The "Berch" is calling!

Erlangen's Bergkirchweih fair and beer festival kicked off on 5th June with the tapping of the first keg of beer. The Bergkirchweih, known locally as the "Berch", is one of Bavaria's biggest and best festivals.

Thanks to the summery temperatures, the organisers of the Bergkirchweih saw a record weekend with around half a million visitors. Each year on the Thursday before Whitsun, at exactly 5 pm, the first keg is tapped by the current Mayor of Erlangen. This year it was Dr Florian Janik's turn. This heralds the start of the 'fifth season' for the city and opens Europe's largest beer garden. Around a million people come through the gates of this popular festival every year: about ten times the population of Erlangen. The guests come not only from all over the region, but from around the world. To cater for them, the website berch.info provides information all about the festival in eight different languages.  

What makes the Bergkirchweih really special is the many cellars – cool caves running through the Burgberg hill. Visitors can enjoy a total of around 15,000 seats amongst the 16 cellars and tents. The old chestnut, linden and oak trees provide plenty of shade. Cool festival beer from traditional steins is the perfect thirst-quencher. Guests can also look forward to a range of international and typical Franconian fare; everything from bratwurst to pretzels is on offer. Live music provides plenty of incentive to sing and dance.

After 12 days of celebrations and good times, the event closes with the 'burial of the keg'. The hosts and their helpers make their way through the masses with shovels and pickaxes to bury the last beer keg of the Bergkirchweih.

The Bergkirchweih was first held way back in 1755, when the traditional Whitsun market was relocated from the old town to the Burgberg. Inside the hill there is a network of passages stretching almost 20 kilometres in total. Some of the caves extend up to 500 metres into the hill. The people of Erlangen have been storing their beer here since the late 17th Century, taking advantage of the favourable climatic conditions. In summer, the brewers traditionally enjoyed a beer here once the day's work was done. Because there were no beer bottles at the time, they used to tap a keg and drink out of steins, just like today.

The 2014 Bergkirchweih continues in Erlangen until 16th June. You can find more information here.