Cologne – the unsung beer capital of Germany

Although most would identify Munich as Germany’s beer capital what with the Oktoberfest craze… for us, it would be Cologne.

Cologne is where we first explored the craft beer variety Germany has to offer. It is where we saw locals relish craft beer as much as they do the revered Kölsch.

We started our beer journey in Cologne with the Kölsch – it seemed like the right thing to do. And, we were not disappointed. If you’ve read some of the posts on this blog, you will know that we are not huge fans of the Pils. That said, we don’t mind drinking them on tap every once in a while. It is full of fresh flavors and the Pils generally have a nice hoppiness to it, admittedly not the pale ale hoppiness that we like but good enough to drink occasionally.

We had our first Kölsch at the Gaffel am Dom. The Kölsch to us was really just a German pils, just not as hoppy. However, the Kölsch by classification is an ale as it’s top fermented unlike a Pils. Notice how it is served in a small glass. Now, that’s typical for a Kölsch. Another typical and somewhat amusing custom is the server filling your glass the second it is empty without checking if you’d like more. This makes you completely lose track of how much you’ve drunk but at the same time, it’s pretty cool that you’ll never need to wait for a beer! After a quite a few Kölschs, we put our beer coasters on top of our glass which seemed to be the norm when you’d had enough.

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We were pleased to find that Gaffel brewed another style of beer – it was somewhat similar to the Kölsch yet different because of the hops and fruity flavors. Like the Kölsch, this beer didn’t look or taste like a typical lager or ale.. whatever it was, we liked it! The Sonnen Hopfen as the name itself indicates is full of summer flavors, bursting with citrusy freshness and juicy hops. Definitely, a must-try if you visit the Gaffel am Dom. It is the closest to a craft beer style in a traditional Brauhaus in Cologne.

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We had a delightful evening at the Gaffel am Dom – loved the food and the ambience. This is a place worth visiting for that authentic Kölner experience.

The night was still young and we headed over to the Metronom, a jazz bar. It’s a tiny place but a bar that plays some wonderful jazz music and serves an authentic Guinness on tap. It had been ages since we’d had a genuine pint of Guinness and were so happy to find one, of all the places in Germany.

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Metronom is a small place filled with locals and tourists. It gets crammed easily as it’s a small bar but just get there early and you can get a spot close to the bar. When we had visited, they had run into some trouble with the live music shows creating too much noise for the residents in the area and they had stopped the shows. But, we still listened to some great jazz music. They have the most amazing collection of vinyl records!

The next day we visited the Cologne Biermuseum. Although the place isn’t exactly a museum but more a bar with lots of great, old bier steins from all over Deutschland, Austria and other parts of the world. The place has a very cozy feeling to it and we kinda had the whole place to ourselves when we stopped by for some midday refreshments. Now, what’s notable about this place is that they have a huge variety of beers on tap, beers from all around the world and a bigger variety of bottled beers, mostly the traditional variety. The majority of the tap beers are Bocks and these are some pretty amazing bocks. We’ve had some of our best bocks in all of Germany at this little bar.

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We particularly enjoyed the Urbock, a brilliantly crafted bock, that leaves you wanting more.

If you are a beer fanatic and especially one that loves Bocks, this place should definitely be part of your Cologne beer adventures.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Braustelle microbrewery in Ehrenfeld. These guys have a great set of beers on tap. Of course, they have their own Kölsch – the Helios. It’s one of the best Kölschs we had in all of Cologne. Braustelle has a great set of craft beers to suit all sorts of palettes. We weren’t too fond of their fruity Pink Panther ale but loved some of their stouts. They are always brewing new stuff and you’ll find their menu changing ever so often. It’s a great place where the craft beer loving locals get together. A must-visit if you are a beer enthusiast.

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The Helios

The next day we did a short trip to Bonn. It’s a university town that’s possibly most famous for being the birthplace of Beethoven and home to the United Nations German HQ. Incidentally, it’s where Steve worked while he lived in Bonn several years ago. More about Bonn in a separate post. On to the beers in Bonn – like Cologne they have their own brand of beer called the Bönnsch of course. Interesting point to note: Kölsch and Bönnsch are also what the local dialects are referred to for the respective cities.

While the Kölsch is served in a small glass, the Bönnsch is served in a very unique looking pint glass.

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The lighter (helles in German) beer is their classic, all-time brew – the Bönnsch Natürlich. It’s similar to the Kölsch yet couldn’t be more different. The darker brew you see is their Winter Bock – we quite liked this one! This, of course, is available only during the winter months. The Bönnsch beers are a creation of the Brauhaus Bönnsch which is a fantastic place to grab some delicious local bites and beers.

Later that afternoon, we headed back to Cologne and were quite excited about our evening plans. Not only were we meeting an old friend/roommate of Steve’s after nearly a decade, but were also planning on visiting Cologne’s kick-ass craft beer bar.

We started off the evening at the Päffgen Brauhaus. It’s a traditional beer hall atmosphere and is a fairly large place. They also have a nice winter beer garden that is covered and not too cold. After several rounds of Kölschs and some very tasty local food, we decided to get to the spot we’d been saving for the last.

Craft Beer Corner Coeln is one of the best craft beer bars in Germany. It is mostly filled with local folk who love their craft beers. They have 15 taps on rotation – beers include German and international craft. And they have a whole bunch more by the bottle. It is important to note that when we had visited Cologne in Dec 2016, we were living in Ulm, a small town in South Germany. The craft beer culture at that time was pretty much non-existent and we were always on the hunt for craft beers. [The scene today though is hugely different. More on this in a separate post!] So, essentially, you can imagine the palpable excitement in the air when we walked into this bar to find this mind-blowing collection of beers.

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Today was a Good Day IPA from Pizza Port was just one of the many craft beer gems we discovered that night

It turned out to be a long night of fun conversations over some hoppilicious beers. Also, we got our Pils loving German friend to try out a whole bunch of hoppy ales. Although he didn’t really develop a liking for the ales, he did enjoy the stouts quite a bit.

