Once renowned as the world's most prolific nation of beer drinkers, Germany has slipped from its pedestal. The reason could be that more and more Germans are crossing the border to sample the barley water of Prague.
Welcome to the Czech Republic.
Prague is a city steeped in culture and history with its associations with literature, music and social values. It is an ideal place for international politicians to meet and discuss the policies that will shape their collective futures and expand their understanding of each other. However, when German European Union Commissioner Günter Verheugen is in town, there are other things that are in danger of expanding -- his waistline for one.
This is mainly due to another factor that expands on every visit, Verheugen's love of Czech beer and food. "My wife does not like this at all," confessed the EU commissioner in an interview with Germany's Spiegel magazine.
Frau Verheugen may not be the only politician's wife who might be wielding the rolling pin when her husband returns from a "business" trip to the Czech capital. Mrs. Schröder-Kopf can almost guarantee that her Gerhard will have spent a good far while in one the city's beerhouses after a visit. Indeed it is the requisite for any successful trip to Prague for the prominent visitor to indulge in some local hospitality.
Czechs top consumption league table
The fact is that while the Czech Republic cannot rightfully justify its claim that it produces the world's best beer, it does however produce many a tipple that inspires even the proud German drinkers to quaff Czech ales in large amounts. In terms of consumption, the Czechs put away enough lager to put them on the top of the drinking charts. In 2003, Czechs -- no doubt assisted by the legions of willing foreign assistants -- managed to consume an average of 162 liters each, according to the Brewing Federation in Prague, making it the best performance in terms of beer drinking in the world that year.
Germany could only stumble towards third place with an average of 123 liters per person, a few jars behind the mighty Irish in second place who guzzled 146 liters each, mainly of the Dublin brewed Guinness no doubt.
A beer garden in Cologne.
It would surprise many that Germany, a nation of dedicated beer drinkers, would flounder into a third spot in such a league table. After all, with such a rich tradition of production and consumption stretching back centuries, the Germans should easily be the last ones standing after all the other lightweights of the world are soundly snoring under the table. How, then, can Germany have slipped so far back?
Promotion of beer tourism
The main reason is likely to be the Czech-instigated "beer path" which crosses the borders from the Southern states of Germany and France into Bohemia and Moravia and onto Poland and Slovakia. Organized by Prague's Brewing Federation, this cultural exchange program with a difference connects Germany and the Czech Republic in the same way as the River Elbe flows between the two countries…except this time it's a flow of beer and a shared tradition of ancient brewing.
The promotion of beer tourism has prompted masses of Germans to combine one of their greatest loves with another -- drinking and vacations. Some may argue that they do this wherever they may be in the world but the Czech Republic offers that historical twist and a respect of hops and barley that Germans can relate to.
Tradition and ingredients prove popular
Horse drawn carriages in Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic.
Just as in Germany, beer is the national drink of the Czechs. There are more than 100 breweries in Bohemia and Moravia, brewing everything from dark malty beers to bright, crisp pilsners. Hops, malt and brewing water exist in unusually high quality throughout the Republic, and this is the basis for its success.
One of the most renowned of Czech beers is brewed not far from the German border, in the industrial town Pilsen, the famed Urquell Pilsner. First produced in 1842, it still carries the name of the town in which it was created. These days, the brewery is a popular stop for those Germans crossing the border to taste the beer at its source.
Famous brands in original surroundings
Elsewhere, Germans are lured to the town of Ceske Budejovice where the world famous Budvar is produced. The makers of the original Budweiser, taken from the translated name of the town, are as famous for taking on the U.S. brewing giant Anheuser Bush who sells its own international recognized Budweiser as they are for the beer itself. As a result of the spat, the American beer, brought over by a Czech emigrant, cannot be sold under the Budweiser name in the Republic.
With such a tradition, great tasting beer and close proximity to home, it's no surprise that Germans are heading into Bohemia by the bus load to experience Czech beer in its native land. Germans may not boast as many liters per person in their homeland as the Czechs, but the figures don't show the number of Germans consuming in other lands. The league table may look a little different if they did.