If you’re looking for unique German beers or styles, any search engine is going to give you the town of Bamberg, Germany. But what is more, is to actually go there — perhaps just to try the beer. Sure, you could get Schlenkerla Rauchbier by the bottle with a decent prodding around at your local beer specialty store but with something as special as this, you need to try it from the source. That’s exactly what I did.
Bamberg, Germany is located in Bavaria and just a quick train ride away from Nuremberg (also worth the stop if you’re passing through). Once you’re reached this destination, you’re going to find much more than just a unique style of brewing. The Bamberg Old Town is quite a sight to see, so much that the entire town was named a UNESCO world heritage sight. If you get a change to place Bamberg on your Germany itinerary (and it’s pretty much required for any German beer tour) give it a couple days. Bamberg is a place that takes it’s time and is a great stop to settle down the chaos of a European train journey.
In: Bamberg is located in Upper Franconia, a region of what most of us outside Germany only know as Bavaria. Direct express trains run fairly often between Berlin and Munich that stop in Bamberg, but it’s also easily reached from Nuremberg (that’s where I connected through).
Around: Once you’re in the main portion of the town isn’t too far from the train station and most likely, your accommodation isn’t far from that either. The entire town is very walk-able, provided that you are ready to get some exercise and are comfortable climbing hills. If not buses are available. I didn’t notice any cabs outside the train station, but I’m sure a few are around. Perhaps the station attendant can call one.
Stay? I can only recommend one place as it’s where I stayed while in Bamberg, Backpacker’s Bamberg. It’s on the side of town that you’ll arrive on and only a short walk from the breweries and old town. Spezial is “eSpezial’ly” close… yeah, I know that was lame. The entrance to this small hostel is hidden down an alleyway, but there is a sign.
WHAT TO DO?
You’re probably here for the beer right? The two rauchbier (smoked beer) breweries I checked out were Schlenkerla and Spezial. These are definitely the two biggest in Bamberg and if you’re only in town for a short trip, probably the two you will end up in. Both should be experienced as they each have a different vibe, and different takes on rauchbier.
I’ll start with Schlenkerla, the one you might have seen in a bottle somewhere or read about in a blog, cough, cough. This is probably considered the “main rauchbrewery” and definitely has the most draw for tourists. The vibe for most of us in the States would be what closely resembles a small German beer hall meets North Western Lodge. There are deer antlers on the walls! Schlenkerla has a lot of seating areas, from a couple smaller halls, to a beer garden (closed during inclement weather). As for the beer, It’s very wholesome, warming, and dark. I had both the Märzen and the Urböck while I was there. Of the two, if this is your first time trying rauchbier, I’d go for the Märzen as it’s a little lighter. I should note however, that rauchbier for many is an acquired taste. Schlenkerla’s beer is definitely the most smokey and more what American drinkers would associate with a porter. It’s like a campfire-wrapped-bacon-pint of glory. The ambience itslef compliments the beer nicely as it’s a little dingy (in a good way) and kind of dark.
Spezial is on the other side of the river and has a distinct difference from the previous rauchbier. This one is the brewery less traveled, but because of that has a bit of a more genuine flair. You’re going to be served by someone who deals mostly with locals, however I found my server here to be much more friendly and was very excited that this was my first time trying their beer. The ambience in here is pretty simple, a standard Germany beer hall with a picnic table type cloth in the center. There are also antlers on the walls here (bust be a Bamberg thing) and it’s well lit (contrasting Schlenkerla). The beer here also has a much more subtle smokiness to it, however it’s more refreshing and probably a better jumping in point for those not ready for the heavier and stronger Schlenkerla.
Be sure to give them both a try while in Bamberg.
Explore the Old Town:
The Old Town of Bamberg is stunning. Tiny cobblestone streets and flowing rivers only half describe it. The Bamberger Dom (the cathedral) can be found as you start to climb the hill overlooking town. When I was there it was being remodeled, so not as much of a sight to see as I’m sure it would be uncovered. Just further up, you will find the Neue Residenz, a 17th century palace that’s really cool! If you’re legs have let you get this far, you might as well trek to the top and see the Michaelsberg Abbey. There is a small path nearby that offers great views of the city that are a must see! Down at the river, you’ll find the Altes Rathaus. It’s the old town hall that’s perched in the middle of a river. Apparently the bishop didn’t want to provide any of his land for the construction so now we’ve got something unique to see in present day. Thanks Bishop!
Take a Stroll Along the Regnitz:
Walking pretty much anywhere in Bamberg is a treat, you cant go wrong. However, walking along the Regnitz river, or one of the channels cutting through Bamberg and it’s parks can be especially nice. It’s okay to get lost for a bit, you’ll find your way back as it’s not that big of a town.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- Bamberg is very tourist friendly and there are a decent amount of English speakers as a US military base existed on the outskirts up until recently. Most places in the old town will have English menus available upon request, however I recommend eating just outside the center as most of those places will have slightly higher prices.The side of town on the opposite side of the river as old town (which you arrived on) has those kind of options.
- There are not too many fast food type options in the old town, but I never found the prices to be extreme. If you’re really craving something fast food like, there is a McDonalds at the trains station which you most likely arrived at.
- The weather here can be a bit dreary in the winter and spring (it rained almost the entire time I was there) however everything is fairly close together so the weather isn’t going to get in the way. Furthermore, the Rauchbier if very warming so you can always look forward to that.
- If you’re forgotten anything, or in need of toiletries, the DM Markt near the train station is a good fix.