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Travel

Summertime is Beer Garden Time

As soon as the weather allows it, Germans head to beer gardens to partake of their favorite brew and a pretzel or wurst in the shadow of chestnut trees.

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What the café is to the French, the beer garden is to the Germans

When the mercury starts to rise in the spring, it's just a matter of time until the beer gardens open their doors to the crowds of Germans looking forward to enjoying a drink under the blazing sun.

Beer gardens have been a feature of German life ever since the brief reign of Bavarian King Ludwig I (1825-1848), who inadvertently caused their establishment after decreeing that beer could only be brewed during the winter.

Münchner Biergarten

Guests have an afternoon drink at Munich's central Viktualienmarkt beer garden.

Here's the reaon why: Even then southern Germans were keen on drinking beer prevalent in Germany today, which is brewed with barley malt and requires temperatures between 4 and 9 degrees Celsius (39 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit) to ferment. Since refrigeration wasn't possible, the beer couldn't be brewed during the warmer seasons.

Providing beer to the masses

But the Bavarians wanted to drink barley malt beer -- which includes pilsner -- in summer, too. Thus, industrious brewers dug up to 12-meter (39-foot) deep caves along the river slopes outside Munich, where they left beer to ferment in barrels covered with ice culled from the rivers and lakes during the winter.

They covered the cellars with light-colored gravel and planted shadowy chestnut or linden trees to protect them from the sun's heat. In summer, the brewers served the fresh beer on these sites, drawing crowds of thirsty people.

Der Biergarten von Josef Stadtbräu in Linz

When Munich's smaller breweries saw how well business was going beyond the city's gates, they took legal action in protest.

King Ludwig was sympathetic to their cause: Although he allowed the cellars to continue selling beer, he forbade them from serving snacks. Guests ended up satisfying their hunger by bringing their own food, a tradition that continues today. Beer gardens have long invaded the city as well: No place in Germany has more, older or bigger open air restaurants than Munich. The largest one alone, the "Hirschgarten," seats 8,000 people.

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