Hofbrauhaus & History

Munich: Hofbrauhaus & History – Beer, Culture, & Politics, Jeffery S Gaab. Peter Lang Pub Inc; 1 edition (30 Sep 2006)

This book is well worth a read. It’s not at all about beer and in fact, references to the Hofbrauhaus often seem appended to what is a nice little concise history of modern (post 17th century) Munich. For me it filled in some gaps in the story and development of Munich that I had missed. Particularly the bit about enlightenment Munich and its early development of communal and democratic instincts that I think not unfairly the author claims live on in Munich culture today.

So we are told the story of Benjamin Thompson, an American working as chief privy counsellor under Karl Theodore (1778 to 1799), who introduced the first state-sponsored welfare system, feeding beggars and putting them to work. It was also this American who planned and oversaw the creation of the English Garden, opened officially to the public in 1792 (if only Louis had thought of a nice park to appease his citizens), the worlds first and largest public park. Next Maximillian I (1799 to 1825) abolished serfdom, introduced universal schooling and moderated the penal system. Meanwhile, the beer culture was truly entrenching itself in Munich culture and politics, with the beer garden presented as a great social leveller and impetus for democratic feeling. In short then, Munich bought into the enlightenment more fully and earlier than some.

On the flip side, the book also spends a good deal of time looking at the Nazi story in Munich, also of course intimately connected with beer halls. Here too the book had some interesting insights. Not least the suggestion that Hitler, like many Nazi’s started out his political career as a communist. Many activists took this journey, particularly after the nasty failed communist revolution after the first world war that left many disaffected and revolted with left, as well as massively fearful of it ever after. The suggestion is made that there was something about the mix of radicalism activism and entrenched conservatism in post-war Munich that made it the perfect gestation location for the Nazi movement.

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