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They have a cool wall displaying the different beer styles and sub-styles. What you’re seeing in this pic is barely half of that wall!

If you are a serious beer drinker and find yourself in and around Cologne, you should definitely visit the Craft Beer Corner. It is one of the very few places in Germany where you get such a varied and huge collection of craft beers. We promise you, you will feel like you’ve finally come home at Craft Beer Corner Coeln. And, if you’re an IPA lover, you will be in hop heaven with their horde of great IPAs!

And, that’s how we began our Christmas beercation. Next stop Belgium. Stay tuned for our beer adventures in the holy land of beers.

Ramsau (Berchtesgaden)

An enchanting little village where we wish we’d spent more time…

We visited Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden on a rainy evening. We’d just spent the day at nearby Königssee and wanted to visit Ramsau before heading back to Salzburg, which was our base for our week-long German Austrian road trip.

It was early spring and the clouds were lurking around and we knew it was going to pour. Through the entire day at Königssee, we fortunately escaped the rain. But, as we parked our car at Ramsau, it started raining and didn’t stop for the entire hour we were there. It was just relentless!

That didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring though. We got out our umbrellas, put on our hoodies, huddled closer and walked to the bridge near the Ramsau church where thousands of photographers have tried to capture the famous postcard view of this idyllic little village.

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Ramsau is surrounded by incredible beauty. It is set amidst the Alps and on a clear day, you can see the massive Alps right behind the little church making the view even more remarkable. Despite the heavy downpour, you can still get a small peek at a snow-covered mountain in the pic above.

With the stream by its side, the Alps behind it, and green hills with flocks of sheep surrounding it, this is the most picturesque church we’ve ever seen!

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The church is also adorned by the prettiest cemetery we’d ever seen. It was a wonderful sight of love and peace.

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Cemeteries like these around the local church appeared to be customary in this region. Many of them have intricate and unique gravestones that are surrounded by figurines and photos. These evoke a feeling of comfort and peace rather than the usual melancholy associated with cemeteries.

The interior of the Ramsau church is quite simple but lovingly decorated.

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Although we spent less than an hour in this little German village and had barely seen all that it had to offer, we left Ramsau with lovely memories knowing we’ll be back soon.

Berchtesgaden and its surrounding area is extraordinarily beautiful. It should top your list of places to see in Germany. It is our most loved place in all of Germany and we cannot wait to head back there someday soon.

Regensburg – a medieval marvel

Sometimes the most unplanned trips turn out to be the best trips. 

We’d had Regensburg on our bucket list of German cities to visit but hadn’t gotten around to it. As fate would have it, we had to plan a trip to the city for a work-related visit. So we set off on a lovely sunny evening with blue skies. It’s a short drive to Regensburg from Ulm and we made it there while the sun was still shining bright.

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First order of business was food. There’s a TON of options for delicious food in Regensburg. Our restaurant selections are generally driven by the beer variety. And, we were so pleased to discover that Regensburg has a ton of spots for good beer as well, including some very cool craft beer bars.

While you are in Regensburg, you should definitely visit the Wurstkuchl, the oldest sausage kitchen in the world.

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The smell of grilled sausages wafting through the air will have you drooling instantly
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Add a pint of the delicious Jacob’s Weissbier and you’ll be transported to heaven

If you prefer a quick bite, they have a takeaway corner outside. There’s usually a long line but don’t be deterred as it moves quickly and we promise you the sausages are worth the wait! Wurstkuchl was established in the 12th century as a small canteen of sorts primarily for dockers and masons working on the city’s renowned Stone Bridge.

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This is just a view of half of the Stone bridge, the other half is currently under rennovation

This old Stone Bridge over the Danube river was built in the 12th century and is one of the oldest bridges in Germany. Although the Steinerne Brücke goes thru regular renovation and restoration, much of the old stones are still holding up the bridge. The bridge is always packed with locals just trying to get to the other side of the city and tourists flocking to admire the old bridge and to get the best views of the city.

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A view of the old town area from the Stone Bridge
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Colorful buildings at the Stadtamhof, on the other side of the Stone Bridge

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The river banks are usually crowded with people picnicking with friends and family. Some get their hookahs and beers and enjoy the views of the beautiful Danube flowing thru the city. It was such a pleasant sight to watch children running around, people basking in the sunshine and enjoying a little siesta.

Regensburg is situated at the confluence of three rivers – Danube, Regen (possibly what the city was named after, joins the Danube from the north) and Naab (joins the Danube from the northwest). It’s amazing to see this confluence and the Danube splitting into little streams through the city and then merging back to flow as one mighty river. The best way to experience the beauty of Regensburg is to take a boat ride.

You have a whole range of options to tour the gorgeous waters of the Danube. We took the Strudelrundfahrt, a one-hour boat ride along the Danube where you can enjoy the sights of the old town and the pristine scenery of Regensburg.

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The towering spires of the Regensburg Cathedral in the distance
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A little castle in the old town area
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The Danube keeps splitting like this and rejoining
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You also have the option to hop on one of these cruise boats that take you on a longer tour over the Danube lasting a few days

The Danube cruises are world-renowned and is a very popular activity with tourists looking to explore Germany and its neighboring countries. It definitely seems like a fun, relaxing mode of travel if you’re not someone who gets sick on the water. Most rooms have a lovely little sit-out and the rooms and the inside of the boat itself seem quite cozy and comfortable. One of our family members did the Danube cruise which started from Passau (which by the way is a lot like Regensburg with a confluence of three rivers as well) and traveled through Austria and Eastern Europe.

The old town area of Regensburg is filled with a whole bunch of historical sights, and pretty little cafes and biergartens tucked into cobblestoned alleys. There are a number of churches as well. Of course, the most visited one is the Regensburger Dom.

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The Regensburger Dom or St. Peter’s Cathedral is possibly one of the most visited sights in the city. Built in the 13th century, its imposing twin towers and gothic style is simply remarkable.

