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Munich delicacies: curious stories

Things you didn’t know about Weißwurst, Radler and the beer purity law.

Weißwurst – that pale veal sausage – is just as much part of Munich as the Oktoberfest and St. Peter’s Church. But fact is also that the average local knows a lot more about the city’s famous landmarks than about the (more amusing) stories on how the beer purity law, the Radler or the ultimate Bavarian snack – the Weißwurst – came about. A disgraceful state, which needs to be remedied immediately.

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The beer purity law – a historical narcotics act

23 April 1516 is a holy date for beer enthusiasts. On this day, the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm IV, issued the beer purity law, which is still valid today. Back then, beer purity laws were nothing new – almost every town had one, and the people of Munich had already determined in 1447 that “their” beer should only contain barley, hops and water. What was new about this law was that it also regulated the prices, and not just for Munich but for the whole of Bavaria. So far, so good, you may think. But what does the central law of the art of brewing have to do with drugs?

This is easily explained: back then, it was common practice to add things like henbane, marsh Labrador tea, opium poppy, nutmeg, belladonna or absinthe to beer – i.e. psychoactive substances. So, after a Maß (one litre of beer), people were in some cases not just a little tipsy, but had to deal with a full-on trip. Thanks to the beer purity law, this side effect could finally be eliminated.

Of cyclists and Russians

The common practice of mixing beer with sugary lemonade, however, has a completely different origin. The most famous mixed beer drink, the Radler (we would like to emphasise here that a mix of wheat beer with lemonade is called Radler in Bavaria – not, like in other parts of Germany, Alster, Alsterwasser, Potsdamer and certainly not Stange!), is said to have been invented in an emergency that occurred at the “Kugleralm” near Deisenhofen. The landlord, Franz Xaver Kugler, a man with an open mind to modern business practices, wanted to maximise the profit of his little pub and appeal to a new target group.

His new target group, he decided, should be cyclists (German: Radler). Cycling was already a popular sport in Bavaria, and in their free time, people liked to whizz through the countryside on their elegant, two-wheeled contraptions. In 1922, the landlord had a cycling path built through the forest and all the way to the “Kugleralm”. On the first Saturday in June, or so it is said, approximately 13,000 thirsty cyclists arrived. The landlord had not reckoned with so many people. Afraid that he would run out of beer, he suddenly remembered the many bottles of lemonade in his cellar. So, Kugler simply began mixing the beer with lemonade – the Radlermaß was born!

However, the Russenmaß was the result of a real revolution: after the end of WWI, workers’ and soldiers’ councils from the November Revolution occupied the wheat beer brewery Mathäser near Stachus. In these boozy headquarters, their full bearded leader, Kurt Eisner, proclaimed the Free State of Bavaria. To remain sober enough to defend their base, the Red Army soldiers mixed their wheat beer with lemonade. Due to their connections to the Russian communists, the “Reds” were also referred to as “Russians” – hence the name Russenmaß for their mixed beer drink.

This is where the fun ends: the 1st beer riots in Bavaria

Did you know? The favourite drink of the natives of Munich once caused riots. In 1844, when Ludwig I raised the price of beer by one penny, the people of Munich had had enough, and the 1st beer riots kicked off. Around 2000 citizens went rampaging through town and stormed the breweries. Even the military could not stop them, because the soldiers simply refused orders. So, just a few days later, the King had to take back the price hike. And the moral of the story is: don’t mess with the people of Munich when it comes to beer!

The Weißwurst or Bavarian haute cuisine

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One of the best Munich legends concerns the famous Bavarian delicacy: the Weißwurst. Just like the Radler, it is said to have been invented as a desperate measure. At the pub “Zum ewigen Licht” on Marienplatz, the landlord Sepp Moser was running low on sheep's intestines to make veal bratwurst. But the apprentice, whom he had sent out to buy new ones, brought back the much tougher and larger pigs’ intestines. In his desperation (in Munich, you should not just be wary of thirsty, but also of hungry locals – as everyone who has ever worked in gastronomy knows), Moser filled the intestines with sausage meat anyway and boiled the sausages in water, because he feared the pigs’ intestines would burst when fried. His guests loved the white sausage, and Munich had a new delicacy.

(Teaser photo: Timmmmmmm,; beer: siegertmarc,; Weißwurst: Herr Bert,