George Jean Nathan’s appraisal in 1928 of Munich and Franconian beer offerings, for which he uses the conceit of a theatre review, includes “Mathäserbrau”. I wasn’t previously aware of this name, and a brief check discloses a long history as one of Munich’s premier beer halls.
Europe After 8:15, written in 1914 by H.L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, and Willard Wright, devotes multiple pages to it, indeed it is the centrepiece of a florid Munich “beeriad”. The book surely gives the definitive picture of the place on the eve of the First World War.
In summary, Mathaser was the resort mostly of Munich’s working and trades classes, unpretentious, with solid food, and beer of good colour – variously “red” and “dark”.
The beer, served in earthenware, was contrasted favourably with the paler beer served at Hofbrauhaus and Augustiner, probably the best known (or reputed) of the Munich beer shrines. Mencken et al. give them their due, too, and others, but seemed to approve most of Mathaser’s. They liked its bluff nature, exemplified by (almost surely) Mencken’s statement that enlisted soldiers at Mathaser’s gave their “Lizzies” a simple hug while monocled officers at Hofbrauhaus practiced “diableries” to charm the objects of their affection.
Mathaser’s met its demise some twenty years ago when converted to a multi-plex theatre, but until then it was the city’s largest “Bierstadt” with a capacity approaching an astounding 5000 people.
This Munich visitor’s page sketches some early history. After the first war, it carried on, and after the second one, too. Judging by reports from the late 40s to the end, Mathaser’s seems to have kept its essential nature although it did become linked to Lowenbrau at some point.
Some notoriety attached to it after the Armistice. The Bavarian Free State was proclaimed there by revolutionaries in 1918. Hitler is reputed to have spoken there once too albeit it was not the beer hall of the notorious putsch.
This blog page of the Potable Curmudgeon (Roger Baylor) contains excellent notes on Mathaser’s as it was not long before its closure. A number of comments to his notes add additional colour and perspective, particularly by a couple of people who worked there.
In all, one gets a feeling that its ethos of traditional beer and everything connected – the communal experience, typical foods, the music – represent an era now passed. Of course, classic beer halls continue in the city, notably Hofbrauhaus, also Paulaner’s modern premises tucked in its industrial complex, Lowenbrau’s big hall, Augustiner’s smaller one, and more. Hopefully they will find a way to endure as a newer, international beer culture, powered by IPA and other craft ways with beer, encroaches on traditional modes.
Those halls, and England’s pubs in a different way (but not essentially), represented an older form of entertainment or diversion. Their classic era was a time of no tv, no or incipient radio, no or few mass sporting events. Socializing was outside the home: pub or church, maybe the circus once a year, the odd concert of some kind, the odd sporting event.
Mass gatherings of the type the beer halls exemplified became less attractive as “home entertainment centres” – and drinking at home, too – became ubiquitous and sophisticated. Finally, the Internet permitted a form of interaction from your own desk or hand-held device. No need to sit in serried ranks with like-minded…
It makes perfect sense that 20 years ago, Mathaser converted to a movie emporium, as movies then were at their height of public esteem. But maybe soon it will be time to switch to something else. An IPA hallen maybe…
One way or another, everything has its time, its place. Its zeit.
Note re images: the first image above was sourced from an historical German post card website, here. The second image was sourced from this beer coaster website. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.