As flowers bloom, trees spring to life, and bright sun warms the air, Munich finally feels like the city I remember when I last visited three summers ago. People actually make plans that involve the outdoors, and I can’t help but notice that everyone’s attitude is a bit more cheery than a few months earlier.
In fact, one of the big events going on right now to celebrate the warmer weather is Frühlingsfest. Frühlingsfest is a three-week-long festival and is essentially a toned-down version of Oktoberfest but with more locals and less publicity. Still, though, it’s pretty hard to walk down the street without seeing a group of people dressed in traditional clothing—lederhosen for men and dirndl for women—headed either to or from Frühlingsfest.
But while tourists and locals have been celebrating in the festival tents or at the various attractions, I’ve been spending my sunny weekends in biergartens. Obviously, when I tell my parents what I do with my free time, their first reaction is: “A BEER garden? What are you doing in a BEER garden?” But I always tell them, “Beer isn’t a necessary part of going to a biergarten,” (although I’m sure I’m making many Bavarians angry by saying that). To me, the greatest part about biergartens is the atmosphere and sense of community.
For those who aren’t too familiar with how biergartens work, they’re large outdoor spaces filled with picnic tables where families and friends can enjoy the afternoon. In large kiosks, or sometimes even small houses, you can order a variety of full meals like schnitzel or currywurst, or just a pretzel as a snack. What’s most special about biergartens, though, is that you can actually bring your own food with you. However, the one Golden Rule is that you must always order something to drink (normally a beer, but any lemonade or soda will do, too).
Most biergartens often have live music as well, and guests can stay for as long as they like (so long as they keep ordering drinks, that is). When the weather is gorgeous like it has been these past few weeks, biergartens are a great and affordable way to hang out with friends.
Because the long picnic benches that are so typical of biergartens can fit up to 10 or 12 people, two or three groups will often share one table. In the true spirit of Gemütlichkeit (friendliness), everyone at the table gets to talking, even if they only met each other a handful of minutes beforehand. “THIS,” I tell my parents, “is why I was in a biergarten last weekend.”
The picnic table setup is also common in the tents at big events like Frühlingsfest. Seeing a simple idea of shared tables and an affordable afternoon out with sandwiches brought from home and live music left me hard-pressed to find an equal comparison back in the United States. Sure, I’ve gone on picnics at the National Mall with friends before, but it doesn’t have the same feeling as a biergarten does.
In today’s world, it feels like there are so many topics that can divide us and highlight our differences. But phenomena like biergartens that are solely centered on the ideas of community and enjoyment remind me that there are infinite ways to bring people together, even if it is over something as simple as sandwiches and beer.