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The front view is similar to that of the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)
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And this side view where the two towers merge to look like one makes the cathedral look a lot like the Ulm cathedral, the tallest church in the world

With the Danube flowing through the city and its medieval cathedral, Regensburg reminded us of Ulm in so many ways. It is just a bigger Bavarian Ulm with a lot more restaurants, cool bars, and a stronger craft beer presence.

The craft beer culture in Regensburg is simply impressive! They have an annual craft beer festival that happens sometime around May. We were just lucky that the dates of the beer fest coincided with the dates of our visit. It was just an amazing stroke of beerluck!  If you are a beer enthusiast visiting Regensburg around spring/early summer, plan your visit around the craft beer fest dates – you won’t be disappointed! Click here to read about our adventures in the craft beer festival and our recommendations for great beer haunts in Regensburg.

There’s a ton of things to do in Regensburg but we were there for a short couple of days and spent a lot of our time at the craft beer festival. When we were not at the beer fest, we were walking through the little lanes of the Altstdadt or old town area. It’s such a gorgeous little city with plenty of beautiful old buildings. You will find remnants of its rich history all around the old town.

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Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) – popular for its torture chamber
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Cosy little lanes with colorful old buildings adorn the Altstadt
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The Goliathhaus has stood strong since the 13 century!
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What you see here is remains of the Roman fortress, Portra Praetoria / Castra Regina dating back to 179 AD !

One of the other impressive churches in the old town area is the Alte Kapelle or Old Chapel. The exterior of this church is quite simple and unimpressive compared to its rich, stunning interiors.

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This ancient little town with its 2000 year old history has much to offer. It wasn’t so surprising when we found out that it was the first capital of Bavaria.

Regensburg is one of Bavaria’s most beautiful cities and is well worth a visit if you are traveling through south Germany. We’re absolutely thrilled to have visited this city and will fondly cherish our memories of this place and the amazing people we met here.

Craft Beer Culture in Regensburg

A little Bavarian city that impressed us not just because of its 2000-year old history but more so because of its amazing craft beer culture.

Despite being an old German city filled with typical, traditional German breweries serving the popular German beer styles like the pils and weizens, there are a few good craft beer bars and an annual craft beer festival that gave us the wonderful feeling that this city is embracing the craft beer revolution with wide open arms unlike a lot of the other bigger Bavarian cities.

It was absolutely delightful to see the locals, especially the elder locals enjoying their craft beer! Now, that is a sight that brings us much joy because it shows that this fatherland of beers is slowly letting go of the rigidity with their traditional beer choices and are open to trying out the new, bolder, better styles that craft brewing offers.

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If you are planning to visit Regensburg, we highly recommend you visit around the same time as their annual craft beer festival that usually takes place in May. The Craft Bier Festival Regensburg runs for 3 days and not only has a whole bunch of German and international craft breweries offering their best brews on tap, but it also includes some very cool live music shows.

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The craft beer festival is a fun, family-friendly event! And, if you like your beer, you will not be disappointed with the choices you will have. We found that the Regensburg craft beer festival was much better organized, more fun and included a better variety and quality of German craft brews compared to the Munich craft beer festival. And, even though it attracts some large crowds, it’s out in the open with plenty of space for you to  move around or find a cozy corner to enjoy your brews. If you feel like socialising, you might just find like-minded beer enthusiasts. And, if you’re as lucky as us, you may just make some wonderful beer friends!

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Here are some of the German breweries to look out for if you’re at the beer fest or if you can get your hands on German craft beer.

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The Aventinus Eisbock tops our list of most loved German beers. Schneider Weisse specialises in wheat beers and bocks, the only German traditional beer styles we really enjoy.
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The Pirate Brew Berlin brews some mean porters
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The RavenKraft brewery is worth a try. Their Black IPA although not a typical black IPA but more a Tripel, is still a great brew.
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The Rhaner brewery offers a great variety of styles and are worth checking out as well.

Now, don’t be dismayed if you’re unable to visit Regensburg during the craft beer festival days as there’s an excellent craft beer bar, right in the heart of the city.

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The Birretta Bier Bar is your go-to place for good beer! They have a huge collection of German and international craft beers, 20 or so on tap and plenty more by bottle. It’s a cozy little place with a great ambience. What seals this sweet deal is their fun live music.

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The guys on stage are some seriously talented musicians. The New Oak Regensburg is a local band of two Americans and one German. They play some mind-blowing folk music and are a friendly bunch of guys. They play every Thursday at the Birretta.

If you need other beer options or want to check out the traditional German beer places or simply try great local food, here are a few other suggestions:

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Jacob’s Weissbier at the Wurstkuchl is simply delicious! And the sausages at this historical sausage kitchen is a must-try!
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The Regensburger Weissbrauhaus offers some lip-smacking local food. The Weizens are okay, not as full-bodied and flavorful as we prefer.

There’s a whole bunch of good beer to drink in Regensburg and we were impressed with the spirit the city shows in breaking away from its longstanding beer traditions.

Even though Regensburg is one of Germany’s oldest cities that puts in a great deal of effort in preserving its history and culture, it is also a remarkably ‘young’ city embracing the craft beer revolution with unbridled enthusiasm! It is cities like these that will help Germany plough ahead with stronger strides in the craft beer movement.

Lake Chiemsee – a dreamy retreat

On a cloudy yet beautiful spring day, we began our six-day road trip across the German Austrian alpine towns.

The drive was simply wonderful. The fields were blanketed with lush green and there were little wild flowers everywhere. Not so far away from the fields were thick forests with trees slowly coming to life. Absolutely love this time of the year; when everything is springing back to life with this intoxicating newness.

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A quick phone capture as we sped past these gorgeous fields

Our first stop was Lake Chiemsee – one of Germany’s largest lakes, also known as the Bavarian Sea. Surrounded by the Chiemgau Alps, the Chiemsee lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany. The alps tantalize us with its majestic beauty miles before we approach Chiemsee.

There are many lakeside towns in Chiemsee but the most notable one is Prien. The Bavarian town of Prien am Chiemsee while packed with tourists, is still a cozy little town and you can find a heavenly little spot for yourself by the lake to get lost in.

