As the weather gets better in Germany, the Biergärten start opening. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon that turns into an evening before you even realize it. Get your Biergarten vocabulary up now, and you’ll be a pro by the end of the summer. You’ll obviously have to practice a lot, right?
The Biergarten rules
Of course, you didn’t think this was a free for all right? Biergärten are friendly places, but it’s best if you know some of the unspoken rules before you try and sit down. The long tables with benches on either side are Biertischgarnitur, and you can join people already sitting there. You don’t need to ask unless the space is a little tight, or there’s only one person there (a good sign their friends are off getting the beer). When you ask, you can say ‘Ist dieser Platz frei?’, ‘Is this spot free?’ You don’t have to make conversation after this point – once you’ve all nodded and said hello, you can leave it at that and pretend they don’t exist. Generally it’s not polite to try and hold a large area for people that have not arrived. Look out for a table painted differently than the rest, or with a plaque fixed to it or a tree nearby, with the word Stammtisch. This is a special spot for the regulars, and you can’t sit there unless you’ve been invited. Smaller tables with chairs and tablecloths are for waiter service, and you can sit there, but not if you’ve brought your own food. Outside of Bavaria, it’s more common to have table service, even at the long tables.
You can bring your own food?
I know. This is definitely a next-level Biergarten skill, and definitely most common in Bavaria. Outside of Bavaria, I would assume you need to order food there. I’ve watched families roll up with a table cloth, and a tower of plastic containers. It’s not okay to bring food you bought from a restaurant around the corner, but homemade is fine. Most people bring a selection of cold things like: Brezel (pretzels), Obatzda (Bavarian cheese dip), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad). You do have to buy your own beer at the Biergarten. Makes sense. You pay a Pfand, ‘deposit’, on your Bierkrug, so don’t forget to return them all to get your money back. Unlike a Christmas market, you can’t take these home.
But you don’t have to
If you want to order food there, and there isn’t table service, you go up to a window and order, wait to pick it up, and return to your table. Common Biergarten fare includes: Hendl (half a chicken with a paprika-heavy spice rub), Wurst (sausage, be ready to point because there will be at least two or three versions available on a grill), Schweinhaxe (pork knuckle, it’s going to be big so don’t drink a lot before this one!), Sauerkraut or Kartoffelsalat, and of course Brezel.
Of course, there’s the beer
The whole point of this exercise is drinking some cool beer under the trees with friends. Your choices will generally be Helles (light), Weizen (wheat), or Dunkel (dark), and it comes in a Maß, a litre mug. No matter how many American TV shows and websites called this a stein, which we all know is rock, it is not. Don’t ever call it this, and one day we will fix this miscommunication by sheer force of will. When you’re at a self-service Biergarten, you will have to order your drinks at a different window than your food. Finally, when everyone has their drink, you lift your glass, clink with the bottom edge, look into your dining companions’ eyes and say ‘Prost!’ To not look people in the eyes during a toast will curse you with seven years bad sex, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!