Hofbräuhaus: Food for Thought

My German study abroad experience ended with a bang at the Hofbräuhaus restaurant in Berlin. Six of us had made the journey from Columbia, Missouri to Germany, and after six action-packed weeks of learning and exploring, we wanted some traditional German food and beer for our final night together. The Hofbräuhaus, a brewery chain stemming from Munich, seemed like the perfect place to have one last dinner with the professor who had accompanied us on the trip. Little did I know, our experience could have been replicated back home in the U.S.

The Mizzou Crew at the Berlin Hofbräuhaus. Credit: Rachel Wittel

The Mizzou Crew at the Berlin Hofbräuhaus. Credit: Rachel Wittel

Our joy-filled final night at the Hofbräuhaus began with a delicious traditional meal. We all ordered the “Schweinehaxe mit Kartoffelknödel” (pork knuckle and potato dumplings) and a “Maβ” (liter of beer). We were served by women wearing “Dirndl” (a traditional German dress) and sat at long wooden tables.

Schweinehaxe mit Kartoffelknödel

Schweinehaxe mit Kartoffelknödel

Imagine my surprise when I see the Hofbräuhaus while walking down the street in New York City last week. Yes, there are Hofbräuhaus restaurants in the U.S. as well. Yes, our supposedly “special” last night in Germany wasn’t that special after all.

Hofbräuhaus NYC

Hofbräuhaus NYC

In 1589, the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V.’s, household decided that the beer brewed in Munich just wasn’t good enough. He recruited a master brewer to come up with a new formula and the Hofbräuhaus was eventually born. Yes, you read that right. The chain restaurant we enjoyed a Maβ at stems back to the 1500s.

Today there are Hofbräuhaus restaurants around the world, from Shanghai to Las Vegas. Where did the fascination begin? The atmosphere the restaurant provides doesn’t reflect modern Germany. It doesn’t even reflect modern Bavaria. It’s a journey back in time, specifically to southern Germany. It’s interesting that such a specific time and place in history continues to be romanticized, and not just in Germany, but around the world.

The German chain restaurant that has made it big around the world doesn’t simply offer German food – it offers the German “experience.” Dirndls, traditional music, the works. Anyone can go out and buy a piece of pizza without being slapped in the face with Italian history. Why isn’t it the same for German food? I may not have the answer, but it’s definitely food for thought.