Monday, 31 August 2009

Berliner Weissbier-Stube in the 1870's

Just a long quote today. A description of a Berlin Weissbier-Stube in the early days of the Empire. The second Empire, that is.

"Characteristic among Berlin drinking establishments are the Wein-stube and the Weissbier saloon, both usually to be met with in the quieter streets and frequented by regular rather than by chance customers. The Berliner of the old type is usually a weissbier drinker who regards the beverage as peculiar to the city, and is fond of expatiating upon its merits to strangers. You no sooner get acquainted with an individual of this class than he will, as a matter of course, ask you your opinion of the weiss. I remember, in the early days of my sojourn in Berlin, being sorely puzzled by an inquiry of the kind, and on my replying hesitatingly : " The weiss, what is the weiss ?" my friend remarked in a reproachful tone, "What, you have been among us a whole week, and have not tasted the weiss yet! come along with me !" and forthwith seizing mc by the arm he hurried me down the Friedrichs-strasse into the Franzosische-strasse, repeating " Mein Gott, mein Gott, you shall taste the weiss! ""but disregarding my repeated solicitations to be informed what the weiss was. At last we stopped in front of a building with "Weissbier Ausschank " painted on the facade in huge black letters. Entering through a door at the end of a long passage, we found ourselves in front of a small counter, behind which three individuals were engaged in uncorking stone bottles, and carefully pouring their contents into huge glasses each holding more than half a gallon, whilst a fourth was removing kippered lampreys from a barrel.

Right and left lay the weissbier-stuben, decorated like all the beer saloons of Berlin with plaster-busts of the Emperor, the Crown Prince, and Furst von Bismarck, in addition to which one caught occasional glimpses, through the dense cloud of tobacco-smoke, of large coloured prints, illustrative of the glories of the "weiss." hung against the walls. All the little tables crowding both apartments were occupied by guests, the majority of whom were long past middle age, if three score and ten be taken as the standard of human existence, and whose rosy gills and capacious waistbands attested a familiarity with, at any rate, some of the good things of this life. In front of every one stood a gigantic tumbler which could have been fitted with ease upon any ordinary head, and which contained a liquid pale and clear as Rhine wine, surmounted by a huge crown of froth not unlike a prize cauliflower. This was the famous " weiss," the mere mention of which suffices to send a Berliner into raptures and into the mysteries of which I was about to be initiated.

The liquor was ordered and duly brought, and I observed that the quart bottle scarcely filled one-third of the glass, the voluminous head of froth not only occupying the remaining space but foaming over the sides. Hence the necessity for such capacious receptacles, which a novice is only able to raise to his lips by the aid of both hands. Not so however the experienced toper, who by long practice has acquired the knack of balancing, as it were, the bottom of the glass on his outspread little finger, while he clutches the side with the remaining fingers and thumb of the same hand, and thus conveys the huge tumbler to his lips. With the habitual weissbier drinker a preliminary nip of kümmel (aniseed) is de rigueur and after he has partaken of this he will lap up his four quarts of kühle blonde—" cool fair maiden," as weissbier is poetically termed by its admirers—as readily as his native sand sucks in a summer shower, exciting his thirst perhaps once in the course of the operation by some salted delicacy, such as a lamprey.

Berlin is the city of all others where the kühle blonde is obtained in the greatest perfection, and where bier-stuben offering no other beverage to their frequenters abound. The beer is drunk by preference when it is of a certain age, and in perfection it should be largely impregnated with carbonic acid gas and have acquired a peculiar sharp, dry, and by no means disagreeable flavour. To the ordinary unstrung Berliner, a moderate quantity of the weiss is as soda and brandy to the Master Englishman. After an evening of excess, next morning his steps invariably tend to the weissbier-stube, there to quench his thirst with a draught of kühle blonde and stimulate his palled appetite with knoblauch wurst, a delicacy of the favourite sausage type, fried with garlic.

The habitual weissbier drinker, the man who despises the more modern Bavarian beverage, is usually a Philistine — a term with the meaning of which Mr. Matthew Arnold has made us all familiar — of the most pronounced type ; a compound of coolness, loquacity, cowardice, and rudeness, and the counterpart of the Berlin citizen before the revolutionary epoch of 1848. It is true that the class is gradually becoming extinct, still, the Philistine is found flourishing with his cronies in the weissbier-stuben where he habitually spends his evenings. One of the most common varieties of the Philistine to be met with at these places is the Spiessbürger, generally a man from forty to sixty years of age, of small stature and beardless face, who daily, year after year, goes at the same hour to the same seat scrupulously reserved for him, to drink the same quantity of weissbier, smoke the same number of pipes or cigars, talk on the same subjects and crack the same unvarying jokes.

" Tis the same life, the whole year round,
The self-same set together found :
Each night their songs, their drink, their game,
Their mirth, their very jests the same.
And as its tail diverts a kitten,
So they with their own jests are smitten."

