A proper dodgy station, like all proper cities have, its plaza reeking of urine and scattered with beer bottles. Old hands rummaging in its bins, searching for treasure. Have fun in our city, the gateway says – have a drink or two, by all means – but don’t let it take you. Under the ring road, through the old city wall, and into a party on the move. Is it the last night of the year for a T-shirt, or the first for scarves and gloves? Wegbiers there and here. Döners here and there. Cream-coloured taxis nosing through crowds forced out into the street from hot bars with hot red lights. Cut back, cut in, head upward by alleyway and rat run, until you reach fresh air and hear the running of the river.
The Altstadthof is important to us. It’s where we first got really excited about beer. Where we first thought we might be learning something, and testing our limits. This Rotbier, we said, is exciting. But why? It didn’t smell of pine or peach. It wasn’t funky, sour, or smoky. There was some completeness, some understated complexity, that shook us. Maybe it was just the magic of being on holiday, we thought, and so made a point of going back a little later, in 2008, when we imagined ourselves to be more worldly and critically astute. It still thrilled. Now, 14 years on… well, we liked it, we suppose. It’s chewy and round in the mouth but a little mucky, too. More Hamburg brewpub amber than we remember from before. Lesson learned: never look up your first love.
Hang on – is the river called the Rednitz, the Pegnitz or the Regnitz? All three are right. The Pegnitz joins the Rednitz to form the Regnitz at Fürth. You can walk to Fürth along the Pegnitz, past bike lanes, flood plains and barbecue bins; past football training grounds and surfers on the weir; past wild hops having their way with industrial ruins. River path becomes suburban park, with beer gardens, bandstands and hangry geese. Somewhere in the distance, a brass ensemble is playing the kind of strident striding-out march that you might have thought had gone out of fashion in Germany. Everyone is drifting towards the sound, into town, following the smell of smoke and candyfloss.
We didn’t plan to go to Fürth during Michaelis-Kirchweih, St Michael’s Fair, but we’re glad we did. It’s not a beer festival except insofar as any festival in Bavaria is bound to be. Between fairground rides and shooting galleries there were temporary bars and beer halls selling every local brand. It was all wonderfully tacky but, crucially, not insincere or exploitative. We ate fried potato pancakes to line our stomachs and then found a corner of a table in an Olde Rusticke hut that wasn’t there a week before. We were impressed by Grüner Vollbier Hell, a local brand now brewed by Tucher (Radeberger). Pale and grainy, flowery and fresh, wholesome and just clean enough to wash away the smoke from the grill that made the town centre feel like a Napoleonic battlefield.
Nuremberg is, in some ways, an American city. As in, you’re never more than six feet from an American, or a party of them. Loud Americans Facetiming over their lunch, checking in with the folks back home: “We just got in from Vienna!” Quiet Americans with neat hair muttering heck and gosh and leaving most of their dinner on the plate. Something something Bible school. When they ask the waiters “What light beers do you have?” the waiters are ready, and bring glasses of Helles, along with menus in English. These feel like the very final traces of a very long war.
We’d spotted Wirtshaus Hutt’n from the Altstadthof across the road and decided to visit even before Twitter started telling us to go. It’s one of those German catering machines – a beer hall with multiple rooms decorated to resemble an Alpine lodge. We were intercepted at the door and not-so-gently steered into the international dining section, away from the locals in their boozer. It looked like fun in there. Hutt’n’s own Rotbier was good: sweeter and less herbal than Altstadthof’s. The Helles was rustic, characterful, and other synonyms for rough. The real draw here, though, is a list of Franconian beers on draught. Brauerei Neder’s Schwarze Anna was a highlight of the trip: rustic, characterful, and other synonyms for mysteriously brilliant. Franconian best mild. Altes Peculier.
German cities have two lives. There’s the Old Town, its limits preserved in stone, where the coach parties and refrigeration conference delegates mingle under ancient (rebuilt) church spires. And there’s the world outside the walls, beyond the ring road, where the illusion ends. Tram tracks. Apartment blocks half a mile long. Pushchairs, cargo bikes, walking frames and removals vans. There are more pizza takeaways than pubs. The churches are just as big but are built in concrete, red brick and clean glass, with Aldi on one side and a Getränkemarkt on the other. There, in the car park, disloyal locals load their cars with crates of foreign beer from alien nations such as Saxony and the Rhineland – after a bit of strange.
We struggled to understand Landbierparadies when we visited a branch more than a decade ago. What is Landbier? Back then, we wondered if it had a status a little like ‘real ale’ in the UK. Some way out of town, among the flats and playgrounds of Leipziger Straße, we found a beer hall that felt more like a working men’s club, or a rural community centre. Plain dark wood. Plain tables. No music. One beer on draught. “Zwei Landbier,” we said. “Zwei Landbier,” replied the barman-waiter-manager. As we drank Hetzelsdorfer Vollbier (clean, crisp, metallic, grassy, grainy) the tables around us filled up with older men. Some shuffled cards and started playing with surprising aggression. Others debated, teased each other and laughed. Almost everyone drank the draught beer, one mug after another – keep ‘em coming, son.
Nürnberger Rostbratwurst, three in a bed. Buttered pretzels. Pink cuboids of liver sausage in elliptical bread rolls. Pork knuckle, Schnitzel, meat and two dumplings, help yourself to Senf, don’t spill your gravy. Lads in lederhosen trampling Sauerkraut on the carnival cart. Noch zwei! That’s one way. And there are falafels and kebabs, of course, in brightly lit restaurants where men who don’t drink gather to binge on sandwiches instead. “Is it good?” Shrug. “Döner ist Döner ist Döner.” Hunch and bite, chips into dips, shreds of cabbage falling like autumn leaves. One sandwich down… noch zwei!
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