This year Munich is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Maximilian I of Bavaria’s edict allowing breweries to sell beer direct from the cellars in which their barrels were stored. There’ll be dances and beer garden concerts in the city centre.
In the 19th century it was common practice to plant dense-leaved chestnut trees over beer cellars to keep them cool in summer, and so the custom grew of selling the beer to those who chose to picnic beneath the trees. And thus Munich bequeathed to the world not just some fine beers but also the biergarten.
Today, beer gardens are spread across Munich and well into its suburbs. Your quest might start in the Park Café and Beer Garden (00 49 89 51617980; parkcafe089.de) at Sophienstrasse 7 which proclaims itself as Munich’s trendiest. It stands in the Alter Botanische Garten, an early 19th-century civic project opposite the Palace of Justice. These days it’s a bit of a dissolute place, with graffiti spoiling the arts pavilion. But Park Café itself remains popular. It was opened in 1937, but its real heyday was as a jazz club in the Sixties and Seventies when the café, with its portico and signature Doric columns, welcomed in Munich’s B-list celebrities and the likes of Hugh Hefner.
Park Café still promotes jazz evenings, and has recently been refurbished to create nooks and hideaways around a thriving bar. Though immensely popular on a good night, this is a crossover venue, rather than a true beer garden.
Instead, walk north up Katharina von Bora Strasse, recently renamed after Martin Luther’s wife (its original name, Meiserstrasse, commemorated a Bavarian bishop now suspected of anti-Semitism). Turn left into Karlstrasse past Basilika St Bonifaz (built 1835-1850 for King Maximilian’s son, Ludwig I) and turn right up Luisenstrasse.
The unusual blue concrete Rhaetenhaus Biergarten, which owes its blunt lines to the 1970s, may claim to be a beer garden but is in fact a Catholic students’ union which serves beer and wurst on the ground floor and has a small garden – open to the public – at the back.
About 100m further up Luisenstrasse stands the Propylaea, a quasi-Greek gateway erected when Ludwig I’s son, Otto, was made king of Greece in 1832. The Wittelsbachs celebrated by creating a Greek theme park out here on the western side of the city. This gate leads to a number of Hellenistic buildings on the right. Resist them and turn left along Brienner Strasse, past the entrance to the Kunstbau (an underground art gallery), and you’ll soon make out Stiglmaierplatz, a major traffic junction. On the far side of this intersection stands the original Löwenbräukeller (00 49 89 54726690; loewenbraeukeller.com), with its beer garden.
In 1861 Ludwig Brey, the owner of Löwenbräu, purchased land opposite his brewery to create a banqueting hall and beer garden. The current building – a huge, quasi-medieval pub – was constructed in 1882 and quite dwarfs its garden. In 1944 the banqueting hall was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid but it has been rebuilt. More long-lasting damage was done by the post-war widening of roads that now drown out the garden’s festivities. It’s a remarkable building, but for the perfect beer garden, walk a little further.
Walking west along Nymphenburgstrasse, past the massive office and brewery complex of Löwenbräu, turn left down Sandstrasse. Large posters for various parts of the AB InBev group – Becks, Franziskaner, Löwenbräu – line the downhill route. Follow Denisstrasse to Hopfenstrasse, which passes the Bayerischer Rundfunk studios then empties out on to Anulfstrasse. Turn right here and opposite the new Apple offices (a very good impersonation of Neoclassical architecture) stands the Augustiner Biergarten (00 49 89 594 393; augustinerkeller.de).
With its chestnut trees screening off the small hillock sits a wooden tavern.
It’s easy to imagine that this is what Munich’s first beer gardens looked like. Beer has been served from this structure since its completion in 1895 but the cellar and garden were first listed on city maps in 1812, when the Büchl brewery took up the new freedom to serve beer direct to its customers.
In 1862, the owner of the Augustiner brewery, Joseph Wagner, purchased the building and its grounds. In those days, oxen were used to pump beer from the cellars. Wagner increased the number of trees, and with the introduction of waiters in 1896, he gave the beer garden its present-day appearance.
In total the Augustiner can serve 5 000 seated customers on a busy day.
Now, you can sit down and finally enjoy your litre of ice-cold Edelstoff straight from the barrel. – The Independent on Sunday
Mandarin Oriental Munich (00800 28 2838 38; mandarin oriental.com/munich) has doubles from £293 (R3 750), including breakfast.
An exhibition, “200 years of Beer Gardens” (bit.ly/ Munich200), runs until September 1. Afterwards, quench your thirst at Rausch & Töchter (00 49 89 88907080; rauschund toechter.de) – the latest place to party – which opened its noisy doors earlier this year.