If you see someone walking around with a beatific smile on their face in Bamberg, it’s not because they’ve just to the Bamberg Cathedral, but they’re most probably on their 2nd or maybe even 3rd or 4th glass of Schlenkerla, the Rauchbier (smoked beer), which has drawn me straight to Bamberg, forsaking a tiny little beer festival in the Munich, called Oktoberfest. “Purpose of Visit”, asked the Passport officer at a crowded Munich airport, “Tourism I said, I’m going to Bamberg to drink the Schlenkerla”, and he broke into a laugh, “It’s dangerous he said, but you can’t drink just one, at least 2 or 3”, before going on to verify my return ticket and my hotel booking. Careful, these Germans. Not swayed by talk of beer into neglecting due diligence (did someone just say Volkswagen
Bamberg escaped too much damage to it during the Allied bombing raids in the 2nd World War, a factor which has led to the entire city being declared a World Heritage site, and a prettier little city, you’d be hard pressed to find. Not one, but two water bodies pass through it, the river Regnitz, and a canal of the Danube. It’s historical points of interest are many, from the aforementioned Dom (cathedral), to the Alt Rathaus (Old Council House), which straddles the Regnitz, with 2 gates lending a picturesque touch to the bridges crossing it. And the former Benedictine abbey of Michaelsberg which dominates the horizon. An early morning jog in the crisp October air, helps clear the head a bit from the beer drunk last night. The townhouses kissing the river are a marvellous sight, and windows are filled with flower pots in full bloom. A town which knows its reputation, and is proud of it. (they even have t-shirts in the local souveneir shop saying, I’m not a tourist, I live here”).
The Schlenkerla brewpub is located in a townhouse, with flower pots studding the balconies. A more unlikely looking temple to beer, I haven’t seen. As a solo traveler, it appears to be futile to find a table, as I walk through the many different rooms within, all full. The thronging street outside however has the over flow with a number of people hanging around the entrance with mugs in their hand, taking advantage of the still balmy climate. The modus operandi of getting a glass is simple. On the ground floor is a hole in the wall, behind which is a man and a keg, who serves the tables as well as those less fortunate. Euro 4.70, gets you a half litre glass of jet black beer, topped with a foaming head (out of which Euro 2 is the deposit for the glass).
I wish I could have bottled the smell of the beer. It was a unique, smokey flavour, which Ashish Jasuja told me, reminded him of bacon! It was strong and worthy of the caution which the passport officer had advised me of. I could feel the beer going to my head. I sip it gently, and then head out for another walk to clear my head, I then duck back into Schlenkerla’s neighbour, a brew house called Ambrausianum, and scan their menu. I notice then, that even they serve Schlenkerla’s beer. If you can’t beat em, join em! I order their Dunkel (dark) beer, and was soon the proud possessor of another half litre glass of excellent beer.
Next I clock into my hotel (the Alt Ringlein’s) restaurant, where the waitress assigns me a seat on a long table, while a family hold up one end. Here I ask for a small of their Blonde beer, which is brewed for them by another famous brewery in Bamberg called Mahrs. Mahrs is located a bit away from the centre of the action, so I was glad to find a few of their beers at my hotel. The Blonde by my side, I go ahead and order the Franconian Sour Beef, served with sauerkraut and potatoes. By now I am blindly functioning under the assumption that if it has Franconiain in front of it, it must be good! With Franconian courage jostling around in my system, I order a large Mahrs Weisse Beer to accompany my beef.
I slept well! And on the morning after my run and a well laid out spread for breakfast in my hotel, headed out camera in hand to take advantage of the brilliant weather. Back at the hotel, I order my taxi to the station, as I am Oktoberfest bound, but I still have time to duck into Scheiners Gasstuben, the bar opposite my hotel, which has the advantage unlike Schlenkerla, of having al fresco seating. There I order another mug of Schlenkerla! My Schlenkerla tryst however doesn’t end there. At the Bamberg station, the shop is selling bottles for 2 Euros, and I pick up 2, one each to gift my Air BnB hosts in Munich and Berlin, my next points of halt.