- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

ERLANGEN, Germany — Dirndl-clad waitresses wove through the crowds with huge mugs; more beer was finding its way to the floor than to drinkers’ lips; and even the tables seemed to be moving as people swayed to folk tunes played by a band.

Yes, I was in Bavaria. The only way this beer festival could have been more stereotypically Bavarian would have been if it had been played out against snowy Alpine peaks.

“Everybody gets together. All boundaries and borders merge into one,” said Hans-Christian “Brocki” Brockerhoff as we chatted over a seemingly endless liter — slightly more than a quart — of beer that had been specially brewed for the annual festival called Bergkirchweih.

For 12 days every spring, the inhabitants of Erlangen, a university town near Nuremberg, forget their daily routines and devote themselves to the serious business of drinking beer — and lots of it.

The Berg, as it is commonly called, has been held every year since 1755 and is Germany’s second-largest beer fest, after Oktoberfest, its more famous Munich counterpart.

Although the Berg typically attracts more than 1 million visitors, far fewer foreign tourists come to the Erlangen festival than to the Munich event, which means there is much more in the way of local ambiance. This year’s Berg will take place June 1 through 12, but after the festival finishes, the beer cellars and rides will remain open all summer.

Bergkirchweih roughly translates as “the dedication of the mountain church,” referring to a church on the outskirts of Erlangen.

Sturdy 18th-century Bavarian folk might find it hard to recognize the modern-day town, but it’s not hard to imagine them knocking back the local Kitzmann brew in leafy beer gardens.

“You can’t go to the Berg without any beer,” said Mr. Brockerhoff, 29, who has attended the festival every year of the 15 he has lived in Erlangen.

“You don’t think, you drink,” agreed his girlfriend, Tanja Liebig. “You have to drink in the evenings.”

If you can’t face the thought of a liter, there is an easier option. A liter of shandy (beer mixed with a soft drink) may not contain quite as much alcohol, but the drinker still is confronted with the same volume of frothy liquid.

“You can drink a beer, but you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy it,” Mr. Brockerhoff said.

It’s difficult to push your way through the crowds to check out the full selection of fairground rides and stands offering hearty German fast food such as sausages or roast chicken.

It may come as a surprise, but the countryside surrounding Erlangen — known as Franconia — is actually a wine-producing region.

It’s not all about drinking, many will be glad to hear. During the days between beery evenings, Erlangen makes a handy base for trips to any number of nearby gems, such as Bamberg, which offers a nearly complete historical guide to architectural styles, or the quaint old town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Nuremberg, with its old center rebuilt almost from scratch after heavy wartime bombing, is almost part of the same metropolitan area as Erlangen. On the city’s outskirts is the infamous location for Nazi party rallies of the 1930s, an eerie place set in incongruous surroundings beside a peaceful lake.

Slightly farther afield, Munich and the Alps also are accessible, meaning that a trip to the festival can be combined easily with a wider visit to southern Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Even away from the Berg, it’s difficult to escape the beer. Across Bavaria, the smallest of places often has its own brewery, sometimes producing its own distinctive brews.

“It’s essential,” Mr. Horndasch said. “Beer is bread.”

• • •

The Bergkirchweih, the annual German beer festival in the Bavarian town of Erlangen has been held since 1755 and takes place this year June 1 through 12.

Erlangen is a short journey by car or train from Nuremberg, where the airport is served by flights from around Europe. Or fly to Frankfurt, which is less than three hours from Erlangen by car or train.

The town has a variety of accommodations. Full listings, rates and contact details are on the Erlangen town Web site, www.erlangen.de. There is a wider selection of hotels in Nuremberg, which is accessible on special late-night trains during the festival.

The festival’s many food stands offer traditional German favorites such as bratwurst but also kebabs and Hungarian pancakes.

The town has the usual selection of traditional restaurants and pizzerias. For something a bit different, try Sausalitos or Zen, both in the center of town.

Spend half a day visiting Erlangen’s castle and its grounds, plus several baroque churches. Erlangen also is conveniently located for day trips to any number of charming Bavarian towns and cities as well as the scenic countryside.

For more information, go to www.germany-tourism.de or call 800/651-7010. Guides to German beer: www.german beerguide.com or www.bambergbeerguide.com.

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