Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf and the Brewing Nuns

I feel it’s good when away on holiday to sometimes take a little excursion somewhere else; a “side-trip” as the Americans would say to a place or location not too far from the vicinity of where one is staying, but equally just far enough as to make the trip worthwhile, and something of an adventure.

My son and I have done this on several occasions; as have I, when I’ve stayed somewhere on my own. My wife, however, was not over keen on the idea of such an excursion, when I put it to her during our stay in Regensburg; particularly as she guessed (rightly) there would not only be beer involved, but a degree of walking as well.

I actually had two trips in mind, but as I had done the first of these (a boat-ride down the Danube, from Kelheim, to Kloster-Weltenburg) on a previous visit to Regensburg, I was keener to undertake the second excursion. This was a visit to another holy place, in the form of the abbey at Mallersdorf; the only remaining nunnery in Europe where the Sisters brew their own beer.

Sister Doris
Two years ago I wrote about Sister Doris, the legendary Brewster at Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf. For the past 45 years she has risen well before most of the other sisters on brewing days, in order to start work in the abbey brew-house by 3:30 am. She’s even allowed to skip the obligatory morning prayers in order to perform her tasks in the brewery. Most of the beers Sister Doris brews are for consumption within the convent, and as they are not sold elsewhere, it is necessary to journey to the abbey in order to sample them.

A visit to Kloster-Mallersdorf had been on my wish-list for some time, but it wasn’t until a week or so before our holiday that I realised the abbey was within reasonable travelling distance of where we would be staying. After looking into it further, I discovered it was roughly an hour’s train journey from Regensburg, and then a short walk (18 minutes according to Google Maps), from Mallersdorf station.  

The impressive Kloster-Mallersdorf
The only trouble was the convent is perched on a hill over-looking the village of Mallersdorf-Pfaffenberg, and this was the deal breaker as far as my wife was concerned. She did say though, that she had no problem with me going; either on my own, or taking our son along as well. Rather than walking half-way up a mountain, she was perfectly happy to spend the day in Regensburg, just chilling out

So come the next day, I said farewell to my wife and son and wandered down to Regensburg’s main station. Trains were timed at roughly 30 minute intervals, so there was no need to rush. The temperature had been a little on the cool side when I left, but by the time I boarded the train, the mercury had begun to climb and it was necessary to remove the thin fleece I had been wearing.

Mallersdorf station - by request only
I travelled on the 11:14 train south from Regensburg, and my journey involved changing trains at a town called Neufahrn in Niederbayern. From there it was just a 10 minute ride, up the valley, on a branch line train. It was very pleasant travelling through the Bavarian countryside, which was looking particularly good in the late September sunshine, and the fields of ripened sunflowers, waiting to be harvested, formed a memorable sight against the backdrop of the steadily rising hills.

I asked the conductor, when he came to check my ticket, about the branch-line service, as my pre-printed schedule from Deutsche Bahn stated that Mallersdorf was a “request stop”. He told me to advise the driver when boarding the train, but as things happened he was also leaving the train at Neufahrn and very kindly walked over to the other platform with me, and told the driver himself.

Abbey church at Kloster-Mallersdorf
There were one or two passengers boarding at Mallersdorf, so the train stopped anyway, but it was a nice gesture from the conductor, and an example of excellent customer service on behalf of the German Railways. The diesel-powered train left on time, and began its leisurely journey along the single-track line. Ten minutes later, I alighted at Mallersdorf and set off to reach abbey.

There was a street of quite upmarket looking houses close to the station, but at the end of Bahhofstraße I passed into open countryside. I could see the impressive bulk of Kloster-Mallersdorf, high on top of a hill overlooking the village, as I continued my journey. The road leading up to the abbey was quite steep, so I was pleased, in a way that my wife had chosen not to accompany me, as I would not have heard the last of how "I dragged her up a mountain”, for some time!

Fortunately, my regular lunchtime walks meant the hill was not too much of a challenge, and as I kept to the shady side of the road, I felt fine by the time I reached the top. Unlike many monastery breweries I have been to, there is no bar or restaurant at the abbey itself for visitors to stop for a drink or bite to eat. Members of the public may buy bottles to take away; as I discovered later, but fortunately the privately-owned and family run Klosterbräustüberl, adjacent to the abbey gates, does provide a friendly welcome to both locals and visitors alike; although it is worth remembering that it is closed all day Monday.

I made my way round to the small garden area, overlooking the abbey, at the side of the pub, as that seemed where most of the customers had gravitated to. On a glorious late September day, who could blame them, so I decided to follow suite, and after finding an empty table, waited for the waitress to come and take my order. 

The abbey brewery produces two beers; a Vollbier Helles and a Zoigl. Both are 5.0% ABV. I ordered a half litre of the former, but as it appeared quite hazy, I wondered whether I had been served the unfiltered Zoigl by mistake.

When the time came for a second beer, I asked the waitress if there had been a mix-up with my order. She assured me that there hadn’t, and brought me a glass of Zoigl which, if anything, was even hazier.

Now I have to be honest by saying that neither of these beers were stunning, or even classics; but they were good solid, workaday beers of the sort anyone living close to the abbey would be more than happy to drink For my part, I was just pleased to be there, sunning myself in the garden whilst enjoying this small idyllic corner of Bavaria.

The small beer garden - Klosterbräustüberl
It seemed the locals were happy to be there too, for as well as a couple of tables for diners, there was that most German of pub traditions, a Stammtisch, or “regulars table”. Now over the years I have become reasonably fluent in German, and like most people learning a foreign language find I can understand more of what is being said than I can actually speak, but I struggled to understand a word of what the mainly male group sat around the Stammtisch, were saying. They were obviously conversing in the local Bavarian dialect; something people from other parts of Germany find almost unintelligible – so what chance had I?

