Sure, we had visited a Bavarian village before, but it was in Leavenworth, Wash.
So when my wife, Carol, and I planned our recent trip to Europe, we decided we wanted to visit the real thing. Friends had told us about the Hotel Aying in the tiny village of Aying, Bavaria. They assured us that we would get the full Bavarian experience – food, beer and charming chalets.
Were they ever richtig (correct). Because of a happy coincidence, we even became immersed in the fan culture of one of Bavaria’s overriding obsessions: Bayern Munich, Bavaria’s soccer team. More on that later.
When we booked the hotel we certainly didn’t have soccer in mind. We had beer and quaint window-boxes in mind. The hotel’s full name in German is Brauereigasthof-Hotel Aying, which translates roughly as “Brewery Inn-Hotel Aying.” It’s in the farmland and forest about a half-hour south of Munich, toward the Bavarian Alps.
The hotel is connected with Aying’s main industry – really, its only industry – the Ayinger Brewery. Ayinger is one of the best-known independent breweries in Bavaria, which automatically makes it one of the best-known breweries in the world. I was already familiar with Ayinger’s excellent bottled beers because they are readily available on Spokane supermarket shelves and sometimes even on tap at places like the Manito Tap House.
So we booked a night at the Hotel Aying, not really knowing exactly what a Brauereigasthof was. I’ll tell you what it turned out to be – one of the finest hotels we’ve ever stayed in.
The main hotel is a quaint and immaculately maintained structure built on classic Bavarian lines. It looks out onto the St. Andreas Church, with its characteristic Bavarian onion-dome tower, and also out on the tree-shaded beer garden of the Ayinger Braustuberl, or brew-pub, which serves as the village’s informal gathering spot and community center.
We would have been happy staying in the main inn, but we were lucky to be booked into the hotel’s annex building, the Herrenhaus (manor house), just a few steps away. The Herrenhaus is an amazing combination of the ancient and the modern. The ornately lettered sign above the entrance says that the building was first mentioned in the records in 1385 (by Hans der Ayinger himself), expanded in 1834 and restored in 2008. Until the restoration, it served as the home of the Inselkammer family, which runs the Hotel Aying and the brewery.
The restoration kept the gorgeous, purple-wisteria-draped exterior, but the interior was transformed into 14 spacious, modern hotel rooms. Our room had a fireplace, a gorgeous honey-colored wardrobe, a shower that simulated a summer rain, heated bathroom floors and a heated towel rack. Best of all, it had a wooden-railed balcony that looked out on the white-washed walls of the old Ayinger maltery (the brewery itself has recently moved a few blocks away to a modern and more spacious facility).
Downstairs is the library-lounge, a large, book-lined room filled with couches, easy chairs, a fireplace, a big screen TV and a beer tap that operates on the honor system. Grab a glass, and draw your own Ayinger lager, or grab a bottle of any other kind of Ayinger beer you want. All they ask is that you keep track of your consumption and pay for it on check-out (it’s a bargain).
Of course, you can also just wander across the street to the homey and immaculate Ayinger Braustuberl. We stopped in there for lunch and opted for a classic Bavarian meal: Six bratwursts on a mound of sauerkraut, washed down with a big frothy mug of Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel (dark lager). Or you might prefer the unfiltered Kellerbier (cellar beer), the Brau-Weisse (wheat beer) or, if you arrive at the right season, the Celebrator Doppelbock or the Oktoberfest Marzen, two of the beers which have made Ayinger famous.
For dinner, however, we decided we must try the hotel’s own formal, traditional Bavarian restaurant. The proprietors modestly note that it is listed among the “400 top restaurants in Germany.” It has a hushed, white-tablecloth atmosphere, friendly waitresses clad in dirndls (traditional Bavarian dresses), and a menu that, with our limited German skills, seemed more or less indecipherable until the waitress arrived with the English menus. We sampled dishes such as Nut Escalope of Roe Buck and Loin Steak of Bavarian Ox, each well-prepared and beautifully presented. Also, I couldn’t resist the soup special: Cream of Stinging Nettle, which was a bit like a spinach soup. It had been mercifully rendered stingless through cooking and conveyed the taste of Bavarian forest.
