Rock Star Guides: Europe
When it comes to the question of who serves Europe's best brew, the debates can rage on endlessly. But there's one irrefutable fact that Germany can be proud of: The city that imbibes the most beer per capita in Europe happens to be Munich.
Yep, a shocking revelation: Who would have thought that the home of the world's biggest beer festival (Oktoberfest), home of Europe's most legendary beer hall (Hofbrauhaus) and a city full of beer gardens would hold that distinction?
During Oktoberfest, the only thing harder than finding a hotel room in Munich is finding a local without a stein in hand and a smile on his face. For 2 weeks (from the end of September through October), the cosmopolitan city becomes overrun with a diverse, beer-lovin' crowd. You'll come across herds of tour groups, wide-eyed college kids and wide beer bellies that all make the yearly pilgrimage.
Like-minded revelers can make year-round pilgrimages to the town's famed beer hall Hofbrauhaus, which gives patrons a chance to sample Oktoberfest on a smaller scale. Here they can hunker down either on outdoor benches or indoors with the oompah band. Wherever they choose to sit, they'll find the same frantic scene of waiters and waitresses whizzing by the tables -- half a dozen steins in each hand -- and a large number of tourists overestimating their tolerance.
Much of the country's lifeblood flows in various hues of amber, orange and dark reds but we all know them by their famous monikers: Spaten, Franziskaner and Becks. Just like the association between Stella and Belgium, Heineken and Holland, and Molson and Canada, Becks may be the most recognized name in German beer, but it isn't the best -- at least to locals and connoisseurs. There are plenty of other smaller, independent breweries that have garnered a well-deserved cult following for years. Downing liter steins of Weissbier may not be for everyone and Munich provides incredible alternatives to the popular form of binge drinking. It comes in the form of unique, and sometimes kitschy, clubs like the cheerfully anachronistic Atomic Cafe. One night you'll find retro-Depression-era scenesters twisting and flapping to old, scratchy '20's records while on other nights they'll go hi-fi and twist and shout to the golden oldies. Cutting edge rock and indie prevails most nights, however, where they sink back into the cushy chairs and sofas sprinkled around the colorful space.
Munich, together with its younger, free-spirited and tattooed sibling, Berlin, is the best 1-2 punch in Western Europe. East Berlin in particular is a venerable breeding ground for the innovative and creative. Everywhere you look there's an ultra-modern art gallery showcasing the newest and brightest sculptors (see Tacheles, an art collective, and its surrounding community on Oranienburger Strasse) or an industrial-themed bar opening to maddening hype. The vibe is contagious and it naturally trickles down to the city's nightspots (bear witness to Magnet, and its unrivaled sound system). Try as they might, other European cities can't hold a flame to Berlin's vitality and party scene.