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A magical evening by Lake Chiemsee

Lake Chiemsee has three islands – Herreninsel, Fraueninsel, and Krautinsel. Herreninsel meaning gentlemen’s island, is the largest and possibly the most visited. Fraueninsel aka ladies’ island is the prettier one of the lot (but of course!) and Krautinsel is said to be uninhabited. We took the Chiemsee Schifffahrt from Prien to tour the islands.

The boat ride was just wonderful. We sat on the upper deck enjoying the slightly cold breeze and the scenic views of the German alps.

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Of course nothing like a beer to make the experience just perfect

We got off at the Herreninsel and began our short trek to the Herrenchiemsee Castle, one of the three Ludwig castles.

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It is a beautiful 15 min walk up to the castle
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If you don’t feel like the walk, you could hop on one of these carriage rides instead

Large luxurious gardens welcome you to the palace.

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The Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee is modeled on the Palace of Versailles and was built by Ludwig as a ‘Temple of Fame’ for King Louis XIV of France who the Bavarian king ardently worshiped. The castle rooms are filled with paintings of the French king.

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Somewhat ordinary looking from the outside but extravagantly decorated on the inside

It is said to be one of the most expensive castles that King Ludwig has built and it’s quite evident once you walk inside the castle. The decorations are rich and exquisite with large chandeliers with the most intricate designs, magnificent furniture, and elaborately handcrafted items & showpieces. Possibly the most stunning room in the palace is the Great Hall of Mirrors with numerous chandeliers and mirrors lining the hall on either side and brilliant paintings embellishing the ceiling.

The Herrenchiemsee castle is definitely much more beautiful on the inside compared to the Neuschwanstein castle which is one of the prettier castles from the outside with its fairy-tale look and gorgeous alpine views.

We quite enjoyed the guided tour to the Herrenchiemsee; the guide was funny and cheerful and gave us great insights on the castle and the fascinating life of King Ludwig.

After your castle visit, do take a break at the little cafe with a nice pint of German beer and enjoy the soothing view of the gardens and the fountains.

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The fountains are decorated with wonderfully sculpted art
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and some strange but interesting art..

It was time to hop back on the boat and head over to Fraueninsel. You do want to plan your visit to Lake Chiemsee in such a way that you have time for both these islands. Most tourists just visit Herrenchiemsee for the palace and turn back. You will be missing out on the true Lake Chiemsee experience if you do that. While the boat ride to Herrenchiemsee is beautiful, it is nothing like the breath-taking, scenic views you’ll get if you head on over to the Fraueninsel. And the little island itself is just astonishingly beautiful.

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A lone sailboat out on chilly cloudy evening
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A view of the Benedictine monastery as we approach Fraueninsel
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A closer look at the monastery

The monastery was founded in 782 and was rebuilt multiple times over the last few centuries. We couldn’t enter the monastery but could take a walk through the pretty little cemetery at the back of the monastery. The graves were so lovingly decorated with flowers, pictures, and little lanterns.

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While the monastery is considered the key attraction of this small island, we highly recommend you taking a walk around the island. It’s such a small place that in less than 20 minutes, you can go around the entire island. It’s the prettiest little car-free island, with every house having its own private pier and cosy little sit-out by the lake. The houses are also adorned by lovely gardens.

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See the little eggs on the flower bush? We were visiting during Easter..

If you’re looking to do nothing much but just sit by the lake, relax, and take in the beauty surrounding you – this island is just the perfect spot. It’s quiet and cosy.

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Do keep an eye on your watch though as you can get lost in the alpine charm of this little island and miss your boat. We baaarely made it to the last boat out! We ran with all our might and just about made it to the pier as the boat was coughing up its engine to sail away.

In any case, not a bad place to be stranded at eh? The little island does have a few hotels and B&Bs. If you are looking to stay overnight in Chiemsee and prefer a less crowded place, you should opt to stay here rather than the packed Prien am Chiemsee.

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Lake Chiemsee was such a great start to our alpine road trip. Its quaint towns and islands with their unspoiled beauty and indescribable charm left a lasting impression on us and we are so glad to have made Chiemsee a part of our German adventures.

(We visited a whole bunch of gorgeous little towns across Germany and Austria during this road-trip. Stay tuned for more posts!)

Prost to the Reinheitsgebot

Over 500 years ago, today in 1516, the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ or ‘Reinheitsgebot’ was established.

If you are a beer geek, you probably know what this means. But, for the benefit of the other beer lovers.. the Germans established regulations for what ingredients can be used for a drink to be categorized as ‘Beer’. The ingredients were limited to the absolute essentials – water, hops, and barley. This law was first adopted in Bavaria, the heart of the German beer land and was then pushed for adoption across the rest of the country. April 23rd is celebrated as the Day of German Beer or National Beer Day across Deutschland.

In Germany, beer is generally synonymous with Lager . When you walk into a traditional German brewhouse and order for a beer, you will be served one of their lager styled beers – it could be a Helles (pale lager) or a Dunkel (dark lager). The Helles is your typical Pilsner, a heavily hopped lager. Not being huge fans of the Pils style, we generally drink a Pils in the absence of other options. It is the predominant beer style in the Oktberfests. Also, why we are not huge fans of the much renowned German Oktoberfests. Ironically, apart from the beer, it’s still a worthwhile Bavarian cultural experience to share with family and friends.

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Fun times at the Munich Oktoberfest

Another German style of lager that we actually enjoy quite a bit is the Bock. The Bock is stronger, hoppier, and maltier than the Pils and there’s a ton of good bocks brewed across Germany. Here are two of our favorite bocks.

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Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock
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Andechs Doppelbock

Märzen is another German lager style – it is a seasonal lager that derives its name from the fact that it is brewed in March (März in German). The style was created out of necessity rather than experimentation and is characterized by strong hops that helped preserve the flavor during the subsequent six months when brewing was forbidden. If you happen to be in Germany between March and October, you will typically be served a Märzen when you ask for a beer.

