By Šarūnas Andriušaitis, David Brandt, Cláudio Carneiro, Robin Hartmann and Stefan Hedegaard
What comes out if you take five Spotters from four different countries, send them to the place with the highest density of breweries in the whole world and give them three days to explore? The trip of a lifetime, this is what.
I think it is safe to say all of us could use some good break from reality right now – so what better place to dream yourself away than a fairytale-esque, medieval town, rich with a 1000 years of history and arguably the best beer in the whole world? The talk is of the small German town of Bamberg, and a visit there with some of the favourite Spotter’s heavy hitters got stuck in my mind since I first talked to the guys about it on past Spotters meetings, bragging about how I knew this place where liquid magic was happening and how it was just ideal for a bro-down bender.
Fast forward to October 2020, and things really came to happen, four days of pillaging the sweet sweet breweries and Haxe-serving restaurants of Bamberg with a Fab Four of Partying: Along on the trip came Stefan Hedegaard alias Hobo Bear, David Brandt aka HoHo Bear, Cláudio Carneiro nicknamed Boho Bear and Šarūnas Andriušaitis also known as Soho Bear – me, being Bobo Bear, tried to be a decent guide and to give these little rascals the good treatment they deserved as my favourite finest humans among the endless list of fine people at Spotted by Locals.
There is something to be said about a town that hold a UNESCO World Heritage status, where the streets are lined with beautiful, century-year old houses and revered breweries, a town sprinkled with amazing churches and crossed by not one, but two rivers. In the Old Town, everything lies in walking distance, and some of the breweries are even situated directly next to each other. Add to that the facts that the area around Bamberg has the highest density of beer-manufacturing places in all over the world (I once estimated around 400 different brands), the prices are ridiculously low and the locals are very friendly.
This said, I have to mention that we had the most amazing apartment, where we could relax after long days – situated on an old farm, “Zimmers Obstgarten” lies in a very quiet neighborhood in the upper part of the city, and owner Claudia and her daughter are running the place in a very good fashion in third respectively fourth generation. Claudia showed us her land, where her family is growing an incredible variety of fruits, and should you need a Christmas tree around Bamberg, you also know where to find it. People from near and far come to their little shop to buy the all-eco, sustainable, regional products sold at very fair prices – if you ever have the chance, ask for the apples and pears.
Stefan and me arrived from Berlin on a Thursday, with Boho Bear (Cláudio) already awaiting us at the train station. Having visited Bamberg several times over the past years, I was very eager to start of the trip with a bang, which is why we went directly to the “Fässla” brewery and had the first cold ones. All of these places are very traditional, the interior often with old wooden furniture and even wood-panelled walls and ceilings, which creates a very cozy atmosphere – no wonder the breweries are a second home to a lot of people in Bamberg. So from the first moment, we felt very welcome, the brewskies being drafted from wooden barrels to our delight.
A little later, fellow Viking David arrived and wet his whistle in good old Danish fashion along with us – jokes were made, high fives tossed around, and everyone was really happy to be here and get away from “new normal” for a couple of days. Later that evening, we had a table at the famous private brewery “Greifenklau”, where my friend and local guide Alex joined us, and while we were feasting on some huge chunks of meat called “Schäuferla” (the collar bone of a pig), Šarūnas showed up and completed the team. Back to our apartment, the session ensued – everyone had a seat around the table in our living room, and court was held and justice spoken over the variety of beers the boys had bought earlier. To listen to David and Šarūnas giving speeches on the quality of the brews was very entertaining, as they both know enough about beer to open their own breweries. The undoubted liquid highlight of the evening though was a dark beer Stefan had produced himself and brought for the gang to taste.
Knowing there were some feared snorers among us, everyone went and tried to get some sleep, as we had a very tight schedule the next day, including the visiting of not less than five breweries. I did not even have to play Sergeant Hartmann on the guys, at the agreed time of ten o’ clock we left the house and went off to bakery “Seel” to have some hearty breakfast. A trip to Bamberg would not be complete without visiting its impressive churches, so we first headed to St. Stephan and then to the mighty cathedral, both of which representing the centuries-old history of influence the church had and still has to this day in Bamberg.
As the bells were tolling noon already, we stopped at “Schlenkerla”, arguably the most famous brewery in Bamberg – at all times of the day, people are standing outside on the cobblestone street, drinking the legendary “Rauchbier”, a brew that to some tastes like roasted ham. On we went, buying some bottles for our way through the “Hain”, the city’s lovely park on the riverside – it’s here where E.T.A. Hoffmann, a local poet known for his excessive drinking, reportedly once met a talking dog named Berganza while on one of his walks.
