BEERLIN: What You Didn’t Know about German Beer

Did you know that during the annual International Berlin Beer Festival, Karl-Marx-Allee houses the ‘World’s Longest Beer Garden’? The festival starts just across the street from my building, stretches along Karl-Marx-Allee for 2.2km and celebrated its 20th edition last week. There were 340 breweries from 87 countries presenting 2,400 speciality beers. Close to 800,000 people visited the festival. Quite impressive, right? With the weekend approaching, I’ll get you in the beer mood with some more facts about beer in Berlin and Germany – including my favourite places to drink beer in Berlin.

The Seychelles do it better

Where I come from, Holland, we’re happy and proud beer drinkers. The Dutch love their beer, just like the Germans. Dutch guys like to take the challenge and drink an entire crate in one night. That’s 24 times 0.33 litres, which means almost 8 litres of beer in just a few hours’ time. At the same time, there’s the undeniable fact that the Germans beat the Dutch in drinking beer. Germans drank 104.7 litres per capita in 2014, the Dutch a poor 71.4 litres. Yes Holland, we are ranked below Panama, Gabon and Belize in the annual beer consumption ranking. But Germany isn’t the world leader either: the Czech Republic is number 1 (142.6 litres per capita), then come the Seychelles (you read that right; 114.6 litres) followed by Austria (104.8) and Germany.

Herbs are forbidden

But the Germans are serious about their beer. There’s even a ‘Reinheitsgebot’ (purity law), which permits beer brewers to use the ingredients water, hops, malt and yeast – and nothing else. It is said to be the oldest food-quality regulation in the world, dating back as far as the 15th century. The Reinheitsgebot is still in force and the Germans even celebrated its 500th birthday this summer. Chancellor Merkel herself put in an appearance to drink a beer together with hundreds of brewers – talk about traditions! This doesn’t mean that all German beer tastes the same: the added water, the way the beer is malted and the type of hop differ a lot. Still, some say the Reinheitsgebot ensures that there isn’t a lot of creativity in German beer, because even adding herbs is verboten.

German capital of craft beer

It is estimated that there are around 1,300 breweries in Germany, of which almost 50% are located in Bavaria. Together they produce more than 5,000 brands of beer. The Weihenstephan brewery, located in an abbey in Bavaria, was established in 725 and is said to be the oldest existing brewery in the world. Some German beers are internationally famous, Beck’s and Warsteiner for example, but the beer from Berlin mostly stays within the city. There’s not even a beer from Berlin in the Top 10 German beer brands within Germany. Berliners do love drinking their local beer though and the most famous brands, Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner, are both brewed in the same factory. At the same time, the international passion for craft beer from smaller breweries is also very alive in Berlin: they are all over the city now, making Berlin the German capital of craft beer.

Craft Beer Brewery Vagabund
Craft brewery Vagabund. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans

My favourite craft breweries:

• Heidenpeters: Eisenbahnstraße 42/43 in Kreuzberg (in Markthalle Neun)
• Vagabund Brauerei: Antwerpener Straße 3 in Wedding
• Hops & Barley: Wühlischstraße 22/23 in Friedrichshain
• Berliner Berg: Kopfstraße 59 in Neukölln

Beer tastes better outside

It’s no wonder that the English word ‘beer garden’ has been loaned from German; the Biergarten was born in Munich in the 19th century and drinking beer on long benches, surrounded by lush green, music and grilled sausages has been an essential part of German culture ever since. There are several beer gardens in every district of Berlin, making a whopping total of almost 70 in the entire city. The closest one to my home is on Karl-Marx-Allee and there are two more (more beautiful) Biergartens in Volkspark Friedrichshain. You don’t have to visit a beer garden though, to drink beer in the open air. The consumption of alcohol on the street is allowed in Berlin, so just a grab a beer from your nearest Späti and the entire city becomes your Biergarten.

My favourite beer gardens:

• Schoenbrunn und Pavillon: beide im Volkspark Friedrichshain
• Prater: Kastanienallee 7-9 in Prenzlauer Berg
• Café am Neuen See: Lichtensteinallee 2 (im Tiergartenpark)
• Golgatha: Dudenstraße 40 (im Viktoriapark, Kreuzberg)

Beer during Sommer
Beer tastes best during summer. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans