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Vienna, City of Beer Gardens

Not a cloud in the sky and the streets are starting to radiate the heat of the late afternoon. So much to see in Vienna. But I could use a cool drink right about now.IMG_4050 Perfect time to head to a beer garden.

“A beer garden?” some of my Viennese friends ask, usually with slightly raised eyebrow. In writing this series on beer gardens, I’ve come to learn that many in Vienna don’t refer to beer gardens as beer gardens. The preferred term is “Gastgarten” (guest garden), while “Biergarten” has a distinctively southern German ring to it. I’ll revisit this fascinating semantic world of Gasthäuser, Wirtshäuser, Beiseln, and Gastgärten at a later date. For now, though, it’s probably a safe bet for us English speakers to just call the drinking establishments in this series “beer gardens.”

Now you have a topic for your next beer garden conversation in Austria –– guaranteed to touch off a lively discussion about these aspects of Austrian culinary and cultural history.

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, or some guy named Franz?

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, a Wirtshaus, or some guy named Franz? Maybe they have a Gastgarten out back …

Where were we?

In Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens, we headed out to Vienna’s iconic Prater for some Czech Budweiser and roasted pork knuckle. After that, we hiked through the Vienna woods and capped it with an Augustiner beer fresh from Salzburg at the Bamkraxler (A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country). Time for another one of those epic tram rides –– this time to the western corner of the city.

Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz”

Tucked away amid the largest expanse of urban gardens (Schrebergärten) in Europe, the Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is one of those true gems that should be on the itinerary of every beer garden aficionado. Founded in 1920, today’s Schutzhaus may not have the largest selection of beers –– Czech Budweiser, a Zwickl from Ottakringer, a Paulaner Hefeweizen, and a few others –– but beer’s not the only reason you should visit. Peter Eickhoff, author of 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss, writes that the person who doesn’t know of the Schmelz “doesn’t know Vienna” (Eickhoff, 2015, 180). Even so, when you wander past the tidy urban gardens and enter the Schutzhaus beer garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret that not every Viennese has heard.IMG_7669

Sipping your beer surrounded by so much soothing greenery, it may take a moment to conjure up the rich history of the area. Auf der Schmelz has seen many incarnations, but its name still recalls its origin as an iron-smelting works that stood here up until the time of the second Ottoman siege in 1683. The Friedhof der Schmelz (cemetery) replaced the smelting works and held the remains of the victims of the 1848 Revolution until everyone was up and moved to the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) some years later. From 1857 this strip of land was used as an exercise ground for the imperial cavalry, and was the staging ground for the magnificent military parade held annually for Kaiser Franz Joseph.

After the turn of the twentieth century the area was slated for an ambitious redevelopment that would have shifted the artistic and cultural focus of Vienna considerably westward. This “blank slate” devoid of established buildings appealed to the architects of the day, including Otto Wagner, who submitted intriguing plans for the Kaiser Franz Josef Stadtmuseum (currently the Wien Museum on Karlsplatz).

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The Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is, to paraphrase Peter Eickhoff, not only the heart but also the belly of the Schmelz –– and the portions are, indeed, ample. It was “Spargelzeit” when I first went, that glorious time of year in Central Europe when menus feature all things white asparagus. I tucked into an “asparagus cordon bleu” (white asparagus spears wrapped in cheese and ham, then breaded and fried like a schnitzel), but you wouldn’t go wrong with one of their classics such as Schweinsbraten (roast pork) or goulash. If you arrive between June and August, you’ll be in for a treat: a weekly menu that features different menu variations using chanterelle mushrooms. (Look for any menu item with “Eierschwammerl.”)IMG_7676

  • Address: Auf der Schmelz, 1150 Wien
  • Getting there: Take the U3 in the direction of Ottakring as far as Johnstrasse, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Heiligenstadt, and get off at the “Auf der Schmelz” stop. You can also do the trip entirely above ground by taking the Tram 46 toward Joachimsthalerplatz as far as Schumeierplatz, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Niederhofstrasse, and get of at “Auf der Schmelz.”