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A delicious Märzen from the Hofbrauhaus Berchtesgaden

Another interesting German lager style is the Kölsch. This is not necessarily a different style but just creative branding by the Cologne brewers. If you ever visit Cologne, you will find that the local beer is called a Kölsch – it really is just your pils with a different name in Köln (German for Cologne). The Kölsch however is served in small glasses.

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There are plenty of good Kölschs in Cologne – the Gaffel Kölsch is one of our favorites

Although one might not expect it, the Weizens (wheat beers) did not conform to the original German Beer Purity Law. The law was updated a few decades later to allow for the addition of wheat, the primary ingredient of Weissbiers. Also, interestingly, at the time of the implementation of the beer purity law, the beers were not fermented by the deliberate addition of yeast – this also happens to be a late addition to the purity law. Being ale lovers, our most preferred traditional German beer style is the Weizen (also sometimes referred to as Hefeweizen). This type of beer is very distinctively German and you’ll find that the flavor is unmatched. We’ve tried a good many Weizens and we highly recommend the Schneider Weisse. These guys specialize in wheat beers and their collection includes a variety of interesting international styles as well making them a great traditional and craft brewery. They have an excellent wheat doppelbock (Mein Aventinus Tap 6) which is one of our all-time favorite German beers.

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Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Original – the only one of their beers that’s available in the German supermarkets
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Paulaner Weissbier – one of the very few big commercial beer companies that deserves every bit of the hype and fame it recieves
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Augustiner Weissbier – another big Bavarian brewery that is held in high esteem by the locals
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Hacker Pschorr Weisse – another delicious Bavarian wheat beer
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Franziskaner Dunkel Weissbier and Weissbier – easily found in supermarkets but not to be dismissed lightly

While the Beer Purity Law served its purpose during its times, it unfortunately held back German brewers from bringing in innovation and creativity to the brewing process which left them straggling behind when the craft beer revolution gained momentum. However, slowly and steadily the German brewing industry is gaining ground in the craft beer space with brewers, public and politicians recognizing the need to adapt to evolving beer styles whilst preserving tradition and continuing to use the well-established processes for brewing good beer.

Today, as Germany celebrates the declaration of the Reinheitsgebot, which firmly established Germany as the master brewers of their times… there’s also unabashed excitement in shaping the craft brewing culture in the hope that Germany would once again be the forerunners in defining good beer.

(Being craft beer fanatics, we have scoured the smallest corners of this traditional brewing country in search of craft beer and have successfully discovered some excellent craft beer haunts. New post on our most loved German craft beers coming soon!)

Memmingen – where time stands still

Sometimes, the smallest of things pack in the largest of wonders.

Memmingen is a quaint little Bavarian town, popularly known as the gateway to the Allgäu (a region across Germany and Austria that stretches across the Alps). Most tourists use Memmingen as a base when traveling to the Bavarian Alps or the Neuschwanstein (sleeping beauty) castle as this little town has an airport and it’s quicker to access the Alps from here rather than from Munich or Stuttgart.

Oh, but, this dreamy little town is more than just a gateway to the Alpine region. It is a charming, vibrant little town with colorful townhouses and cobblestoned alleys which was thankfully left unscathed by the World War II destruction that left most of Germany in shambles.

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One of the prettiest market squares we’ve seen

We visited Memmigen on a sudden whim; decided to make the slight detour on our way back home from Füssen. So, with no list of things to do and places to see, we decided to just walk around this medieval town for a few hours and see what little surprises were in store. And, we were not disappointed! At every corner, we ran into one wondrous thing or the other – a historic building, a brightly painted house, a pretty stream, an interesting sculpture, a beautiful little chapel… we were simply delighted at every turn.

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We started at the Marktplatz, the city centre, which is generally the best place to start at in any town. But this market place was unlike any others we’d seen. Colorful buildings adorn this little square and most of this little town. You’ll see these brightly painted buildings all around town.

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We just fell in love with them

This intricately painted building you see in the pictures below is Memmingen’s Steuerhaus (tax house). It takes up most of the market square.

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It was a bright sunny day and we basked in the warm spring sunshine

Right next to the Steuerhaus is the Rathaus (town hall).

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We quite liked the dome design of the Rathaus, especially the centre dome with its shuttered windows

We continued walking towards the other end of the square.. just next to the Steuerhaus is the St. Johann church.

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A closer look at the artwork on this church

And just around the corner from here, is the Blaue Saul, the blue (corner) column.

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We walked on straight ahead from the blue column, toward the Sankt Martinskirche (St. Martin’s church).

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The church was unfortunately closed.. so we walked back down the street, toward the little stream that we’d seen opposite the blue column. The Stadtbach (town brook) runs through most of this little town making the little place all the more magical.

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We just followed the stream admiring the hurriedly swimming fish
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Interesting building art at Weber am Bach, a historic 700-year old hotel
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An interesting equestrian statue of Welf VI

Welf VI was a 12th century Lord of Memmingen and Duke of Bavaria. The sculpture is quite an interesting portrayal of the Bavarian lord – you can see him riding with a globe under his horse’s hoof and his naked wife on the palm of his hand.

We continued walking around the Altstadt (old town) area. We came across an interesting historic gate. Apparently, there are ten such gates/towers and about 2 kilometers of wall around the Altstadt from several centuries ago that is still preserved.

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We then arrived at the Fischerbrunnen at the Schrannenplatz.

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The Fisher Fountain
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Bet there’s an interesting story behind the fisherman’s expression…

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The beautiful red building in the background is the Goldener Lowe (Golden Lion),
the city’s oldest wine tavern

The Schrannenplatz was brimming with locals – kids frolicking in one of the other fountains in the square, people sitting around the little cafes sipping on their evening coffees, and some others cooling off the hot day with some ice-cream.

We took a right in one of these little lanes, again just following the stream..

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It was nearly 8 PM and it was still so bright outside; just love spring!
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The little canals and the bikes around took us briefly back to Amsterdam

It is such a picturesque, fascinating little town. We walked on at a lazy pace, reveling in the beauty that surrounded us.

