<P>We arrived in Bamberg a little the worse for wear. We had spent the previous evening in Düsseldorf visiting the many wondrous brewpubs, before retiring to a convenient patch of dirt by the side of the tramline, where we were pleasantly awoken five hours later by the soothing rumblings of the day's first trams. Staggering blearily to the Hauptbahnhof in the pre-dawn gloom, we clambered onto the first of many slow trains that would eventually take us down into deepest darkest Bavaria and deposit us in Bamberg: home to 69, 530 thirsty Bambergers and 12 breweries.
<P>We got there at exactly the time all the shops were closing so we trudged across town to the campground. It was big and pretty and we found a nice spot by the river. Luckily they sold local beer at the reception (no Becks!) - our first Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and 4 different types of Mahr's, including their tasty, yeasty Ungespundet. We settled down by the river and had a subdued few beers each in the twilight.
<P>After a good night's rest we strolled, strangely hangover-free, into town. Being a Sunday it was not particularly lively. Sparse herds of ancient Germans were wandering around looking at ancient buildings. We soon found a pub serving Maisel's beers - not Maisel's of Bayreuth but the less well-known Bamberg brewery. Here we had our first taste of Kellerbier, served up in a heavy ceramic mug. This is a Franconian specialty: an unfiltered, heavily hopped lager that is scarily flavourful.
<P>Thereafter we wandered aimlessly through the town hoping to find some more beers. Sure enough, breweries are never too far away in Bamberg, and we stumbled upon the Fässla brewery. To our disappointment we discovered that it kept the bizarre opening hours of 9am-midday on Sundays, but happily discovered another brewery directly opposite. This was the Spezial brewery, the only other Rauchbier specialist brewery in Bamberg apart from Aecht Schlenkerla. A little window opened out of the wood-panelled wall when we knocked, and we asked the dude who poked his head out for one of each of their beers to take away.
<P>Kebab'o'clock was soon upon us, and this made us even thirstier. We planned to start drinking the Spezials but it started raining, so we took refuge in an old lady's loungeroom full of ticking clocks and doilies. She served us Aecht Schlenkerla Rauch Hefeweizen and Fässla Gold Pils which were both excellent. We then left to allow her time alone with her imaginary son in the cellar and we found that it was still raining, only heavier than before. Thinking fast, we noticed a beer sign in the distance and made a dash for it. This pub was full of guys with moustaches, including the Kellner. While we sat and drank our Liebert Pils and Maisel Pils, we were treated to the uniquely Franconian sight of a flock of old ladies settling at a table and ordering a round of half litres of Rauchbier.
<P>Our pub crawl was just reaching the dangerous point where exigencies of the bladder result in a self-perpetuating cycle of trying to find pubs to use their Herren rooms while being obliged to order drinks for the privilege, thus exacerbating the problem... To this end we strolled up the hill in the direction we thought we had seen the Aecht Schlenkerla brewery. We ended up at the top of the Michaelsberg hill, where there is a big medieval abbey that houses the town's brewing museum (unfortunately closed) and a posh cafe with starched tablecloths and chandeliers, where we enjoyed the view with an expensive but quite nice dunkelbock specially made for the abbey by Maisel's.
<P>On our way down the other side of the hill, with our bellies rumbling, we spied a place with Löwenbräu of the Franconian variety (they're not very original with brewery names in Bavaria) and strolled in. It was another pub which was basically somebody's loungeroom with a bar put into it. Chicken schnitzel sandwiches went well with the strangely creamed corn-flavoured beer and motelpogo resisted the temptation to ask what the German word for schnitzel is. After eczematic blocked the toilet we moseyed on. We found a map which had the Kloster brewpub marked, which was nothing to do with the Kloster (abbey) as far as we could tell. It was a nice location by the river in the Altstadt, and a nice old rickety pub, but the beers weren't very flavourful by Bamberg standards.
<P>Thinking that now might be a good time to head back in the direction of the campground we walked in the wrong direction back up the hill in the rain. Just when we were getting completely saturated by the downpour, we discovered the strange oasis of the Wilde Rose Keller, a brewpub and biergarten hidden away in an empty part of town. Behind the bar was an assortment of industrious senior ladies who laughed off eczematic's attempts to pay as though he were some kind of idiot. After a second round of their brutal Kellerbier (this time not for free), we began to feel at home in the sheltered biergarten, which was also home to some hedgehogs. After lightening our load thanks to the conveniently located nearby trees, we decided to further lighten our load and drink the Spezials in eczematic's backpack. These turned out to be fantastic, although the Wilde Rose ceramic mugs didn't permit a good inspection of the beers. Somehow we awoke the next day to find we had walked the 5km in driving rain back to the campsite.
<P>The next day was slightly brighter. Visiting the supermarket to find breakfast items we also found a dozen interesting-looking beers that we couldn¥t allow to remain on the shelves. We went to the park via the Tourist Information centre where they gave us a map with breweries marked. After breakfast we waited until midday (we're not complete alcos!) and started tasting some beer, slowly. But the weather turned bad so, after motelpogo gave some people wrong directions, we headed in the direction of the Fässla brewery. Ordering a wheat beer there provoked some looks from the guys in overalls. Very nice pub, though. All those beers from the store were weighing us down so went to a park to drink them and laugh at power-walkers. After a few beers in the 5 degree afternoon, we consulted the map and found we were near the Maisel brewery. It looked pretty dead, but fortunately the Keesmann brewery was located across the road. The beer was okay and went well with the traditional German cuisine of currywurst and chips.
<P>It seemed about time to visit the Aecht Schlenkerla brewery since we had now figured out where it was. Not being able to get a seat due to the crowds of loud and happy Bambergers, we went to the kiosk to get some takeaways. Unfortunately the octogenarian lady at the window told us the Urbock wasn't available yet, but we got some of their Lager to try, much to the old bird's surprise. This aided us up the hill in the direction of the Greifenklau brewery, which we had read that Oakes recommended. On the way we passed a place with a sign for "Recken Bier". eczematic motioned inside and said "what do you reckon?" and motelpogo reckoned it was worth a go. A middle-aged bikie had converted his cellar into a tavern that played music of his generation. The beer was all right, including another Kellerbier. At Greifenklau we were told that that they only served one type of beer which made ordering easy enough. The pub, like so many, had a pleasant, unslick atmosphere. Apart having some of the greatest beer in Germany, Bamberg also has the added attraction of being one of the cheapest towns to drink in - a half-litre rarely sets you back more than 2 euros.
<P>On our way back to the campsite we found ourselves too drunk to continue, so stopped to drink the remainder of our supplies, such as the Fässla Schwarzla and the Schlenkerla Lager. This took longer than usual with having to hold our respective glasses to the moonlight. We weren't slobs, we brought our own glasses everywhere.
<P>Surprisingly we awoke in the tent again the next day with little idea how. Then came a busy day - Nuremberg (can I Tucher there?), Regensburg (rainy but with a great bottleshop), Cham (surprisingly hard to get a Hofmark there), Furth-im-Wald (a small town with more breweries than most Australian cities), and a drunken 2am stroll across the border to the Czech Republic. But that's another story. Bamberg will always hold a special place in our hearts. It's hard to think of a better way to spend 100 euros than a few days there.