10 fascinating facts you never knew about German beer

From malt and monks to Radlers and rivalries, the story of German beer is as rich and wonderful as its selection.

10 fascinating facts you never knew about German beer
Photo: DPA

1. You can drink a different German beer every day for 15 years

The variety of German beers. Photo: Die deutschen Brauer / flickr

The 1516 Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law) decrees that only hops, barley, yeast and water can be used to brew beer. So you may well think that there is only so long you can drink German beer before you stray onto different more varied alcohols.

But with more than 100 different kinds of hops, over 40 sorts of malt, and over 200 yeast strains, the possibilities are nearly endless. Even the different water – especially if it is soft or hard – can change the taste of the beer.

According to the German Brewers Federation, this means that you could drink a different German beer brewed according to the purity law every day for 15 years.

2. Germany boasts the world's oldest still-functioning brewery

The Weihenstephan Monastery in c.1700. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There is evidence that the monks at Weihenstephan monastery in Bavaria started to brew beer as early as the eighth century A.D., but the brewery was not officially founded until 1040, when the abbot there obtained a licence to brew and sell beer from the city of Freising.

Weihenstephan was followed only a decade later by the Weltenburg monastery brewery, a stunning abbey on the banks of the Danube (photographed in point five). Although the Weihenstephan brewery was secularized in 1803, it continued to produce beer and became the Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan in 1921.

The brewery clearly hasn't lost its touch over the years. At the World Beer Awards in September, four of their beers won awards.

3. Pilsner originated in a town in the Czech Republic


A photo posted by Pilsner Urquell (@pilsnerurquell) on May 17, 2016 at 9:36am PDT

Pilsner, a light beer developed in the 19th century, has the largest market share in beer sold in Germany by quite some distance, but it was invented in a city that’s in the modern-day Czech Republic.

Pilsen, or Plzeň in Czech, is a town in western Bohemia, but was part of the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century. When the city decided to build one big brewery in the 1840s, they invited Bavarian brewer Josef Groll to create a new type of beer – the result was so good it soon spread across Europe.

The popular Pilsner Urquell beer, although a Czech company, has a German name meaning “The orginal source of Pilsner”.

4. Despite the purity law, Germans love mixers with their beer


A photo posted by Jackie Hui (@seikojac) on Aug 24, 2016 at 7:42am PDT

Since Germans are so strict on what can go into their beer, it may seem a little strange that they have so many different beer mixers – and you can buy many of them pre-mixed.

The most well-known is probably the Radler, which is beer mixed with sparkling lemonade. But if you’re in the northwest, it may well be called an “Alster”, or a “Panasch” in Saarland, and a “Russe” in Bavaria if it’s mixed with a wheat beer.

And that’s only beer-lemonades, forgetting cola mixers and the rest. It’s now more common to drink a Radler in Germany than in the UK, but it seems that the British 'shandy' has actually been around longer, first written about in the 1850s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

5. German monks used to call it “liquid bread”

The monks at the Weltenburg Abbey in Bavaria brewed beer from 1050 – the world's second oldest brewery. Photo: Roger W / Flickr

A bit like some of the finest champagnes, most beer started out being brewed in monasteries. Monks used to stew barley and hops in boiling water. At the time, they did not know about the importance of yeast for the fermentation process.

According to the German Brewer's Federation, it was because the monks often brewed beer near bakeries where the surroundings contained more yeast than usual, that the process worked perfectly without them consciously adding it. Apparently they assumed in the early Middle Ages that the fermentation was a miracle. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the necessity of yeast was scientifically proven.

When the monks fasted during Lent for 40 days, bread was not an option, but they could drink beer, so they nicknamed it “Flüssiges Brot” or “liquid bread”.

6. Frederick the Great was so keen on the stuff, he banned coffee

Frederick the Great is remembered for his military victories and his patronage of the arts. Photo: Anton Graff / Wikimedia Commons

Frederick the Great of Prussia banned coffee in 1777, issuing a manifesto to his people.

“It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects… My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors.”

