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Whiling away an afternoon or evening in a beer garden with friends is one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with German culture. Ironically, this centuries-old pastime stems from a ban on summer brewing instigated by Bavarian authorities in the 16th century. To get around the problem, barrels of beer brewed in winter were stored away from sunlight in underground cellars. Above ground, the brewers planted deciduous trees in an attempt to keep the ground cool.
It wasn’t long before the Bavarians figured out that sipping a cold beer in a shady spot was quite refreshing, and the biergarten was born. The Duke of Bavaria founded Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, the oldest recorded beer hall in Munich, in 1589. It’s often confused for a beer garden, but since it has very limited seating outside, it isn’t technically a contender for best biergarten. The oldest beer garden in the country is possibly another biergarten in Munich — the Augustiner-Keller, which opened in 1812. However, there are other beer gardens in Germany worthy of a pint. Here are a few to bookmark for your next trip.
Chinesischer Turm, Munich
As Bavaria’s largest city, Munich remains the epicenter of biergarten country with over 200 of the gathering spots scattered within its boundaries. The sprawling Englischer Garten, one of the city’s largest parks, has four of them. The easiest to find — and a delight to drink at — is the Chinesischer Turm biergarten. It’s instantly recognizable for its 84-foot tower and green tables. The tower has burned down several times but has always been rebuilt in the same style as the original, which was constructed in 1789.
Today, this beer garden can seat an impressive 7,000 people — making it the second largest biergarten in the city. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s hard to socialize there. It’s customary to share tables with strangers. Some days, there’s even a brass band. The result is a convivial space where friendships are born over a hefeweizen.
Sierichs Biergarten, Hamburg
On a summer day, Sierichs Biergarten is quite busy. This is because of its enviable position next to the Stadtparksee, the city’s open-air swimming pool. The beer garden was formerly known as Schumachers Biergarten — taking its name from the engineer who oversaw the construction of the lake over a century ago.
Grab a table and order a cold Holsten and some bratwurst or pretzels while you watch the sun set over the lake and Hamburg Planetarium. If it’s too packed, try the beer garden at Altona’s Balkon, a park on the harbor frequented mostly by a local crowd. It has the same beer, but a different view of trees with ships passing in the distance.
Galerie Burghof, Kaiserswerth
One of the best things to do in Düsseldorf is dining al fresco on the Rheinuferpromenade before strolling through Altstadt, its charming old town. Although some dub Düsseldorfer Altstadt the world’s longest bar, it’s worth taking the trouble to float a little further down the river on a Weisse Flotte cruise boat to visit the district of Kaiserswerth.
There, Galerie Burghof is situated along the river next to the ruins of the 12th-century castle known as Kaiserpfalz. The view alone makes the traditional spot one of Germany’s most charming beer gardens. Its wooden bench seating shaded by trees is especially tempting if you’re planning a summer trip.
Prater Biergarten, Berlin
You’ll find Prater Biergarten in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of Berlin. It’s believed that the first person to buy a beer at this address did so in 1837, making the Prater Biergarten the oldest biergarten in the German capital. In the decades that followed, many more beer gardens in the city opened. In fact, there were an estimated four that opened for every 100 families by the turn of the century.
Many beer gardens have since closed down, but the Prater Biergarten owes its success to owner Johann Friedrich Adolph Kalbo and his desire to do more with the business. In an attempt to broaden the biergarten’s appeal after he bought the place in 1852, he employed coquettish singers to entertain guests and staged theatre productions and other live performances. Aside from a brief spell as a cinema, the place has survived the two World Wars, a divided Germany, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These days, it remains the largest beer garden in the city and can accommodate up to 8,000 people with 600 of them inside.
Zur Sonne, Frankfurt
Zur Sonne restaurant is a landmark property in the Bornheim neighborhood of Frankfurt and was once nicknamed Das Lustige Dorf (The Merry Village) for its role as the city’s red light district. Though the restaurant is situated right along the street, its unprepossessing façade hides a beer garden out back big enough to seat several hundred people.
Zur Sonne opened in 1768, making it the city’s oldest and largest cider tavern. Yup, this spot made its name selling apfelwein (cider) along with beer. When it was put up for sale in 2018, residents launched a petition to prevent it from being sold and constructed into a private house. Happily, a buyer was found and the tradition continues. We’ll drink to that!