In München stet das Hofbräuhaus
Eins, zwei, G’Zupfe!
Translation: In Munich stands the Hofbräuhaus
One, two, down the hatch!The Hofbräuhaus Song.
Beer has always been a significant part of German culture. During the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the water in Europe was beyond polluted. One drink spawned a host of diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Needing, alternate drink Germans turned to beer. And so Germany’s long-lasting relationship with the hoppy brew was formed.
Bavaria, located in southern Germany, is the beer capital of the country. The capital city, Munich, is renowned for beer halls. When taking a stroll through the city, countless halls or outdoor beer gardens pop up. These establishments run the gamut from a quiet, outdoor patio to a loud, festive room. Whatever the size of the place, patrons find a smorgasbord of hoppy brews to choose from.
A Hallowed Hall
The most famous hall in all of Munich, and possibly the world, is the Hofbräuhaus. Located in the centre of Munich, Hofbräuhaus is a popular tourist spot. Inside the hall, oopmpah bands dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing play festive music for an appreciative (and likely inebriated) crowd. Munich’s Hofbräuhaus has two floors, as well as smaller rooms favoured by celebrities. Hofbräuhaus also has an outdoor beer garden. Patrons sit under chestnut trees as the traditionally dressed waiters and waitresses serve Bavarian food and beer. The beer garden has a relaxed atmosphere compared to the rowdy indoors.
The beer is served in massive one liter mugs, called ein Mass. If that is too much, half-liter glasses are available. Besides the beer, Hofbräuhaus is equally famous for food. The menu is jam-packed with Bavarian cuisine: from Rouladen to Weißwurst to Sauerkraut.
Hofbräuhaus did not achieve its legendary status overnight. Its history dates back as far as 500 years ago. Along the way, the beer hall has had notable patrons, both famous and infamous. Hofbräuhaus has also experienced its fair share of historical events. This article will take a look at Hofbräuhaus’ colourful history. The first stop is the 16th century
Hofbräuhaus came to life in 1589, but not as a public beer hall. It started out as a brewery. At the time, Munich’s court society did not enjoy the beer made by local breweries. This forced them to import beer from North Germany. A popular import area was Einbeck, where the brewers produced an exceptionally strong beer for special occasions. However, not everyone in Munich loved imported beer. The North German beer was expensive; only the rich were able to afford it.
This situation led Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria to create his own brewery. Ever since the Duke moved to Munich, he wanted to supply his court with local beer. On September 21, 1589, Wilhelm V opened the Ducal court brewery Herzogliches Hofbräuhaus at the old court (called Alter Hof). Within a short time, the brewery’s brown beer (Braunbier) sold to the public.
However, the desire for strong Einbeck beer remained. In 1612, Einbeck brewmaster Elias Pichler went to Munich to produce “Ainpöckisch Bier”. This was abbreviated to “Oanbock”, and later to simply Bock. Hofbräuhaus still brews this beer seasonally. It’s called Starkbier (strong beer), and sold in May as “Mailbock”.
In 1516, Bavarian noblemen created a law stating only water, barley, and hops may be used to brew beer. Named the purity law, the nobleman aimed to prevent crops from being squandered on brewing. The lawmakers also wanted to halt the practise of using cheap ingredients in beer brewing: Unscrupulous brewers used inferior ingredients to gain a greater profit. As a result, beer was often foul-tasting, and at times poisonous. The purity law hoped to ensure only the finest ingredients went into German beer. The penalty for violating the purity law was severe. Brewers using other ingredients had their barrels confiscated without compensation.
The purity law remained a fixture in Bavaria for hundreds of years. When Germany unified in 1871, Bavaria insisted on implementing The Bavarian Purity Act throughout the German state; this was their precondition for joining. Bavaria’s stipulation was accepted, and German beer became world renowned for its quality and consistency. The purity law is long outdated. However, several breweries still follow the law’s regulations, more out of principal and honour than obeying the law. These brewers want to maintain German beer’s high quality.
Hofbräuhaus and the Purity Law
Munich’s Hofbräuhaus played a role in the purity law. According to the law, wheat beer was prohibited in Bavaria; wheat was exclusively reserved for bread making. Despite the ban, Duke Maximilian I, heir to Wilhelm V, maintained the right to brew wheat beer (Weißbier). Maximilian preferred the lighter wheat beers instead of the heavy dark beers his predecessor enjoyed.
The duke turned the ban into a profitable state monopoly. In 1602, Maximilian recruited the first Weißbier master for the Hofbräuhaus. The brewery churned out the wheat brew, netting the duke a sizeable profit.
Initially, the old court brewery produced brown and white beers. But in five years time, production of the popular wheat beer moved into the new White Court Brewery (Weißes Hofbräuhaus) at Platzl. The demand for beer became so great that the small brewery to the larger building at the so called Platzl. The brewery remained there until April 6, 1987 when a fire destroyed the historic building. Today, the brewery resides in Riem, in the outskirts of the city.
Open to the Public
In 1612, Maximilian I decreed beer be marketed to the masses. Beforehand, the well-off were the primary customers. The dark, strong Mailbock beer was served to the people of Munich. Mailbock also plays a key part in both Hofbräuhaus and Bavarian history. During the Seven Years War, Sweden invaded Bavaria. Munich prevented its pillaging by promising the Scandinavians 1,000 gallons of bock. Apparently, this deal enticed the Swedish forces, and Munich was spared.