View from the beer garden
The menu at Klosterbräustüberl Mallersdorf looked filling and keenly priced (the beer was good value too at one Euro less than what we had been paying in Regensburg), but I was conscious that for the past few days I had been eating quite filling meals, along with the rest of my family. I had made a decision beforehand, not to eat at the pub, as I knew we would be having a heavy meal in  the evening, so the cheese and tomato roll, I’d bought in Regensburg would do just right; although I waited until I got back to the station before eating it.

Before leaving, I asked the waitress if the pub sold bottled beer to take away. She told me they didn’t, but pointed me in the direction of the abbey, just across the way, where she informed me I could buy carry-outs.

A glimpse of the brewery through the window
I settled my bill, and following her instructions walked through the archway entrance and into the main courtyard of the abbey. There was an incline leading down to the right, and there at the bottom of the slope I could see a parked car with its boot opened, with a nun supervising the loading of a crate of beer into the back of the vehicle. I made my way down towards this scene of activity, but not before a quick peep through the windows of what was obviously the brew-house, on the other side of the courtyard.

In my best German I asked the Holy Sister, who was serving the customers, if it was possible to buy single bottles of beer, rather than a whole crate. She told me it was and, asked how many would I like. I settled for two, but not before enquiring if they had more than Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf beer, one type of beer on sale. Unfortunately they hadn’t, but I came away with two handsome-looking, swing top bottles of complete with a smiling photo of Sister Doris herself, on the label; and all for the princely sum of € 2.50.
Where the locals come for their take-outs

Pleased with my purchases I made my way back down towards the station and caught a train shortly before 3pm. I had a bit of a wait at Neufahrn for my connection, so to kill some time I walked towards the town centre, primarily to buy a bottle of water. It was still very warm out, and despite the beer I’d drunk, I was feeling thirsty.

On the way back, I paused to reflect for a few minutes at a memorial garden dedicated to the dead of two World Wars. Reading just a few of the many names of servicemen killed between 1939 & 1945, brought home to me the terrible price paid by the German people for that horrific conflict; the seeds of which were sown in 1933, with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reichs Chancellor, and which ended in 1945, following the deaths of almost 50 million people, and the utter destruction of the German nation.

Memorial garden for the war dead of Neufahrn
My train back to Regensburg was packed with students, returning to university in the city after the long summer break. I managed to get a seat in one of the old-style compartment coaches, and was rocked gently off to sleep by the swaying of the train and the warm air blowing in through the window.

Fortunately I awoke in plenty of time to depart the train, and then made my way back through the city, to our hotel. I plonked the bottles of Klosterbrauerei- Mallersdorf beer down in front of my wife, as I’m not sure she had quite believed me at first about the brewing nuns! It turned out her and Matt had spent an interesting day as well, exploring Regensburg.

Proof of my visit
Later that evening, we celebrated by going for a typical Bavarian meal at Weltenburg am Dom; a traditional restaurant in the shadow of the cathedral, with a small beer garden attached, run on behalf of the Holy Fathers at Kloster Weltenburg. After brewing nuns, it seemed only right we should try a beer or two produced by some brewing monks!

Footnote: the article attached to this link, includes an interview with Sister Doris, where she describes how she first became a brewer at Kloster- Mallersdorf, and how each of the nearly 500 nuns at the abbey contribute in their own special way to both life in the convent, and the outside world.


BryanB said...

Nice story Paul, I hadn't realised your German was so good!

Ah yes, Montags Ruhetag. (-:

Paul Bailey said...

Glad you enjoyed the write-up, Bryan. From my point, it was nice to escape the tourist-thronged streets of Regensburg for a short while, and enjoy the tranquillity of the Bavarian countryside.

I passed “O” level German, back in my school days, so just over a decade ago, when I looked at renewing my skills in the language, I had a bit of a head start. Since then, through a combination of books, MP3 tapes plus regular visits to Germany, I am fluent enough to get by in the country, and can buy train tickets, order food and beer from local menus, and can ask for directions, simple questions etc.

As long as people talk reasonably slowly, I can understand much of what they say; although my replies to questions probably don’t always make sense. I am finding it easier to converse, with each visit I make; which backs up the saying about practice making perfect.

I imagine your German is pretty fluent; seeing as you are married to a native speaker. A French colleague of mine has brought her two children up to be bilingual, which I thought was an excellent idea. Will you be doing the same with your young lad?

Erlangernick said...

You are still remarkable in my experience, having put so much effort into practicing your Deutsch even with me, a non-native speaker, when you were here in Franconia...a couple (?) of years ago. Can't think of another Briton (or other English-speaker, colonial or imperial) I know who works so hard at it.

Anyway, nice story as usual. Despite being a beer geek and living a 90-minute drive from the abbey, I've yet to make it there myself. (3+ hours each way by train) That's just getting a bit far to drive for the one and a half beers I would allow myself to drink before driving back. The description of the beer isn't really that inspiring, TBH.

I actually saw Sister Doris in person at the Brau-Beviale trade show in Nürnberg a few years ago. She was being interviewed by someone.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Nick, always good to hear from you. I’ve only just picked up on your post from October, so apologies for the late reply..

Kloster Mallersdorf was a great place to visit, and also quite easy to get to from Regensburg. The fine weather also added to the experienced. The beer wasn’t quite so great, but it does represent what could be the last of a once widespread tradition.

When are you next in England? I have been belatedly looking at the Manchester Beer Festival, which I hadn’t realised takes place in three weeks time. I think I might have left things a bit late, as hotel prices are a lot more than I would care to pay; but I will keep looking.

Let me know you’re next planning a visit to Kent though.