Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Beer Gardens

Last year, Tandleman wrote an excellent piece about how civilised Franconian beer gardens were, and wondered whether they could ever work successfully here in the UK? At the time of his post, I had just returned from a trip to Munich, during which we visited a number of excellent beer gardens, ranging from small, almost intimate places such as Sankt Emmerams Muehle to massive establishments, such as Hirschgarten, the biggest beer garden in the world!

I commented at the time about just how good these places were, with people of all ages, both sexes and from all walks of life mixing happily, all enjoying good beer, good company and in a lot of cases some good food. I suppose good weather also helps, and this is perhaps more assured in central Europe than in the British Isles, where Atlantic weather fronts are inclined to make their influence felt on a much more regular basis. Leaving this consideration aside for one moment though, the one thing that really stands out, from a UK point of view, is the lack of drunkenness, anti-social or rowdy behaviour. In short, like Tandleman says, these places are not only civilised, but also very pleasant places to spend some time in.

This viewpoint was further reinforced during our recent trip to Bamberg where, although the number of actual beer gardens we visited was smaller, the same observations held true. Although quite large amounts of beer were being consumed, we witnessed no incidents of drunkenness or the sort of behaviour that is all too common back here in the UK. In fact on the first Friday we were there we walked back to our apartment alongside quite a large crowd of people who, like us, had just spent a very enjoyable evening at the Wilde-Rose Keller. The crowd was good natured and well-behaved and on that evening, as on all subsequent evenings we felt completely safe walking the streets.

Contrast this to back home when I often have to think twice about walking back along Tonbridge High Street on a Friday or Saturday night, and Tonbridge is quite a civilised place compared to some towns! Personally I believe it all boils down to cultural differences in relation to drinking. In Germany, for example, beer is still the universal drink for both young and old, male and female alike. Young people are not only generally a lot more respectful of the older generation, but what is also self evident is that they do not go out at the weekend with the sole intention of getting absolutely plastered! I don't ever recall seeing on sale such vile concoctions as WKD, Smirnoff Ice or any of the other alco-pops that seem so popular with young British drinkers, but this is possibly because when visiting the country we tend to restrict our drinking to beer gardens and the more traditional types of pubs.

Which brings us back to the question again, would beer gardens work over here? We have already worked out that the weather is probably against us, but then so is the behaviour that seems to have become the norm here over the last twenty or thirty years. However, if some brave entrepreneur were to open such an establishment, and restricted what was on offer to just good, locally produced traditional beer, with no mass-produced international fizz brands (although some decent, imported German or Czech draught beer would be ok.), no spirits and definitely no alco-ops, then perhaps they would be in with a chance. The place would have to offer good food of course, with plenty of attractive young waitresses to look after the tables; although they could also offer the self-service option that is available in Germany.

Whilst on the subject of service, over the course of the last few years I've visited a number of different European countries, and have dined in many pubs, beer halls and restaurants. I''ve never had to wait long for food in any of them, unlike here in the UK, where unfortunately poor service is all too common. To achieve an acceptable level of service though, it is necessary to employ sufficient staff to cope with demand. All too often the temptation in this country (and this applies to restaurants as well as pubs), is to manage and somehow "get-by" with the bare minimum number of people. It doesn't work, so anyone thinking of opening a beer garden here in Britain needs to take this on board. Provision for inclement weather would also be an important consideration, with a suitably equipped beer hall, offering the same facilities, attached to the beer garden.

So where should these British Beer Gardens be situated? The ideal answer is somewhere with an attractive outlook, and somewhere with a reasonable size population. Having said that, the concept could work in a more rural location, especially if it is well served by public transport. In urban areas, a spot on the edge of a park, or municipal garden springs to mind as a good starter, after all there are several excellent beer gardens in Munich's Englischer Garten. Locally I can think of a couple of locations that would be just perfect for such an establishment, but I am not going to let on where I have in mind until I have investigated the possibility of developing this idea further myself!!


Tandleman said...

Nice piece Paul, but my fear is that you'd really have to impose rules on people in this country. No standing on the tables, no sitting with shirts off. No effing and jeffing at the top of your voice etc. I just don't see it working here at all.

As an aside, I'm off to Bamberg and the Wuerzburg soon. Four nights in each. I doubt if I'll see any rowdyism and it will all be self policing.

Cooking Lager said...

The issue Paul is one of culture. In Munich as in much of Europe alcohol is the social lubrication of life and beer a celebration of agriculture. Good and pure and not a wicked substance.

Here in blighty alcohol is self medication to escape the grimness of life, whether of naval or dark satanic mills origin. People who drink have a drinking problem.

Despite post industrialisation there has been little change to our drinking culture. Though attitudes to a great many other things have become more continental.

Paul Bailey said...

Gentlemen, thank you for your comments. Regrettably, you are both right in what you say, which is a great shame, as English Beer Gardens would be a great idea. Like you say, in the end it all boils down to culture (or lack of it!, which of course reflects how people behave, and also how they react to drink.

ps. have a good time in Franconia, Tandleman. Btw. what's Wuerzburg like for beer? I always thought it was a city famed for its wine rather than its beer.

Curmudgeon said...

Actually I don't think you'll find beer gardens of that type in Northern Germany either - it's more a climate thing than anywhere else.

England has plenty of beer gardens attached to pubs which are heavily used for about 5 days a year.

Richard said...

How about beer conservatories then? ;)

Paul Bailey said...

Nice idea Richard, but I'd still rather be out in the (fresh) open air.