Wirtshaus Zattl

You’ve been out to the Prater in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, you’ve sipped beer in the shadow of Nußdorf’s vineyards, and you’ve ventured out to the leafy Auf der Schmelz garden district in western Vienna. What’s left in terms of beer gardens and shaded courtyards attached to lively taverns? Plenty. But we’ll leave off with one spot in the center of town should you be pressed for time during your visit.

As far as pub interiors go, the Zattl certainly wouldn’t make any “top ten” lists of Europe’s best taverns. I’ve heard the place described as “rustic modern,” but it’s a polished rusticity with much of the historical character sanded out.IMG_9098 We’re here for something different, though. On the opposite side of Zattl’s Herrengasse storefront, you’ll find a bustling beer garden hidden just off the Freyung market square and right in the courtyard of the Schottenstift (Scottish Abbey). On any given evening when the weather’s warm, you’ll find the beer garden abuzz with a mix of students, people on their way home from work, and fashionably dressed older folks taking a break from the city around them.

Considering its location, the food and drinks are reasonably priced, with a 500 mL mug of beer running at 4.30 euros. Classic Austrian tavern fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Fiaker Goulasch, and Zwiebelrostbraten (a delicious roast beef dish served in an onion sauce with crisped onions) begins around 12 euros. The Zattl receives its beer tanked in fresh from the Pilsener Urquell brewery a few hundred kilometers away in Bohemia.IMG_9101 The 2000-liter refrigerated delivery (subsequently divided into 500-liter tanks in Zattl’s cellar) is unpasteurized and naturally carbonated, making for a softer, rounder Pils Urquell than you’d get in the bottle. In addition to Pilsener Urquell, Zattl serves a variety of Stiegl beers, along with wine offerings from the Wachau, Kremstal, and Neusiedlersee regions.

Even if the Zattl’s sleek interior design runs short on Viennese charm, I share the oft-expressed sentiment among food and beverage writers in Vienna that the Zattl beer garden is among the prettiest inner-city beer gardens in Austria.

Or maybe it’s not a Biergarten after all, but a Gastgarten …

Drink up!IMG_9111

Sources

Peter Eickhoff, 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss (Emons Verlag, 2015).

August Sarnitz, Otto Wagner: Wegbereiter der modernen Architektur (Köln: Taschen, 2005).

“Schmelz,” Wien Geschichte Wiki.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

Vienna, city of music. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. Vienna, a showcase of architectural styles from the soaring Gothic-era Stephansdom to the Baroque opulence of the Karlskirche, and from elegant Ringstrasse historicism to the fin-de-siècle modernism of Otto Wagner. Vienna’s pastries rival those of Paris, as does its coffeehouse culture. Chocolate? Plenty of that, too.IMG_5580

But Vienna, city of beer? Not since the nineteenth century, nascent interest in craft beer notwithstanding.

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Nothing says summer more than the crunch of gravel underfoot and the shade overhead as I carry my stein of beer back to my spot under the leafy canopy of the chestnut grove. I’ve repeated the ritual for years now.IMG_8563 The cool breeze, the buzz of conversation, the heavy clink of beer mugs, the solid and slightly awkward metal chairs or benches bedecked with wooden slats, the chestnut blossoms covering the tables in late spring and early summer, the plates of sausage, pork knuckle, and sauerkraut –– it’s a scene that never loses its charm.

Even if the glory days of Vienna lager are a thing of the past, Vienna can still lay claim to a rich but understated beer garden tradition. Here’s the first of four shaded oases sure to inspire visitors and locals alike out to check out different parts of the city.

Schweizerhaus

A few steps from the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris wheel), and tucked between the lively commotion of the Würstel Prater amusement park and the stately tree-lined Hauptallee, the Schweizerhaus serves up its beer with a shot of Viennese history on the side.IMG_6754 If you visit before the Schweizerhaus closes for the season on 31 October, you’ll be able to raise a stein to Joseph II, the reform-minded Habsburg monarch who opened up the imperial hunting grounds to the general public. Since his proclamation 250 years ago, the broad natural expanse on the edge of the city has become tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the city.

