Monday 27 July 2020

Monday in the land of breweries

Merkendorfer Kellerbier
One of the disconcerting things about travelling in Franconia, aka Oberfranken, is realising just how many of the place names I instantly recognise without ever having been to the vast majority of them. It comes from seeing them in the listings at Untappd, of course – and becoming familiar with all the many ways that visitors can misunderstand them...

A common one is that beers often have the name of their home town as a prefix, and foreigners assume that’s the brewery name. Or they mix up breweries of the same name but located in different towns. Scheßlitz? That’ll be Drei Kronen – the one I’ve not been to, but which often gets confused with the one I have, which is Drei Kronen Memmelsdorf. Drosendorf? That’s one of the two Brauerei Göller, And Schammelsdorf is of course Brauerei Knoblach. I think we saw all of those names on our way out on Monday morning, and we weren’t on the way to any of them!

Instead we were after one of the other things Oberfranken has in spades, which is lovely countryside. Paradiestal, or Paradise Valley, is a popular hiking trail just off the A70 autobahn between Bamberg and Kulmbach – confusingly, it also has an autobahn Parkplatz (a motorway rest area) named after it, but this is not the start of the hike. That instead lies in fields and is rather awkward for the visitor to locate, unless of course you are sufficiently non-German to be willing to drive through fields along tracks marked “Farm traffic only”, or are local enough to know that the real route is to go the other way off the autobahn then backtrack through the village of Stadelhofen. But I digress, as indeed did our route.

"The Watcher"
Anyway, once you make it, finally locate the trail map and head off across the fields and into the woods, you are rewarded first by green valleys alive with flowers and butterflies, and then by the fantastical rock shapes for which the trail is reknowned. Carved out of the limestone by wind and water, they stand sentinel around the valleys, or lure the visitor up to explore lofty pinnacles or spooky caves.

Although we kept to the shorter 7km loop rather than the full 11km, we were still tired as we headed back to our start point. Fewer weird rocks, but still plenty of nature between the wheat and maize fields, and along the line of ancient apple trees. Finding a place for lunch had been a bit of a challenge – it’s still fairly common for places to take Mondays off (“Montag Ruhetag”) and the Corona crisis has made it worse. Some bierkellers and biergardens currently only open from Wednesday and some only do Friday-Sunday.

Fortunately I’d spotted a name I know well – Merkendorf – and found that one of the town’s two breweries, Brauerei Hummel, was open for beer and food. (The other, Wagner Merkendorf – one of at least four Wagner Bräu’s in the area, hence the need for the town name as a qualifier – takes Mondays off.)

Unlike last night’s dinner venue, the Löwenbräu Keller in Buttenheim, this wasn’t a verdant Bierkeller. It was the brewery yard, laid out with tables and benches – and with the usual-for-Corona one-way system and 1.5m-apart queuing lines taped out on the floor. (Table staff are all masked everywhere here, and guests must wear face-covers while moving around or queuing, but can take them off once seated.)

But it had a bit of greenery around, including a large shady tree, a play area which the kids loved, and the food and beer were hearty and – with one exception – excellent. I had the pork belly, roasty, salty, chewy and delicious, accompanied first by a classic hoppy-bitter and faintly toasty Kellerbier and then by Räucherla, their lovely smoky Rauch-Märzen. My one disappointment was ending with their Cowboy Schwarzbier – so sweet and gassy that I couldn’t finish it. Still, the brewery ‘shop’ was open, they’d sold out of the Rauchfestbier but we have Pils, Märzen and Festbier-Hell to try later – I’m sure they will make up for it!


  1. Boy am I envious of you, BryanB. I’ve been dreaming of a return visit to Franconia but had given up on that until next year. Now you post tempting photos of Kellerbier and amazing scenery designed to tease.

    All joking aside, it’s good to know that pubs and brewery taps are open for business, albeit with certain compliance measures in place.

    Ten years ago, my son and I enjoyed an excellent lunch, plus a few Biers at Löwenbräu Keller in Buttenheim, and your description was just as I recall the place. It certainly brought back some happy memories. The neighbouring St. GeorgenBräu tap was closed, but their Keller, on the edge of town was open.

    Needless to say, we had to give it a try!

    1. I very nearly went over there last night, but was just too tired after a day trekking around Bamberg. The climb up the hill to Greifenklau was even harder with a backpack full of beers!

  2. Sounds like you’re having a great time. Look forward to reading further reports.

    The first time we stayed in Bamberg our apartment was almost opposite Greifenklau. It is quite a climb up that hill, especially in temperatures in excess of 30°C!