Even though Maximilian I made beer available to the public, the doors to Hofbräuhaus were still sealed. This changed in 1828. It was in this year that King Ludwig I opened Hofbräuhaus to the public. The Hofbräuhaus opening set a milestone in German history. It is where the idea of drinking beer in a place that produced it large quantities became a common idea. This is the Hofbräuhaus we know today.
Many more milestones followed. In 1852, the brewery and tavern were taken over by the State of Bavaria. In 1896, the brewery moved to a different location. Previously, the brewery and tavern operated out of the same building. Now the building ran only as a beer hall. The building was demolished the following year. In its wake a new, larger hall was built, along with an expansive outdoor beer garden. This is the Hofbräuhaus we know today.
The Hofbräuhaus Song
The growing popularity of Hofbräuhaus spawned a song celebrating the tavern. In 1935, Wiga Gabriel and Wilhelm Gebauer composed the Hofbräuhaus song; Gabriel wrote the music and Gebauer the lyrics. An instant hit, sheet music for the song quickly sold. The song became a fixture of the Oktoberfest festivities, being sung in halls and gardens throughout Germany. Even today patrons sing the song along with the Hofbräuhaus band.
While Hofbräuhaus is celebrated today, the hall has a dark history. In February 1920, Hofbräuhaus was the site of the very first meeting of Adolf Hitler and the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party, a.k.a. the Nazi Party. Hofbräuhaus was no stranger to politics. In 1919, the Munich Communist Party set up their headquarters in the hall. However, the Nazi Party’s politics were different: it grew to become more ideological and radical in nature.
Hofbräuhaus is the sight where Hitler gave his infamous “Why We Are Antisemites” speech. This gives Hofbräuhaus the distinction where Hitler first publicly denounced the Jewish Religion. Writer Sue Kovach Shuman theorizes the first violent attacks on Jewish people occurred at Hofbräuhaus.
Hitler believed Hofbräuhaus played a central role in his and the Nazi’s rise to power. Therefore, the party celebrated its anniversary every year at the beer hall.
WWII and Restoration
The Allied bombings of World War II destroyed the Hofbräuhaus rooms. Only one room in the historic beer hall (the “Schwemme”) survived. After the war ended, work began on rebuilding the building. Hofbräuhaus was one of the first buildings to be built during the time of post-war restoration. Hofbräuhaus finally reopened in 1958. At first business was slow, but an unlikely group saved Hofbräuhaus. American soliders stationed in Munich spread word of Hofbräuhaus. They marvelled at he enormous hall and the giant litre mugs. Some even sported the heavy mugs with the iconic HB logo.
With the aid of American servicemen, business for Hofbräuhaus picked up. It wasn’t long before a steady stream of customers entered the newly restored building.
Known around the world, Oktoberfest is an annual festival in Munich. It is held over a two-week period and ends on the first Sunday in October. The festival began on October 12, 1810, in celebration of the marriage of King Louis I (crown prince of Bavaria) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburhausen. The festival lasted five days, concluding with a horse race held in an area later named Theresienwiese (“Therese’s green”). The following year’s festivities combined the race with a state agricultural fair. By 1818 booths serving food and drink were added. By the 20th century, tents were plentiful. Oktoberfest now is the world’s premier holiday celebrating German beer and food.
Hofbräuhaus and Oktoberfest
Out of all the Oktoberfest tents, Hofbräuhaus remains the largest and most well known. Though the famous hall was not always a part of the celebrations. Hofbräuhaus first served its brand of beer at Oktoberfest in 1950 at the Schottenheml Festhalle. The reasons for this delay in Hofbräu beer at Oktoberfest is questionable. One reason is a dispute between the owners of Festhalle and the owners of Hofbräuhaus. The two parties could not agree on a price for the beer.
To avoid any more of these disputes Hofbräuhaus set up its own tent in 1952. Since then, Hofbräuhaus has maintained that tent. When Oktoberfest rolls around, Hofbräuhaus remains the largest tent. Thousands lineup to drink down all the beer Hofbräuhaus has to offer.
Members of the nobility were the sole customers since the public was barred from the building. One notable patron during this time period of the brewery was famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart cited his visits to Hofbräuhaus as inspiring his opera Idomeno. Other famous musicians and artists drank Hofbräu beer at the venerable hall, Louis Armstrong and Marcel Duchamp being two examples.
Politicians have raised a glass at Hofbräuhaus. In the early 20th century, Valdimir Ilyich Lenin paid a visit to the beer hall. Later on, American presidents John F. Kennedy and George H.W. took in the Hofbräuhaus atmosphere. Mikhail Gorbachev, last president of the Soviet Union, is another famous politician to visit the beer hall.
The long list of famous guests only adds to the legendary status of Hofbräuhaus.
Munich’s Hofbräuhaus Today
The mystique surrounding Munich’s Hofbräuhaus still remains today. Strolling into the venerable hall, you’ll find hundreds of happy people drinking down beer, eating good food, or singing the Hofbräuhaus song. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced Hofbräuhaus to close its doors. The once boisterous hall now is eerily quiet. This situation is just another part of Hofbräuhaus’ long history.
However, with gradual distribution of vaccines throughout the world, the time has almost come for Hofbräuhaus to reopen. Hundreds of locals, tourists, and celebrity guests will pack the halls of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus.