Sunday, October 7, 2012

One night in Rostock

In September 2012 I went on a 2-week long road trip across much of Germany and Austria, in search of good beer, or should I say bier, cozy bierstübls and lively biergartens. This adventurous trip will probably spawn a series of future blog posts, in this first post I will focus on the first stop in Germany - the old Hanseatic League city of Rostock.

Rostock harbor is not as busy as it once was.

The city of Rostock has a long and illustrious history, going back to the 11th century when Polabian Slavs established a settlement named Roztoc - meaning broadening of river - on the lower Warnow river. After being burned to the ground by the troops of Danish king Valdemar I, in 1161, the place was resettled by German traders who Germanized the name to Rostock. 

In the 14th century Rostock joined the Hanseatic league and quickly became one of the most important trade ports on the Baltic sea, sending out ships as far north as Bergen on the west coast of Norway. By the end of the 15th century the dukes of Mecklenburg had managed to enforce their rule on Rostock, and the city lost its independent status.

Because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Baltic sea, across the strait between Denmark and Sweden, Rostock was repeatedly taken during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), both by Danes and Swedes, and later also by the troops of Napoleon.

In the early 20th century Rostock became an important centre for airplane manufacturing, with large factories located in Warnemünde. The first jet plane was actually tested in Rostock. Towards the end of World War Two, Rostock was badly damaged by allied bombing. When the war ended Rostock found itself in the newly formed East Germany, where it got a prominent position as the main port on the Baltic sea. Most of old town was faithfully rebuilt to its pre-war look.

The German reunification in 1990 was the start of a slow decline for Rostock, it lost its importance as a port and trade city to the larger ports in the former West Germany and many people moved west to find jobs. The population in Rostock has fallen from 260,000 in 1986 to about 200,000 today.

Where to go in Rostock
Because I only spent one night in Rostock I didn't get that much time to explore the city or its pubs, but I did visit two lovely places.

View inside Zum Alten Fritz in Rostock.

Down by the old harbor, at Warnowufer 65, one is greeted by a sign pointing the way to "Störtebeker's kneipe", which turns out to be the pub section of Braugasthaus Zum Alten Fritz.

The "Old Fritz" is a charming public house from around the turn of the last millennium, with its own biergarten - seating 200 persons, a large outdoor terrace, the aforementioned pub and a restaurant section seating 173 persons. As I felt for eating something, I sat down in the restaurant. Shiny copper ventilation pipes passes under the vaulted ceiling and low walls, made of red brick stone, section the room into smaller enclaves. A central bar looks like part of a brewery, with shiny copper "kettles" used for decoration in the back.

To my great relief, an inside smoking ban has been in effect at Zum Alten Fritz since January 2012, so it was a joy to smell the food and beer inside, with no distracting smoke. During my visit, they offered five lager beers on draft and six types on bottle - all of them brewed by Störtebeker Braumanufaktur (formerly known as Stralsunder Brauerei) in nearby Stralsund.

The five draft beers:
  1. Pilsener-Bier: This is a 4.9% German pilsener, with a nice hop aroma and a dry, refreshing taste. Quite good actually.
  2. Stralsunder Pils: Another 4.9% pilsener, this one less aromatic and more ordinary.
  3. Schwarz-Bier: This is a 5% schwarzbier, with an elegant malt character. Fairly typical of the style.
  4. Zwickelfritz Hell Naturtrüb: This is a 4.9% unfiltered helles, with fresh, floral hops, a smooth mouthfeel and nice fruit and grass notes in the taste. Very good. 
  5. Zwickelfritz Dunkel Naturtrüb: This is a 5% unfiltered dunkel, with nice sweet and roasted malt notes.
The Zwickelfritz Hell was the most impressive of the draft beers.

Störtebeker Keller-Bier 1402, delicious!

