Experience Germany Like a Local

© 2015-2017 Polar Bear Studio LLC, All images unless otherwise noted, text, and website design, all rights reserved.
Disclosure: Please note that some links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase.
If you would like to support this website in some way, using these links will help do exactly that.

Why is Ordering Water in a German Restaurant Such a Culture Shock?

Why is Ordering Water in a German Restaurant Such a Culture Shock

The waitress looked at me perplexed, and sputtered “I could add salt? That would take the bubbles away.”

My face scrunched up involuntarily. Wait, what? Salt? The bubbles may be gone, but then I’d be drinking salt water?! Sebastian intervened in German, and the waitress returned with a really fancy glass bottle of water. Great, I thought, I probably just added 3 Euros to the bill when I’d have been happy with water straight from the tap.

I quickly learned the hard way that ordering water in German restaurants would be complicated. In the U.S., you order water and without further instruction you’ll get a glass at least 1/4 full of ice, and then water either straight out of the tap, perhaps through a filter first, or not. Over the years I’ve learned different U.S. cities’ water tastes different. But, no matter the city, water is free, and it's the same water that comes out of the sink that you wash the dishes with, the same water that you shower in.

It's safe to say most Germans prefer water with some form of carbonation. If you order water, you’re going to be immediately questioned how much gas, or how bubbly would you like your water. I definitely suggest that you try it, but it is a very different water experience. No matter the amount of gas, I can’t bring myself to take more than a sip.

Why Is Tap Water Inconceivable in a German Restaurant?

This culture shock for Americans is a complicated tradition. I assure you that German tap water is perfectly, absolutely safe. We’re talking German engineering and plumbing here. It's safe, and likely better for you if you’re concerned how long the water has been sitting in plastic.

So, could it be the verbiage itself? In English, the word ‘tap’ is related to several other positive things such as beer and soda that is ‘on tap’. In German, the word for tap water is Leitungswasser, which literally means pipe water. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want that either. They need a better word!

But, it's maybe not all in a name. Restaurant owners bank on their guests ordering drinks where they can make a higher profit margin. When you order tap water, it appears as though you’re a horrible penny-pincher, and the restaurant will be lucky to break even with your order.

If You Feel the Same About Bubbly Water, Here’s What I Do

I’ve learned to be weary of even no-gas water, as often the added minerals tastes equally as bad to my very Americanized water palate. However, I’ve had good luck with the French bottled water brands Vittel and Volvic. We’ve gotten in the habit of ordering Vittel outright in restaurants, that way if they don’t have it the server will usually tell you what the alternatives are, giving the opportunity to switch to soda if you have to. Otherwise, if you order just still water you may end up with one of the mineral water brands that have the mineral taste. I tend to order more coffee and soda than I do in the States, surprisingly. Although it's not as healthy I feel more confident I know what I’m getting when I’m already exhausted and thirsty from walking all over the town.

While exploring cities, I pack my S’well water bottle in the morning, filled with refrigerated tap water. The bottle keeps water cold for 24 hours and I use my S’well bottle all year at home, too. In Florida I can leave the bottle in the car, where the temperatures get to be over a hundred degrees inside on a hot day, and when I get back, even while the exterior of the bottle is hot, the water is still refrigerator cold. It's magical! Before I discovered S’well, we were going through plastic bottles like crazy, and then carrying the empty ones around all day in order to get our pfand returned. Learn more about pfand in our earlier post here.

If you're interested, this is the S'well bottle I have, in the Supernova design. It changes colors depending on the lighting, (affiliate link):

Follow Along

If you enjoyed this article, or these topics sound interesting to you, you'll love our weekly newsletter. You'll receive a free Germany Packing list for signing up, and you'll receive each week's newest posts every Friday. Thank you for reading!


500 Years of Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law

What does Reinheitsgebot have to do with my beer?! A brief history of the beer purity law by Tourist is a Dirty Word Germany Travel Blog

In the 16th century, one beer could be your last.

The Bavarian Duke William IX was justly concerned that beer was frequently contaminated with sawdust and even poisonous plants. He and his brother Duke Ludwig X enacted the famous decree now known as the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law, on April 23rd, 1516 in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. The law was introduced as a Landesverordnung (State Act) in Bavaria.

With a regulating purity law in place, citizens would be protected from low-quality and potentially lethal beer. Since water supplies were often polluted at the time, people preferred to drink beer as a safer alternative, thanks to its fermentation process. In honor of its 500 year anniversary this weekend, Denise and I wanted to bring you up to speed!

In 1918 it was called Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) for the first time. The purity law requires that, “nothing other than barley, hops and water be used” to produce beer. Yeast was the fourth ingredient added to the purity law, but not until the 19th century when scientists discovered the fermenting agent. After the German unification in 1871, Bavaria demanded the introduction of the law all over the country. The Reinheitsgebot expanded to other parts of Germany in 1906.

How does U.S. beer fit into the law?

The German Beer Purity Law was an early food safety regulation, but there was no equal law ever created in the United States. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would never approve a brewer producing an unsafe product, they also do not forbid the use of non-traditional ingredients in beer. Today many American microbreweries and large beer companies experiment with different grains like rice or corn and infuse the beer with coffee beans, honey or different fruits. This progress showed that beer does not have to be a light-yellow, slightly bubbly, bitter-tasting beverage but that it can have a wide variety of flavors while still being a quality beer.

