Fermented Franconia

The first time I visited Bamberg, Germany in November 2007, I was a bit naive. I was aware of the high regard in which many a beer geek has held city as the best beer town in Deutschland. So the first time I went, I half expected the locals to be greeting me with mugs of rauchbier and märzen as I walked off the train. That undoubtedly would be awesome, but it’s pretty far from reality. In fact, even though there are some eight or nine breweries within the relatively modest city limits, you really have to know where you’re going to actually find them. And it took me a couple of years worth of day trips to Bamberg–I’m in Nuremberg most years for a trade show and Bamberg’s a 45-minute train ride away–before I really figured out the lay of the land.

I’ve finally figured out what I love and hate about the city. Don’t worry, there’s much more of the former than the latter.

Hate: The tourists increasingly are discovering it. I felt like I had ownership of it, that it was my place. I know that’s selfish and irrational.  I guess it’s a good thing that folks are starting to coming in (still relatively small) droves. I guess cathedrals will do that. And beer for that matter, especially now that craft beer is a global phenomenon.

The masses outside the tourist-magnet Schlenkerla

Hate: Schlenkerla. Okay, before you beer geeks get up in arms, I LOVE Schlenkerla rauchbier. I HATE the fact that the brewery’s pub is always overrun with sheep just wanting to be able they said they were there. In fact, you can’t even get in on most nights.  The crowd spills over onto the charming cobblestone street. Its often the only brewery mentioned in visitors’ guides (“You must try ‘rauchbier!!'”)

Love: Schlenkerla’s loss is every other brewery’s gain. My personal favorite is Fässla, which, admittedly, isn’t exactly empty on most nights. But it’s truly one of the unsung stars of the Bamberg beer scene among those not actually from Bamberg. Fässla’s Zwergla and Bambergator are the real standout beers, and it’s nice to just order at the window and stand (or if you’re lucky, sit in one of the handful of seats) in the vestibule between the beer hall and the hotel the brewery runs. It’s great for local people-watching right after work. I’m also a fan of Mahrs and Keesmann breweries.

Love: Abseits. It’s not a brewery, but a beer bar and perhaps one of the best in Germany in terms of variety. Patrons can try a range of offerings from breweries throughout Franconia and even a few brewed by an entity whose primary business isn’t brewing: Bamberg-based malt supplier Weyermann, which has brewed up a number of lovely concoctions untethered to German traditions, such as its Pumpernickel Porter. It’s very much a local joint.

Fässla’s ride

Love: • It’s completely walkable. That being said, wear very comfortable shoes. The city was built on a network of hills, so it’s kind of like Edinburgh-light.

Love: Night time in autumn, after most of the tourists have gone. As a traveler, there are few vibes I get that are more comforting than the smell of wood-burning stoves and the gentle sound of church bells in the distance as I stroll through the narrow, mostly deserted European streets. And that’s Bamberg to a T.


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