August 08, 2023

Beer, Identity, and Place

Karen sternheimer 72523By Karen Sternheimer

I recently visited what is arguably the beer capital of the world, Munich, Germany. I’m not a beer drinker, even casually, but the cultural meanings people create surrounding beer interest me. Through many ads and signs, it was clear that part of what beer makers advertise is its connection to a particular place.

First, a brief history: Munich, called München in German, literally translates to “Monks” in English. Augustinian Monks brewed beer at least as far back as the fourteenth century, as the alcohol made safer to drink than water. Claims that the first brewery was near Munich help solidify the historical connection, and of course Oktoberfest, a two-week long festival each fall that celebrates beer (among other things) continues the tradition.

So, the city’s identity has been intertwined with beer for centuries. Munich is of course not the only region known for beer, but I observed this connection between beer and place many times during my visit.

As you can see in the images above (taken during one of my favorite cultural experiences: going to a grocery store!) each brand of beer connects with place: mostly München, but occasionally Bayern (Bavaria in english, the German state of which Munich is the capitol). Kulmbacher, pictured below, includes an image of a monk, and the type of beer, Mönchshof, translates to mean monastery. If you look carefully at the bottle in the picture, it says “Hell” on the label and the neck. This is not a moral commentary: in German, hell means light, so it is a light beer. The region is known for Weissbier, or wheat beer (the translation is white beer), which is, not surprisingly, a light beer.

Monchshof Beer image
Neuschwansteiner, the beer pictured below, connects its product to Neuschwanstein Castle, a castle built by King Ludwig II and a major tourist attraction. It is also apparently the castle that inspired Walt Disney, so it has come to represent the fantasy world of princes and princesses in American popular culture. When I told acquaintances that I would be in Munich and also visiting the Bavarian Alps, several people suggested visiting Neuschwanstein. It is one of those places that has come to represent the meaning given to the region by outsiders. (It was more than an hour from where we stayed, so we did not visit, but a castle blog post might be interesting someday….)

Picture5As I walked around during our trip to Munich as well as around Innsbruck, Austria, and smaller Bavarian and Austrian towns, I continued to notice the connection between beer and place. The banner on the restaurant pictured below references King Ludwig, and identifies with place (Königlich Bayerisches Bier means royal Bavarian beer). Interestingly, the banner says “Wir sind wieder für Sie da!” which translates to “We are there for you again!” drawing a personal connection between the beer and its drinker.

Picture6The image below was taken in Innsbruck, but references Stiftskeller a restaurant in Salzburg that is reportedly the oldest restaurant in the world, in operation since the year 803.

Picture7The connection with beer and place is not unique to Germany; Ireland and Belgium are two examples of countries where place is closely connected with beer, and other drinks like whiskey are closely associated with the place of their origin. Wine is named after the grape it comes from, and also often the region where the grape was grown.

As a non-drinker, these links between beer and place somehow appeal to me too. The drink provides a tangible connection between an individual, history, and other people in the past and present. Perhaps this appeal is why I wanted to be sure to go to a biergarten before leaving Germany. On our last night, we ate at Chinesischer Turm within Munich’s English Garden (a massive city park).

Picture9The cafeteria-style restaurant apparently seats something like 7,000 diners at hundreds of picnic tables (pictured below). While it wasn’t too crowded when we were there on a Monday night, there were plenty of people meeting friends, enjoying beer, and eating dinner. This felt like a quintessential Munich experience, with gigantic mugs of beer and traditional Bavarian food. The beer and the food helped mark the place, and connect us to it.

Picture10Photos courtesy of the author


After reading this blog, I agree that beer is connected with many places. It is connected to many places because most beer companies have targeted consumers. So, most of those consumers live around the same area and have similar interests. This blog helped me use sociology because beer connects to places and brings people together. This blog is different from he news because it talks about the background of beer and the connections it has. The news just talks about headlines.

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