It´s summer in the city and most Munich people can be found in what they call their second living room: their favorite Biergarten (beer garden).
If you are new in town or visiting as a tourist you might have already had the opportunity to rest in the shade of a tree and enjoy a cold beer and a giant pretzel (Bavarian: Brezn) - and you may have wondered about a few things: why are customers allowed to bring their own food? Why do they sit on beer benches rather than decent chairs? And why is the ground covered in gravel and therefore awkward to walk on in high heels?
The simple answer to that is, tradition.
It was in 1812 when King Max I. finally ended a fight between brewers and hosts that has been going on for years by allowing breweries to sell their own beer at the beer cellars.
Beer that was brewed in the 19th century needed a fermentation and storing temperature of 4 to 8 °C. Brewing was only possible in the cool months between September and April. The beer brewers still had the problem of storing the beer so that it could be sold in summer as well. Therefore beer cellars had to be built near the breweries and cooled with ice. In addition to keep the temperatures at a constant low level, gravel was applied above the cellars and shading chestnut trees were planted, the flat roots of which did not damage the vault.
The breweries wanted to sell their beer directly to the people and put up unsophisticated tables and benches underneath the trees to do so. That soon developed into a popular excursion destination for the Münchners, very much to the annoyance of the surrounding hosts.
To settle the dispute, King Maximilian I issued a decree stipulating that the breweries are allowed to continue to serve beer but can not serve food other than bread.
So the guests had to bring their own food if they wanted to enjoy a cool "Maß" in their favorite beer garden.
This tradition has continued to this day in the classical beer gardens in and around Munich. The worlds' biggest traditional beer garden is the Hirschgarten, followed by the beer garden at the Chinese tower in English Garden. You can even find one in the middle of town: the beer garden at Viktualienplatz.
Of the original cellar (German: Keller) beer gardens, the Augustiner-Keller, the Hofbräukeller and the Paulanerkeller am Nockherberg* have still remained.
So grab your picnic baskets including the red and white checked tablecloths, put on some decent shoes and find your favorite second living room for the summer. And remember to say "Prost!" to the people who sit at the table with you before you take the first sip of the meanwhile professionally cooled beer.
If you're looking for inspiration, you might want to check
* be aware that the Paulaner Biergarten at Nockherberg is closed in 2017 due to renovations!