Germany at 25: The Beer

Flens beer

There is something about beer that brings out the best in people. Whether it brings cheer to the person’s face, brings people together or even the different tastes, beer does a body and mind good. Sometimes beer brings out the best quotes, as noted by some prominent people:

Thomas Jefferson:  “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”

Tina Fey: “In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be good for the liver. I’m sorry, did I say ‘scientists’? I meant Irish people.”

Anne Sexton: “God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer.”

Stephen King:” A man who lies about beer makes enemies.”

Martin Luther: “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia:  “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.”

And where in the world will you find beer in various flavors and brands? Germany. For almost 500 years, breweries have come up with the finest concoctions for people to try. Whether it was a pilsner beer, dark beer, wheat beer, malt beer, radler (alster water) or even fruit flavored beers, if there is one place where the best and brightest minds can come up with such crazy combinations of beer to satisfy the taste buds of their loyal patrons, it is Germany. And despite going through tough times- wars, economic crises and even fierce competition thanks to mergers with foreign companies, Germany still stands out as the land of beer, where it is served at any social function: get-togethers, parties and even the Oktoberfest. 🙂

If there is a posterboy for various beers that taste great and gives a person his fill, it is not necessarily the breweries in Bavaria, albeit the numbers are huge and include Löwenbraü, Oettinger, Hofbräu and Paulaner (the last two are highly recommended). Nor are they necessarily in central Germany, where many local breweries have a couple flavors only but their own unique taste that makes people buy more, like Wernesgrüner, Hasseroder, Rosen and Köstritzer. More is sometimes better if the various flavors rake in patrons and profits.

It’s located in the Hohe Nord- Flensburg.  And the name: The Flensburger. 🙂

Founded in 1888, the family-owned business is not only famous for its swing top ceramic bottle cap that goes “plop!” when opening it. Because it has bucked the trend of other beers, other local German beers are following The Flens’ lead in that aspect. The Flensburger beer is known for its various flavors of beer- over 16 flavors in all, counting the water. With the flavors that have been retired, the number is close to 20!

So why is the Flens so popular, both in Germany as well as elsewhere (even in the US)? And this for a small family-owned brewery? The author of the Files had a chance to interview Sara Janisch, an international sales representative at the Flensburger Brewery to find out the secrets to the success of the beer and how it has helped give Germany and its beer in general a grandiose reputation for its taste. While some links are available to guide you through the brewery homepage, here are some answers that will get the beer drinker the opportunity to try German beer, let alone this beer:

  1. Personally, when a tourist or expat comes to Germany, which of the types of beer should that person try first and why?

All of them, of course! You can attend a brewery tour at our facilities and afterwards will get a chance to try all of our beers. However, the Pilsener is our classic, so this one needs to be tried for sure! An insider tip is our Flensburger Weizen and the Flensburger Kellerbier. Those are definitely worth a try. But like I said – each one of our beers has its very own and special taste so best to not miss out a single one.

  1. All German beers are created based on the beer purity law of 1516, which will turn 500 next year. Can you elaborate what that law is all about and why it was enacted?

Beers that are brewed according to the German Purity Law must only contain those four ingredients: (barley)malt, hops, yeast and water. It was mainly enacted to protect beer as an important staple food and to prevent tampering with ingredients that are not suitable for consumption.

  1. The Flensburg Brewery was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest in northern Germany at 127 years. Can you tell me how the brewery was founded and who was behind it?

The brewery was founded by five local residents in September 1888.  They had found an ideal site, a glacier spring with crystal-clear water for brewing and a way of obtaining the ice needed for the lagering cellars. When Emil Petersen took charge of the brewery in 1933, the name of the brewery was changed to Flensburger Brauereien Emil Petersen & Co. K.G., which has remained as is since then. It was during his reign until his passing in 1974 and even when Hans Dethleffsen succeeded him that the brewery expanded and later modernised, making it a one of the most successful family-owned breweries in the region. For more information, please see our homepage for further information on our history: www.flens.de/brauerei/brauereichronik (German) or www.flens.co.uk/our-history (English).

  1. While the Flensburg Pilsner is pretty much the flagship of the beers (and can be found throughout Germany and other countries), the brewery is famous for its various flavors. Apart from the Flensburger Radler, Flensburg Winterbock, Flensburger Lime and others, what other flavors have you created up to now, which ones can you find on store shelves and which ones would you personally recommend?

I attached a document with all beers and other products we currently have in our portfolio. For more information on the products you can also click on www.flens.de/produkte/sortiment (German). We created a helpful tool to track down retail markets (in Germany) that offer Flens: www.flens.de/flens-finder

  1. I also read about you creating the Flensburger Beer with quitten and pear. When did that come out and was it well received?