Having banned coffee, King Frederick's economic policy declared that people should have “beer soup” instead, in order to support the national agricultiral economy, as all coffee was imported from abroad.

Instead, coffee became a black market good – with people smuggling the dark beans into Germany in coal sacks, beer barrels, and even in coffins.

7. Germans aren't knocking it back like they used to

Former tennis player Boris Becker and his wife Lilly at Oktoberfest 2016 in Munich. Photo: DPA

Despite its breweries producing more and more of the stuff, beer consumption in Germany per person is actually declining. In 2015, Germans drank 2.1 billion gallons of the brew, the lowest amount since data was first recorded in 1991.

Per capita consumption has fallen from around 150 litres in the 1970s to 107 litres now.

But this is nothing on the decline since 1864, if American journalist Andrew Broeck is to be trusted. In an article in The Atlantic that year, he described how “a man is scarcely reckoned with the real drinkers until he drinks six masses [a mass is a litre] … ten masses are not uncommon, twenty to thirty masses… are drunk by some, on a wager much more.”

8. Neighbours Cologne and Düsseldorf worlds apart in beer terms

Cologne and Düsseldorf are next door neighbours, but there has always been a rivalry between the two. Whereas Cologne has a long and rich history, and its people regard themselves as easy and laid back, Düsseldorf is more modern, smarter and ritzier.

Aside from the football and ice hockey rivalries, their beers are also different. Kölsch (from Cologne) is a light lager, whereas Düsseldorf’s Altbier (literally old beer) is much darker and more of an ale. Früh, one of Cologne’s breweries, mocks Altbier in its adverts such as the one above, which says “Before it gets old”.

Cologne band the Wise Guys also sang about a girl from Düsseldorf in their song “Nein, Nein, Nein”: “I’ve got to go, I’m not the man who’s going to travel to a town where the beer tastes just like its name.”

But as it turns out, the rival beers are actually more alike in flavour than locals would like to believe. A study published in August found that when die-hard Cologne and Düsseldorf beer fans were blindfolded and asked to do a taste test, they virtually couldn't tell the beers apart

9. Pilsner or Weizen? It all depends on the yeast

A group of women learn about the brewing process in Miltenberg, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Beer production is no simple process, but the main distinction between German beers is whether it is made through top-fermentation or bottom-fermentation.

Without getting bogged down in all the details, top fermentation uses a different strain of yeast that works at a warmer temperature at the top, and vice versa with bottom fermentation. So, darker and more bitter ales, as well as Hefeweizen, are produced through the former, and the lighter lagers like Pilsner are produced through bottom-fermentation.

10. Namibia may have lost many ties to Germany, beer’s not one of them


#Oktoberfest #Windhoek #Namibia #Magnets #BottomsUpMagnets #NamibiaBreweries #NamibiaBreweriesLimited #NBL

A photo posted by Bottoms Up Dispensers Africa (@bottomsupafrica) on Oct 11, 2016 at 3:15am PDT

Interestingly, after Germany placed fourth in a 2014 ranking of global beer consumption per person, Namibia followed up at fifth. It might seem odd that an African country comes way above the US (17th) and the UK (27th), but Namibia was a German colony from 1884 until 1919, and the German beer culture lives on there.

The Namibia Brewery still sends its trainees to Ulm in Baden-Württemberg for seven months, and brews under the purity law, according to an article in the Allgemeine Zeitung Namibia. They even have an Oktoberfest in the capital, Windhoek, on October 28th and 29th.

By Alexander Johnstone


Five of Germany’s most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021

Despite rising infection numbers, most of Germany’s Christmas markets will be open to fill our hearts with festive cheer this year. We give you a rundown of five of the country’s most magical Christmas markets.

Five of Germany's most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021
The entrance to the Stuttgart Christmas market in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Germany had to close or were scaled back massively because of the pandemic. This year – at least at the time or reporting – lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks. 

Here are five we love at The Local Germany. If you have any suggestions for magical Christmas markets in Germany, please leave a comment below. 

