Forchheim isn't just one of those charming Franconian towns that dominate the area between Bamberg and Nuremburg. It is though, like many, picture postcard pretty, but in addition it has great interest to the beer traveller as the home of no less than four breweries. But we aren't here for the beer - well not entirely. We are here to watch the unveiling of the Town Hall Advent Calendar window. The venerable Rathaus uses its many windows as the Schönster Adventskalender der Welt
(“World’s Loveliest Advent calendar”). And, lit up with Christmas lights, in a fairy tale setting, it is indeed lovely. A decent sized Christmas Market, the inevitable mulled wine and bratwurst stands, an easy going and expectant crowd and a small funfair all add to the feeling of bonhomie - or rather gemütlichkeit. The fairly large crowds, jostle for views in that polite but determined German way. There are happy children snaking around the stand up tables and there is even beer - not as common as you might suppose at Christmas Markets in Germany. No rip off prices here either, with a half litre of local pils at €2 and 50 cents back when you return the bottle. There was a band too and an over cheerful MC who attempted to whip the crowd into a frenzy. At the appointed time, spotlighted from another building, a local schoolgirl, dolled up to the nines, opened the appropriate Rathaus window, waved to the crowd and made a charming speech to much good natured applause. The air was full of sizzling sausages, wine, donuts, pizza and Christmas cheer. In the cold, crisp December air, it was just perfect.
But man does not live by such bucolic scenes alone. We made our way to one of my favourite hostelries for proper beer. The pub and brewery, Brauerei Neder
, is typically German. Seemingly small on the outside, but with a Tardis like interior. The side door to the main room was locked, so we made our way through the noisy corridor where it seemed everyone was smoking furiously and probably illegally, to the far door where we fought our way in. We were immediately taken in hand by the female server, who said one word: "Zwo?"
I nod and she snakes her way through the throng to the front of the pub and orders a group of drinkers to make room. They do and we are told where to sit - edged against the locked door with a perfect view of the beer servery and the whole room. A prime spot. Two beers are brought without further ado. Broadly in the kellerbier style, totally delicious and a mere €1.90 a pop.
Outside it is cold, but inside it is steamingly warm. A couple of accordion playing dudes are giving Deutsche Blasmusik their all, while the crowd - some of them at least - sing along, or tap their tables enthusiastically. Along the front of the pub, which somehow seems like the back wall, a group are playing Skat - or it could be Schafkopf, both of which are popular German card games of impenetrable rules, that, whichever it is, involve a lot of noisy shouting and table thumping. Some play and others bawl encouragement or derision at the players from the sidelines. They compete happily with the accordionists and nobody seems to care. In the midst of all this good natured chaos, our matronly saviour slaps down half litre stone pots of beer as soon as an empty one is laid on its side - the signal from the thirsty that another is required. She is kept very busy. Our tablemates, by now used to our presence, nod to us. Another one arrives and squeezes in, tapping with his knuckles on the table at our position. The unspoken greeting of Franconia.
We look at the crowd and having been there before, the odd face starts to look familiar. There are some, shall we say, rather individual types in this town that aren't easily forgotten. One or two raise their steins to us and we beam back. I'm watching the mystifying card game when E nudges me. "I've pulled!"
An elderly gent smiles and winks at her. She smiles and toasts him. It is harmless fun. And great fun it is too. Soon we are lucky enough to hear a song we know on the squeeze box. Along with the crowd we roar out "Eins Zwei Zuffa"
. This is more commonly sung in the Hobraühaus
in Munich and here the words are adapted to be local, but we know the tune and sort of know the words, so we sing. It is so German, so Franconian and just a sheer pleasure to be a small part of it. We are the only two there that aren't local, yet we feel welcome. And happy. My stein is placed on its side more than once. This beer slips down easily.
All too soon though the musical duo cease their merry din. The set and indeed the act is over. I come across them at the back, when going for a pee. Now off duty, but still with their instruments strung across their chests as if ready to swing back into action, they are knocking back the same beer as everyone else, young or old, male or female. That's just how it is. We look on this interlude as a cue to depart, though we don't go far. Almost next door is Brauerei Hebendanz
where there is a much more sedate crowd, but again, no obvious seats. We are once more taken in hand by the Boss. He finds us a corner and brings us, unbidden, two beers. We sup contentedly and are nodded to cheerily by our table companions.
Social inclusion. That's the secret to it all. Even when you aren't obviously part of it, you are.
Forchheim is on the main Nuremburg - Bamberg rail line. It is about 20 odd minutes from Bamberg and half an hour from Nuremberg.
We also chalked up the only brewery I hadn't visited before as it has always been closed, Brauerei Eichhorn, but that was early doors and it was almost empty.