Saturday, 21 November 2020

Yuri Gagarin’s six-pack of Schwarzbier

The Köstritzer Schwarzbier brewery likes to advertise the story that Goethe drank their beer. It appears that once upon a time, they were also keen to add pioneering cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to their list of celebrity drinkers.

Gagarin visited the DDR in October 1963 in the company of fellow kosmonavtka Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and they toured the sort of showpiece workplaces you might expect – the Orwo film factory, and the Zeiss facility in Jena, for example (Zeiss had contributed a fair bit of technology to the Soviet space programme).

“Needs mair hops”, commented Comrade Gagarin



When Gagarin’s train stopped in tiny Bad Köstritz shortly before reaching Gera, the brewery took the opportunity to present him with a carton of bottles, with the promise that if he liked the beer, he only had to write and they’d send him some more.

Sadly, as far as I know, it is not recorded what Gagarin thought of the Schwarzbier, or whether he drank it straight or sweetened with sugar, as was sometimes recommended at the time.

Despite the fine words of the party functionaries about equality of the sexes, it’s also not recorded whether Tereshkova got any beer.

Source: Berliner Zeitung, Sa. 19. Oktober 1963

Friday, 20 November 2020

DDR beer export strategy 1956


Berliners, you who love your "cool Molle" so much, although it was experimented upon without reducing the price, the minister for food had good news for you at the Leipzig trade fair. In a couple of months you will have the old Molle with its higher original gravity again.…

Minister Westphal’s promise was announced in Leipzig by Mr Friedrich, the deputy chairman of the technical committee on beer exports. Out of around 600 breweries in the DDR, which produce around 20 million hectolitres of beer annually, five are particularly suited to exporting beer as well as production for the domestic market. Radeberg and Grenzquell will attempt to establish themselves in export markets with Pilsner, Köstritzer with Schwarzbier, Berliner Kindl with Deutscher Porter and Schultheiss with Berliner Weisse.  Our breweries are not at capacity, so there are practically no limits on the volumes that potential export customers can have produced in the DDR.

Single orders from these breweries have already been exported to many countries. Regular beer deliveries to France and West Germany are picking up. Kegs and bottles for export therefore do not reduce domestic consumption. In fact the well-known Steinie bottle, the squat beer bottle with a crown cork, are also being used for sales of Radeberger in the DDR.

“Bekannte Berliner Molle kommt wieder”, Berliner Zeitung, 6. September 1956.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Berlin brewers had quietly reduced the strength of their beer, and drinkers noticed, leading to what we now call a reverse ferret. A Molle is (or was) a Berlin term for a glass of beer.

600 breweries is a lot of breweries for a country the size of the DDR.

There are some familiar names in the list of breweries chosen to lead the export offensive: Radeberger, Schultheiss, Berliner Kindl, Köstritzer. The first three now all belong to the massive Dr Oetker corporation and the last to the Bitburger group. Imagine how different history would have looked if Berliner Kindl hat made a success of Deutscher Porter exports. I didn’t even know they made a Porter.