To Helles and Back!!

My wife and I were overdue for a little R&R, so thanks
to the employee perks of Continental Airlines, we set
off for Austria in the first class section of an evening
flight to Berlin , to make the early morning connection
to Vienna . Even though I despise flying, I have to
admit that the difference between “Business First” and
coach is akin to the difference between the American
Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association:
nothing whatsoever in common! So, comfortable in the
knowledge that I might actually be able to relax and
breathe during the seven hour flight and that flying is
the only way to access the wonderful beers of Europe
on their own turf, I eagerly anticipated the trip.

While waiting for boarding at Newark we stopped at
the Brooklyn Brewery Bar and paid an astronomical
sum for a Brooklyner Weiss, so I didn’t feel too guilty
when I managed to snag my first souvenir glass of the
trip before we had even left the ground!

We arrived safely in Berlin and coming out of the
jetway I noticed limo drivers holding cardboard signs
with names like Schmidt and Von Stauffelburg, just like
the limo drivers one sees at Newark . However, one
guy was holding a sign that read “American Scum”.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps
that in his enthusiasm to greet the flight from Newark
, he had erred in the spelling on his welcoming placard.
Maybe he had meant to say “Americans Come”,
thankful that tourists and businessmen from the USA
were arriving to spend their money in der Fatherland.
It was only after I noticed the lightening bolts tattooed
on the side of his close-cropped head that I realized
“American Scum” was exactly what this wannabe storm
trooper had in mind. This was certainly a downer, but
the day took a definite turn for the better a few
moments later when I observed a not so nationalistic
Berliner buying a can of suds from a beer vending
machine near the cab stand. This at 7:30 am. Can you
just imagine the reaction of the American Bar
Association and MADD if this scenario played out in the
USA ?

After an uneventful hour flight to Vienna we walked the
first five of our almost 100 miles of the trip. Seeing the
sights of this beautiful city and sampling a few local
brews from the open air stands where they were sold
created the need for a WC. Thankfully one was
immediately available on a “pay as you go” basis, and
this one offered more than just bodily relief. As I
deposited my fifty cents into the turnstile and stepped
up to the urinal, beautiful Viennese waltzes began to
reverberate throughout the tiled room. How lovely to
pee while listening to “The Blue Danube” and “Tales
From the Vienna Woods”. It almost made me want to
spend more time in the can!

After gigantic portions of wiener schnitzel and liters of
Villacher Marzen and Villacher Dunkel at an outdoor
café we retired early in order to be fresh for the train
to Salzburg , which arrived exactly on time and on
which a man came through pushing a cart which held
beer for sale. Correctly deducing that it must be twelve
o’clock somewhere, another local brew, Ottakringer
Helles was sampled.

Salzburg , birthplace of Mozart and film location for
“The Sound of Music”, is a beautiful “walking” town
that offers scenic vistas, unbelievably ornate Catholic
churches, great restaurants and historic charm.
Several places stand out as “must” stops for beer
lovers. The Stiegl Brewery, while not offering an actual
brewery tour, has a beer museum which takes a good
hour to see. The history of Austrian beer production is
displayed, along with ancient wooden casks, beer
advertising memorabilia, and a huge pyramid
resembling a Christmas tree made of beer bottles.
Following the recommended tour leads you to a large
tasting room where half pint samples of six different
Stiegl brews are available. (Actually, only three are
offered gratis, but my wife, who doesn’t like beer,
ordered a three beer sampler anyway.) Guess who
drank hers?

The Sternbrau Restaurant is actually several rooms in
what was formerly a brewery. The vaulted ceilings,
ancient ceramic stoves, delicious German food and liter
steins of Gosser Helles, provide an atmosphere second
to none.

The best stop for beerfans in Salzburg is the
Augustiner Abbey with it’s immense beerhalls, an even
bigger beer garden, and beautiful chapels. There are
food vendors from which you can purchase the usual
wursts, pastries and other Austrian delights, although
it is perfectly acceptable to bring in your own food if
you wish. There is, however, only one option for
buying beer: you step up to a fraulein seated at a cash
register, and declare “mass” or “half”. She takes your
Euros, issues a receipt and directs you to a wall where
hundreds of liter and half liter steins are lined up,
military fashion, on shelves.

