Erlangen Bier festival and Ammersee
Bierkrichweih: I don't think I have ever worked so hard for a frickin' beer than 8 train changes and 5 hours of travel! My advice when planning a trip is it's good to remember that a couple of hours in the USA is not all that far; but in Europe, apparently, it is a mass movement of epic proportions. Okay, not really, but they do use the train much more in everyday life. Our trip just so happened to be schedule during the Erlangen Bierkrichweih Fair.
May is an important month in Bavaria, it marks the beginning of the growing season and on May Day they still have May Day poles and town celebrations. Young men will give a girl a 3" Ash tree, freshly cut and left standing in her front yard, all of the boughs decorated with colorful ribbons. Even at our late May date the remnants of these romantic gestures are still evident in young ladies' gardens.
While Munich is known for their Oktoberfest, Erlangen is know for their Bierkrichweih fest. In a lot of ways, the festival is similar to a county fair with amusement rides and games of chance. However, in Germany they have open container allowances and the games have grotesque themes in true European-style. You can bring your own food, but if you want to sit in the garden you must buy the beer. More importantly, there are no beer sponsors and all of the beer is served in a glass stein (which, btw, they do not use the word stein but "klug"), you can return the stein for €2 deposit. You break it or take it, you bought it (this is a fairly cheap souvenir). Also unique is that you can bring your own bottles of beer, but you cannot have these in the beer gardens (which means no place to sit).
This festival is definitely geared towards the young. The traditional drinking songs have been modernized and the Oomph band is now at the end of the beer garden for the elders to enjoy. My eldest daughter was quite enraptured by all the good looking, blonde boys. We realized that very few young Germans are sporting the hipster-beards, she and I both hope this catches on in America!
It took us four train changes and 2.5 hours to get there. Each platform change provided us with an ever growing frippery of dirndls and lederhosen, and public displays of drinking. On the way home, we had an additional 1.5 hour layover in Nürmburg on top of the train changes, etc. As I understand it, like many towns in Germany, Nürmburg was virtually destroyed during WWII and many of the old buildings had to be recreated to look old. We stopped at a little marketplace for dinner...Nürmburg sausages and Springerle cookies. I make these traditional cookies at home, but mine aren't perfect to look at; nonetheless, my children prefer mine to eat! Score one for mom!
Andechs: As I drive from Erlingen to Ammersee, the landscape tantalizes the senses. The rolling farm hills, green grass, quintessential stone homes, mouser-cats and white clock-tower steeple churches envelopes one into a once upon a time story. The relatives have decided I need more beer and a little religion on the side. It's a warm, fresh day as we slowly ascend into the foothills of the Alps, destination Ammersee and Andechs Monastery. But first, we hike along a trail (imagine Marcy Maria swirling across an open field, cue Rogers and Hammerstein) with the Alps in the background, it's a good, clear day. The best part of the the whole hike were the Bavarian cows and thier clanging bells. Much debate has occured as to whether this is cruelty to the cow, since many cows no longer traipses around the countryside without fences (although mountain cows still do). With the clink-tink-plink of the küh-glocken, I now get surround-sound for my fairytale.
After a ferry ride across the Alpine lake (see=lake), we ascend to Andechs. This baroque-style Abbey was built in the mid-century of the 1400s. It's modest compared to the grand gothic cathedrals of the area but still quiet sweet and the painted ceilings lovely. We arrive in time to hear a small choir singing auf Deutsch. Later we sit down in the beer garden, I have a haxe (pork-knuckle) and a radler. At this time, my relatives explain the history of stout beer.
It now makes sense to me, on a provincial level, why lent is in late winter. The tradition is to give up "something" for lent; however, in Germany, it is expected to give up meat. The practical reason is because the food-stores were getting low and they needed to thin consumption until the coming of spring-calves. The monks of this area developed stout beer, a very thick, dark and nutrient-rich elixir to help hold over the hungry masses. Today, this monestry only makes the stout beer in later winter as an homage to tradition.