Monday, July 13, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 13 … Tears of overdue joy at Salzburg's Augustiner.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 13 … Tears of overdue joy at Salzburg's Augustiner.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Thirteenth in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

It should be clear at this juncture that a fascination with history brought me to Europe in 1985. It might have been about bicycling, but I wasn’t quite there yet. It certainly wasn’t about hooking up (too shy) or drunken mayhem (too cautious).

Rather, it was the familiar syllabus of Western Civilization & Culture 101. Copious quantities of classicism were absorbed through daily doses of architecture, art and museum visits. I saw pottery, paintings and panes of stained glass, and remained the wide-eyed student throughout.

In most places, it was very easy to be a tourist and to submit to the efficiently maintained infrastructure of long ago, which obviously was calculated to benefit local economies in the here and now, because when one emerged from the tidily categorized past – usually stooping, given that few medieval buildings were constructed with 6-foot, 4-inch Americans in mind – a panorama of contemporary Europe always immediately reappeared.

Modernity had much to recommend, too, and history kept being placed into context by the same questions.

How had they gotten from there to here?

Why was America so different?

What was there to be learned?

Europe was old, but as I learned quickly, it was relentlessly topical, too. In Istanbul, soldiers with machine guns were watching street corners near the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and at the youth hostel in Basel, I chanced upon an environmental activist concerned about pollution in the Rhine. I’d been in Greece for a spirited election, and spent time with travelers my age who wanted to discuss Palestinian liberation, nuclear free zones, refugee rights and organic farming.

English-speaking Europeans invariably circled around to current events in the political sphere. After all, the continent was divided into armed camps, and a sizeable chunk of it remained Communist. In 1985, Europe was four decades removed from its uneasy post-WWII settlement, but the various “-isms” still mattered.

As an American, I was expected to answer criticisms of President Ronald Reagan, which I tended to do by agreeing with the arguments of my interlocutors in their entirety.

As the days passed, I could feel the balance of my consciousness shifting. There was a realization that “now” always is no more than a snapshot, and history a continuum, not a postcard. Mozart morphed into Madonna, whose music could be heard daily by the same Viennese who had been alive when Freud still kept office hours near the Ring.

I started thinking less about how things used to be, and more about how they were now, and yet there was a prominent exception: Beer.

In 1985, I did not want European beer to be “modern” and barely drinkable, the way it was back home. It needed to be old-fashioned, and Vienna offered just a hint of the throwback Central European beer culture I was about to enter following a rail journey to Salzburg.

My beer drinking still would be limited by available funds. However, I was ready to indulge and make up for lost time.


Coming of age in the Ohio Valley in the 1960’s and ‘70’s meant witnessing on a depressing, first-hand basis the very nadir of beer culture in America.

In Colonial times, American beer making and drinking customs reflected English origins. Later, when Germans began coming to the United States in large numbers, their traditions traveled with them and remained intact.

All big American cities and most of the smaller ones had breweries that took procedural, technical and atmospheric cues from the time-tested Central European playbook. It was a lovely thing, while it lasted.

Xenophobic sentiments in World War I did not help matters, and the idiocy of Prohibition sealed the deal, obliterating American beer culture for decades afterward.

Following WWII, the imperial-era American preference for bland, manufactured uniformity forcibly wrenched beer from its fresh, local foundation, rendering it into watery oblivion, and subjecting beer to the multitudinous regulatory irrationalities of Bible Belt superstition.

Nonetheless, during my youth, there remained a dusty patina of vaguely recognizable German character to local legacies and customs of beer and beer drinking.

After all, Oertel’s, Fehr’s and Wiedemann were not names traceable to Guatemala or Japan. Family trees connected them to Germany in a larger sense, and often specifically to Bavaria, the southern region of Germany, where lager brewing and its social vocabulary were first developed.

In 1985, these faint murmurs were as good as it got in the Louisville metropolitan area. I knew almost nothing of the English ale-making tradition, which was being surreptitiously reinvented by a nascent “micro” movement out West.