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Oh what we would give, to live in one of these cozy houses by the stream

Memmingen reminded us so much of Ulm (where we currently live). Little streams flow through Ulm as well and the city centres are quite similar, although more half-timbered and less colorful buildings in Ulm and definitely lesser crowds in Memmingen, even for a Saturday evening.

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The Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady

Dusk was slowly settling in and flocks of birds were headed home high above the Frauenkirche. In front of the church was a cozy little park.

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Frauenkirchplatz

After a short break in the park, we slowly traced our steps back to the town center, taking a different route.

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This fun gang of girls excitedly posed for us
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We ran into another gang of girls on our way
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Not so fun though; these girls appeared to be engrossed in some serious conversation

Now, with all that walking, we had worked up a nice appetite and were ready to check out the local food and brews. We just walked around the block that had a whole bunch of restaurants and ended up at the Moritz Memmingen. It was a lovely restaurant – good food and good local beer.

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When in Memmingen, drink a Memminger

We’d had the Memminger Weizen before, when we had first arrived in Ulm. It’s a delicious wheat beer!

We would have loved to spend more time in this charming little town but it was time to hit the road. We were so glad we had decided to make this impromptu stopover for a short few hours in Memmingen. We were thrilled to discover this little treasure not too far from home.

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Night falls over the Kreuzherrenkloster
as we say goodbye to beautiful Memmingen

The little towns of Germany continue to delight us leaving us with beautiful memories that will be lovingly cherished for a long time.

Ehingen – a little gem in south Germany

When a city is a called a ‘beer culture’ city, it of course piques our interest.

We are always on the look-out for German craft beer and it’s not too common especially in the neck of the woods where we live, in south Germany (yes, where Munich, the land of great beer and Oktoberfest is). If you are a craft beer fanatic, you’ll know what it is to crave beyond the traditional German Pils and Weizen (which is your dominating beer of choice in the Oktoberfest by the way). Anyways, during one such hunt, we chanced upon this ‘beer culture’ city called Ehingen and were thrilled to see that one of their breweries had a great craft beer collection and the city was just a 30 minute drive from Ulm (where we live). Ecstatic, we made plans to visit the place.

It’s surprising how late-risers like us can rise and shine quite early when there’s a good pint of beer beckoning. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and green fields. Spring is almost here; the temperatures are getting higher but the trees are still barren and we were pleasantly surprised to see the lush green meadows.

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A crisp and clear day

We had the most wonderful short drive to Ehingen – we passed by gorgeous little forests with the Danube river playing hide and seek every few kilometers. We saw a bunch of deer running (Steve didn’t believe me and said it must have been foxes and in just a few meters we saw a sign board indicating deer in the area. Ha!). It was unexpected as we usually find plenty of cows, sheep and horses grazing but never deer, not so close to the expressways. There was also a splendid Christmas tree farm along our route and it was fun to see the teeny weeny Christmas plants sprouting.

In no time, we were in Ehingen parking our car (we parked at the Tiefgaragen Lindenplatz Parkplatz 2 – very accessible to the town square and it’s free of charge on the weekends). We walked up to the Marktplatz (city center) in just a couple of minutes (it’s a small town). It was market day in the town square and they had little stalls selling a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some local beer and snacks too.

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Saturday (farmers) market in the town square

The market day happens every Saturday in every little to big German city – it is basically a farmers market. We still haven’t made it to the one in Ulm and it was good to finally see one of these.

The market square features a fountain with some interesting characters.

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Some close-up shots
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Chicken anyone?
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He was getting ready to hose them all!
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Care for a drink from the frog prince’s crown?

On the other side of the marktplatz is the Rathaus (town hall).

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A more modern Rathaus than we expected

We then headed over to the Schwanen Brauerei, one of the 4 breweries in the city. The Berg brewery seems to be quite a reputed brewery especially in this region but if you’re into ales and craft beers, you should head over to the Schwanen brewery. These guys as well have a good collection of traditional brews but we were there just for their craft beer collection – the Schwanen guys don’t brew any craft beers themselves but have a great collection of kick-ass ales from some of the well-known German craft breweries. Our favorites include Camba, Braufactum and Riegele. We’d not had Braufactum before and we thoroughly enjoyed their hoppy pale ales. We had a mighty crate of beers hitching a ride back home with us!

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If you are a craft beer drinker and you find yourself in the Baden Wurttemburg state of south Germany, you should make your way over to this brew-pub. If you’d like to explore all 4 breweries in Ehingen, check out the historical sights of the city, and don’t mind a good hike, you could opt for their Bierwanderweg (beer culture trekking).  Or, if you’d rather hop on a large bike with friends or family for a short countryside tour enjoying your beer at the same time, you should check out the beer culture bike that Ehingen offers. The city is quite a popular stop for hiking and biking trips along the Danube river.

Our next stop was the St. Blasius Church. This small church is sheer beauty – the baroque style, the exceptional ceiling art, the unique paintings on its wall, the large courtyard – simply awe-inspiring. There are two other main churches (the Church of our lady and Sacred Heart church) and these three church spires dominate the Ehingen skyline.

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St. Blasius also includes a lovely Grotto (cave-like shrine)

We spent the next hour exploring more of the sleepy little town. We passed by several half-timbered buildings which is a signature feature of small German towns.

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Ehingen Museum

You should visit the Stadtgarten which includes a little lake called Groggensee, a lovely play area for the kids, a large walking/cycling trail and some interesting art in the midst of all of this. What we loved the most is the little Schmiech river flowing through the park making the place magical.

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Our last stop was the Schloss Mochental. It is a relatively new castle featuring modern works of art.

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At the castle entrance

It is 10 or so kilometers away from the Marktplaz so we got our car out and drove there. If you are traveling by public transport, note that you’ve got a bit of a hike to get to this place but we can assure you that it’s worth the trip. They have some extraordinary contemporary art works on display and a pretty rad Basen (broom) museum.

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Intriguing
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Seemed like a popular art form
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Tin man says hello
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This one would have taken some effort to make!
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This was just one section of the broom museum – they had tons of all types of brooms and even an ancient vacuum cleaner on display on the other side

The views from the castle rooms are quite lovely as well – all in all it was a wonderful visit to the castle.

