Starkbierfest, Munich – Let the Debauchery Begin
By happenstance, we stumbled into Munich for Starkbierfest – Munich’s secret beer festival
First, let me start by explaining what Starkbierfest is, besides some good ole German debauchery.
Starkbierfest traces its roots back to 1627 when the kind hearted Paulener Monks were looking for a way to reprieve the citizens of Munich from the pangs of hunger felt during Lenten fasting. What better way to quench those pains than with a strong beer and a subsequent buzz? Makes sense to me.
Starkbier actually translates strong beer and is by definition a Doppelbock, coming in at no less than 8% ABV According to legend, the monks were looking for a beer thick enough and strong enough to help forget about their hunger, and the entire Lenten Season for that matter. Thus they created the Salvator (Latin for Savior).
The religious aspect of what they dub the “fifth season” has since been lost, unless you include clutching a toilet and screaming “Oh God!” after one too many liters.
The tradition has since been adopted by other breweries in Munich. During the four weeks of Lent, you can find their versions ending –ator. Our plan was to sample several while in Munich, but we only had the chance to try Lowenbrau’s Triumphator and Paulaner’s Salvator. Salvator was our favorite of the two. It was thicker, maltier, and seemed to go down easier.
So what’s the secret and why haven’t you heard of Starkbierfest before?
Critics claim that getting hammered during Lent is not necessarily a tradition that Munchens are proud of, but yet it is still a tradition that they revel in each year. The season kicks off with the first barrel tapping at Paulaner Wirtshaus on the Nockherberg where the brewery hosts many prominent celebrities and politicians. I guess they aren’t too ashamed of this tradition after all. After the who’s who of Munich leave, the festivities continue as locals flock to Paulaner on Nockherberg in droves.
Our night at the Paulaner on Nockherberg started innocent. We arrived around 6:30pm and waited in line amongst the masses adorned in lederhosen and dirndls. Admission was 11 Euros and included a voucher for a free liter of beer. The beers alone were 8.50 euros. I know that sounds expensive but think about what it buys – an entire liter of high octane beer. Quick conversion… that’s a hell of a lot more than you get for eleven dollars at a sports arena stateside. But I digress.
It starts with an innocent liter of beer…
Our lunch that day consisted of a shared pretzel and a beer (not shared). While it was a big ass pretzel, we were starving by the time we made Paulener and made a bee line for the food line. Brats and kraut were in order.
We opted to sit in the beer garden since the weather was so nice and found two empty seats at the end of a mostly occupied table. We smiled at our tablemates and dove into our food like cavemen. After we came up for air and our food was gone, I exchanged our vouchers for beer. The party was about to begin. Or at least we thought.
We pretty much stared at each other the entire first round making meaningless small talk to pass the time while shooting awkward glances at our table mates. Did they speak English? If so, would they talk to us or were we doomed to just stare at each other over our giant beer steins? It was like a junior high dance. Would they like us? The rest of the tables were having fun, why couldn’t we?
And then a second round…
Towards the end of our first round, Mrs. Gourmand asked if we should have another or just head out. “Another!” I declared. I was hell-bent on making friends and having a memorable time.
Second round in hand I schemed of ways to break the ice between us and our tablemates. “Do you speak English?” I asked. “A little,” they responded. We were in luck. Conversation ensued from here.
Like most Germans, their little meant a lot and soon the six of us were engulfed in a conversation, doing toasts to our new found friendship. Raise your glass. Prost! Slam it on the table. Drink.
I asked how they picked up their language skills. Their answer – How I Met Your Mother reruns. We talked about our common interest in auto racing – I faintly follow Formula 1 enough to have a conversation. Mrs. Gourmand announced she liked NASCAR. They labeled her a redneck. Prost! “Why?” she asked. “Because you’re from Texas.” Prost!
We discussed politics. They thought the Greeks were lazy and entitled. We agreed. Prost! They liked Obama. We did not. They said we must be rich then. We said no but would like to be someday. Prost! And we talked about the exquisite engineering and design of German automobiles and beer. Prost!
As if two liters of high octane beer wasn’t enough, we went in for a third.
We ventured into the beer hall at this point, and the night then went black. I lost a contact. Mrs. G.lost her Bulova watch.
The next morning we woke up and inventoried what was left of us and flipped through the pictures on our camera to piece together the rest of the night. It was like the freaking Hangover.
There were pictures of funny faces. Pictures of me with women in dirndls. A picture of some guy’s ass with “Your Name” tattooed on it. Mrs. Gourmand had to remind me of this one, and our walk home where she navigated my blind ass through the subway and back to our hotel.
All in all I would qualify Starkbierfest as a good night. It was definitely the highlight of the trip. We made some excellent friends whom we have already been in touch with and experienced a real “cultural” exchange.
Starkbierfest 2016 runs from February 26 through to March 13. Many breweries host evening events in honor of Starkbierfest. However, the biggest and best Starkbierfest is at Paulaner Wirtshaus on the Nockherberg. The party at Löwenbräukeller is also highly recommended. I have information on both below.
Paulaner Wirtshaus on the Nockherberg
- When: Weekdays from 2pm to 10.30pm, and weekends from 11am to 10.30pm.
- Location and directions: Hoch Strasse 77 81541, Munich
- Take the U-Bahn 1 or 2 to Kolumbusplatz. From there it’s a peaceful 15 minute walk up the hill to the brewery.
- Or, take Tram 27 to “Ostfriedhof” and it’s a 3 minute walk down the hill.
- Phone: 089 4 59 91 30
- Reservations: You can reserve a table by phone, fax, or online. Reservations aren’t necessary, but if you want to be safe, make one.
- Cost: €2 before 5pm (3pm on weekends). After, admission costs €11, but you’ll get a voucher for one beer.
- When: Daily from 6pm until 11pm.
- Location and directions: Nymphenburger Strasse 2, Am Stiglmaier Platz, 80335 Munich
- 15 minutes walk north of the Hauptbahnhof along Dachauer Strasse
- Or take U Bahn 1 to Stieglmaier Platz
- Reservations: You can also order tickets over the phone 089 5 47 26 69 16.
- Cost: €16.50