The Spiessburger is irreproachable both as a husband and a father, accompanies his wife and family on an annual picnic to the Pichelsberg, and is to be found daily at his favourite beer saloon at a fixed hour, drinking only weissbier simply because his father and grandfather drank it, and despising Bavarian beer as a modern innovation. He will have dined well or ill according to his means, still he always manages to store away his due quota of weissbier with the indispensable nip of kummel. The thorough- bred Spiessburger never thinks, at least not about things that others will think out for him, and in all matters relating to politics, art, and literature, the Vossische Zeitung is his idol, and its editor his prophet.

It is curious to watch the succession of customers at one of these weissbier-stuben. On the doors being first thrown open there usually appear several mummy-like figures of the softer sex who, fungus like, prolong their miserable existence in damp cellars, and come to buy the dregs of the beer left on the previous evening to convert them into soup, the only warm food they are acquainted with. The last comer is well nigh inconsolable at finding herself deprived of her midday meal by her sharper predecessors. Towards nine o'clock appear the civic functionaries, who sweep the streets during the day time and do the heavier work of the Berlin fire brigade at night, and who seem to have no other home than the streets. The draught of "cool blonde" they imbibe strengthens them, they say, for their office. Next comes the well-to-do Berlin citizen who bespeaks the morning paper and washes down its news with the weiss. He dines at twelve o'clock precisely and consequently disappears before that hour. Some students or other roysterers, who have slept off their last night's intoxication, drop in towards noon to rid themselves of their headaches and stay till two or three o'clock, when they leave the host to the enjoyment of the only hour of the day he can consider his own. Towards four o'clock the habitués drop in, and conspicuous amongst them is our friend the Spiessburger, who becomes dreadfully upset if he finds his usual place occupied. He remains several hours and then retires to the bosom of his family, by which time the company grows more lively. The crowd is greater, and the question, " What is there for supper ?" is heard at shortening intervals above the buzz of conversation. As eleven o'clock approaches, the saloon becomes gradually emptier, although a fresh class of customers appear in the shape of jovial topers who seek to overcome the effects of previous potations by the carbonic acid of the sparkling weiss. As to the regular habitues with puffy faces and conservative paunches, when they are not playing " Sechs-und-sechszig" they are yawning, and when they are not yawning they are playing " Sechs-und-sechszig." Theclose room is filled with an atmosphere that lulls the mind to somnolence, a loud word is seldom heard and still more rarely a lively conversation. The guests seem to labour under the idea that they might be charged for any noise they made as well as for the liquor they consumed, as used to be the custom of old in Dutch taverns. Should the weiss be in any degree inferior, this furnishes a fruitful subject of conversation, politics and domestic cares are alike forgotten, and nothing is talked about but beer.

Moleschott has asserted that man becomes what he eats and drinks, and that food not only advances or retards the physical but also the mental development of nations. The axiom that "he who drinks beer thinks beer," has met with singular confirmation at Berlin, if we are to believe some native writers. As long as the Berliner drank hardly anything but his weissbier he remained a staunch Philistine. Weissbier alone was responsible for his narrow-mindedness in politics, the froth rather than the substance which appeared in his development, his sour and critical views of life, and his sickly piety. Berlin weissbier was by its nature conservative, and the deeper its votaries plunged in the "cool blonde" the more peaceable they became. When Herr von Manteuffel visited a celebrated Berlin beer-room incognito in the height of his power and drank a glass of weissbier with the citizens, he was doing figurative homage to the Philistinism which desires peace at any price, and submitted patiently to the Treaty of Olmutz. Bavarian beer, on the other hand, is said to be altogether different in its effects. It foams little, but makes its drinker lively and excited, that is to say for a German, instead of first rendering him comfortable and then sleepy as the weissbier does. Bavarian beer, proudly say its admirers, helped to infuse a new spirit into the population of Berlin, and this innovation of modern times and of the Zollverein worked a complete though peaceful revolution in the Prussian capital. Under its influence freer views were developed and the Berliner's narrow point of vision became enlarged. It aroused a wish for political progress and an enthusiasm for the Fatherland. The link between the north and south was found, and every brewer's apprentice, who went from Munich to Berlin to teach the natives to brew the new liquor, was an unconscious agent of German unity. The social alterations claimed to have been effected by Bavarian beer were equally great. Whereas weissbier makes the drinker monosyllabic, reserved, and retiring, the Bavarian brewings open his heart and let loose his tongue. Under their influence strangers become acquaintances, and acquaintances grow more quickly intimate, opinions are exchanged, class distinctions are diminished, and prejudices get removed.
"Berlin under the New empire" by Henry Vizetelly, 1879, pages 310 - 314.

Wasn't that fun? Maybe tomorrow I'll be arsed to write something myself.

1 comment:

Boak said...

I really enjoyed it. Odd to think of Berlinerweiss as the epitome of philistinism.