Category Archives: Beer

Café Culture

Espresso love in Amsterdam.

When Americans get together after work and on weekends, we join for happy hour, diner brunches and baseball and football games in sports bars. Sure we drink coffee, but Europeans cannot get their heads around the fact that there is no concept of meeting in a café during lunch break (what lunch break?) or after work. Just because we’ve exported mediocre coffee chains all over the planet doesn’t mean we have a café culture.

In France I am in a café at least a few times a week. But this weekend I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Amsterdam and am ready to make the controversial statement that the Netherlands has the clear lead in the gold medal race of bar-and-coffee ambience. I should note that this has absolutely no relation to smoking pot: I had actually expected to avoid coffee shops because of smoke clouds; herbal or otherwise. This would have been tragic, because every bar or café we stopped in (three or four daily) was welcoming and warm, and each had a vibe all its own.

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Prost! (And Slainte!, and Cheers Mate!)

I think my entire body is still made up of sodium and barley. I was in Munich for less than 72 hours, and somehow managed to consume more than 6 liters of beer, at least 4 sausages (including one that was a ½ meter long), several sandwiches that were half meat, and various other things made entirely out of sugar and fat.

It was great.

The Rathaus (aka Town Hall) from St. Peter's

I travelled to Munich alone because I was coming from Paris, but also because various guidebooks said it would be easy to meet friendly people. The campground hostel I stayed in, sadly, was full of groups of people travelling together who were better for campfire entertainment. Read: biggest gathering of hippies and bums ever. Two Irish guys who were hitchhiking/busking across Europe told me that at some point they ate McDonald’s leftovers to survive.

Munich, however, is not for bums. Munich is one of the prettiest, most comfortable, calm cities I have had the pleasure to visit. It only takes 10 minutes of walking from the leiderhosen-packed avenues of Oktoberfest to find yourself on wide streets full of beautiful apartment buildings, small shops, corner biergartens and restaurants. It’s a flat city, so the spacious bike lanes were in heavy use.  I’d live there in a heartbeat. Even when I knew I should head back to find a seat in one of the beer tents, I just couldn’t seem to stop walking.

In the end, I did find a couple to sit with, an Australian farmer and an

That woman carried 11 liters. I'm amazed.

Irish bartender, who were jovial enough to land us plenty more “friends.” Well, everyone is pretty jovial in a beer tent. We learned all the toasts, stood on the tables, got hit on by old German and Austrian guys, and had a great time. The only thing I don’t understand is why “Sweet Caroline,” “Hey Jude” and a strange version of the “Hey Baby” song I know from Dirty Dancing are apparently usual Oktoberfest songs.

Another year, I’d love to go with an irrational number of friends, and see how many liters of beer we can make the waitress carry at once.