Flensburger Fassbrause Birne-Quitte was launched earlier this year and it turned out a perfect complement for our Fassbrause range!

  1. Have there been some flavors that were experimented but failed and were subsequentially taken off the shelves? If so, which ones and why?

A while ago we had two flavours of Flensburger Biermix (Blood orange & Grapefruit and Lemongrass), which are no longer in our portfolio.

Author’s Note: The lemongrass version I tried during the 2012 trip to Flensburg. The taste is similar to the Alsterwasser (Radler) but had a twist of lime. Nice taste but “schade” that it was pulled from the shelves. 🙂

  1. Are there any flavors that you are willing/planning to experiment with? Like strawberry, apple, etc.?

Please understand that this will be kept our secret.

Author’s note: Sometimes family breweries have the right to surprise the customers with their own concoction to market. So having this be kept top secret is no surprise and understandable, for it makes the customer become more interested. 😉

  1. Flensburger beer is common in English-speaking countries, including the US, where it was reported to be sold in places, like Texas, New York, North Dakota and even Minnesota (the last one because of the village of Flensburg located there).  Why do you think the people choose Flensburger over beers, like Budweiser, Coors or even Miller?

Our Flensburger beers have their very own distinctive tastes, in which they differ from most of the other “mainstream” beers. We are not compromising on the high quality of our products. This as well as the unique design of our swing-top bottle and the plop’ sound when opening it convinces people all over the world.

  1. While many breweries have been bought out or consolidated, the Flensburger has stood out as the “last man standing,” outfoxing the competition. In your opinion, what has been the secret to being successful?

People up here in Northern Germany are quite down-to-earth, straightforward and persistent. We don’t give up too easily, even in hard times we work as a team and face challenges together. We take pride in our history and the independence our brewery has maintained over all those years. That is something we will never give up at any price.

  1. Apart from supporting the handball team SG Flensburg-Handewitt, what other social engagements has the brewery undertaken in recent years?

The Flensburger Beer has been a proud sponsor of many sporting leagues in Schleswig-Holstein. This includes the state soccer league and our engagement in the Flens Cup tournament. We also cooperate with the SHZ Newspaper Group in awarding the People of the Year to those who engage in extraordinary activities to help those in need. Please check out the following link for further information on this: www.flens.de/aktuelles/engagement (German). We mainly focus on local projects and events.

  1. Last question: If you were to market the beer in the US and on the international scale, how would you like this logo: “Never party without the Flens!” ?

Our logo is “Flensburger. Experience the taste.”, which is not only communicated on a national basis but also internationally. Our Flensburger beers can be drunk at numerous occasions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a party. In our portfolio we have at least one kind of beer for everyone, not only for youngsters who like to party but also for people who simply enjoy drinking an incredibly tasty beer!

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To sum up on this interview, the Flensburger beer has established itself as one of the main beers that one will see often when visiting Germany, because of its various flavors and its beloved ceramic “plop!” cap. Because of its successes other breweries are looking to the Flens for guidance as they too want to set foot on the ground in the beer business. For those who have never tried a good German beer, do not worry. There are two ways of trying the beer: One is through visiting Germany (and if time allows it, the Oktoberfest). The other is asking (or even hoping) that a good friend brings something to share with others. This was my experience when bringing two 2 liter bottles of Flensburger beer to a friend of mine in Pittsburgh in 2010 to share with others. Since that time, he has found ways to fly to Europe for some more. 🙂  If a good German beer, like the Flensburger can get someone to become a world traveller, then that person is bound to become more informed of the outside world and try new things while visiting other countries. After all, a good beer and a few small steps will make that big difference. 🙂

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Note: The author has a pair of good tricks up his sleave regarding this topic. One of which will be posted soon. The other will be announced in the fall. Stay tuned. 🙂

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The Fight to Save Fehmarn Island from Progress

Fehmarn Bridge side view new

Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

FEHMARN, GERMANY-   Last fall, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a segment on the preservation of the Fehmarn Bridge, the first bridge in the world that carries the now popular basket-handle tied arch bridge span. The battle is part of the series where residents of Fehmarn Island are fighting with both the German and Danish governments to stop a project where the Migratory Bird Route, connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen, would be widened- both the highway and the railway. This includes new bridges to replace the Fehmarn Bridge and a tunnel on the opposite end connecting Puttgarden (D) and Rodby (DK). And lastly an industrial areal was planned for the island.  Unfortunately, despite the Areal being blocked earlier this year, the European Union, according to reports from the BBC, has given Denmark the green light to start the construction of the tunnel, by providing 589 million Euros in the next four years for the project.

