Tuesday 14th May 2013
This evening visit to Bamberg's most famous pub was arranged by the Brewery History Society and I joined that august group in one of the small rooms that had been reserved for us. We were met by Matthias Trum, the CEO of the family company and he gave us a talk on the history of the venerable pub and the brewery that supplies it. Of, course, the first thing that occurred was that we were served a glass of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, as it is known in the local Franconian dialect. This translates as Original Schlenkerla Smoked Beer and you will find their distinctive bottles on sale in the most discerning bars throughout the world. We then had an excellent dinner.
Naturally, Schlenkerla has been around a very long time and it is thought to have been established in 1405. The first name was Blauer Löwen (Blue Lion) and it was part of a larger building known as Unter den Störchen (under the storks). I guess this is a reference to a stork's nest on the roof.
Not too much was known about it for the next two hundred or so years but there were a few instances of court hearings, mostly regarding boundary disputes, and it changed hands several times.
The Thirty Years' War lasted from 1618 to 1648 and like so many towns and cities in middle Europe; Bamberg suffered its share of horror. The pub was partially destroyed and rebuilt. The brewery opened in 1678 and the pub continued attracting various new owners until 1768 when it was purchased by Johann Wolfgang Heller and the brewery keeps his name to this day.
Johann Heller instigated the storage of the maturing beer in kellers on the Kaulberg Hill. These were caves in the sandstone. During the 19th century this function was transferred to other caves on the Stephansberg hill and also during that century and in to the next, the brewery was slowly established at that location. It and the caves are still there and I, with the Brewery History Society visited both with Matthias the day after this dinner.
The ownership continued through several generations of the Heller family until 1877 when it was taken over by Andreas Graser and he provides the lineage through to present day Trum family. This gentleman had a distinctive limp and in old German someone with an uneven walk was a Schlenkern and in the Franconian dialect the "la" at the end of a word implies possession so Schlenkerla was "the place of the person with the uneven walk".
It passed to his son Michael in 1907 and he leased part of adjacent Dominican monastery from the State for 99 years. This was the oldest part of the building and was only possible because of the secularisation of the church around 1803 as a result of the Napoleonic wars.
Another effect of this war was that the then independent Franconia was handed over to the Bavarian state and incorporated within it. Please remember, this was before the German unification of 1871.
We were dining in a small room in this part of the pub and Matthias pointed out a fireplace that had been recovered when they were decorating it for public use.
The main room of this part of the pub is known as the "Dominikanerklause" and has a simply beautiful vaulted ceiling that dates from 1310, please see the photograph above. The original Neo-Gothic ceiling painting dating from the 15th century was restored by the Germanic Museum of Nürnberg in the 1920s. In 1960 this part of the pub was purchased from the state.
The part of the pub described above is reached from the massive wooden entrance door by turning right and going up a few steps. The waiters / waitresses in the Dominikanerklause serve their customers from a serving area at the end of the room that has its own wooden barrel of beer. There is another room in this part of the old monastery called the "Bamberger Zimmer" (Bamberg Room).
The small room we were dining and drinking is known as the Ulanenzimmer (the room of the Uhlans). The Uhlans were light infantry regiments and this was their mess-room. All of these regiments were disbanded after the Great War. The Royal Bavarian Army was given the former monastery buildings after the secularisation in the early part of the nineteen century. Matthias explained that the paintings hanging on the walls were of Uhlan regiments.
Should you turn left on entering you will be in the "Alte Lokal" (the old local), whose name is self-explanatory, as this was the original pub. It has very old half-height wood panelling and it is said that it was once stained with bull's blood to maintain the dark colour. Between the central corridor and the room is the small serving area with the wooden barrel of beer. The room continues past this to open up to another area. On the walls are many ancient prints and paintings of old Bamberg.
There is one more small room here called "Altdeutches Zimmer" (Old German Room), and is decorated in a similar fashion to the Alte Lokal. Continuing along the corridor one reaches the courtyard which, as it is located in the open, smoking is permitted. If you follow the sign to the biergarten you will end up alongside the former chapel of the Dominican monastery. This is nowadays the hall of the Otto Friedrich University of Bamberg. The beer garden is quite small but is in a beautiful setting. Smoking is permitted here.
This pub certainly lives up to its reputation but be warned as it can be very crowded at times. Before 12.00 and mid-afternoon are the best times as you can have a look around and soak up the splendid atmosphere.
Schlenkerla, Dominikanerstrasse 6, Bamberg 96049. Tel: 0951 56060
Open: Daily 09.30-23.30. Food: Daily 12.00-22.00
Beer garden open: Easter to October in fine weather
The pub is located in the middle of the old town. It's about 15 minutes walk from the ZOB (Zentral Omnibus Bahnhof) and 25 minutes from Bamberg railway station.
Bamberg station is served by trains to and from a number of German cities and it takes about 40 minutes to Nürnberg which there are many more connections, some to other countries.