19 SEP 2019: Each year when the taps of Oktoberfest are turned on in Munich (Sept. 21 this year), I’m reminded of a favourite travel story – one in which I cavorted with German royalty, got a unique insider’s perspective on Germany’s signature annual event, and, of course, drank a lot of beer.

But let me say at the outset that it wasn’t too much beer that has coloured the details of my tale, for I did in fact sips suds with HRH Prince Luitpold Rupprecht Heinrich Prinz von Bayern, who is a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty, the great-grandson of the last king of Bavaria (the position ended in 1918) and also a descendent of Ludwig I, whose celebration of marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12, 1810 served as the first Oktoberfest celebration – a folk fest that has now grown into the largest fair in the world, attracting some six million visitors a year for its amusement rides, music, parades, and, of course, the famous beer tents.

In 1995, I was one of them, lucky enough to be taking part in a German tourist board FAM enticingly titled “Finding the Best Beer in Bavaria.” Which is where Luitpold comes in. After hoisting masses (large mugs) of beer in Munich at Oktoberfest, visiting monasteries for monk ale, and calling in UNESCO-rated cities like Bayreuth and Bamberg (the latter known for its “smoked beer,” which tastes like bacon, I might add), the clever tour, which was built around but not really about beer, landed us at Kaltenberg Castle – home of the prince and, fittingly, HQ for the brewery he owns and runs, Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg.

Over dinner, Luitpold regaled us with the stories of the colourful history of the castle (it was built in 1292, destroyed and rebuilt many times, and housed many owners including the Knights of Malta). More pertinently, the first brewery there was built in 1870, which was the both the latest chapter in the history of Wittelbachs (who besides being kings, had been brewers for centuries and had been the sole producers of historic wheat beer until 1798), and a precursor to the major modern brewery the prince runs today.

All of which is to say, brewing is in the blood of the prince, as is Oktoberfest, effectively started by and celebrating the marriage of his royal ancestor.

Yet, as we learned from Luitpold, his good graces and gentle manner showing an edge for the first time, Kaltenberg was not permitted to take part in the annual festival, which starts in September and runs to the first week of October (hence the name) and comprises 16 to 18 days of copious amounts of beer drinking in brewery-sponsored tents – a most lucrative boost to their bottom lines. But those tents are reserved by regulation for Munich breweries and Kaltenberg is located 43 km. away in the Upper Bavarian village of Geltendorf.

Not to dissuaded, and to press his claim for an exemption from the rule, Luitpold recalled that he once attempted to join the “grand entry” spectacle of Oktoberfest, in which landlords and breweries roll through town with decorated carriages and horse-drawn drays, accompanied by waitresses and bands. In Luitpold’s case, one could almost envision a procession of peasants with pitchforks. Alas, the Kaltenberg brewery procession was blocked from entering the city by municipal authorities and Luitpold was forced to retreat.

And while it may have been small consolation to missing out on the ability to sell his suds at the biggest beer festival in the world, Luitpold also revealed to us that he actually co-owned a brew pub (in the days before they were trendy) with a Canadian friend in downtown Toronto called Growlers – an establishment that some of us were pleased to say we both knew and frequented. “Well, next time you’re there, be sure to have a beer on me,” Luitpold offered.

Soon our delightful dinner ended, and with hearty goodbyes and, though the term wasn’t yet invented, some selfies with the prince, we were on our way.

But the story wasn’t quite finished. Back in Toronto, some of our FAM group, as people did in those pre online sharing days, arranged a get-together to exchange photos, and the obvious meeting point was the prince’s pub. As it happened, it was the night of Quebec referendum, a small but important point.

Upon arrival at the pub, one of journalists – a fellow from the Toronto Sun – boldly informed the server that not only had we met the prince, but he had encouraged us to visit the pub for a free pint. She rolled her eyes, clearly having seen every trick in the book from cheap patrons like us. “But it’s the truth,” I assured her, pulling out a photo of myself and Luitpold, clinking glasses together no less. Whether she recognized him, or even knew that her owner was the heir to the throne in Bavaria, she didn’t reveal.

Nevertheless, the evening wore on, more beers were consumed, and with each one, and to the utter embarrassment of the rest of us at the table, the Sun scribe continued to protest too much in his relentless and unsuccessful quest for free beer. Eventually he gave up and decided to leave early for the Sun newsroom to be a part of the “historic” night in Canada as Quebeckers voted oui ou non on sovereignty, at the same time plunking a wad of cash on the table to cover his tab.

One by one, our group continued to cash out, in the end leaving only myself and Richard Rheindorf from the tourist board at closing time. We timidly asked for the night’s damage from our beleaguered waitress, who tallied the bill.

But first a smile and a wink.

“The first round,” she said, “is on the prince!”

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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