Old School Beer Education in Bad Staffelstein, Germany

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Teaching English here in Germany affords me a lot of information about the local dialect and traditions that tourists wouldn’t normally discover. And that’s why I’m here.

Here’s a good example. Two of the groups I’ve taught consisted of IT team managers at Deutsche Telekom, the German equivalent of AT&T or Verizon. I came to know them a couple of years ago and met with them almost every week on Thursday at their office building. We all grew to be friends.
In the course of teaching them English, I was privileged to learn about their families, hobbies, projects and opinions. And last June they invited me and my husband for a “short walk” to a well-known local landmark, Staffelberg. I included quote marks in the previous sentence because a German’s idea of a short walk is vastly different from an American’s idea of one. However, they took it easy on us and we had a grand time.
I made a slideshow out of some of the photos I took that day. Peep it:

Excursion to Staffelberg Germany with ESL Group from Karren Tolliver on Vimeo.

The first song in the slideshow is called the Frankenlied, or the Franconian Anthem, which sings the praises of the glorious local land. The second song is called Es Gibt Kein Bier auf Hawaii, or “There is No Beer in Hawaii,” in which the singer says his fiance wants to go to Hawaii for her honeymoon and he doesn’t want to go because there is no (German) beer there. So that’s why they are not married yet, after 12 years of engagement! One of the lines in the chorus is “Hula hula doesn’t make your thirst go away.” They taught me about these songs at dinner after our walk.

You should know that Staffelberg is the famous rock outcropping you see in the slideshow photos. It overlooks the town of Bad Staffelstein. Any German town that starts with the word Bad doesn’t mean it isn’t a good town. It means that there is a hot springs there; Bad is the German word for “bath” or “spring.” So, Bad Staffelstein is famous for its thermal springs around which a spa has been built.
A couple of these students live in neighboring towns and others live farther afield, even as far as Nuremberg. My course with these guys ended a couple weeks ago and I truly
miss talking to them each week. As I’m moving to the Munich area, I
won’t be picking up the lessons with them again later in the year, much
to my chagrin. As a farewell gift, they gave me a sturdy shopping basket made by a famous local basket maker overflowing with goodies each had brought from their home town. I still marvel at the abundant treasures they bestowed on me!
One of the students, Fritz (yes, Fritz), had brought his Bierdiplom, or “Beer Diploma,” to class one day to show me. This demonstrates how dense the breweries are here in this area: in several villages within a small region surrounding Bad Staffelstein are 10 (ten) breweries, each famous for a particular type of beer and each popular in its own right. You can earn a Beer Diploma by drinking a beer at each brewery where they will then stamp a special card listing all the breweries. When you’ve collected a stamp from each brewery, you are issued an official Beer Diploma.
So, one of the students emailed me last week telling me the annual Bad Staffelstein Beer Fest was scheduled for Thursday. All 10 of these brewers would have stands and I would have the opportunity to earn my own Beer Diploma. But, technically I would have to drink 10 strong German beers in one day to do it. The student invited me and my husband to the fest and offered to be our host; I cleared my schedule and we jumped at the chance!
So we rode the train about 15 minutes from Bamberg to Bad Staffelstein and arrived a few minutes before the opening ceremonies. By the time we walked from the train station, the opening ritual was in full swing. Here’s what we saw approaching the town square:

We made our way into and around the square and could see a stage with an emcee who was interviewing the 10 “Beer Kings” in turn.

The emcee would introduce a “Beer King” from each brewery, often the master brewer or owner, who then gave a short speech about his beer (no Beer
Queens were in the lineup). The Beer King would then use a mallet to
drive a tap into the season’s first barrel of his brewery’s beer as the band (under the
awning behind the Kings) played a short ta-da! to golf claps. Then
the Beer King would draw glasses of beer from the keg and hand them
around. To whom wasn’t clear to me.

It was very crowded and many umbrellas were raised against the bright sunlight, so it was rather difficult to get a good shot of this, especially since the Beer Kings had their backs to the audience. I did note that, from behind, men drawing beer from kegs resemble men standing at urinals. Or maybe that’s just me!

Here are a couple more shots from other vantage points just to show you the beautiful half-timber architecture of the square:

In this photo you can see the beer stands and food kiosks outlining the square. Each brewery

We chose a spot on the lee side of the town hall that was still in the shade at that hour (about 10:30am).

For breakfast we had steak sandwiches:

Accompanied by the Adler (“Eagle”) brewery’s very flavorful beer:

So the plan was for my student, the only female student of the bunch, to meet us there about 11:00am, which she did. She asked me not to use her real name, so I’ll just call her Claudia. Aside from organizing the Staffelberg excursion in June and the goodie basket in July, she offered to go find out how to get the Beer Diploma.

She came back to the table with three brewery cards bearing the ten brewery emblems.

My husband and I were concerned about how we were going to get Beer Diplomas since neither of us can put away the beer like we used to, nor recover fast enough, even if we did, to drive to Munich the next day like we planned.

So “Claudia” first went to the Adler beer stand to see if she could wrangle us a stamp or two because we’d already bought one beer from them. That was successful! They let us each have a stamp for the one beer. So far, so good!