Yet while the Danes are prepared to start work beginning this fall, residents of the island and the surrounding area along the Baltic Sea coast are up in arms against the project and have started their own initiative to stop the project.

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Tourists and locals have seen the blue X’es popping up in neighborhoods, along highways and beaches and even in the skies between Hamburg and Lübeck and the island itself. The Blue-X Initiative was adopted by the groups Preserve Fehmarn and Beltretter, with the purpose of showing support for preserving the island and stopping the project from taking place. Almost one in every three households have this on their lawns as a way of demonstrating solidarity against the project. And there are many reasons for this initiative:

1. The construction of the tunnel would coincide with the expansion of the highway and rail line going through the island as well as the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, resulting in the island becoming a construction site. As small as the island is, and with the economy being dependent almost solely on tourism, analysts predict a loss of up to 800 million Euros (or close to $1 billion) in revenue during the time of the construction because of loss of tourism and commerce, plus additional money to improve the island’s imagery once the project was completed, which could take years to complete.

2. The project would involve a loss of sensitive vegetation and marine life that would be immense and possible irreplaceable. This includes the plan to scrap the underground tunnel similar to the Euro-Tunnel connecting France and Great Britain in favor of one above the sea floor, similar to the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden), which could be devastating to marine life alone. The width of the construction area between Puttgarden and Fehmarn Bridge would average approximately five kilometers. The maximum width of the island is only 21.8 kilometers- and this given the size of the land to be 185 squared kilometers!

3. Some discreptancies in the environmental and economic impact surveys conducted by Denmark have resulted in rechecking the figures. Alone with the economic impact survey released in January 2015 led to a debate on the credibility of both the Danish government, the conglomerate spearheading the tunnel initiative Fehmarn A/S, and even the European Union. While both Denmark and the EU claim that the new crossings would produce a revenue of 4-5% of the gross domestic product in the region or approximately 3.48 billion Euros ($5.5 billion), other surveys indicate that the loss of revenue through construction combined with years of recovery, the new crossing would net an annual loss of 6.7 billion Euros ($8.2 billion). For the residents on the island, the risk would be too high to take.

4. While there is a one-track rail line that is suitable for transport between Hamburg and Copenhagen including the time needed to cross via ferry, there is another border crossing at Flensburg and Padborg, where they feature a freeway and a two-track rail line connecting Hamburg with Aarhus with a arm going to Copenhagen via Odense. At the present time, improvements are being made in the Flensburg area to make the crossing more attractive. While the logic behind expanding the line through Fehmarn is there, little do government authorities realize that Fehmarn is a vacation and natural area whose need for a freeway/ two-track crossing on both ends of the island would devastate the natural habitat and impact tourism negatively. In other words, better to go through Flensburg if you wish to stay on the freeway going to Denmark and not stop to go swimming.

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While officials in Denmark are preparing to start building the tunnel from the Rodby end, officials in Germany are in the process of discussing the project with many parties involved. This after the application for the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, new freeway and tunnel was submitted to the state ministry of transport. The communities affected will have a meeting in September, followed by the environmental groups, including BeltRetter in November and residents affected by the construction afterwards. The ministry will then review the opinions and information provided by those affected before making their decision- a process that could take up to a year.  Proponents of the project have already received a backing from The German Railways (The Bahn) and German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt, the former wanting to expand and electrify its rail line to run more ICE-Trains on there.

But with the opposition towards the project crystalizing and spreading beyond the region, problems will most likely excaberbate over the course of two years, especially when the blue X’es sprout up everywhere making the area as blue as possible. Since blue is the sign of clear water, the water people deserve to swim in and marine life to inhabit, it also is a sign of preserving things as they are. With more initiatives coming up and more support pouring in, there is a chance that the project could be stalled further or even scrapped. If this is the case, then there will still be some work to be done with its current infrastructure to keep it up to date, but residents will breathe a sign of relief, for having a mega-highway for the sake of expanding commerce is not necessarily what they want. In fact with all of information on the negative impacts, combined with questions involving the credibility of the sources, this project in the end will do more harm to the region than good. This is something no one is willing to gamble on.

The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are proud to support the initiative to preserve Fehmarn Island and its places of interest. Both columns will provide you with further updates on the latest involving the project. If you wish to take part in the initiative and want to donate for the right cause, please click on the following links. There you have information on how you can help.

Beltretter

Bewahrt Fehmarn (Preserve Fehmarn)

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Special thanks to Mirko Kaminski for the use of the photos, as well as Karin Neumann and Hendrick Kerlen for their help in contributing some valuable information for this story.