Maritime Christmas Market on the Koberg, Lübeck

Lübeck, the so-called “Christmas city of the North”, will be welcoming the festive season this year by lighting up its old town with over 500,000 Christmas lights.

The northwest of the old town island is where you’ll find the maritime-themed Christmas market which has been going since 2011.

Centred around the gothic, middle-aged church of St. Jacob, this Christmas market celebrates the city’s historical sea-faring residents by creating a cosy harbour atmosphere with old wooden barrels, nets and a stranded shipwreck as well as a Ferris wheel with an unforgettable view of Lübeck’s old town and harbour.

Culinary stands offer visitors sweet and savoury dishes, and beverages such as hot lilac punch, mulled wine and, of course, rum.

Extra info: The current rules for events and hospitality in Schleswig Holstein is that 3G applies (entry for the vaccinated, people who’ve recovered from Covid or people who show a negative test)  but from Monday, November 15th, indoor areas will be enforcing the 2G rule (excluding the unvaccinated).

The Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Christkindlesmarkt, Augsburg

With its origins in the 15th century, the Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg is one of the oldest in Germany, and the Renaissance town hall provides a particularly beautiful backdrop to this winter wonderland.

As well as a wide variety of stands selling handcrafted nick-nacks and tasty treats, the Augsburg market also has some especially magical features, including the “Heavenly Post Office,” and “Fairytale Lane”: an animated fairytale depicted in ten scenes in decorated shop windows around the market place.

Extra info: In order to keep dense crowds to a minimum, the Angel performance will not take place this year. The market will also be spread out over more locations in the historic centre and there will be fewer mulled wine stands than in previous years. The stalls will be distributed over the Hauptmarkt, Lorenzer Platz, Schütt Island and Jakobsplatz.

Meanwhile, masks will have to be worn due to the high Covid numbers in Bavaria – and there will be 2G rules around the mulled wine stands, meaning unvaccinated people will not be served alcohol.

READ ALSO: State by state – Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

Medieval Market and Christmas Market, Esslingen

The Medieval Market and Christmas Market in Esslingen, with its backdrop of medieval half-timbered houses, offers visitors a trip back in time, with traders and artisans showing off their goods from times gone by.

The stands show off the wares of pewterers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, broom makers and glass blowers, as well as some old-fashioned merchants selling fun themed goods like drinking horns and “potions” in bottles.

Extra info: This year the number of stands will be reduced from more than 200 to around 120 and the stage shows, torch parade and interactive activities will not be taking place.

View from above the historic Streizelmarkt in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Streizelmarkt, Dresden

No Christmas Market list would be complete without the Streizelmarkt – Germany’s oldest Christmas market in the “Florence on the Elbe”.

This market, which you will find in Dresden’s city centre, first took place in 1434, and since then it has acquired quite a reputation.

The ancient market is home to the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world, as well as the world’s largest nutcracker.

Amongst the dozens of traditional stands, visitors to this market must also try the Dresdner Christstollen: the famous fruit loaf that is baked according to a traditional recipe with chopped dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices and dusted with powdered sugar.

Visitors can also take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel and gaze down upon the lovingly decorated huts of the Striezelmarkt.

Extra info: This year there will be no stage program and the mountain parade has been cancelled.

Old Rixdorf Christmas Market, Berlin

Although not as well-known as some of Berlin’s other Christmas Markets, the Old Rixdorf Christmas market is a romantic and magical spot which is well worth a visit. In the south of city in Richardplatz, Neukölln the old village of Rixdorf was founded in1360.

This charming setting is home to historic buildings such as the Trinkhalle and the Alte Dorfschmiede, and is illuminated every year with kerosene lamps and fairy lights. The stalls and booths are run by charitable organizations and associations. There are homemade trifles and handicrafts, but also culinary delights such as fire meat, waffles, pea soup, and numerous varieties of mulled wine and punch.

Extra info: The Old Rixdorf Christmas Market will be following the 2G model, meaning that all visitors over the age of 12 will be required to be fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.