Belgium was a place for waffles, not Trappists, the latter as yet unknown outside their monasteries of origin.

Fortunately, I worked in a package store, stocked a few imports, and read the early words of the late Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson. These and other educational nuances eventually were supplemented by frequent samplings, accumulating steadily over the years until beer became my life’s work.

However, in 1985, all this was yet to come. Rather, there was the train from Vienna to Salzburg, in Austria’s mountainous Alpine region, located just over the frontier from Munich, otherwise known as Beer Mecca.


Salzburg has fully earned its reputation as a clean, efficient and scenic center of art and culture, especially music. Mozart was born there, and the composer’s image is synonymous with marzipan sold all over town. The “Sound of Music” was filmed in the region. There’s a thousand-year-old castle overlooking the fairy tale facades of the Old Town, and ancient salt mines nearby (“salz” is salt in German).

I toured the castle and was oblivious to most of the rest, having set my sights on the history of just one attraction, the Augustiner Bräustübel, a venerable tavern and beer garden where beer now called Müllner Bräu has been brewed and served for four centuries – or, well before the United States was founded.

On my first day in town, safely ensconced in a friendly Salzburg youth hotel, I embarked by foot upon the search for my chosen beer garden. My course was plotted on an English-language map, because I was still learning to make sense of street signs and other navigational clues in German, even if it was as comprehensible as any language I’d yet experienced.

Eventually the Augustiner acreage came into view. The religious complex inched up onto gently sloping terrain at the foot of a ridge, with the brewery and beer garden … where, exactly?

In a state of excitement and youthful muddle, my first choice of entry doors was utterly mistaken. I stepped across a threshold, and through a partly ajar door, a choir could be seen and heard practicing. Finally one of them saw me, and gestured: Out, to the left.

The adjacent entrance took me inside, down a wide flight of stairs to a long corridor that contained various kiosks vending foodstuffs. Indoor drinking rooms were located off to the side, sumptuously appointed in wood, with tile stoves and stained glass windows.

But it was out in the leafy beer garden that I fell in love with a way of life, one experienced for the very first time. At midday, hundreds of beer lovers were seated at tables, shaded by towering chestnut trees, surrounded by stone walls and stucco, virtually all of them drinking malty Marzen-style lager brewed and aged only yards away.

It was entirely self-service, or so I remember. You went back inside for sausages, salads and loaves of crusty bread, and then joined the line for beer. A cashier took Austrian schillings, as plastic was not negotiable and Euros didn’t exist, and handed back a receipt.

Upon choosing a liter (33.8 ounces) ceramic mug from the freshly washed public stack, you ritualistically rinsed it in a fountain of cold water, handed it and the receipt over to aproned men who were pouring the deep golden beer from a tap embedded in a wooden barrel, and prepared for nirvana.

Teens drank alongside elderly men. There were playing cards, songs for singing, chicken bones and carts filled with emptied mugs. Strangers shared tables and bought rounds. Worldwide languages were spoken. I ate, drank, used the WC, drank some more, and returned the following two nights to do it again, each time walking 25 minutes back to my lodging, feeling perfectly safe and wishing we could do the same back home.

In the decades since, I’ve visited dozens of similar beer gardens in Central Europe. Some proved superior to the Augustiner, but it’s the first time you always remember, isn’t it?

Next was Munich, where there were dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of places just like Salzburg’s Augustiner.

Would I survive?



The PC: Euro ’85, Part 12 … Stefan Zweig and his world of yesterday.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 11: My Franz Ferdinand obsession takes root.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 10: Habsburgs, history and sausages in Vienna.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 9 … Milan, Venice and a farewell to Northern Italy.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 8 … Pecetto idyll, with a Parisian chaser.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 6 … When in Rome, critical mass.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 5 … From Istanbul to Rome, with Greece in between.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 4 … With Hassan in Pithion.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 3 … Growing up in Greece.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 2 ... Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … Where it all began.

No comments: