No doubt you’re familiar with Oktoberfest, but what about Starkbierfest? Across Munich, Germany in February and March the breweries hold Starkbierfest, or strong beer festivals, that resemble Oktoberfest. But unlike Oktoberfest they are on a smaller scale and with fewer tourists. The German beer festival is Oktoberfest’s little brother and features beers special to the Starkbier season. I went to Paulaner’s Nockherberg for the brewery’s Starkbierfest and it was a blast!
The History & Tradition of Starkbier
In Germany, Starkbier is traditional to the period of Lent, following Carnival. It is said that Bavarian monks who were fasting in the lead up to Easter would only consume Starkbier, which is very calorific. But historically the strong beer originated as a Doppelbock beer brewed by monks in Hannover before the recipe eventually migrated south. The brew was so special that the monks weren’t supposed to serve it to anyone outside of the monastery. It goes without saying that didn’t last too long.
Each of the breweries in Munich and the surrounding area obviously have their own Starkbier. For example, Paulaner’s is called Salvator, Augustiner’s is Maximator, and Ayinger‘s Celebrator.
While the “strong beer” does generally have a higher alcohol content, the “strong” refers to the brew itself and its consistency.
Attending Starkbierfest in Munich
Now seems like a good time to mention that I don’t drink alcohol. (I quite simply prefer to eat my calories rather than drink them.) But since we’ve been semi-regularly traveling to Munich, my husband has taken up the, uh, hobby. And really, if you’re going to drink beer anywhere Munich is the place to do so.
Like Oktoberfest, Starkbierfest is about beer. But there is plenty on offer for my non-alcoholic brethren.
Pretty much every Munich or Bavarian brewer has a Starkbier brew and an accompanying festival. Unlike Oktoberfest, which is at a central location (the Theresienwiese) each brewery holds their festival at a separate location. We opted for Paulaner’s Starkbierfest at their newly renovated Nockherberg location.
If you can’t make it to one of the official Starkbierfest celebrations or simply are looking to avoid the crowds, don’t worry. It’s a fairly safe bet that every restaurant, bar or Wirtshaus that serves beer will have a Starkbier available.
Experiencing Paulaner’s Starkbierfest at Nockherberg
For 2018, Paulaner was holding Starkbierfest on weekday afternoons and most of the day on weekends. We arrived shortly after opening on a weekday and ended up staying for about four hours. The hall was rather empty when we arrived. However, it began filling up quickly even as a beautiful fresh coating of snow started covering the city of Munich!
About an hour after opening, a band called die Kirchdorfer took to the stage. They started their first few sets with instrumental marches before really kicking the party into gear with a mix of traditional tunes and pop songs. (The band has both “All About the Bass” and “Silly Love Songs” in their repertoire.)
Getting a Seat
If you’re attending solo or as a couple, you likely don’t need a reservation at Nockherberg. Larger groups should reserve ahead. As you arrive at the venue, you have to buy a ticket outside. For 2018, the 12.90€ ticket includes a 2€ entrance fee and the remainder is good for a drink. (The remaining 10.90€ is exactly the price of a Maß, or liter, of beer or soda.)
After you find a spot at one of the long communal tables, a waiter will be over to get your order. In addition to Starkbier and other beverages, there are food offerings. Prices are slightly higher, a couple of Euros or so, than what you’d likely pay for a similar meal in any of the downtown Wirtshäuser (or Bavarian restaurants) but it’s to be expected. The food arrives quickly and is very good. I had the Käsespätzle, egg noodles in cheese (a sort of German macaroni and cheese) with cucumber salad and my husband had the Schweinshaxe and radish salad. The salads were really good and were packaged in jars that were really attractive. It was a really nice touch.
As I said before, I don’t drink. So I opted for Spezi, my favorite soda. What I hadn’t expected was the size. Just like the beer, sodas were also served in a one-liter Steinkrug. And it cost nearly 11€. Something to keep in mind!
Making Memories at Starkbierfest
What would a German or Bavarian festival be without Lebkuchenherzen (those heart-shaped gingerbread cookies with fun messages written on them), balloons and other trinkets? Nockherberg had a small souvenir stand set up in the lobby hallway. I personally went home with a souvenir Nockherberg coffee mug.
Paulaner Nockherberg Starkbierfest was a lot of fun. The food and drinks were good, the people were friendly and the music was great. The atmosphere is simply really festive.
If you’re curious about attending Oktoberfest but intimidated by its sheer size, I recommend dipping your toe into the festival waters with a visit to Starkbierfest.
Paulaner am Nockherberg is at Hochstr. 77 in Munich’s Au-Haidhausen neighborhood. It’s easily reachable via public transportation. The tram and bus stops Mariahilfplatz and Ostfriedhof are nearby. With the U-Bahn, the U1 and U7 lines will take you to Kolumbusplatz or Silberhornstraße. With the S-Bahn, go to Rosenheimer Platz.
If you take the tram, I recommend getting off at Ostfriedhof it’s on the same side of the street as Nockherberg and you won’t have to search for a crosswalk.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.