On bottle they had a larger variation in styles, offering both ales and lagers. This is what they had on the menu when I was there:

  1. Bernstein-Weizen: This is a 5.3% German hefeweizen. Fairly ordinary, with banana and spicy yeast flavors.
  2. Roggen-Weizen: This is a 5.4% dunkel hefeweizen brewed with rye, which resulted in a very interesting aroma of fruits and rye bread, but there was a weird phenolic note in the taste.
  3. Stark-Bier: This is a 7.5% baltic porter, smooth, rich and tasty with notes of dark fruits, fresh coffee and chocolate. Yummy.
  4. Keller-Bier 1402: This is a 4.8% kellerbier with a nice floral aroma and flavor of hay, grass and farmyard. Absolutely lovely.
  5. Atlantik-Bier: This is a 5.1% top fermented pale ale, with a lovely American hop character (citra, amarillo). It was just a couple of weeks old, really fresh and tasty.
  6. Hanse-Porter: Supposedly a Baltic porter, but at only 4% it was way too sweet.

Thus, I found much of interest at Zum Alten Fritz and some really enjoyable beers, in particular the Atlantik-Bier and the prize winning Keller-Bier which won Gold at the World Beer Cup 2010 (see pdf). The service was quick and excellent and the food tasty and filling, so I had a great time at the braugasthaus.

Only after returning to Norway did I learn that Zum Alten Fritz is actually a chain of pubs, associated with the Störtebeker brewery, which started up in 1998 and now can be found at four locations across the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Still, the pub in Rostock is worth seeking out if you're spending a night in old town.

This place was actually recommended to us by the friendly bartender at Zum Alten Fritz, when I asked for other places to try good local brews. Brauhaus Trotzenburg is located a bit south west of old town, near the old city zoo, so I ended up taking a taxi - about 10 minutes drive - to Tiergartenalle 6, to check out this place.

The bar area at Brauhaus Trotzenburg in Rostock.

The name "Trotzenburg" is a bit misleading since there never was a burg, German for castle, here. What we know is that an older homestead was turned into a simple tavern in 1839 which slowly turned into a popular restaurant, made even more popular with the opening of a biergarten in 1899. In 1913 the restaurant took the name Trotzenburg, which it kept for the rest of the century. By the end of the 1980s it had fell into disrepair and was in danger of getting demolished, but in 1998 it was purchased by a local investor working together with the Ostsee Brauhaus and in 2001 the place reopened as the Brauhaus Trotzenburg - a modern brewpub.

The interior of the brewpub feels very spacy, with large open rooms under a high ceiling. The furniture and decoration is simple, rustic and solid - with wooden tables, chairs and benches. Old German sayings have been painted in Gothic type on the bare walls, and a few beer posters and banners have been put up for decoration.

The inhouse brewery has a capacity of 1200 L and is in the capable hands of brewmaster Alexander Schreiber, who brews two regular beers for the pub and several seasonals - including Maibock in the spring, Hefeweizen in the summer, a märzen Festbier in the fall and a Weinachtsbier for Christmas.

During my visit, they had the following beers on draft:

  1. Original Helles: This is a 4.9% helles, with aroma of fresh cereal, a smooth mouthfeel and a good cereal and malt flavor.
  2. Spezial: This is a 4.9% Vienna style lager, with a red tinged golden brown color. Elegant malt character but a bit mild.
  3. Festbier: This is a 5.2% bock, brewed for oktoberfest. Malty aroma, smooth mouthfeel and a sweet caramel malt flavor with some ripe fruit notes. A nice festbier but a tad too sweet for me.
Like the place itself, the food was also rustic and local. I received my meal in a metal pan, steaming hot, it was hearty and good - with pork chops in a brown mushroom sauce and potatoes in the form of croquettes.

Rustic eating at Brauhaus Trotzenburg.

Though I had a more interesting beer experience at the "Old Fritz" I really enjoyed my visit to the "Trotzenburg", the main downside is that you really need a ride to get here, as it's some ways off if you're in old town Rostock.

Photos from my visit to Rostock can be found in this Flickr set.

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