It was time to make our way back home. We left the little town with a big stash of beautiful memories as everlasting souvenirs.

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It is sleepy little towns like Ehingen that make Germany the spectacular country that it is. Their half-timbered houses, their baroque churches, their old world charm, their fascinating culture, their little rivers and streams – this is where the magic of this beautiful country unfolds.

Füssen and Schwangau – a little piece of heaven

Two little picturesque German towns surrounded by the mighty, stunning Alps.

There’s nothing like the Alps to fill you with child-like glee and make you squeal with delight at every little sight of them. We just cannot seem to get enough of them and have been very fortunate to see the extensive, breath-taking range of the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps.

Füssen and Schwangau are located in the midst of the Allgäu Alps – which extend across Bavaria in south Germany and Tyrol & Vorarlberg in Austria. The little town is about an hour from where we live (in Ulm). After an exhilarating drive, we arrived at our Scottish/Irish themed hotel where we had a fabulous night of whisky tasting. It had been so long since we had drunk good whiskies in this beer-famed land. We lost count of how many whiskies we’d had – each one better than the last. They had SUCH an amazing collection of whiskies from all around the world! This was our primary motivation to book this hotel of course. The hotel itself was quite nice – friendly staff and located very close to the Hopfen am see, one of the many lakes in the region.

The lake was frozen of course, considering the sub-zero temperatures we’d been having through January. And, in just a minute we were away from the hotel and on the lake, taking a walk on the ice sheets. We were just blown away by the beauty that surrounds this small town.

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Hopfen am See, Füssen

It was our first time walking on a frozen lake and we weren’t sure how far out we should venture especially considering there were some sizable cracks across the lake and we were the only souls on the lake!

We then headed over to the Tegelberg mountain in Schwangau. This was just a few kilometers out from Füssen. Tegelberg is known for its winter sports and you can find a whole bunch of people skiing including teeny kids. They all row up in their groups, all padded up and carrying their ski gear, looking super excited with no trace of fear – ah, they were such fun to watch!

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Foothills of Tegelberg, Schwangau

We took the Tegelbergbahn or cable car up the mountain. It was a beautiful but somewhat suffocating a ride. The little cable car fills up nearly 45 people standing shoulder to shoulder with their noses almost touching the glass door! It was such a surreal experience compared to our cable car rides in Switzerland. But when we got out of the car, the views took over everything else. The Alps oh, the gorgeous alps .. they were everywhere.

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Meet the Allgäu Alps

We decide to hike up the snow-covered Telgelberg mountain to get to a higher point. It was a steep, slippery climb but with the prettiest views all along the way.

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All we could feel was a deep sense of bliss and contentment

We make way for skiers, young and old.. we also make way for a dog, a cute labrador that climbed up the hill so effortlessly wagging its tail ever so cutely.

Huffing and puffing, we make it up to the top, and are rewarded with breath-taking views. And, excited to take a peek down the big mountain, I take a few steps dangerously close to the edge.. and I am washed over with the sweetest rush of fear and joy.

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We could have stood here forever…

We just stand there in amazement with all the other guys that made the climb.. just soaking in all this wondrous beauty. After a bit, we make the descent. Going downhill is always tricky and going down a snow-trodden mountain is even more tricky.. keeping our balance and taking small careful steps, we make it down to the restaurant. We get some grub and beer and sit down to have our lunch by this gorgeous view.

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Brew with a view

Reluctantly, we make our way back to the cable car and down to Schwangau. We then drive over to Füssen.

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Hello beautiful

Füssen is such a pretty little town. It is known for the Neuschwanstein castle which technically is actually in Schwangau.. People stay at Füssen when visiting the castle and are just rushing through to their next destination and barely explore this gem of a little city. Not only is it picturesque with the lovely Lech river flowing through and with the Alps in the background, it is rooted deep in history and tradition and was luckily untouched by the world war destruction.

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Füssen has a little castle of its own – Hohes Schloss

We got to the Hohes Schloss / High Castle a little late and we couldn’t check out the inside but were able to walk around the inner courtyard and admire the unique art decor of the castle.

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Courtyard of the Hohes Schloss – this unique artwork is replicated all over the little town

On the way to the castle is the Basilika St. Mang – the interiors and ceiling art of this abbey church is simply beautiful. And, they have the most embellished church organ I have ever seen. And we were in love with their cherub pulpit – so intricate and unique! Simply loved the church. Germany has some of the most beautiful churches.

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Basilika St. Mang, Füssen

Not too far from the town is the Lech Falls. This is just the prettiest little falls ever in the midst of surreal alpine beauty. The gorgeous emerald waters of the Lech river fall down and flow around the city of Füssen.

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We just walked around the area of the Lech Falls taking in all the beauty.. Slowly, we make our way back to the town centre – Altstadt.

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Pretty little streets of Füssen lighting up as dusk approaches

We make a short stop to pick up some Schneeballs  a delicious local pastry that has been around for 300 years or so! It’s available in a multitude of flavors and being coffee lovers, we went for one in a cappuccino flavor.

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After a few more strolls around the little town and a couple of local beers, we arrive at the Schlossbrauhaus in Schwangau. The two little towns are just a few kilometers apart and we sure did some back and forth in this one day.

This seemed to be a popular brewery in this neck of the woods and they claimed to serve some craft beer as well. Now that definitely got our attention and we were excited to try out their beers. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed in their so-called “craft beers” which were really just the traditional German Pils and Weizens. We don’t mind the traditional German beers especially the wheat beers but their beers were a disappointing version of the traditional beers even. That said, it wasn’t all wasted time as they served some finger-licking local food! And, they had some sort of a local event that day and there was a whole bunch of locals dressed as kings, queens, soldiers etc. and it was fun just watching these finely dressed people gather around a few beers. We were just minutes away from the famed Neuschwanstein castle and no wonder we had royalty flocking the bar.

