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The impotence of beer students

With time, Students discovered beer talk, beer songs and beer games on their drinking bouts.

Drunken students in the court brewery in Munich
T. Micke

"Du edler Gerstensaft kannst mir Vergnügen geben. Komm, angefülltes Glas, du bringst mir tausendfache Lust. Du tröstest mein Gemüt und milderst meinen Frust. So sauf' ich denn, dass Lung' und Leber krachet, bis dass zuletzt die Schwindsucht mir das Konto machet..."Meaning approximately: "Oh noble beer, you give me such pleasure. Come, replenished glass, you bring me delight a thousand times over. You comfort my mind and alleviate my frustration. So I drink til my lungs and liver crash!"

If a little bit self-critical, this student describes his depraved yet merry daily work, preserved for beer-drinking posterity on a copper plate from the year 1764 (shortened text).

When something has such a long tradition like beer, beer brewers and beer drinkers do, then over the centuries a whole host of ideas, customs and stories entwine themselves around this tradition.

In an article for a beer exhibition in Linz last may, Erwin Richter describes the amusing, sometimes even very rancorous drinking customs of students in the Middle Ages.

Prospective scholars loved their beer so much that they devoted a language to it, binges and boozy get-togethers were strictly used.

So every student present had a reputation for beer, which they must have defended during the course of the evening by consuming ample amounts of beer. Without a reputation for beer a "person impotent to beer" must for example have emerged, since due to drunkenness and its resultant bad behaviour a student could be declared "beer-impotent" by the landlord of a pub. If he became more indebted, then he would be put to "beer trial" (with three beer judges) and accordingly punished. Such a punishment was, for example, payable if someone "let his flowers rust", or in other words if he didn't down his beer within 5 beer minutes (= three standard minutes). Then it came to "stacking": to make amends the contents of the "offended" glasses were simply drunk by the leader of the committee of landlords.

During these student pub sessions songs were sung, funny speeches were made and "games" were played. Members were chosen to prepare cheerful contributions and to read them out in front of the gatherings in the form of a rag magazine. If someone offered a funny joke spontaneously, it was called a beer josh. The prerequisite for this was of course that this person always had enough of the "good stuff" in his glass.

If a pub round staged beer games then this more often than not ended with the majority of those who took part lying drunken under the table. One of these games was, for example, the popular pope game: a piece of wood was spun on the table. The person to whom it pointed when it stopped had to drink a certain amount of beer and was consequently progressively named after numerous titles of military status and nobility, to emperor and then cardinal, finally being named beer pope – at that time an honourable, if "beer drenched" title.

As odd as these customs sound, the students took them seriously, because the "Comment" governed above all the cohabitation of the alumni. In 1899 a law-related book even emerged, the "General German Beer Comment". Paragraph 39 of the "GGBC" specified that: "Only beer is considered appropriate pub substance. With the permission of the landlord and if good reason is given, wine may also be consumed."

At the beginning of the 20th century, the conditions of student societies, which also exist today in a modified form, slackened. The most important introduction was that unconditional drinking restraints were abolished, which even meant that alcoholism could be considerably reduced among members.

One of these former alcoholics is, according to word of mouth, said to have experienced sinister goings-on in a small village North of Salzburg.

The former student, who in the meantime had managed to become an a solicitor, was on the way to a client via Obertrum on Trumer lake. He was in a hurry and sailed along the main road at quite a speed. At the height of the Sigl brewery inn, just before a drawn-out bend to the left, he got quite a fright. A small group of people had gathered together there, understandably laughing, and each one had a tankard in his hand, and was drawing beer from the local spring there.

The poor lawyer, who had not touched a drop of alcohol since his student days, thought he was having an abnormal hallucination and stared, glued to the fountain shoot, at the merrily drinking community instead of at the road. He misjudged the corner of the house in front of him by only a few centimetres.

When he came upon the spring just an hour later, on his return journey, the spook was over. Pure water flowed from the spring – and he had to make sure straight away by trying it! From then on the lawyer has allegedly suffered from trauma. An old village inhabitant claimed to have seen the man once in the moonlight sneaking up to the spring with a glass. He is said to have filled the vessel up with water and then, like bitter medicine, downed it in one, his hands trembling. Whether the story is really true or not cannot be decided, despite extensive research in the Obertum brewery. It is however true that Josef Sigl has actually had a beer tap built into the local fountain a few years ago, which he sometimes opens in summer for celebrations and for large tourist groups.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (12-08-92) – Contact