It's nearly June and my thoughts have turned, as they seem to at this time of year, to umbrella tables.
This is the time when Europe moves outdoors and thousands of them - maybe even millions - are sprouting all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland. From early mornings through the long evenings when there is still light in the sky at 10pm, they are the center of Europe's daily life. For millions every day they are the breakfast, lunch and/or dinner table - and, of course, a favored place to drink beer, which, by the way, is another topic occupying my thoughts, and not just at this time of year.
In my brain, you see, is a slide projector. Up there also is a screen. The slides are almost continuously projected on to the screen. The problem is I have no control over the projector. It selects slides at random. Oddly enough, one of its favorites right now is of a glistening half-liter glass of a deep golden liquid with a frothy white top. The glass sits on a red and white checkered cloth and displays an inscription in gold. It says Budvar.
There are other slides. In one, what's in the glass is a bit paler and in the background are snow covered mountains. In another, the liquid is very dark and the wooden table on which it sits has what appears to be names, dates and initials carved deeply into it.
Well, I won't bore you with more slides. Anyway some of them are not for family viewing (remember, the projector has a mind of its own; I cannot tell it what to show).
So between the slides and umbrella tables I have been dwelling lately on how good it is to be in Europe and to stop occasionally when the spirit moves and have a beer. In fact, on a short plane ride up the coast last week I made a list of my favorite places to have a beer in Europe.
To nondrinkers, I first salute your intelligence and then tell you that most of my favorite places work just as well as soft drink destinations.
So, without further palaver and in no particular order, here are some great places to have a beer...or two.
• Gasthof Fraundorfer Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Ludwigstr. 24, D-82467, tel. +49/08821/9270, fax 92799) One of the most gemütlich inns in all of Germany. Make advance dinner reservations and stay until the locals start showing up about 9:30pm. Huge helpings of good Bavarian food. Freidl plays the accordion and sings Bavarian folk tunes.
• Budvar Brewery Ceske Budejovice. Czech Republic. The best beer in the world in a pleasant atmosphere. Excellent food at astonishingly low prices.
• Hotel Forsthaus Graseck (Graseck 10, D-82467, tel. +49/08821/54006., fax 55700) Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The hotel, reachable only by cable car, is no longer recommend for overnights, but find a spot on the terrace to watch the hikers returning from the trails and enjoy the wonderful view of the rugged Wetterstein range.
• Augustiner Gastätten (Neuhauser Str. 27, D-80331, tel. +49/089/23183257. fax 2913054) Munich. In summer, sit in the inner courtyard and drink the city's best beer while tucking away a plate of the city's best brewery grub.
• Englischer Garten Munich. In good weather, the Chinese Tower in Munich's wonderful city park attracts thousands of Müncheners. Beer is served by the Makrug, a full liter, so if you're not alone you might consider sharing. Even if you're drinking apple juice, the setting is idyllic and the scene fascinating.
• The Prater Vienna. The sometimes weird and wild amusement park is definitely worth a visit. It's also a prime people watching venue while quaffing a Gösser Bier from Styria.
• Smutny, (Elisabethstrasse 8) Vienna. Order the Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell, in this authentic old-world Beisl. Check out the tile work and the light fixtures.
• Zeughauskeller Bahnhofstrasse 28, Zürich. One of the great dining rooms of Europe. Order a Stange (Swiss-German for a short beer). You might be seated next to a farmer or a billionaire financier - in Switzerland there's less difference between the two than you might think.
• Ewige Lampe, (Niebuhrstr. 11a, tel./fax +49/030/324 3918) Berlin. Friendly neighborhood blues and jazz joint. The music is first-rate and the beer inexpensive.
• Brauereiausschank Schlenkerla (Dominikanerstr. 6, tel. +49/0951/56060) Bamberg, Germany. This town is said to have more breweries per capita than any city in Germany, ergo, the world. One of them is this cozy spot. The catch is that what they brew is called Rauch Bier or smoky beer. It is said to taste like liquid ham and takes a little getting used to.
Of course, this is only a partial list. There are many more slides.
In August we gave a strong recommendation to the Restaurant Beograd (Schikanedergasse 7, tel. +43/01/5887/7444) in Vienna. I am virtually certain that this inexpensive, atmospheric little spot is owned, operated and, at least in part, patronized by Serbs. Like most people in business they are probably happy to see any customer as long as they can pay their bill. However, given the current times - and this is only a guess - right now Americans may not be among their most favored patrons.
If anyone has been there within the past few months I would appreciate some feedback. RHB