The short video embedded here, as shot at Munich’s Mathäser Bierstadt in 1989, is simply amazing. When I shared it with Dick Nixon, he became emotional. So did I.
Last week in Part One, I recounted our first visit to this famous Munich beer hall. This week, proof of this institution’s lasting impact.
For 16 years I was the proprietor of a blog called NA Confidential, which was decommissioned in 2020 following a determination by Google that I’d managed to offend every last internet user in the city of New Albany.
But every now and then, I’d uncover a truffle by publishing a blog post that struck a positive chord, as with my accounts of beer drinking in Munich in 1987, and specifically, the singular experience of the Mathäser Bierstadt. To date I’ve received upwards of 50 comments from all over the world testifying to an abiding love for the Mathäser, some of them landing years after the post in question first appeared.
Consider today’s column an epilogue to last week’s Mathäser digression, and allow me to share what I consider to be the best of these comments, which continue to affect me deeply. They testify to a universality of spirit, to the social and cultural significance of the Munich beer hall as a “third space” for people of all ages and walks of life.
I’ve chosen not to edit these testimonials, and hope you enjoy them. They no longer make beer halls (read: “culture”) like the Mathäser, and we’re poorer for the absence.
D said …
Beautifully written, I share your sentiments totally and with equal sadness. In the winter of ’62-’63 while working in the banquet hall and night club at the Hotel Bayerischerhof, the Mathäser (I agree with that spelling too) was THE BEST.
My daughter, Meghan, is about to embark on a trip to Munich … here is what I wrote her today July 29.09:
“Your upcoming trip to Germany is bringing back some pretty strong memories, one of which unleashed a flood of emotion when I just discovered, a few minutes ago, that my all-time favorite Beer Hall in Munich, the Mathaeser (which used to be a stone’s throw from the main station, the Hauptbahnhof, and the main traffic circle, Karlsplatz — colloquially known to us locals as Stachus) has been torn apart and has become a modern, artificial multiplex cinema and urban bar/restaurant center.
“That is a fucking crime.
“Meg, this breaks my heart and I’m crying as I write this and knock back a couple of Labatt Blues, saddened that a place which was so central to my experience in Munich has been so abused and all I am left with is my memories of so many wonderful wild nights there with my best friend, Andy Gardiner (who was to die, almost appropriately, a few years later in a late night, post pubbing car crash near Cambridge, UK).
“The Mathaeser was a HUGE, and I mean massive open beer hall (held 3000+) with a boxing ring type stage in the middle upon which performed various wonderful oompahpah bands with their ‘blasmusik’ …I can hear them now … “Heute blau und morgen blau und oooooooooober morgen wiederrrrr!” (“Sad today and tomorrow sad too and the day after all over again!”). Perfect to sing when you are half wasted on huge steins of frothy beer straight ‘vom fass’ (from the spring or barrel) interspersed with shots of schnapps dispensed by hefty aproned waitresses with an aluminum bucket full of ice containing a bottle or two of schnapps over their muscled arm. In the same hand they held a tray of shot glasses. They just wandered through the crowd pouring shots which we sometimes just dropped into our steins, glass and all, depth charge style.
“(A depth charge was a mine dropped on submarines in WW2 … when it reached a certain depth it exploded, hopefully on top of a German submarine. Those schnapps ‘charges’ were pretty devastating too!)
“All the while singing lusty (lustiger) German beer drinking songs, arms locked with those of complete strangers and rocking rhythmically back and forth, row-the-boat style, on the benches on which we all sat, twelve to a table.
“Then, if you were hungry you could retire to one of many satellite rooms off the main hall which served ‘eintopf’ of wonderfully tasty linzensuppe (lentil soup) served with semmeln (rolls with sesame seeds), soup guaranteed to make you fart for a week.
“Oh Meg, those were great times. We were so broke but managed to have such memorable times.
“The Mathaeser’s ( pronounced mattayser) rival was the Hofbrauhaus….after which the famous song was sung…
“In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus (Hofbroyhouse)
Eins, zwei, g’suffa …(pronounced zuffah)
Da läuft ( loyft) so manches Fäßchen ( fessschen) aus:
Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
“In Munich is the Hofbrau pub–
One, two, drink up!!
So many kegs flowed out of it
One, two, drink up!!!
“To us it never rivalled the wildness of the Mathaeser. Hitler spoke here and you could feel, even in 1962/3, an undercurrent of angry, cold, nastiness, as opposed to the Mathaeser’s good old German friendly spirit (gemütlichkeit = gemootlichkite)
“But, today it is all that is left and the service sucks and they steal your change if you aren’t careful but it is still a must in Munich.
P said …
Thanks for your reminiscences of the Mathäser Bierstadt, which also left me with a feeling of melancholy for great times gone forever.
