One of my favourite German words is Gemütlichkeit, which has been adopted by the English-speaking world since it can’t be simply translated. Roughly it pertains to the feeling of comfy cosiness when getting together with friends and family, usually with good food and drink thrown in. Think of it as the German version of the famous Scandinavian Hygge.
Besides the Christmas markets, which are of course a lovely festive month of Glühwein (mulled wine) and Wurst (sausage) the rest of the winter can feel, well, lacking in Gemütlichkeit. So I’d like to introduce you to the Besenwirtschaft (broom pub/tavern), the ultimate in winter cosiness that doesn’t involve standing outside in snow. In wine producing areas of Germany this temporary pub is an experience not to be missed.
Yes I have translated that right, Besen = Broom + Wirtschaft = Pub/tavern, and since most locals refer to them as Besen I’ll leave you to imagine my face when someone started recommending (what I thought were) brooms to me. My first thoughts were ‘Is this linked to the Swabian Kehrwoche? Do I need to bring a broom? Is this a pub in a dirty wine cellar that only gets swept once a year?’ To which the answers were ‘No, no and well, no, but you’re getting closer’.
A Besenwirtschaft is a temporary pub set up by the vintner to sell the wine they produce themselves, you will also find a menu of local home cooked foods. Their opening is limited to 12 weeks a year, the most popular and smaller ones can be difficult to get into so booking is recommended. Strictly no beer is served at a Besen although in Franconia and Austria this rule seems to be more flexible. Non alcoholic drinks are available though and children and dogs are generally welcome.
There is no one style for a Besen. I’ve sat in a garage connected to the vintners house, a converted barn, a sitting room and a social club. No matter what the setting you will always find that feeling of Gemütlichkeit, sharing tables and conversation is the norm, especially once the wine starts flowing. Another element they all have in common is the indicator that they are open, the broom, which hangs outside. This indicator maybe comes from the fact that the vintner has swept out and prepared his Besen and is now ready for customers. Nowadays a broom will be placed near a main road to tempt in customers.
Wine is usually served by the Viertel (quarter or 250ml) or Viertle (in Swabian) in a stemless glass with a green handle. I’ve always loved these glasses, they are fabulous if you’re clumsy like me. Whilst German wine tends to be on the sweeter side, to my taste, I have never been disappointed with a recommendation from a Besen. I usually buy a bottle (or two) to take home when I find a particular favourite. Buying straight from the producer means the prices are better than in the fancy wine shop too hurrah!
These temporary pubs do also appear under different names depending on which wine producing area they are located in. Even here in Baden-Württemberg you will find Besenwirtschaft, Besen, Besa in Württemberg whilst Straußenwirtschaft (bouquet pub, you will generally find a large pot of flowers outside as an indicator of an open pub instead of a broom), Straussi, Straußwirtschaft in are more commonly used in Baden. They are also known as Straußenwirtschaft in Rheinland and Rheinlandhessen, Kranzwirtschaft in Baden, Häckerwirtschaft in Franconia, Rädlewirtschaft in Bodensee and Buschenschank or Heuriger in Austria. You will even find them in Switzerland. There are many more names too, simply too many to list here.
Since they are such temporary entities it can be hard to find out when one will actually be open. Around here there is a sign that pops up on the local bakery door when the Besen a few towns over is open so I generally depend the Besenkalendar to check availability for the next few weeks. It is worth phoning in advance if you are going to be travelling far, the disappointment after an uncomfortable and long bus ride is not one I’d wish on anyone else. The comfy cosiness of the Besenwirtschaft is enough to stand up to the greyest drizzle filled day the winter can throw at you.
PS. They do also open in summer but since Biergartens and festivals are so prevalent then for me, the Besen really comes into its own during the colder weather.