In 1928 writer and belles lettres editor George Jean Nathan reviewed notable beers in Germany using the conceit of a theatre review. “Mathäserbrau” was one of the brews. I wasn’t previously aware of it, and a brief check disclosed the long history of the beerhall that birthed it.
Europe After 8:15, a 1914 travelogue by H.L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, and Willard Wright, devotes multiple pages to the place. Indeed Mathaser’s forms the centrepiece of a florid Munich “beeriad”. The book surely gives the definitive picture of the Munich beer hall on the eve of World War I.
As the trio reported it, Mathaser’s was the resort mostly of Munich’s working and trades classes. It offered sturdy food and beer of good colour – variously “red” and “dark”, in unpretentious surroundings.
The beer was served in earthenware and held superior to the paler beer of Hofbrauhaus and Augustiner, probably the best known (or reputed) of the Munich beer shrines. Mencken et al. give them their due, and others, but seemed to approve Mathaser’s the most.
These writers liked the bluff nature of the beer halls, as suggested by (probably) Mencken’s statement that enlisted soldiers there, in their “coma” of love, gave their “Lizzies” a simple hug while monocled officers practiced “diableries” to charm their intended inamorata. Mencken added that “no Munchener ever threw a stone”, which must be one of the great understatements of German social history, but never mind.
Mathaser’s met its demise some twenty years ago when converted to a multiplex theatre, but until then was the city’s largest “Bierstadt” with a capacity approaching an astounding 5000 people.
This Munich visitors page sketches some of its early history. After the First World War it carried on, and did after the second war, too. Judging by reports from the late 1940s to the end, Mathaser’s kept its essential nature although in the last years it had ownership links with erstwhile rival Lowenbrau.
Some notoriety attached to Mathaser’s after the 1918 Armistice. The Bavarian Free State was proclaimed there by revolutionaries in that year. Hitler is reputed too to have spoken there once although the notorious putsch occurred in a different place.
This blog page of the Potable Curmudgeon contains excellent notes on Mathaser’s as it was not long before its closure. A number of comments to the notes add additional colour and perspective, particularly from ex-staff.
In all, one gets the feeling that its ethos of traditional beer, the communal experience, typical foods, and music, represent an era now passed. Of course, classic beer halls continue in the Munich, notably Hofbrauhaus, Paulaner in its modern industrial complex, Lowenbrau, and Augustiner’s smaller hall. Hopefully they will find a way to endure as a new international beer culture powered by American craft ways encroaches on traditional establishments.
These halls, and England’s pubs in a somewhat different way, represent a pre-modern form of entertainment. They emerged and long reigned in a time of no television, no or just incipient radio, no or few mass sporting events. Socializing was outside the home: at pub or church, maybe at the circus once a year, the odd concert or play, the odd sporting event.
Public gatherings of this type became less attractive as “home entertainment centres” emerged, facilitated by inexpensive bottled and canned beer. Finally, the internet permits communal engagement from a person’s own desk or hand-held device. No need to sit in serried ranks with the like-minded. And if you want a drink, it’s in the fridge.
It makes perfect sense that 20 years ago Mathaser’s was converted to a movie emporium, as movies then were at their height of popularity. But maybe soon the movie houses will switch to something else. An IPA hallen, perhaps. Forms of them already exist in nodes in Berlin and other cities.
One way or another everything has its time and place. Its zeit.
Note: This is the post reproducing George Jean Nathan’s article in 1928 on German beer temples.
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.