Bavarian beer hall tries to seduce Berlin

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9 Nov, 2011 Updated Wed 9 Nov 2011 16:17 CEST
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What promises to be the biggest beer hall in Europe has opened in Berlin, prompting a culture clash by bringing Bavarian boozing culture to the Prussian-accented German capital, as Moises Mendoza discovered.

An homage to Bavaria’s famed beer culture, the new Hofbräuhaus Berlin has room for 2,500 jolly beer-chugging revellers - slap bang in the middle of what was communist East Berlin, leaving at least some locals underwhelmed.

Anxious tourists stretched outside the doors of the newly-opened Hofbräuhaus Berlin near Alexanderplatz one night this week, waiting for their turn to be seated and sample Bavarian beer.

But 43-year-old Jürgen Bach wasn’t one of them. “It all seems rather silly,” the long-time Berliner groused to The Local as he passed the restaurant on his way home from work as a maintenance technician. “This is Berlin and Bavaria is Bavaria.”

Hofbräuhaus owner Björn Schwarz knows he will have to win over fickle locals like Bach in order to conquer Berlin’s ultra-competitive restaurant market – he hopes about half of his diners will be Berliners.

And he admits the 2,500-seat restaurant he opened last Friday – claiming to be Europe’s largest beer hall – seems a bit incongruous amidst the somewhat drab architecture of once-East German Alexanderplatz.

But he is convinced Bavarian culture, which has never made much of an inroad in Germany’s capital, will win Berlin over.

“You’re right it seems a little out of place,” the 38-year-old told The Local. “For now.”

Schwarz has filled the hall with barrels of beer as well as wooden tables and benches reminiscent of an Oktoberfest tent – in a communist-built 1970s building.

Waiters dressed in lederhosen carry around massive one-litre mugs of genuine Munich Hofbräu beer. Waitresses in dirndls deliver steaming plates of Bavarian specialities like Weißwurst and Leberkäse. On a massive stage, musicians play German Schlager tunes.

Although he wears his lederhosen with pride, Schwarz is from the northern port of Hamburg, and started his restaurant career there. Yet he was enthusiastic about the version of Bavarian hospitality he sells – at a Hofbräuhaus in Hamburg as well as his new creation in Berlin.

“It’s good music, good food and drink and good fun,” he said.

He admits that he doesn’t have much connection to Bavaria and said that his workers in the capital were all Berliners.

“It’s not going to be perfectly like Bavaria, but everyone understands that we are in Berlin,” he said.

There are many beer halls in Germany, but nothing conjures up images of wild, beer-swigging parties like the name Hofbräuhaus, which has been a Munich staple since its founding in the 16th century.

The original Staatliches Hofbräuhaus lives on in Munich, but entrepreneurs around the world, from Pittsburgh to Dubai – and now Berlin – license the brewery’s name to create their own restaurants.

So does Berlin’s Hofbräuhaus live up to its fabled name? The Local paid it a visit a day after its official opening on November 4.

A host seemed unsure where to seat visitors and by the time a waitress brought a litre-glass or Maß of beer to the table, its head had flattened - as had its taste. But the goulash soup tasted great and a piece of apple strudel also had just the right flavour.

Although this visitor was not swept away with enthusiasm, most of the other guests seemed to be far more excited, a boisterous, dancing crowd filled the hall.

The Local later returned to talk to customers, most of whom seemed reasonably pleased by the service they’d received.

“I’ve been to Bavaria and it’s really not to that level yet, but it definitely has potential,” said Larry Frank, a tourist visiting from Toronto, Canada.

Jürgen Bach, the Berliner on his way home, would disagree. “I wouldn’t ever visit this restaurant,” he said.

Moises Mendoza

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2011/11/09 16:17

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