“Guten Tag, Elizabeth!,” the subject line of an e-mail read.
“Vielen Dank!,” I said to myself as I immediately accepted an invitation to attend AAA’s “Bavaria Night with Viking Cruises,” a festive affair at the Hofbräuhaus Columbus that featured a German dinner buffet and an informative presentation about European river cruising.
A noisy, crowded German beer hall might not be the place you’d readily associate with me, but it’s the perfect place to unleash my enthusiasm for my German heritage. Give me the chance to load up on Schnitzel and Spätzle, to wear some of my collection of Trachten folk clothes I’ve bought in Bavaria, and to hear traditional German music played on an accordion, and I’ll start hopping and stepping with anticipation, just like I was back learning how to dance the polka with Eric from my Kinderchor days.
Ever since the Hofbräuhaus Columbus opened in November 2014, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to entice people to go there with me. The familiar refrain repeated: “It’s too loud.” “It’s too far away for lunch.” “I’d rather go elsewhere.” “We’re going here instead.”
“I understand,” I politely answered. But inside, a Blitzkrieg was raging. “The place is supposed to be loud! Grandview is not as far away as Munich! And I’d rather go there for once than always going elsewhere!,” I thought to myself. “Gott im Himmel, was für Dummköpfe!”
So I relished the moment when I finally arrived at Hofbräuhaus Columbus, wearing a blue-and-white outfit accessorized with my heart-shaped pin painted with the blue-and-white-lozenge version of the Bavarian flag and my “Hirsch” Trachtentuch neckerchief with leaping blue stags on a polka-dotted green background.
Outside, I admired the Maibaum, a Bavarian tradition dating to the 16th century where a pole painted in Bavarian blue and white and decorated with emblems of local trade and craft guilds is raised on May 1. The traditional dark Maibock beer is brewed for the occasion.
Inside, Gemütlichkeit was running rampant, thanks to a warm welcome from my New York redeye friends Mary Jo, Michelle and Zack. First, I checked out the gift shop, laden with plush bears wearing Lederhosen and jars of all my favorite German groceries, like Lowensenf mustard and Hengstenberg sauerkraut and red cabbage.
Then, I took a seat at one of several high-topped tables lining the Goodale Street side of the building, and the fun began.
To celebrate National Pretzel Day, hundreds of us snacked on soft pretzels made with Munich-imported ingredients and served with homemade Bier Cheese for dipping.
Some sipped Reisling wine from the Rhine region; others hoisted glass steins of beer brewed on site from original recipes handed down by the Duke of Bavaria over 400 years ago, choosing from four year-round beer varieties, plus seasonal specialties like a pale lager called the Hopfen Spezial.
Then, we filled our plates with a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, homemade seasoned pretzel croutons and cucumber dressing; grilled Weisswürst and Münchner Bratwurst; Schnitzel Wiener Art, a breaded and fried pork cutlet served with cranberry sauce; German potato salad; buttered Spätzle; imported German sauerkraut…
We got the lowdown on Rhine and Danube river cruising, a relaxing travel experience that offers a unique, ever-changing mural of scenery to behold from the sun deck of a longship vessel. Docking in the heart of historic cities along the Rhine — like Basel, Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Cologne, Koblenz, Speyer, Breisach — and the Danube — including Budapest, Nuremberg, Vienna, Melk, Passau, Würzburg and Bamberg, we’d attend culturally enriching experiences like performances, lectures and visits to places like the Regensburg factory where BMW “is defusing the demographic time bomb.”
As a veteran of cruises on the Danube and the waterways of Holland and Belgium, I can attest to the uniqueness and convenience of this travel experience. The only thing that’s holding me back from booking is the remotest possibility of being afflicted again by the nightmarish norovirus that led to some equally nightmarish episodes on the streets of Bruges, Belgium.
What I will do is return, post haste, to Hofbräuhaus Columbus. Modeled after the legendary Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany, the place is a fine substitute when you’re feeling homesick for the original and aren’t up for the plane ride.
Here I am on my first visit there in May 2000. Not everywhere in the Hofbräuhaus is loud. Check out the charming tablecloth and carved wooden chair!
The Hofbräuhaus story begins in 1589, when Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria built a brewery in Munich that would produce beer that was just as good as what he was importing from Einbeck in Lower Saxony. He recruited the brewmaster of Geisenfeld Monastery to supervise the construction of a Hofbräuhaus (the “ducal brewery”) and be its first master brewer.
When Wilhelm’s son, Maximilian I, took the reins, he replaced the popular, dark and heavy Braunbier with a lighter Weissbier that could only be brewed and sold at his Hofbräuhaus. Demand was so great for this beer that the Hofbräuhaus couldn’t brew it fast enough to keep up, so a new, bigger Hofbräuhaus was built on Munich’s Platzl, where the Hofbräuhaus still stands today.
When Maximilian’s son, Ludwig, married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hilburghausen in October 1810, he threw a party for 40,000 guests in a field on the west side of Munich. The party was so successful that he repeated it every year. And that is the origin of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest.
By 1828, the Hofbräuhaus had become so legendary that Ludwig issued a decree granting a license for Hofbräuhaus to serve beer and food to the working-class public. Some bought the beer to take home to drink, but others sat together and socialized at the brewery, drinking beer while discussing the latest news and current events. They could either bring their own cheese, sausages and bread to eat, or they could buy food at the brewery.
Before long, the Hofbräuhaus had become the place for clubs to meet. Many reserved a table where their members could congregate on a regular basis, and the Stammtisch was born. Since only the members of a particular group could sit at that table at the time the table was reserved, ornate signs were placed on or above these tables. Some patrons brought their own beer steins, which they could store in a cupboard.
As Munich’s population grew, so did the demand for beer. To anticipate demand, the Hofbräuhaus started brewing excess beer and storing it in cellars. To keep them cool, chestnut trees were planted over the cellars to provide shade. Before long, empty beer barrels were placed in the garden, and people started drinking their beer standing in the garden under the shade of the chestnut trees.
Locals, tourists and famous people started flocking to the Hofbräuhaus, and haven’t stopped since. Somerset Maugham usually ordered a radish and sausages to enjoy with his beer. The author Thomas Wolfe enjoyed his visit to Munich in the 1930s so much that the main character of his book, The Web and the Rock, visits Munich and loves “the roaring tumult of the Hofbrau Haus,” where he “felt the warmth, the surge, the powerful communion” of the locals as they “gulped down from stone mugs liter after liter of the cold and powerful dark beer.” Since 1935, Hofbräuhaus visitors have been singing the famous song, “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus – oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” (In Munich there’s a Hofbräuhaus – one, two, down the hatch!)
In 2003, the first Hofbräuhaus franchise in America opened in Newport, Kentucky, not far from Cincinnati, Munich’s sister city. Since then, others have opened in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cleveland. Ours in Columbus was the sixth to open.
For more on the Hofbräuhaus, see Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History: Beer, Culture, & Politics, by Jeffrey S. Gaab.