but also for its countless “Biergärten”, shaded beer gardens where the Müncheners come to down a glass of cool beer and sample regional specialties.
Every year at the start of spring, Munich’s inhabitants head outdoors, forgoing the cosy bars and cellars for the open-air Biergärten that pop up all over the city, to sample a beer beneath the chestnut trees. According to the last edition of the Biergartenführer(1), a guide of Munich’s beer gardens published in 2015, the Bavarian capital was home to over 200 Biergärten.
Open from late March to late September, locals and tourists alike flock to these open-air bars. As a rule, they open early in the day (around midday, but some even start serving beer at 10am), close at nightfall and are open 7/7 except when it rains. As a result, most beer gardens have a “weather number” that you can call to check whether or not they are open.
The first beer gardens opened in the 17th century. Before the Bavarian engineer Carl von Linde invented the modern refrigerator in 1871, the brewers stored their beer in cellars in the summer months. The cellars were often dug out of land planted with chestnut trees, as these trees have shallow roots and offer a great deal of refreshing shade.
As Silvia Hölzlwimmer-Ruff told us,
“The Müncheners liked to go to the countryside on Sundays and when they passed near a beer cellar, they would stop for a cool glass of beer in the shade of chestnut trees.”
This inhabitant of Munich, a keen historian, has herself founded a micro-brewery, the Hölzbrauerei, and she also organises guided tours about the history of beer in Munich (contact the Tourist Office).
“From the 18th century, the Biergärten became a secondary, but very lucrative business activity for the brewers. To such an extent that the restaurants on the outskirts of town started losing customers and accused the breweries of unfair competition.”
To calm things down, the Biergärten were legalised by a decree in 1812, but were not permitted to sell food.
Take your own picnic
“The tradition of taking your own picnic to the Biergärtens dates from this era”,
explains Silvia Hölzlwimmer-Ruff.
The brewers authorised people to bring their own “Brotzeit” to keep them in the establishment for as long as possible and thus sell them litres of beer.
“This tradition is what makes the clientele of the Biergärten so varied still today. It is a social melting pot - a collective experience.”
One still frequently sees whole groups or families unpack their tupperwares onto the long wooden tables flanked by benches that are a characteristic feature of all Biergärten. Some of Munich’s inhabitants even go as far as turning the outing into a genuine party, adding tablecloths, candles and vases of flowers to their table. In some establishments, the staunchest regulars even have their own “Stammtisch” table, some of which are made to measure by a local carpenter and the regulars will bring their own beer glasses.
Today, the beer gardens serve Bavarian specialties for those who turn up with empty stomachs and hands, starting with Obazda, a creamy cheese and paprika dip. Originally, this Bavarian “tapas” was made with left-over cheese, but today it is made with fresh cheese, finely sliced shallots and radishes and is eaten with pretzels, served on a small wooden platter called a "Bayerische Brotzeitplatte".
These establishments also serve hot meals: roast half-chickens, generally with French fries, Schweinshaxe, roast knuckle of ham served with fried potatoes and cabbage, Knödel, a Bavarian version of a boiled dumpling, spareribs and grilled mackerel, Steckerlfisch.
Another characteristic of the beer gardens is that there is no terrace service like in an English pub. The beer and food is ordered directly from the bar and kitchen. The beer (lager, white and brown) is generally served in one-litre glasses, although of late some beer gardens also offer half-litre (one pint) glasses to suit those who may not have the same legendary thirst as the locals! One last tip: if the bench you are sitting on isn’t entirely full, never get up without warning your neighbours, otherwise they may all end up sitting on the grass !
The famous Hofbräuhaus, one of Munich’s six historic breweries (the only ones authorised to serve beer during the Oktoberfest), is home to a delightful little beer garden in its inner courtyard, graced by a historic well that further adds to the village-like charm. The regulars (Stammgäste) have their own table (Stammtisch) which is set aside for them for several hours each week. In May, a period when there are many festive events to celebrate the return of the fine weather in Bavaria, a special beer, Maibock, is served.
Open daily from 9am to 11.30pm
Platzl 9, 80331 München
One of Munich’s top venues! At the foot of the Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm), a decorative pagoda in the famous English garden (Englischer Garten), this 7,000-seat Biergarten is very popular with tourists. The Chinesischer Turm biergarten also serves Maibock in May. Traditional Bavarian folk music on Wednesdays, Fridays and at the weekend until nightfall.
On the third Sunday of July, the venue is the site of the Köcherlball, a giant ball attended by thousands of partygoers that starts at dawn! It was originally a ball that took place every Sunday morning in the summertime in the 19th century and which was attended by cooks (Köcherl), maids, gardeners and nurses who met at the foot of the Chinese tower at daybreak, when the middle-class families where they were employed went to church.
Open daily from 10am to 10-11pm
Englischer Garten 3, 80538 Munich
With 8,000 seats in the sun and shade, the Hirschgarten is generally acknowledged to be the “biggest beer garden in Europe”. Its regulars claim that it embodies the heart and soul of Bavarian lifestyle. Despite the numbers, its ambience is very pleasant. Located on the edge of the park of the same name.
Open daily from 11.30am to midnight, sometimes until 1am.
Hirschgarten 1, 80639 München
Although one of the largest beer gardens (1,500 seats) in Munich, it is haven of peace and quiet in a huge park planted with chestnut trees. A family atmosphere depicts this venue, yet to be invaded by tourists.
Open daily until 11pm maximum.
Taxisstraße 12, 80637 Munich
Max Emanuel Brauerei
Tucked away in an inner courtyard of a residential block, this beer garden in the Maxvorstadt district belongs to a small Munich brewery. Called the MaxE by its regulars, it is particularly popular with students in the evenings. Dance nights take place indoors (Sunday rock, Friday salsa and Wednesday Cuban). Perfect for those who fancy a glass of beer without the usual Bavarian folklore trappings.
Open daily from 11am to 11.30pm
Adalbertstraße 33, 80799 Munich
(1) Der Biergarten Führer, publisher Knürr, 215 p., €5,95. Regularly updated, this small guide lists all Munich’s beer gardens. The Die Biergarten-Karte (publisher München Verlag, €4,99) is also useful with a small map that shows the most iconic beer gardens of Munich. It features fifty or so inner-city gardens and some twenty on the outskirts. Very practical if on a bicycle.