Beer Purity Today

German breweries today continue to use only the four natural ingredients mentioned in the Reinheitsgebot to create over 40 different types of beer, for example Alt beer in Westphalia and the city of Düsseldorf or Kölsch in the city of Cologne area. And while it is legal to import beers into Germany that are brewed with different grains and even treated with chemicals for a longer shelf life, most Germans still take pride in their ‘pure’ beer. And the large beer companies continue to use the slogan that their beer was brewed in accordance with the German Beer Purity Law from 1516 because it serves for a great marketing phrase.

Happy Anniversary Reinheitsgebot!

Have a beer this Saturday to celebrate and let us know in the comments, which German beer is your all-time favorite.

Follow Along

If you enjoyed this article, or these topics sound interesting to you, you'll love our weekly newsletter. You'll receive a free Germany Packing list for signing up, and you'll receive each week's newest posts every Friday. Thank you for reading!

Bonus Resources

• Video If you have 2 minutes and want to learn even more about the German Beer Purity Law, make sure to watch this video from Deutsche Welle TV:

• Listen to the podcast episode "One People, Many Sausages" that mentions the Reinheitsgebot, by BBC Radio 4, Germany: Memories of a Nation

• Read More on the homepage for the 500 year anniversary celebratory page Reinheitsgebot, maintained by the German Brewers Association. We also found the stock images necessary for our Title image collage thanks to them! The source images are shared on their flickr account Brauer-bund with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

500 year anniversary celebratory page Reinheitsgebot, maintained by the German Brewers Association


Things You Might Not Know About the Hofbrauhaus in Munich

Things you may not know about the Hofbräuhaus, Munich • Tourist is a Dirty Word Germany Travel Blog

This place is packed, we are never going to find an open table.

Scanning the room for a place to sit, or a hostess, we wandered through half of the Hofbräuhaus, stressed waitresses passing us with plates of food and glasses full of beer. We knew we wanted a taste of everything on those trays. At a loss, I stopped one of the waitresses near the tables, and I politely asked her how to find a table.

I knew the answer, you simply had to ask someone already sitting at the table, or wait for someone to leave, but I was not in the mood for either. The waitress smiled at me, then shouted towards the patrons on a nearby table to huddle together and make space for our group of four. This was going to be comfy! And it was.

Hofbräuhaus History and Folk Tales

The Hofbräuhaus is the oldest beer hall in Munich, and self-proclaimed 'The most famous tavern in the world”. On September 27, 1589, the Duke of Bavaria founded a brewery on the site of the Munich royal residence of that time, which lasted until 1808. The Duke preferred a dark, malty beer, while his son Maximilian favored Weissbier, which means 'white beer' in German. In the United States the white beer brew is usually found under the name Hefeweizen.

The brewery of the Duke kept brewing only the dark beer variant, which resulted in Maximilian building his own brewery in 1607. In the beginning the beer hall was filled with brewing equipment, which was later moved and more than 1000 guests can find a seat in the beer hall of the Hofbräuhaus today. About half of the visitors are regulars, the other half tourists. And legend has it, that one of the 1000 guests is actually an angel – based on the folk tale “Ein Münchner im Himmel”.

It tells the story of Alois Hingerl, a porter on Munich’s central station, who dies and goes to heaven. But Alois does not like heaven with all the singing and worshiping all day long, irritating other angels around him that he wants to go back to Munich. After fussing for a while, God decides to send him on a mission back to earth, delivering an important message to the Bavarian government. Alois Hingerl takes off and ends up in the Hofbräuhaus instead of delivering the message. He orders a beer, and another one, and based on the folklore story, still sits there at one of the tables to this day while the Bavarian government is patiently waiting for heavenly advice to come their way. The TV Channel Bayrischer Rundfunk made a comic based on the story, you can see the video here, starting with Alois flying back to Munich with a letter in his hand:

Hofbräuhaus Beer Stein Lockers

With Alois Hingerl always being around in spirit and many Munich regulars visiting, the Hofbräuhaus caters to them by providing over 400 tankard lockers. That way you do not have to take your beer glass home every time. However, the limited amount of lockers translates into a long wait list - just in case you were toying with the idea of getting yourself a personal locker there. List wait times can be several years, many lockers are handed down from generation to generation.

Getting a Table at Hofbräuhaus, Munich

Besides the local crowd you will find a lot of tourists there, too. The central location, good food, overall typical Bavarian atmosphere complete with live band and waitresses wearing dirndls, is a magnet for many. You will find most tables full of people. You can either ask a waitress if she knows where open spaces are or look around yourself and ask those sitting at half-empty tables, “Ist hier frei?”, which means “is this spot taken?” Don’t be shy! If you cannot find a place inside, check the beer garden area outside with another 400 seats - weather permitting of course.

Sing-a-long Time

You did not walk into the set of a musical. Public singing is perfectly normal at the Hofbräuhaus. Chime in with the live band that plays several times per hour. They usually play...

“In München Steht ein Hofbräuhaus”

OR “Ein Prosit”....

so you can practice before you go.

If you have been to the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, let us know how your visit went. And if you plan on going there and have a question, let us know, too. Just leave us a comment below this post.

Follow Along

If you enjoyed this article, or these topics sound interesting to you, you'll love our weekly newsletter. You'll receive a free Germany Packing list for signing up, and you'll receive each week's newest posts every Friday. Thank you for reading!


Hofbräuhaus, Munich • Be prepared to sing along with everyone in the restaurant! • Tourist is a Dirty Word Germany Travel Blog


Show more posts about traveling in Germany

Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler