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Empowering Youth - A Return to the Biergarten - August 2004

I am guessing that most people reading this newsletter are thinking this is a peculiar topic for our Empowering Youth newsletter. Most Americans have a very clear picture of what an American "Beer Garden" looks like -- a place for adults to celebrate, drinking beer and laughing with their friends, typically temporarily set up at a summer festival or Octoberfest.

But during a recent family trip to Europe, we discovered the original German "Biergarten" which is supposedly the pattern for our American festival beer tents. We soon learned that this "Grandfather" of beer gardens is nothing like its American counterpart.

At our Munich hotel, the owner spoke no English and we only spoke German from a phrasebook, but we managed to get directions to a park and we understood that apparently there was to be a biergarten there as well. After a walk of several blocks, we started to see what must be the park, with various other couples and families walking into the park and bicyclists everywhere. We followed the flow of walkers and bikers toward a sign over the path that said "Aumeister Biergarten" and as we walked under the sign, we finally got it. The park WAS the biergarten.

Far from the Midwestern temporary festival tents filled with loud and drunken adults, here was a park-like setting with a canopy of trees, a building with food and beer (set up cafeteria style), about a hundred picnic tables filled with families and neighbors and friends, and to my children's delight, an AWESOME playground full of kids. And this was a normal weekday, so it was apparently a common place for families to dine after work.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Aumeister Biergarten and made it our mission to find other biergartens during our travels. Although Aumeister was one of the more beautiful settings we encountered, the same apparent philosophy prevailed throughout: "We ALL have fun here." A German bar/restaurant near the train tracks had a swingset and teeter totter set out on their deck with the open-air tables. An Austrian "farm-restaurant" where farmers serve meals entirely from their own produce and livestock was set up with a swingset and sandbox. A French winecave for tourists to sample wines from the vineyard featured a swingset and basketball hoop right outside the door. Even an Italian lumberyard built a playground to display its wares and for children to enjoy. And we never saw a McDonalds that WASN'T a Playland as well.

The mainstream culture we experienced in Europe easily embraced this family-oriented philosophy demonstrated by the biergarten. This is what European families experienced everyday, not just during family vacations. Our hope is that America experiences a youth-centered future that will support the same philosophy. In the meantime, we will keep searching the Midwest, looking for signs of a "return to the biergarten".

A Return to the Biergarten
©2004 Kelly Curtis - President, Empowering Youth

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