The Prater has been many things to many people over the ages –– meadows, woodlands, amusement park, den of iniquity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the Prater is an “anarchic space” in which different levels of society could mix and mingle more or less unconstrained by the social norms operative in the city. Countless Austrian literary figures have written fondly of the Prater, and even Goethe, who never visited Vienna, was aware of its reputation. The Prater has also appeared in motion pictures, perhaps most indelibly in the 1949 classic, The Third Man, featuring a diabolical Orson Welles on the run from Joseph Cotten and a Vienna laid low by the war.

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Food and drink has long been a highlight of a visit to the Prater. Early on, lemonade stands, snack booths, guest houses, and coffee houses emerged as fixtures along the Hauptallee. Taverns soon followed, including the storied Schweizerhaus.

The Schweizerhaus opened in 1868, and is one of the few great Prater drinking establishments to have survived both world wars. Nowadays the Schweizerhaus exudes tradition, but at one time it stood at the forefront of innovation.IMG_4531 Following the example of tavern owners in Munich and the United States, the proprietors had a giant ice cellar installed. “Thanks to this,” wrote one contemporary enthusiast, “patrons can now […] enjoy every glass of Pils or Schwechater beer fresh from the ice cellar while they must be content with lukewarm refreshment at best in many Prater restaurants, especially at the height of summer” (Hachleitner, 2014, 132). When the owner passed away unexpectedly in 1920, Johann Kolarik, a butcher and Prater regular, stepped in. Kolarik switched to Czech Budweiser and introduced a meat dish that soon became synonymous with the Schweizerhaus: the Schweizerhaus Stelze, or roasted pork knuckle.

The establishment remains in the Kolarik family to this day, and now has space for 1700 lucky imbibers in the shaded garden. Keep an eye out for the signs on the lampposts that divide the beer garden into Vienna’s twenty-three districts. You’ll find me in the 9th District enjoying my Budweiser.

Prost!IMG_4533

Check back soon for the second installment covering the remaining beer gardens.

Sources

Bernhard Hachleitner, The Prater Book (Vienna: Bohmann Verlag, 2014).

For a brief history of how the beer garden came into being, see Tempest’s In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden.

Also related:Plakat_In_den_Prater

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

*If you’re visiting Vienna this summer and want to learn more about the cultural history of the Prater, don’t miss the Wien Museum’s informative and entertaining exhibition, Meet Me at the Prater! Viennese Pleasures since 1766.

With the exception of the placard for the Wien Museum’s Prater exhibition, all images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

It was one of those August days when the sun-baked cobblestones seem to transcend themselves in mirage-like fashion. Since arriving in Salzburg earlier that day, we had been exploring a baroque palace here, a castle overlooking the city there, and churches everywhere. Definitely time for a beer, one of my friends declared. Another suggested a visit to the Augustiner, where we could relax in its chestnut grove with a cold stein.Augustiner Stein (FB pg) With one last burst of energy we crossed the foot bridge over the Salzach and climbed the hill in the direction of the Augustiner. As soon as we descended the stairs into the cellar precincts, the summer heat faded away. We threaded our way through stalls selling bratwurst and pretzels, and came upon the counter where a gruff barkeep in lederhosen was tapping beer straight from the barrel. Steins in hand, we headed out into the beer garden to partake of a venerable tradition: an al fresco Maß (liter mug) of beer among lively groups of friends and families who had gathered at tables and benches in the afternoon shade of the chestnut trees.