All through Bavaria that day – in the Munich train station and on the trains themselves – we were aware of a building excitement and tension. People everywhere were wearing the red-and-white scarves and jerseys of the Bayern Munich fussball team. Many were wearing lederhosen, the traditional garb of Bavaria, and by extension, of the team’s true fans. This happened to be the night that Bayern Munich was to play in the UEFA Champion’s League final for the championship of all Europe. It is, I learned, the most-watched live annual sporting event in the world, bigger than the Super Bowl.
The game was at Wembley Stadium in London, but little Aying was also preparing for the crowds. Technicians were busily setting up giant-screen TVs in both the Braustuberl’s outdoor biergarten and the indoor beer hall. Practically the entire village, it seemed, planned to gather there to watch the finals. I decided I would do so as well, and I hoped the Bavarians would forgive me for having neither scarf, nor jersey, nor actual familiarity with the team.
Once the game started, the crowd was so immersed in the drama they paid little attention to the American visitor in their midst. The crowd seemed especially tense and apprehensive, a nervous condition I recognize from my own sports obsessions. I soon learned they had two particular reasons for being tense. First, Bayern Munich was playing Dortmund, which meant this was the first all-German final in history. Second, Bayern Munich had reached the finals two out of the last three years – but had lost heartbreakers each time.
The temperature in the biergarten was in the 40s, and the wind was blowing hard (it was Europe’s worst May in decades) but a few of us bundled up and sat outside under some heat lamps. The fans did some cheering when things went well and plenty of groaning when things went bad. Beer flowed from the elaborate Ayinger beer taps. When Bayern Munich finally broke a 1-1 tie and surged ahead late in the game, the crowd leapt to its feet. When the final whistle sounded, the crowd erupted. More Ayinger beer flowed, and people linked arms and sang Bayern victory songs, which were almost of an operatic, “Carmina Burana” majesty. Music is one of the things that Germany does really, really well.
I walked back to my hotel room and went to bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of singing at the Braustuberl. I felt lucky to be there on that day.
But what does a visitor do in Aying on an average day? Aying has virtually no business district. But it does have the brewery, which offers 90-minute tours on certain days of the week, followed by a beer tasting. It also has a small historical museum, the Heimathaus Sixthof. The town’s parish church, St. Andreas Kirche, is an immaculate example of the “onion tower” style of Bavarian churches. If you want to see what it looks like, just look at the label on an Ayinger beer.
I took an afternoon walk in the countryside, past a kindergarten, a dairy farm and fields of wheat. Soon, I was in a Grimm’s fairy-tale forest of tall, straight firs and green ferns and undergrowth. You can also walk to neighboring villages in under a half-hour.
Surely, the most unusual attraction in Aying is the old Kegelbahn, or bowling alley. This is a one-lane bowling (or “skittles”) alley housed on the hotel complex in its own long, narrow, historic building. If you reserve it in advance (which we, unfortunately, neglected to do), you can have your own bowling party. The hotel will supply a town youngster to set the wooden pins and roll the ball back. The restaurant will send dinner over and, of course, you can draw your own Ayinger beer from the Kegelbahn’s own tap.
Yet the main attraction of Aying is simply the beautiful, graceful architecture of the village. Many of the residences are right out of the Bavarian picture-book, with geranium-filled window boxes and weathered wooden balconies. One house had a gloriously ancient pine façade with the legend, “Erbaut 1583,” built 1583.
Leavenworth has done a fine job of matching the style, but it can’t match that.
While we were at Hotel Aying, we learned that Germany is loaded with dozens of other “Private Braugasthofe,” that is, independent brewery-inns. The Hotel Aying is one of 69 establishments that have formed a brewery-inn association. You can check it out at www.braugasthoefe.com. Most are small, family-run hotels, some in small towns, some in larger cities. The Hotel Aying is definitely on the plusher and more expensive end of the spectrum. Our one-night stay at the Hotel Ayinger, including dinner for two, plenty of beer and a terrific breakfast – turned out to cost us more than $300 by the time our euros were exchanged for dollars.
Yes, it was a splurge, but it made our Bavarian visit memorable. We’ll think back on it fondly, next time we visit Leavenworth. Meanwhile, I have become a lifetime fan of Bayern Munich.