After selecting a stein you move to a wash rack and
rinse out the vessel before advancing to guy who
looks like his name should be Hans, and who takes
your receipt and fills the stein with Mullnerbrau Helles
from a large wooden, gravity fed barrel. Unfortunately,
I had stuck the receipt in my pocket before the rinsing
process and presented Hans with a receipt for a
trolleybus ticket which he loudly rejected with cries of
“Nein! Nein!” before I located the correct receipt in my
pants pocket. Hans than cheerfully posed for a picture
with me and my mass mug.

There are several venues at which to drink beer at The
Fortress, the huge castle complex on the mountain
that overlooks the city, easily accessible by a ride on
the funicular. After climbing innumerable flights of
stairs at the Fortress and putting on probably another
four miles, we rode back down and stopped for dinner
at the Eulenspiegl Restaurant, which required walking
up another four flights of stairs ( mercifully, the WC is
also on that level). The ascension was well worth it
since the wiener schnitzel (what else?) was excellent as
were the steins of Zipfer and Kaltenhausen Edelweiss.

We struck up a conversation with a couple from
Oklahoma at the next table and when they found out I
was beer geek, they told us of a new microbrewery
owned by (I guess) Choctaw Indians on a reservation
near their home. He promised to send some to Jersey
so the Cask Commissioners of Draught board 15 can
render their professional opinions on the drinkability of
“OK Choc Beer”.

Dog tired, feet aching, and ready for the sack, we took
a different trolleybus route back to our hotel, figuring
from looking at a transit map that it would be a
shorter walk from the bus stop. A shorter walk was
definitely in order, since by this time NOTHING could
deter me from making a beeline to the hotel shower
and collapsing into bed, EXCEPT: the bus let us off
directly in front of an interesting looking little place. I
noticed a garden with picnic tables, surrounded by ivy
covered walls attached to what looked like a cozy little
restaurant.

I can’t read much German (“bier”, “mass” and “herren”
being some of the few but necessary words I know),
but looking up I saw the sign which read “Kastner-
Schenke Brauerie”.  Good Heavens! A brewpub”. The
shower and sack were put on hold while pints of S’
Gaute(dark wheat) and S’Gersten (light wheat) were
tried. Excellent stop!

We should have gone to Innsbruck first, because in
my opinion it pales by comparison to Salzburg in both
charm and beer. But it was really only a layover for our
final destination, Munich . As long I was this close I
wasn’t about to let a trip to Europe end without a visit
to the Hofbrauhaus. I’d always wanted to see it (or
down some suds in it) and I was not disappointed:
immense beer hall complete with oompah band, liter
steins of Hofbrau Original Helles and Hofbrau Maibock,
great wurst platters, guys in lederhosen, and people
from all over the globe drinking, eating, dancing or just
listening. However, I guess the times are a-changin’
because our waiter was not named Klaus or Fritz, but
Yadwender! There are no 7-11s in Munich so I guess
waiting on tables at the Hofbrauhaus is a viable
alternative. A little piece of dark history I subsequently
read is that the Hofbrauhaus was the venue for the
first ever meeting of Hitler and his Nazi party. Who
knows? I may have been seated at the same bench on
which Hermann Goering parked his fat behind!

The previously mentioned MADD would have all died of
massive heart attacks if they witnessed what we did
while dining at the Hofbrauhaus. At the next table a
group of teenagers came in, shucked off their
backpacks and began to drink liters of maibock while
contemplating their homework assignments. In
Germany , the drinking age for beer is sixteen.
Sensible.

Having frustuck(breakfast) at a small bakery in Erding
and noticing that a couple of people were sipping at
glasses of Erdinger Dunkelweizen while eating their
pastry, fortified my belief that Germans really know
how to live. Beer is sold everywhere: grocery stores,
gas stations, highway rest stops, vending machines
and probably even dentist’s offices. Who wouldn’t
rather drink beer than read “Golf Digest” while waiting
to have his teeth drilled?

All good things must come to an end, and even
though I found a decent little brewpub in Geneva ,
from where we were to catch our return flight to
Newark , the Austro-German beer fantasy ended on
the plane where the only available beers were MGD and
Heineken, which I declined in favor of tomato juice.
Why ruin a great trip by ending it with a Heineken?






Cheers!

Dan
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