Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|Papa Joe’s Jazzlokal||Cologne||8||10||10||8||6||10|
|Schreckens – kammer||Cologne||8||8||8||7||7||8|
|Sunner Im Walfisch||Cologne||7||8||8||7||5||8|
|Papa Joe’s Biersalon *||Cologne||7||10||10||7||6||9|
|Craft Bier Bar||Hannover||9||7||7||7||6||8|
|Landbier Paradise – Wodanstrasse||Nuremberg||9||8||8||7||8||8|
At first, the beer scene in Germany may feel like you’re drowning in pils, hundreds and hundreds of attempts at making the same sort of lager with varying degrees of success, rarely ever exceptional.
The Germans love a lager, but beyond that there lies a tradition of varying distinct regional styles, some of which remain almost dormant, waiting to be revived. In order to experience these in their intended glory you often must visit the regions specifically. Altbier, Kolsch and Dortmunder in the North West, Wheatbeer, Maibock and Dunkelweizen for Bavaria, Gose and Berliner Weisse in Saxony, Rotbier and Kellerbier in Franconia are a few examples. This makes Germany feel more distinct in its traditions than England which may have Scotch ale in Scotland, nut brown ale in the North and more cider drinking in the South and West, but has a more standardised range you can find in most pubs.
If you’re not keen on pils, don’t worry, there will still probably be something for you.
Similarly, the brewing scene has developed differently regionally, with huge concentrations of breweries in certain areas over others. Bavaria seems to have a brewery in every town as a badge of honour, while cities such as Bamberg have nine breweries alone in their altstadt as their obsession with beer becomes ever more apparent (possibly a Freudian choice of phrase on my part).
Socially, pub-going does not mean quite the same thing as England, as it is generally more communal and there is an expectation of social interaction in a lot of places. The forwardness can be surprising as a buttoned-up English person, but it is refreshing to see people of different generations speaking to each other as equals and not dividing their social lives between one another. This can spill over into gregarious bouts of singing and joviality but they find a way of doing it without it feeling loutish or nationalistic.
If you wish for a more English style pub atmosphere head to a ‘Kneipe’ rather than bierhalle or a brauhaus, and you’ll find a smaller, cosier drinking hole. It’s still the case that a lot of these places are resolutely working class and unvarnished in their approach, which may be a slight surprise to some people used to more gentrified English pubs.
The price for a Beer in a German pub used to be a strong point. You can still buy a large beer in most places for 3 euros 50 cents or less, but this is creeping up, as is the tendency for 0.4l servings, as places work on their margins. As per usual, visit working class haunts and fewer corporate places if value for money is a key concern.
It’s heartening to spend time drinking in Germany which is a crucible of tradition and obsession when it comes to brewing. They have managed to stay some of the deleterious effects of globalisation through legislation and preserved many of their smaller breweries as a consequence.
Their parochialism and refusal to accept the merits of other styles is borne of pigheadedness, and this is one aspect you may find frustrating, but generally, going hunting for good pubs in Germany is an easy and extremely enjoyable task.
Aachen, pop. 245,000
A town with a long history and architecturally an interesting blend of Gothic and modern. Many influences from nearby Belgium and Netherlands. Aachen’s Nightlife is reasonable though a little bit provincial and quiet during the week. The central bar Domkeller is a classic of its kind, and not to be missed while the rest of the nightlife is dispersed, with a mixture of in-the-know rock pubs and venerable old Gastattes.
Bamberg, pop. 75,000
Medieval bishopric with a uniquely bizarre and wonderful town hall set on a bridge, famous in drinking terms for its many central breweries, specialising in Rauchbeer – smoked – a style which is a great example of the concept ‘an acquired taste’. Expect traditional beer halls, supremely cosy in winter, and some working class kneipen more interested in darts and rock music.
Bautzen, pop. 40,700
A small town, Bautzen could be forgiven for not being the epicentre of the world’s nightlife. However, you’ll find a neighbourhood brewery (a surprisingly big venue) and the Radeberger Bierstube, a typical example of a classical traditional German Gastatte. In the old town there are a couple of passable bars.
Bonn, pop. 318,800
I hope you like generic café pubs for pensioners.
Cologne, pop. 1,061,000
A large city with a vast nightlife encompassing several boroughs. While modern, alternative venues can be found in the student neighbourhoods, in the centre, the Kolsch houses hold sway, a local ritual that’s not to be missed. Kolsch is served in 0.2l stange which are frequently supplied by brusque Kobes, the middle-aged male servers who are often arrogant but willing to engage in banter. Beer is winched up to the bar via a barrel and served straight from it. Remember not to order Altbier, the style of Cologne’s rival city Dusseldorf! Lastly, don’t forget to visit Papa Joe’s Biersalon and Jazzlokal, cult institutions of the city.
Dresden, pop. 543,825
A large modern shopping area, restored pile of admittedly dramatic, if overly imperial central monuments, and interesting, if a little brown and rain-sodden Northern quarter. Dresden is hardly the stuff of a backpackers dreams, really a monument to the tragic deleterious effects of war rather than a well-integrated vibrant feeling city. There is a rather middle-aged brauhaus near the river, and you’ll find some cosy, quiet venues in the Innere and Aussere Neustadt.
