June 27, 2016

Jerusalem's new "European" beer garden

"Munich Beer Garden"
The famous painting by Max Liebermann (1884)
Egalitarian seating, beer for the entire family,
and Gem├╝tlichkeit
 
One of the simple pleasures of the summertime is sitting outdoors with friends and family, eating and drinking beer together, while all around you hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others are doing the same.  After the sun sets, overhead lights and candles on the table provide just enough light to see those sitting near you and what's on your plate.  All around is lively conversation, sometimes broken by laughter and even singing.

Such are the joys of a beer garden, an institution begun in Bavaria in the 19th century, but now a part of life throughout southern Germany and in other countries as well. 

Eventually, they say, everything arrives in Jerusalem – and now's the time for a beer garden. 

The Jerusalem Beer Garden opened a few months ago at the First Train Station, the old Turkish railroad station at 4 David Remez Street.  The wooden tables, the lights, the beer, the food, and the music – all are there.  There's even a big outdoor screen to watch sporting events, something I don't think you'll find in European beer gardens.

The Jerusalem Beer Garden at night.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
"We're open every day from around 2:00 p.m. to around midnight," says manager Moshe Mor, whom everybody calls by his nickname, Roger.  "Every Tuesday evening, we have live music and a sing-along, which is very popular.

"Our aim is to make beer as ubiquitous as coffee is today, where it's available everywhere you look and sit down.  Actually, our weather here is more suitable for beer than in Europe, where summers are much shorter."   


Mor also reminds me that the Jerusalem Beer Garden, like its European antecedents, will be closed for the winter.  "Our plan is to shut down in October," he says.  "That's long after German beer gardens have closed."

Some of the smaller beer gardens, at least in Munich (where there are about 180), bring their tables indoors for the winter and continue to serve.  They may also put out heaters for the guests, but this ends as soon as the first snow arrives.  For the larger beer gardens – and there are some in Munich which can sit 7,000 - 8,000 people! – practices such as these would be logistical nightmares so they simply close for the winter.   

The Jerusalem Beer Garden has 15 rotating taps for beers, a pretty impressive number by Israeli standards.  Most of them are for imported European beers, but when I was there, they also had Herzl craft beer from Jerusalem (Mor is a partner in that brewery), Bazelet beer from the Golan Brewery in Katzrin, Shapiro beer from Beit Shemesh, and Alexander beer from Emek Hefer.  The price for a 400 milliliter glass of beer ranges from 19 to 29 shekels.  There is a small bar for other alcoholic drinks.

The old blogger enjoys a mushroom
burger and a Herzl IPA with
manager "Roger" Mor (left).

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The food menu is compact, but just right for a beer garden.  There's the usual burger, sausage, chicken wings and fries – but also a delicious Portobello mushroom burger known as "Meat is Murder."

Although the food served is kosher-meat, the Beer Garden has no certification since it is open on Shabbat.

Before he opened up his own, Mor delved into the history of beer gardens.  "Did you know," he asked me rhetorically, "that in the 19th century, beer brewers in Munich began to brew their beer outside of the city, along the banks of the Isar River?  This was because explosions sometimes occurred in breweries and the authorities didn’t want this happening inside the city. 

"Also, beer had to be brewed during the cold months and kept cool for serving in the summer.  The brewers dug cellars along the river to keep the beer cold, put gravel on the top as further insulation, and planted lots of leafy chestnut trees to keep the ground temperature even cooler."

It wasn't long before they were putting simple tables and benches right over the cellars and selling their beer on the spot.  When they began to also sell food, however, the smaller restaurants in the city cried unfair competition.  King Maximilian the First of Bavaria issued a compromise ruling which forbade the "beer gardens" from selling food, but which allowed visitors to bring their own victuals.

Today, almost all German beer gardens provide food, but in keeping with tradition, also allow patrons to bring their own.  The tables are clearly marked: Those with signs like "No self-service" ("keine Selbstbedienung") are served food by waiters and waitresses; those with signs like "Self-service" ("Selbstbedienung") are not. 

Mor chuckles when I ask him if he allows visitors to the Jerusalem Beer Garden to bring their own food: "Well, our 'traditions' are different in Israel and we can't allow that." 

What is the same is the practice of sharing your table with complete strangers.  This often leads to conversations and even new friendships and who knows what else.  From the start, beer gardens were the most democratic of institutions, with professors sitting next to housewives with children, sitting next to army officers, sitting next to workmen.  The common denominator, then as today, is beer.

How much beer you have is a different question.  In Bavarian beer gardens, most people order their beer in "mass" mugs, holding a liter of beer.  Not too unusual in a country where individuals consume on average 116 liters of beer per year.  Here in Israel, where per capita beer consumption is a measly 14 liters a year, the Jerusalem Beer Garden sells it in 400 milliliter glasses. 

"That's still a nice quantity of beer," concludes Mor. "We supply you with that and everything else, including what the Germans call Gem├╝tlichkeit, a cozy and relaxed sociability which makes for a real beer garden experience."  


The article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.      

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous6/27/2016

    I'm always passing by this place but never knew it was a beergarden. Now that I know, I'll be passing through it frequently. :) Also, it's true our per-capita beer consumption is low, but keep in mind 15-20% of the population is Muslim. When Germany gets there in a few years, they'll experience the same thing that's happened in Lebanon, France, etc.

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  2. Thanks, Doug. When I passed by there a while ago, I thought the variety on tap looked meager. Glad to hear that it has either expanded, or that I didn't look that carefully. Will make it my next beer-drinking destination.

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  3. I'm sorry I can't support it even on a weekday. Forget whether you observe Shabbat halachically or not, forget the regulations of the rabbinate. Shabbat is a social revolution. People are together with their families. When the people who serve them are working and not with THEIR families, the end doesn't justify the means. Those places which are open on Shabbat will not employ Shabbat-observant people. Local stores are being run out of business by mega-locations open 7 days a week. I would love to have a beer where they are closed on Shabbat.

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  4. Anonymous7/21/2016

    According to 2014 data, only five percent of the German population is Muslim, nothing like 15 - 20%. And from personal experience I can say that quite a few of those like a beer.

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