On-the-Go: Drinking Altbier Till Dawn in Dusseldorf

One beer turned into another, and before we knew it the sun was coming up over Dusseldorf, the sky brightening to the egg-white color that happens just before the dawn of a new day. Earlier, we had talked to a German girl who tried to prove some sort of point about Americans being ignorant. She asked us which of our presidents had coined the famous phrase in Berlin, “I am a jelly donut.” Turns out she thought it was Reagan. It was an awfully nice icebreaker.

At Altbier breweries in Dusseldorf, they mark the number of beers you've ordered on your coaster, and they bring you the next one before you've finished the former unless you put your coaster over the top of the glass. Photo by Wake and Wander.
At Altbier breweries in Dusseldorf, they mark the number of beers you’ve ordered on your coaster, and they bring you the next one before you’ve finished the former unless you put your coaster over the top of the glass. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Some kids who claimed to be from Italy tried to sell us cocaine, and we watched a fight break out over an Asian girl. From what I’ve learned, it’s a regular occurrence around these woods, despite the fact that the area contains Germany’s largest Japanese population. When we woke up it was just past noon. I don’t drink to get drunk, but last night we sure had a few.

The good thing about train rides is that they give you plenty of time to think it all over. The porters helped us with the bags and we stepped on, finding two seats by the window with a table to work on. We ordered the blueberry cake and a cup of coffee and the waitress brought it up from the dining car. I took the coins from my pocket and placed them on the plate. I’m a bit tired at the moment, but other than that I feel like a million bucks.

I must say, Dusseldorf really grew on me over the three days I spent there, walking along the Rhine and hanging out in the parks, eating sandwiches and reading the paper in the grass on the banks of the river. And, of course, drinking the local Altbier. The style is unique to Dusseldorf and there are about a half dozen or so local breweries who put their own twist on it. You have to give them all a try, for sure. We hit a few each night, standing at the high tops that are brought out on the street in the summer, every bar hosting a crowd outside. There are several streets in the old part of the city that are lined with pubs, restaurants, and breweries, the most famous being what they call “the longest bar in the world,” referring to the long strand of back-to-back-to-back establishments that stream down the blocks.

I found the best parts of the drinking process in Dusseldorf to be in the details. The beers come in small, tall cylinder-shaped six-ounce glasses, so they go down real quick. For me, one of the best parts of drinking is being brought a fresh beer – there’s just so much potential in the beginning of things – and the fact they’re small means you inevitably end up drinking a bunch of them.

When you order a beer, they serve it to you and make a mark on your coaster to keep track of what you had (see photo). Then they keep’em coming. Unless you put the coaster on the top of the glass, the servers just bring you another when they see you’re almost done your current one. The waiters walk around with deep, large circular trays full of them, constantly circling the place in search of thirsty patrons. They’re cheap – under 2 euros – but you obviously have a handful. It comes out to about ten euros per 33+ ounces.

But back to last night. While the outside areas close around 1 or 2 a.m., the interior of the bars are open all night, which is why we were able to stay out until dawn. The feeling you get when you walk out of the bar and see daylight is most certainly unexpected, but there’s a bit of a charm to it in a way, doing something that ridiculous. I find it beautiful in a way, but perhaps I’m glorifying it here on the train, thinking back to it, drinking the coffee and eating the cake. It seems so far away already, like something I did years ago.

We’re still a few hours away from Dresden, on track for an 8 p.m. arrival. I’ll check back in a few days. Remember you can see on-the-go photos and such on Wake and Wander’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week, I’ll have a story coming out with Conde Nast about my visit to the largest beer garden in the world, where we had a few during our overnight in Munich at the beginning of the trip. I’ll be sure to pass that along when it runs. I swear we’ve done more than drink on this trip. 

At Altbier breweries in Dusseldorf, they mark the number of beers you've ordered on your coaster, and they bring you the next one before you've finished the former unless you put your coaster over the top of the glass. Photo by Wake and Wander.
At Altbier breweries in Dusseldorf, they mark the number of beers you’ve ordered on your coaster, and they bring you the next one before you’ve finished the former unless you put your coaster over the top of the glass. Photo by Wake and Wander.
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