Dusseldorf, pop. 612,200
As with Cologne, the city centre is studded with beerhalls this time serving you Altbier, brown well-hopped ale from the barrel. It’s surprisingly easy to dispatch, despite the strength and texture. Dusseldorf is not as large a city as Cologne and so the nightlife is more concentrated in its centre, which you will find to be atmospheric and lively to say the least. Not to be outdone, Dusseldorf also boasts a couple of quality Jazz bars in the centre. Don’t order a Kolsch unless you are prepared to suffer the ignimony of being outed as a dilettante and traitor to the city!
Forchheim, pop. 30,400
Forchheim is very lucky to boast local breweries brewing Kellerbier that is some of the freshest and tastiest in the world. Family operations with simple but enjoyable pubs, this goes hand in hand with the traditional fachwerk town. The prices are similarly historic too, diving to unseen levels below €2.50, proving that craft brew pubs in the UK are taking the piss with their prices. No doubt things are relatively quiet at night in Forchheim but it serves as an enjoyable day out.
Frankfurt, pop. 736,400
Frankurt’s local claim to fame is not so much beer as Apfelwein, and so its neighbourhood pubs will offer this strong, deliberately dry and sour cider. In other respects the venues are similar to your usual German Gastattes, serving food and rarely getting out of second gear. The south bank borough of Saschenhausen is your best best for congregations of nightlife and changes of speed, with some smokey, raucous but nevertheless atmospheric bars to enjoy.
Furth, pop. 124,750
A city that has become part of Nuremberg’s conurbation, Furth’s central nightlife is oddly parochial and small-town, which may be due to the low rise Altstadt and quaint pubs. Nevertheless, beyond immediate impressions you will find the local venues friendly and lively, while Keimling in particular offers the kind of pub every town should possess.
Goslar, pop. 41,700
Another traditional Fachwerk town, Goslar is a magnificent city but not one with a huge array of nightlife. However, with a central brewery tap and a couple of decent hangout spots for the small number of youngsters, Goslar is in a better position than the virtually comatose Quedlinburg, nearby.
Gorlitz, pop. 55,900
This beautiful border city is an architectural jewel, but no-one in town would argue with me when I say it is not a hotbed of nightlife (mind you, neither is the Polish half, Zgorzelec). This may be due to the aging inhabitants and appeal to elderly day-trippers, which is a shame. Instead, the pockets of evening drinkers congregate in dispersed venues. There are some nice alternative options such as a Kino-bar (one of the increasingly popular bars where you turn up for a drink and the venue screens a film) and you’ll find the nano-brewery and medieval dining room Bierblume a must-visit in the evening. Unfortunately you’ll be scraping around for other options that are worth your time.
Hannover, pop. 531, 200
Hannover’s centre is an artificial but convincing enough recreation of its pre-war old town, and it’s a reasonable base for average bars, the odd smokey working-class kneipe and one nice craft beer venue. However, given the size of the city, it must be said that Hannover disappoints, ultimately. Let’s hope that’s subject to change.
Nuremberg, pop. 509,975
One of the most underrated cities in Europe for tourists, Nuremberg retains much of its pre-war traditional character, with a city wall, large old town, castle hill and characterful river area. While the old city lacks a definable area for nightlife, venues are not in short supply. If you’re into cocktails, there are a few standouts, if you like rock pubs, likewise, if you are into craft beer you are very well served indeed, while if you are interested in local breweries you will find a few good options. There are plenty of options inbetween those as well. Additionally, the area of Gostenhof, while hardly Kreuzberg or Neukolln, likes to think of itself as the artsy alternative area. There’s more work to do but you will find several options in this less traditional but still interesting district.
Quedlinburg, pop. 21,500
There is a criminal lack of truly good drinking options in Quedlinburg, suggesting a city not in great shape economically nor socially. This is a great shame given it is one of the most beautiful and well preserved towns in Europe. Unfortunately I can only direct you to its small number of bland venues and its so-so brewery tap.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, pop. 10,930
One of the best preserved “cities” in the world (actually a small town), there is beauty around every corner in Rothenburg, however it lacks a really killer pub or bar, a shortfall which is unfortunately painfully apparent when you see the young folk of the city in the evening scratching around for a venue of some sort. You will find a couple of passable backstreet venues, but the overall experience is regrettably disappointing.
Wernigerode , pop. 35,050
Wernigerode’s street layout lends itself well to generating a bit of atmosphere, with a long street leading to a central square. While this beautiful town is still relatively quiet by some standards, you will find Tommi’s Pub and their central brewery enjoyable venues.
Wurzburg, pop. 124,873
This central German city has always felt to me like a slight let-down, despite having some magnificent monuments, a central river, a characterful hill and Schloss and a historic bridge. Perhaps its nightlife has something to do with it. While this is a student town, the quality of the venues falls short of what you could reasonable expect for a city of its size. The exception is the fun Muzikkneipe Tscharlie’s, which really should be among a stock of enjoyable venues rather than a standout.