If you’d like a good pint in the area, you should visit the Allgäuer Stüberl or Hotel Hirsch (both serve some delicious Bavarian brews and lip-smacking local food). Not being a huge fan of the Pils, we usually stick to the Weizens when it comes to traditional beer in Germany.

The next morning, we visited the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. So, to be honest, it was our last item on the things to do in Füssen. The Neuschwanstein is a pretty looking castle, inside out. But, the insane crowds that throng to it even during the coldest of winters and take a trip all the way here just to see the castle is beyond our understanding. Blame it on Walt Disney for making this “Sleeping Beauty” castle such an obsession with tourists visiting Germany. And no, this is not all that this beautiful country is about. Well, nevertheless, it is a beautiful castle with splendid architecture and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. And do take the short trek to the Marienbrücke, a little bridge not too far from the castle that offers a full view of the castle and some beautiful views of the surrounding area.

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View from the Marienbrücke

Note that visiting the castle has to be carefully planned. You simply cannot be late for your reserved time slot – if you do, you will not be allowed to enter at all. We reserved our tickets online (we took the king’s ticket) and skipped the long queues to purchase the tickets. We took an English guided tour; the guide was friendly and did a decent job of recounting the life of King Ludwig II (known as the mad king). King Ludwig led a fascinating although lonely life and died under mysterious circumstances. He was obsessed with castles and swans among other things. The Neuschwanstein (new swan stone) castle has lavish and beautiful interiors and the art that adorns the walls are spectacular. The castle tour itself felt way too short and rushed; well, it had to be this way so it could accommodate the crowds that visit the castle everyday.

Our guide for the Hohenschwangau castle was more impressive, giving us some interesting, humorous anecdotes of King Ludwig II and his family. The interiors of this castle is just as lovely, may not be as extravagant and rich in its decorations but quite exquisite nonetheless. The artwork and the Turkish inspired designs are admirable. The Hohenschwangau stands on the ruins of the old Schwanstein castle and the  Neuschwanstein stands on the ruins of the original Hohenschwangau. They sure mixed the heck out of these castle names!

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The new Hohenschwangau

The castles are close to the Alpsee which like the other lakes in the area was frozen. There were many more people out walking on this lake (some were even running and jumping) and this time around we ventured farther into the lake and had the most wonderful time.

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Headed to the Alps – one slow step at a time on the Alpsee

For us, the castles were definitely not the highlight of Füssen and Schwangau. They are worth a visit for sure but you’d be missing out on SO much if you do not check out the sights in and around Füssen.

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The dreamy Bavarian countryside where time stands still

Füssen and Schwangau are fairy tale towns even without the castles and we have some of our most cherished travel memories from these two little towns.

Passau – a city of three rivers

Passau is one of those charming little German towns that fills you with an unbelievable sense of joy. We were in Passau for just a day but in this short stay, we made some beautiful memories especially because we explored the city with family whom we hadn’t seen in years.

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Artists’ Alley

Walking thru painted little cobble-stoned streets hand in hand on a cold autumn day, sipping some delicious Glühwein, admiring the lovely handcrafted wares in the little stores, visiting the most beautiful churches, walking by the river at dusk watching the boats sail away and the city light up, and of course hitting the local breweries is how we spent our short stay in Passau.

Passau is more commonly known as the city of three rivers, the Dreiflüssestadt. The Danube (second largest river in Germany) meets the Inn and the Ilz rivers at Passau. Each of the rivers appear to be in different colors in an aerial view – the Danube being blue, the Inn green, and the Ilz black-ish. The city is popular for its Danube river cruises and you will see a whole bunch of boats docked in the promenade. In fact, we were visiting Passau only to meet with family who was taking one of these river cruises which start here in Passau and go thru Austria and Eastern Europe. These boats look pretty neat and cosy on the inside!

The city is surrounded by lots and lots of water and you’ll find yourself walking by the river thru most of the city. Unfortunately, this also led to some really bad floods in the area. The worst one was over 500 years ago but then the recent one in 2013 was almost as bad. The flood levels are actually marked on one of the old town hall walls.

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Most of the boats are docked at the Fritz Schäffer Promenade

Apart from the rivers and its cruises, the city is also known for having the largest cathedral organ in the world. The St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful churches in Germany and the huge pipe organ to its collection makes it all the more spectacular. It is said to have 17,774 pipes!!! Organ concerts take place in summer and we hope to attend one of these someday. The interior of the church is done up in baroque style and the paintings & sculptures are simply exquisite – some of them depict fairly morbid scenes and yet weirdly you feel at peace looking at them.

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Organ at St.Stephen’s Cathedral
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Baroque art at St. Stephan’s Cathedral

We were in Passau a couple of days before the Christmas Market and the stalls and decorations were still underway but we enjoyed some of their delicious Glühwein or mulled wine which is generally available during Christmas time.

Of course, we were eager to explore their local brews as well and were not disappointed despite it being your typical German brews. The dunkel (dark) lager we had at the Brauerei Hacklberg was pretty decent compared to the dark lagers we’d been drinking across most of Germany. The food at this brewery was phenomenal – one of the best meals I have eaten in my year-long stay in Germany. A visit to this brewery is definitely worth it.

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Ancient Battle Horn at the Peschl Terrasse

We also visited the Peschl Terrasse which serves the Aldersbach beer. We had the Aldersbacker Kloster Dunkel (dark lager) and the Aldersbacker Kloster Weisse Dunkel (dark wheat beer) and the dark wheat beer was quite nice.

We unfortunately could not visit the Aldersbacher brewery itself as it was quite a ride away from the city. The brewery was established in 13th century and had some bocks on its list and seemed to be into craft brewing as well. Something to do on our future visit to Passau along with a visit to a few of the other breweries in this little city.

There’s a bunch of other things we couldn’t do like visit the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th century fortress. The views from here are apparently pretty amazing. There is a bus that takes you up to the fort but we were visiting during off-season and this bus was not running. We would have done the 30-minute hike uphill but the weather was pretty nasty with heavy rainfall.

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This quaint, picturesque city has plenty of stuff to do and it deserves more than an overnight stay and we definitely plan on visiting the city again, hopefully soon!