A Bavarian-style bar in Sydney's historic center has found its recipe for success: liter-sized beer steins, dirndl-clad servers, and plenty of something Germans are admittedly less well-known for - fun.
The Loewenbraeu Keller organizes beer drinking and carrying contests
At the Loewenbraeu Keller in Sydney, the staff are conspicuous, running around in traditional Bavarian outfits. The men wear leather trousers and the women have "Dirndl" on - dresses with fitted bodices over white blouses with plunging necklines.
This includes the bar's manager, German immigrant Reinhard Wurtz, who claims that it is the Loewenbraeu Keller's loyalty to Bavarian tradition that has proven to be a formula for success.
"We are the biggest authentic Bavarian restaurant outside of Germany," said Wurtz. "Most of the furnishings and decor here were imported from Bavaria - and we cook real Bavarian cuisine. There are a few Bavarian bars in other countries that are bigger in size, but after traveling around I can definitely say that ours is the most authentic."
No small beer mugs
Located in The Rocks, a short walk from Sydney Harbor, the Loewenbraeu Keller is known to the locals as simply "the Lowenbrau" (pronounced to rhyme with "how"). The bar and restaurant seats over 800 people in its outdoor and indoor areas.
It was named after the famous Bavarian beer, Loewenbraeu, as the bar is its official Australian importer. Established in 1976 by John Szangolies, a Sydney resident of German descent, it was meant to capitalize on Bavaria's worldwide fame for its food, drink and traditions like the Oktoberfest. Today, the bar welcomes around one million visitors per year.
The Loewenbraeu Keller is more relaxed than other bars in Sydney, said Ostermann
Apart from Loewenbraeu, the bar also has other well-known German beers on offer, such as Hofbraeu and Paulaner. This is certainly not the type of beer you would find at a typical Australian pub - nor are the one-liter and half-liter beer steins something most Australians would be familiar with, since the country's standard serving size is smaller.
For native South Australian and first-time visitor to Sydney Luke Polkinghorne, this "novelty factor" is what stood out to him when he entered the Loewenbraeu Keller. It was also the first time he had ever drunk out of a one-liter beer mug.
Authentic outpost abroad
The Loewenbraeu Keller's "Germanness" is more than costume-deep. According to manager Reinhard Wurtz, the bar mostly hires people who can speak German, "so that they have some understanding of the culture."
This means that the bar attracts a large number of backpackers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland - as well as other European countries - who are looking for temporary work in Australia. One such traveler is 23-year-old Isabell Ostermann, from the small town of Wittlich in south-western Germany. She traveled around Australia and Asia before settling down in Sydney for the remaining five months of her year abroad.
"When I came back from Asia I had to find a job, and I thought the easiest way would be to go to a German restaurant,” said Ostermann. "So I just walked right into the Loewenbraeu Keller and asked. It was a very good time for that because it was one week before Oktoberfest and they were very busy."
When asked about the authenticity of the bar from a German's point of view, Ostermann was full of enthusiasm.
"It's very German!" Ostermann exclaimed. "I sometimes forget that I'm in Australia. It's only the Australian customers that remind me of where I am. I feel so at home in here - it's like being with my family."
Australians aren't used to such large servings of beer
Although she is not from Bavaria herself, Ostermann admitted that she loves wearing the traditional dirndl all day and fitting the stereotypical image of a German - simply because it is "fun."
Apart from food and drink, the Loewenbraeu Keller also offers its guests daily live entertainment, from oom-pah-pah brass bands and alphorn performances to Bavarian-style slap dancing. There is also a dance floor and DJs pumping out pop music, as well as fun activities that the visitors can get involved in, such as yodeling and drinking contests.
"I have tried the beer-drinking competition here before,” said Jacqui Salvage, a Sydney resident and regular visitor to the Loewenbraeu Keller. "But the European girls always beat me."
Adding to this spirit of fun, the bar's manager Reinhard Wurtz holds the Guinness World Record for carrying 20 one-liter steins of beer stacked up in his hands for a distance of over 40 meters. This record was set on location at the Loewenbraeu Keller in November 2007.
"The atmosphere is more laid-back here than in many of Sydney's other bars, which tend to be quite fancy," said bartender Isabell Ostermann. "People come here and eat their schnitzel and drink their beer - and they know that they can simply relax."
Author: Eva Wutke
Editor: Kate Bowen