Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Biergarten Community

One thing I loved so much about Germany were the biergartens. Not because I like beer or anything. I'm not a beer-loving gal at all. But I loved it for the community it created.

Everywhere we walked in the cities and towns, there were plazas and gardens and open spaces full of tables and chairs. There were umbrellas to cover people from the sun, and blankets on the backs of chairs in case it was cold. There was usually at least a small stand where you could buy something to drink, and often there were waiters who produced menus and food, often from seemingly nowhere.

Maybe it was the World Cup that brought the people out. Every biergarten had a ginormous TV set up, and if there was a game playing, you could hear the mosquito buzz of the horns all the way down the cobblestone path. Sometimes there were long picnic-like tables that people shared whether they knew each other or not. Sometimes they were small tables that were crammed in so tight you couldn't NOT get to know your fellow lingerers.

The point was, everywhere we went, there were dozens of places for people to gather. People who didn't know each other. Places where, on your way from one place to another, you could stop for a minute and sit down. Where you could smile at someone and chat over a game or a drink or the sun peeking through the clouds for the first time in Spring.

We don't have that in America. At least, not anywhere I've lived. There are the occasional restaurants who put out patio furniture when the weather turns nice, but even there... well, we Americans like our own space. And we rarely have time to linger. Maybe on a Friday night, but certainly not at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

As such, we live in these bubble worlds, many of us traveling place to place by car, hardly touching other lives and being plenty glad of it.

We are in a rush. We don't have time to stop in the middle of the day on our way from point A to point B to have a drink or eat a pretzel, catch some conversation, enjoy the weather. We are working, carpooling, commuting, shopping; we are shuffling kids from activity to activity, barely keeping our heads above water sometimes, no time for real friendships.

The internet has become our biergarten. Blogs and Twitter and Facebook. I like these things because they are all we have left of the community gathering places. They are the only places here left of random meetings of people you don't know who take a minute to sit and chat and get to know you over lunch, even if it is across continents. You can share news updates and cheer for your team and pass along funny tidbits. It makes us feel connected to something larger than the bubble we live in.

Still, I miss the biergartens. I miss happening upon one in the middle of the day, an agenda a mile long, and saying, I think I'll sit for just a sec and catch a coke and enjoy the sun before rushing on to finish the rest of my to-do list. Somehow a computer just isn't the same.


  1. I wish we live a life where I didn't have to work and could hang out and chill at 2 on a Wednesday. I guess that's why they give us vacation :)

    This was a great post. World Cup + German biergartens would be awesome.

  2. Nothing like a trip to Europe to make you realize how rarely we Americans linger. As if we can truly appreciate life when we're always in a frenzy to DO something!

  3. So true. When I used to travel to small towns for my job, there would be a different comradeship in the air, even in the local 7 Eleven. (not sure if you have those where you live!) When I lived in the Capital of the Yukon, it was generally too cold to linger outside, but grocery shopping was a social event for me. People seemed more connected in both places. I grew as person, but now in the city, I do find myself turtling again. I wonder how to change that? Good post. And glad you had a nice time in Europe.

  4. paul - me too!! I asked our guide what everyone was doing sitting around at two in the afternoon. He looked at me like I was crazy.

    The world cup and biergartens were awesome. Nothing like it!

  5. In Italy they had Riposo from 12-3. Everything shut down. At first it was rather annoying, but then I grew to appreciate this time. It was the hottest time of day and so everyone would close up shop, gas stations, and restaurants. Mandatory rest time. Then the after noon was to finish up lingering tasks and on to the night life. In the evenings people could be founds everywhere, sipping wine and enjoying the company of friends & strangers. One of the things we also miss about Europe.