After living here in Berlin for a grand total of 4 months, it's a shame that I had not yet made it to anywhere within Germany besides here in Berlin! However, now I can officially say I have been to 2 German cities now - or maybe 3 if you want to count Potsdam, which is 100% worth seeing but just a 30 minute S-bahn ride away so it feels a bit like it belongs within "Berlin." This spring, a bunch of us here in the Stanford program met a German student named Udo, who goes to the university in Bamberg but is from Berlin and lives at Wannsee about every other weekend. We've been to his lake house many times for weekend barbeques, hanging out on the docks, and swimming in the lake, but never to visit him in Bamberg. So, after a much overdo trip within the country, we rented cars and roadtripped to Bavaria to stay at Udo's apartment for the weekend and ultimately search for the ever-so-coveted Bierdiplom. While I originally thought I was just going to some random German town of only 70,000 people for a weekend of drinking beer and leaving with funny memories, the trip actually turned out to be much more due to the beautiful city in which the Bierdiplom could be obtained.
Bamberg, located in northern Bavaria, is about a 4 hour drive from Berlin and sits in a valley of some very large rolling hills or small mountains depending how you want to look at it. The best part about Bamberg for me was that it was not destroyed during WWII, so it was the first time that I was able to see traditional German architecture. Berlin, which was completely bombed out during the second war, has hardly any traditional German buildings remaining and the city was completely reconstructed after the war. So, when we as American think of the stereotypical and traditional image of Germany from an outsider's perspective, Bamberg is pretty much exactly the image that comes to one's mind. The entire city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like the castles of Sintra in Portugal), so it's pretty significant in the realm of German culture and history. It's also beautiful due to the river that runs through the city center along many of the old German buildings. So after arriving very late at 1am to Bamberg - we went on an all-day bike tour of Potsdam Friday - we crashed for the most uncomfortable night of sleeping I have ever had in my life. While it was awesome to have a place to stay and I'm incredibly grateful to Udo for letting us stay at his place, sleeping on a wooden floor with only a blanket for warmth and a backpack as a pillow definitely does not qualify as sleep! But hey, as a cheap college student, I was happy and grateful nonetheless.
We woke up the next morning, or stayed up the whole night, and cooked an enormous brunch of pasta with sauce and cheese to give us a steady start to the day. It was rather important to eat a big meal since the rest of the day entailed drinking. Bamberg, besides it's architectual beauty and historical status, is also home to the largest density of breweries in the world. There are 9 traditional breweries, plus one modern one, all of which are extremely old and as the world knows, beer is a huge part of German culture so therefore the breweries are fairly significant. The idea of the Bierdiplom is to spend a day going to each of the 9 traditional breweries and trying the house beer from each. In the past, it was an organized tour, not by a tour company but the Bierdiplom was actually a ligitimate beer tasting event, in which each brewery acknowledge that it existed and gave visitors stamps upon drinking their house beer. At the end of the day, one would have 9 stamps for having 9 historic beers and therefore would have complete the Bierdiplom. However, since it was organized, that meant there was a specified order in which to visit the breweries; as one can imagine, the breweries at the end of the list were likely not so happy to always be flooded with locals and tourists alike all completely drunk after visiting 7 or 8 other breweries first. So, the Bierdiplom lost its official status and the breweries no longer acknowledge the event. However, some breweries out of tradition and good taste still give visitors stamps if they have a Bierdiplom paper (which can be created on one's own just as our's were). So that's a short history of the idea behind the Bierdiplom - try 9 beers, visit 9 historic breweries, see the city while walking from brewery to brewery, and ultimately just have a good time with the friends you are with. So after eating an emormous brunch to prepare us for the day, we headed out to arrive at the first brewery at 1pm.
Our first brewery on the list was Brauerei Spezial. We arrived on time at 1 and ordered our first beer. I think a few of us were a bit nervous about having 9 half liters of beer throughout the day, but it actually turned out to be fine with the walking between breweries and a quick stop for pizza between the 5th and 6th. The first brewery brewed a smoked beer - one of two smoked beers we had throughout the day in Bamberg, and is a beer that can only be found in Bamberg. The first one was not really noticable as it was extremely mild, although dark, and did not have a smoked smell to it. Since it would be a bit exhaustive to talk about every brewery and there are a lot of similarities while each being unique, I'll just give a general overview of the day to give feel for the breweries. So to start, here is a list of the 9 we visited in order and the year they were founded:
1) Brauerei Spezial (1536)
2) Brauerei Keesman (1867)
3) Brauerei Mahr (1670)
4) Brauerei Maisel (1798)
5) Brauerei Fässla (1649)
6) Brauerei Heller-Trum (Schlenkeria) (1678)
7) Braeurei Klosterbräu (1533)
8) Brauerei Kaiserdom (1718)
9) Brauerei Greifenklau (1719)
Relating back to the historical nature of Bamberg, one thing I found really cool about all the breweries was also the sense of history while in each. All but 2 of the breweries we visited were older than the United States - which for those of you that are dreadfully awful at history means established before 1776. Germany is also very proud of their beer brewing history and has a law called the "Reinheitsgebot" or the "German Purity Law" which became official in 1516. Remarkably, the law existed until 1993, but all of the beers we had still abide by the 1516 purity law. In other words, the recipes for the beers we drank we old, if not ancient. Another cool think about visiting all the breweries was that your beers were served in an authentic stein, some glass and some clay, and all poured out of wooden kegs. The stein's were less significant since every beer you order in Germany is served to you in a glass or stein of the same brand, but seeing the beer pouring out of the wooden kegs was a cool experience. The most unique beer of the day was at Bamberg's most famous brewery - the Schlenkeria. It was the second of 2 smoked beers we had throughout the day and this time there was no mistaking that the beer was actually smoked. When we first got our beers, you could notice immediately that they smelled exactly like bacon. And, unfortunately, the aftertaste was likewise. It was definitely not my favorite beer of the day - well, actually it was my least favorite, but since smoked beers don't come around every day then I guess that makes it Bamberg's most famous. Other than the history behind all the beers and breweries, it was a blast to hang out with other German university students for the day while learning traditional German drinking songs and getting the entire rooms full of people to sing along with us. So after a long day of bouncing between brewery after brewery, we ended the day with a final beer at 11 to wrap up an awesome tour.
On Sunday, we woke up around 10 and made our way back to the city center for an incredible brunch at a sidewalk cafe. We had waffles, yogurt, juice, potatoes, mushrooms, fish, rice, bread, tomatoes, cheeses, sausage, and the list goes on. It was incredible and one of the best meals I have had in Germany. After brunch, we made a trek up the hill to the Old Kings Palace and walked around for a while before finally heading back to Udo's apartment to pick up the cars for the drive back to Berlin. Overall, it was an incredible trip and one of the most fun weekends yet here in Europe. For a town that I knew nothing about before visiting, I can't imagine leaving Germany without having seen it.