I caught the overnight train from London to Munich in the summer of ‘75 looking for a holiday job. Having spent all the first day in a fruitless search for work, I was heading along Bayerstrasse back to the Hauptbahnhof to collect my stuff in anticipation of having to sleep in the park for the night when I tried one last time at the hotel right next to the Mathäser, Hotel Stachus. It worked and I got a bellboy/washer-up/night porter/general dogsbody job for the summer.
My duties basically consisted of anything that nobody else wanted to do, such as washing up for breakfast. Now, standing over a hot, steaming sink at 7.30 am on a warm summer’s morning washing up for 150 Swedes may not sound like a lot of fun, but the perk of the job was the handily-placed fridge, packed with deliciously cold half-litre bottles of Löwenbräu.
I have not drunk beer at that time of day before or since, but never has the golden nectar tasted so sweet or slipped down so effortlessly and however much I drank, I never felt drunk because I was sweating so much from the hot kitchen it just seemed to go straight through the system. This was going to be a great job.
The Mathäser was a constant presence. It was so close you could see into it at the back because the kitchen windows of the hotel looked straight down onto it. The oompah bands were generally audible in the background at most times of the day and night, and even during the hours when it was closed there was always activity or movement of some sort going on and the place seemed to be reassuringly alive and breathing even if it was now at rest, like a friendly giant slumbering in the background.
As you would expect, the Mathäser had a huge kitchen (or apparently five kitchens. Whenever a large party arrived at short notice and the hotel was short of food, I would be sent round from the hotel to pick up a few hundred frozen Schnitzel. The head chef knew me and would just add a couple of ticks to the slate as I staggered out under the load, a mere drop in the ocean of the vast quantity of supplies at his disposal. I think they must have brewed beer on site as well, because on warm, slightly damp mornings the streets around the back were always filled with that wonderful smell of brewing hops.
There were plenty of other large beer-halls and beer-gardens in Munich, usually displaying the arms of the brewery to which they were attached: Spaten, Paulaner, Franziskaner, Hacker-Pschorr come to mind and I selflessly devoted many hours to a thorough investigation of the particular qualities of each of their different brews: Pils, Export, Export Dunkel (always my favourite but you don’t seem to be able to get it now, not the same stuff anyway) and so on.
But none had the all-encompassing warmth and down-to-earth openness of the Mathäser. You walked in and it was always busy and unaffected: all life seemed to be there simply enjoying itself and to have been there enjoying itself for eternity, like a timeless tavern scene painted by one of the Dutch masters. But after a moment’s surprised contemplation, you realised that all you had to do was find a small space in those vast, cavernous rooms, sit down and get the Fräulein to bring you the first Maß, and you became a part of that eternal scene yourself.
The Mathäser was not sophisticated, but it was genuine, and it is indeed a tragedy that it has been replaced by a soulless, glass-and-aluminium ‘entertainment’ complex, where the closest you can get to a decent drop is a miniscule amount of beer served in a champagne glass at some frigging café. They don’t know what they’re missing …
E said …
Thank you for your wonderful memories and for stirring my own deeply felt memories of youth.
On my nineteenth birthday, a Sunday in June 1968, I found the Mathaeser Bierstadt of Munich by accident. Walking on the street outside with my buddy, a fellow soldier from the 24th Infantry Division, we entered an alcove, drawn by the wonderful smells of cooking sausage. Then, from somewhere, I heard music. We explored further, up a staircase and opened two huge doors–and there it was–beer-drinkers heaven. It was 11AM on a Sunday morning and there were two thousand people in the place! DRINKING BEER! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
We were two dopey kids, but we stumbled upon one of the greatest beer-drinking joints in the world! And I love beer. For the next year, it became my favorite place in Munich, our home away from home. We would take the #6 trolley to Karlsplatz, walk toward the Hauptbahnhof and there we were. It was, at one time, in the Guinness Book of Records. More beer was served in that building, in one year, than anywhere in the world.
Everything the previous posters wrote was right-on about the place. I have the warmest of memories the place of how kind the people treated a young soldier. I can’t believe it’s gone. That makes me very sad.
Again – thank you for the memories.
J said …
My partner and I lived and worked in Munich in ’78-79. The Mathäser was our favourite watering hole by a country mile and believe me we sampled a few! Saturday nights at the Mathäser were always packed with incident. It was a place that you felt was steeped in history, very down to earth and REAL compared with the tourist traps.
We were so happy that on a visit ten years later very little had changed and we naively expected it to be ever thus. I only found out its fate today (April ’11) after a search on Google Earth/Streetview. We are devastated that it has gone. I thought that Müncheners of all people were a breed that valued what they had.
Cover photo credit: Abendzeitung.