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This particularly enjoyable rite of spring and summer traces its history to early nineteenth-century Bavaria. Back in 1812, King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria (1806-1825) set the development of beer garden culture on its present course with a Solomon-like decree that diffused the tensions that had been (ahem) brewing between Munich’s innkeepers and brewers. The dispute had its roots in the set of reforms that King Max had enacted, first as duke, and then as king. Some of these reforms proved more favourable to private Bavarian brewers than had previously been the case during the era of aristocratic brewing prerogatives, and breweries began to proliferate along the Isar River. During the warm summer months in particular, the citizens of Munich took to spending more of their time (and money) at the beer cellars on the banks of the Isar, preferring these shaded chestnut groves to the rather stuffy inns where the beer was decidedly less fresh.

Unsurprisingly, the innkeepers of Munich became increasingly incensed that they were losing revenue to the beer brewers who were also selling food to accompany their refreshing beers. They petitioned Maximilian –– connoisseur of the good life who was more likely to be seen at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt than at the barracks –– to do something.BeerGarden - Rescript_Max_I_Joseph_1812-01-04 A friend and supporter of brewers and innkeepers alike, their good King Maxl paid heed. The resulting decree of January 4, 1812 benefitted both parties and put its stamp on the history of the Bavarian beer garden down to the present day. Brewers could, indeed, keep right on selling their beer fresh from the beer cellars beneath their leafy gardens. But in a nod to the concerns of the innkeepers, the beer garden precincts were limited to the sale of beer and bread.

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Now, as for these beer cellars (Bierkeller) that gave rise to beer gardens? Beer gardens as we’ve come to know them in Bavaria and beyond are difficult to imagine without the history of a beer style many of us have come to know and love: lager. In the centuries before the invention of refrigeration, brewers sunk cellars on the grounds of their breweries. There, they covered their beer with ice blocks hewed in March from the still-frozen lakes and rivers of the region.

Even though monasteries and abbeys had been storing their beer in cellars and in caves at the foot of the Alps since the Middle Ages, the sinking of cellars in Munich accelerated in response to a decree promulgated by Duke Albrecht V in 1553. Despite the vaunted Reinheitsgebot of 1516, not all Bavarian beer was gold, so the duke declared that Bavarians were allowed to brew beer between St. Michael’s Day (September 29) and St. George’s Day (April 23) only. One of the reasons cited for the decree of 1553 was a fear of summer conflagrations caused by hot brew kettles. More importantly, though, brewers and the authorities who knew a good beer when they tasted it had, by the mid-1550s, learned a fair amount about the effects of cold fermentation on beer quality. Slower fermentation between 7 and 12 Celsius (44-55F) in conjunction with extended lagering (lagern = to store) at temperatures near freezing yielded a cleaner beer that kept longer than the top-fermented ales brewed in warmer conditions.

Beer cellars also enabled brewers to store their beer during the months they weren’t brewing, thereby ensuring a steady supply of fresh and stable beer during the summer months. As a further means of keeping the temperature of their cellars cool, brewers planted broad-leafed and shallow-rooted horse chestnut trees. From there, it wasn’t an enormous leap from the cellar to the shade. Enterprising brewers began to set out tables and chairs under the leafy canopy shading their cellars, and voilà: the beer garden. BierGarten - AugustinerMunich (FB page)If you’re lucky enough to live in a North American town that boasts a beer garden, or are even luckier and live in or will be visiting a Germanic country this spring or summer, raise a stein to the wise Bavarians who inaugurated these traditions. What better place is there to enjoy a crisp and spicy wheat beer or an effervescent Pilsner on a spring or summer day than in a beer garden?

Related Tempest Articles

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Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Pinning Down Place

Further Reading

German Beer Institute.

Horst D. Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Sabine Herre, “Geschichte der bayrischen Biergärten: Im Schatten der Kastanie,” taz (26 May 2012).

Images

Stein (Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln Facebook page)

Decree by King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria allowing Munich brewers to serve beer from their cellars, but prohibiting the sale of food other than bread (January 4, 1812). Bayrishes Hauptstaatsarchiv, München. Image available on WikiCommons.

Beer Garden, Augustinerbäu München

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.