Beer Hiking across the Czech-German Frontier
A Cross-border Beer Hike from the Bavarian Forest into Czechia wasn’t much of an option back in the Cold War days. Now though, it’s an opportunity to hike through some beautiful country and experience a small slice of contrasting beer cultures. This particular hike started for me in the Czech border town of Železná Ruda, crossed the frontier into Bavaria at Bayerisch Eisenstein and continued to the Bavarian Forest village of Ludwigsthal. A short train hop over to Zwiesel led to a beer to cap the afternoon.
Železná Ruda means iron ore, so there must be some mining in the area. It looks more like a ski town if you ask me. The Belveder Pivovar is embedded in what seems like a ski lodge on a hillside above the town. The Bohemian Forest pathway down into town descends past an installation of stations of the cross. The town is pleasant although somewhat sleepy. Únětické stánky is a beer stand in the center that serves up pivo from the Únetický Pivovar near Prague. Heading for the border passed at least one more chance for a sublime Czech beer at Cafe Sněhurka, an outlet for Pilsener Urquell from nearby Plzeň.
The route crossed the border at the Bavarian Forest town of Bayerisch Eisenstein. The train station there straddles the border and my imagination ran on a bit trying to imagine the fortifications that would have been there in the Cold War days. On the Czech side, a short stretch of border fencing remains as a reminder of those days. The Bavarian Forest and the Bohemian Forest are pretty much the same thing in nature’s view — the difference is only in the manmade line that divides them. Combined, they are among the largest forested areas in Europe.
The land may look the same on both sides of the border, but language, currency, and beer culture change quite a bit. I can fumble around the German language a bit, but Czech freezes my brain. Even though both countries belong to the European Union, Euros are the currency on the German side and you’ll need Koruna in Czechia. You’ll want a bier in Bavaria and a pivo in Czechia. When you toast in one of the countries you say “prosit” and in the other you say “na zdraví.”
Pivo in Czechia uses lingo like “světlé” (light colored), “tmavé” (dark), “černé” (black), and “řezané” (a mix of half light, half dark). There is also the assignment of “degrees” to beers – 10º and 12º beers are common and don’t necessarily correlate to the color of the beer. Interestingly, I’m told that some Czechs consider darker beers to be girly beers because they are usually sweeter in character. The degrees do give an indicator of ABV – the higher the degrees, the higher the ABV. 10º and 12º “ležák pivo” (lager beer) tends to have 4-5% alcohol content. A “Šnyt” has the same meaning as the German “schnitt” – a partial portion when you don’t want another full beer (or you have a lot of trail ahead).
The route from Bayerisch Eisenstein ascends into the forest toward a classic beer garden at a place called Trifterklause Schwellhäusl, locally famous for Trifter Dunkel Bier vom Stoa (beer from a stone). A tap has been plumbed into a stone there making it seem like the beer just flows out of the big rock. The beer garden is alongside a small pond. Trifter Dunkel is brewed for this place by the Dampfbierbrauerei in Zwiesel, a stop further along in this story.
Continuing, the route drops through the wooded hillside to the village and station at Ludwigsthal where there is refreshment available at Gasthof Zum Wurzelsepp. The beer served there is from Brauerei Hutthurm, a country brewery to the south. Wurzelsepp is notable for a huge collection of craggy wood pieces of wood finished into natural sculptures. Ludwigsthal is also notable as the location of Nationalparkzentrum Falkenstein a visitor center for the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany’s first national park.
This story ends after a short train ride to Zwiesel, home to the Dampfbierbrauerei (steam brewery) Zwiesel. The fifth-generation family brewery has an interesting range including steam beer, a relatively rare top-fermented Bavarian beer from a traditional family recipe. “Steam”, in this case, refers to “large gas bubbles in the head that burst from time to time and give the impression that the beer is steaming”.
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