This is the last post I took notes for while in Germany, and it seems an appropriate retrospective. Look forward to my forthcoming first post back in the United States, a cross-section of the newest and weirdest stuff coming out of New Glarus.
It was entirely by accident that I ended up spending the summer in Dortmund, onetime brewery capital of the world. I wasn’t even planning on going abroad, until my German teacher told our class about a summer program through her alma mater, the Technische Universität Dortmund, and I cannot thank her enough for encouraging me to apply. So perhaps it is appropriate that it was only my very last day in Germany that I finally got around to visiting the Dortmund Brewery Museum.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the international popularity of Dortmund’s stronger version of the originally-southern pale lager, combined with the relative accessibility of its port, caused it to grow into the biggest beer producing city in Germany. Beer and Dortmund were synonymous (and still are, literally, in some parts of the Netherlands). Dortmund had more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world, an erstwhile Portland.
You’ve almost certainly heard of at least one of the Dortmund brewers, among them Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei (DAB), Dortmunder Union, Dortmunder Kronen, Thier, Hansa, Brinkhoff’s, Stifts, Ritter, Hövel’s. In 1900 the city had thirty of them, fifteen of which were among the largest in the country. By the 1950s more beer was made in Dortmund than in anywhere else in the world, save good old Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now all but one are brands owned by the Dortmund brewery, all produced in the same plant on the same equipment. But I digress.
On an unassuming side street in the north side of Dortmund sits one of the biggest breweries in northeastern Germany, Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei. Walking by it you might not even notice, save the smell of barley in the air. But there is one welcoming stucco building with large windows on the south end of the complex that was once called the Hansa Brewery, and later the Kronen Brewery. Here is the home of the Brauerei-Museum Dortmund.
The museum is located in a former machine house, so while there are no big tanks or kettles to see, there is a big steam engine, and they’ve moved in a period bottling line as well as one of the original Union delivery trucks. There is a large collection of memorabilia of the various Dortmund breweries: mugs and glassware, beer mats, bottles, labels, signs, and advertisements. This last bit especially allows the visitor to immerse oneself in another era. There is a fair amount of equipment, and numerous placards that explain the process of the production of beer. Unfortunately the signs are only in German, so an English speaker might wish to arrange for a guide.
The Museum may very well be a bit slanted towards the brands currently owned by the museum’s owner. That point notwithstanding, it provides a valuable look at the history of the beverage that made the city great. It would be all too easy to lose the stories of the people and places that drove Dortmund’s breweries’ growth, and with it the growth of export beer, especially given today’s high-speed merger-happy international beer market. Fortunately the existence of the Dortmund Brewery Museum ensures that won’t happen anytime soon.