We did not get the chance to see the dog, but what we experienced was way more precious: Everyone felt very relaxed and happy to be with the others, to break out from his normal routine, where a lot of us had just been trying to keep the spirit up in the last months, not giving in to depression and/or anger. We assured ourselves how lucky we were to be here together and felt grateful to getting to know each other a lot better – I myself was very happy that my intuition to invite exactly these four friends on the trip was rewarded, everyone on the team contributed to the great spirit and bromance.
Sitting at “Mahr’s Bräu”, contemplating over some huge Schnitzel, we even came up with a description for what everyone was feeling: We had found the Bamberg Zen, a state of mind where everyone was stripped of his worries, something of inestimable value to all of us. This is exactly why we love travel so much, and became Spotters in the first part: The experience itself was great, but sharing it with great people is what made it an adventure neither of us will ever forget. We went to Bavaria together and made it Bro-varia.
Madness ensued, with us visiting three more breweries as the hours flew by, walking everywhere, and especially Cláudio stopping countless times to take pictures of the lovely town and it’s magic autumn colors. We even got the chance to visit the “Sternla” brewery, Bambergs latest addition to brewing tradition, housed in the town’s oldest restaurant. It was the good talks had that made everyone want to go on, drinking beer after beer, with David leading the charge, not shy of ordering to full-on meals in a matter of half an hour along with his hop juice.
The next morning saw us roaming the streets from 9 o’ clock already, as the goal was to visit the two small towns of Bischberg and Weiher, famous for their award-winning brewing tradition. The positive attitude we had won through being such a merry band of brothers was what carried us through town on invisible wings, opening doors and hearts, for example in the famous butchery Liebold, where we had a tasty “Leberkäs” for breakfast. The people there were so enthusiastic to hear our story that the boss even took a picture with us in the end, and Šarūnas could make him very happy by sticking a Lithuania needle into his world map of travelers who had already visited the butchery.
Enter the family-run brewery “Zur Sonne” in the small town of Bischberg, where the Schuhmanns took matter into their hands in 1856, the producers of what I personally think is the best beer in the whole area. We got a corner table in the lovely old-fashioned restaurant, and I have to say that I cannot remember the last time I ate this good. Šarūnas was so happy with his trout that he first shook my hand, then gave me a big hug – that was a lovely detail of the whole trip anyway, a lot of hugs were given, and “I love you” or “I back you so hard” sentences were commonplace.
The undoubted highlight was the local craftsmaster Christian Schuhmann giving us a private guided tour through his holy halls, showing us his brewery and explaining the process of how his sweet sweet beer comes to life (indeed, it has a slight aftertaste of honey). Rest assured that a lot of “Sonne” merchandise was bought before we left for our final destination, the 100-people town of Weiher, were the famous “Weiherer” beer is made in countless varieties. To give you an idea of how good these brews really are: Only this years the company won ten beer awards, so there was a lot of tasting duties ahead.
Once again the philosophizing about different hops, barrel aging and aftertaste was heard from our beer professors David and Šarūnas while they ordered glass after glass in a desperate attempt to make the best of this once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. Have I mentioned that it was Bockbier season, that time of the year where the breweries make a particularly strong beer that hovers around 7-8 percent?
Back to Bamberg for our last supper already, we met up with Alex and his friend Nico and went to the honorable restaurant “Ringlein” in front of “Schlenkerla”, where we challenged some huge “Haxen”, only to step away victorious, bellies filled to the rim. To give the guys an idea of how the modern Bamberg drinking culture looks, we went to “Pelikan” to finish off the night, a place very famous for their parties and good mood in general. And what better place to end the trip than around the table in our lovely apartment, yet again with a lot more of cans and bottles bought throughout the day.
Saying goodbye the next morning and heading home sure was hard, but everyone still felt very light-hearted, having been part of this tremendous experience, now once and forevermore being a part of the Fab Fart Five (don’t ask). It is these days that we travel for, that make us grateful to belong to such a unique community like Spotted by Locals – open-minded, open-hearted people, ready to welcome everyone as a new friend. It might not be the whole world for us right now, but we must not forget that the love for travel and new experience is what brought all of us together in the first place. Now go out and have a couple of cold ones with your buddies, and once you’re out, take that tempting little side road that you have never walked before – adventure is always just one step away.