* Blätterwald – literally: “Leafy Woods” or “Page Woods”; synonym for newspapers, press.
On November 30th 1907 Berlin’s newspaper, the “Berliner Börsen-Zeitung”, bemoaned the seemingly unstoppable demise of the city’s once favourite tipple, the Berliner Weißbier. Up to the arrival of Bavarian-type beers, this slightly sour, top-fermented brew used to be the local beverage of choice.
Traditionally served in extra-large but flat glasses, whose handling required use of both hands, this sort of beer was offered in most Berlin bars – or Kneipen – which were licenced to sell no stronger alcoholic beverages like Schnaps (Weißbier is a comparably harmless drink as it contains around 2.8 % alcohol). You mostly found them on the edge of Berlin or even outside the city limits – places like Choriner Straße in Mitte-Prenzlauer Berg (now central Berlin, then outside the city walls) or Lindenstraße in Mitte-Kreuzberg.
The advent of low-fermentation beers from Bavaria – beers which unlike the Berliner Weiße could be stored for a longer time (hence the name “lager” from German lagern) and contained bottom-fermenting yeast – eventually pushed out the top-fermenting sort which used to be brewed in higher temperatures. But not before Napoleon and his troops – a crew whose palates were used to some of the most refined flavours – had a chance to appreciate its taste, calling the drink the “Champagne of the North”. Around 1800 Berlin had around 700 Kneipen serving “the Spree bubbly”.
Today less than ten breweries produce Berliner Weiße and in a city whose veins seem to be pumping beer at any given time of day of night, it has become fiercely difficult to buy the brew. Which is a pity, as loss of a local speciality always is, so let me raise my extra-large and flat glass to the return of Champagne of the North! Prost!