Then “Claudia” visited another brewery where she knew the people. Score! Two more stamps without having to buy anything! Shhhh….don’t tell the Bier police!

Ok, now I was really getting into the spirit of the scam, er, uh, path to the Beer Diploma. Claudia next visited the Stublang village brewery because she is from that village and knows the people at the brewery personally. We had to buy a bottle of their beer, but we got two stamps for it and didn’t have to drink anything that day.

Here’s the bottle and stamps so far:

Another brewery also allowed her to buy bottles, but we had to buy two. No problem, we still got our stamps without having to drink that day. So now we each had four stamps while only having drank one beer between us. This was starting to look good!

James then got in on the act and managed to talk another brewery out of two stamps for just one beer, which we shared.

Frankly, long about this time I kind of lost track of how many stamps and who got them. Suffice it to say that it was going well.

About this time Claudia and I went to find something for lunch. We stopped off at another brewery stand to beg a couple more stamps. They made us buy a Schnitt, or “cut,” their jargon for a half of a half-liter, which I later split with James. We still got off easy without having to drink two more beers!

There is always wonderful fare at a beer fest, including the requisite, ubiquitous bratwurst.

This day, though, I opted for something called Bierbrauer Pfanne mit Weissbier Stangen (Brewer’s stew with beer bread):

They graciously split one of the huge servings into two bowls for us:

This stuff was delicious! It was made with dark beer and tasted a lot like goulash. It was very meatified and would have been wonderful with red beans instead of so much meat. But it was fantastic with the beer, probably because, as Claudia said, they make it with beer. And the rustic beer bread was fab! This was truly a beer fest in every sense!

So we kept up our plan for appealing to the tap tenders to give us two stamps for one beer, or for a bottle or for nothing. Here’s an update of the stamps. I think we had about six each at this point:

Not that we didn’t drink a few beers along the way, just not as much as we thought we might have to!

Some scenes from around the square throughout the day:


This inn is named after the famous German mathematician, Adam Riese (pronounced “REEzah), who was born in the same year Columbus sailed for the New World. There is a saying in Germany when you are calculating something and believe it’s correct: “Two times two is four (or whatever), according to Adam Riese.” Claudia told me he was born in this house that is now the inn.


We continued our plan until we each had nine stamps. I think James and I shared maybe 3 or 4 beers in total. So we just had one more to go and that was the Thomann Brewery from a little town called Wiesen. The name of the town in German means “meadow” in English, which charms me. They had the most high-tech beer truck:

We waited about an hour before we went there because, really, could anyone drink ten beers from 10:00 to noon? Even two people? So we waited til 1:00pm!

The brewery people were very surprised. They asked how we felt. “Veeerrry gooooood!” said James, and we all had a laugh. They were slightly incredulous but not in a bad way. They told us we were the first to get diplomas that day, at least as far as they knew. They were thrilled that Americans were participating, which I love. The guy made his wife write our names on the diplomas “since her writing is prettier.” Instead of trying to spell our names, we just showed her our Florida drivers’ licenses.

Don’t you love the family in the beer stand? They were great! That’s hops strung along the top there above our heads. Note the last beer in my left hand. Photo by Claudia.

Earning a Beer Diploma wasn’t enough for James. He still tried one last beer (post-graduate work?) because it was so dark he wanted to see what it tasted like. And it really wasn’t that strong, considering the color. Not nearly as strong as the Rauchbier (smoke beer) here in Bamberg:

I wasn’t really buzzed until after I drank the last beer. But it was then that Claudia invited us to climb the town watchtower, one of four originals remaining after a fire and some wartime activities back in the 40’s. So we did. It wasn’t too bad, considering I’d drank beer and it was pretty hot that day.

Here are some of the shots:

They had an art show by some school children on display in the tower that day. Claudia also told me they use the ground floor for community theater and other events.





You can see Staffelberg in the distance from this window:

The red metal plate just outside this window is the back of the clock; we were on the top level. Claudia told us that the birds’ nest behind the clock was a falcon nest from a family that had taken up residence there a couple of  years ago. After the fledglings left, people screened off the nest area but they left the nest materials. Interesting, yeah?

So after our climb and goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, James and I made our way back to the train station. Claudia pointed out a more scenic route than the street we’d taken to the square. There were even trout in the stream!

So there you are! I think I could consider my Beer Diploma like one of those diplomas you can get online; not one from a real beer university or anything. But I wouldn’t trade the experience and fun for anything in the world. It’s amazing what you get back when you express a little interest in your students’ lives and cultures.

My sincerest thanks to “Claudia,” to the rest of my students for educating me about their local area, and to everyone we encountered that day that made it such a fantastic story to tell! Prost!
Photo for No Apparent Reason:


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5 Responses

  1. Cyndie

    Oh what fun! I think you two could have probably handled all the beer if you'd had too, but thank goodness they gave you a break! When do you go for your graduate degree????

  2. ralph

    Beer and steak for breakfast? That'll put some lead in your pencil, I'm sure. A great tour of a wonderful, small German town…ralph

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