Episode 112– Grain & Beer

This week we will kick off with the string of cities along the Baltic Coast from Lübeck up to Königsberg (modern day Kaliningrad). Who founded them and why? And why so many? Who were the people who came to live there, how did they organise themselves and most importantly, what did they produce and what did they trade?

We will dwell on the most splendid of those, Gdansk or Danzig in German, the one city in the Baltic that could give Lübeck a run for its money, a place that developed as six separate cities and only became one entity in the late 15th century. And as we talk about Gdansk, we will also talk about the Vistula River, Europe’s nineth longest that connected Gdansk not just to many of Poland’s great cities, but also to the agricultural wealth of the Prussia of the Teutonic Knights, to the Ukraine and to ancient Lithuania.

And all that foodstuff is put on ships and goes to the growing cities of Flanders, the Rhineland, England, Northern France and even Spain. For the first time since the fall of the Roman empire do we hear about large scale grain shipments that sustain urban centres, urban centres that couldn’t otherwise exist. But grain is not the only thing that the Hansa become famous for.

The other is Germany’s most popular drink and best-known export, beer. The economics there are even more fascinating, since people did not only drink vast quantities of beer in the Middle Ages, they also cared a lot about where it came from, and Einbecker was Europe’s favourite beer.

And if you have been hoping to finally hear about the Hanseatic Kontor in Bergen, well let’s see how far we get…..

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 112: Grain, Beer & maybe some more Fish

This week we will kick off with the string of cities along the Baltic Coast from Lübeck up to Königsberg (modern day Kaliningrad). Who founded them and why? And why so many? Who were the people who came to live there, how did they organise themselves and most importantly, what did they produce and what did they trade?

We will dwell on the most splendid of those, Gdansk or Danzig in German, the one city in the Baltic that could give Lübeck a run for its money, a place that developed as six separate cities and only became one entity in the late 15th century. And as we talk about Gdansk, we will also talk about the Vistula River, Europe’s nineth longest that connected Gdansk not just to many of Poland’s great cities, but also to the agricultural wealth of the Prussia of the Teutonic Knights, to the Ukraine and to ancient Lithuania.

And all that foodstuff is put on ships and goes to the growing cities of Flanders, the Rhineland, England, Northern France and even Spain. For the first time since the fall of the Roman empire do we hear about large scale grain shipments that sustain urban centres, urban centres that couldn’t otherwise exist.

But grain is not the only thing that the Hansa become famous for. The other is Germany’s most popular drink and best-known export, beer. The economics there are even more fascinating, since people did not only drink vast quantities of beer in the Middle Ages, they also cared a lot about where it came from, and Einbecker was Europe’s favourite beer.

And if you have been hoping to finally hear about the Hanseatic Kontor in Bergen, well let’s see how far we get…..

But before we start let me tell you that the History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Matt B., Tim KJ, Simon K. and Ben & Jim E. who have already signed up.

As you know I sometimes do feature other podcasts I like on the History of the Germans, podcasts I believe you may like too. Today I want to point you to History of the Second World War podcast. Here is Wesley himself telling you about it:

Last week we talked about the largest fisheries in the pre-modern period, the herring markets in Scania. Millions of herring travelled every year between July and September through the narrow Oresund. The fish were caught and then salted in barrels. The salt for that came in part from Germany, namely from Luneburg, Oldesloe and Halle and der Saale and was brought in by the merchants of Lübeck.

The other half of the salt had come from the Baie of Bourgneuf on the French Atlantic coast, initially brought in by Dutch, Flemish and English merchants but over time that trade was too usurped by Hanseatic merchants. Our budding merchant empire has now gained a quasi-monopoly on herring, has gained access to the main supply of beeswax and furs and got busy exploiting the mineral wealth of Sweden.

But that is not all. There is another major set of products that came in via the southern shore of the Baltic, through the line of cities that stretches like a string of pearls along the coast.

Since this is a podcast about the Hanseatic League it would be great if I could name you all the cities along that coast that were members of the League. But I can’t. The Hanseatic League did not run a register of members. Membership shifted constantly.

Only Lübeck was in there from start to finish, but even places that are seen as thoroughly Hanseatic, like Bremen, had initially been reluctant to join or were expelled at some point or both. Tradition has it that there were 72 permanent members and about 130 floating members. But there is not even a definitive list of these 72. It is likely that 72 was a purely symbolic number, made up as 7 times 12, each important in numerology.

And even if there had been 72 confirmed members, there is no way I can talk about all of these. My choice of which ones I mention is entirely subjective, driven by what I think is important or entertaining. If that means I miss one or other proud Hanseatic city in this podcast, my apologies.

The ones we are talking about today are: Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, Greifswald, Stettin/Szczecin, Kolberg/Kolobrzeg, Danzig/Gdansk, Elbing/Elblag and Königsberg/Kaliningrad as well as the inland cities of Kraków and Einbeck.

Let’s go from west to east. The first set of cities we should have a look at are Rostock and Wismar. Rostock was the first to be founded, in 1218, that is more than 60 years after Lübeck and 17 years after Riga. Wismar came a few years later in 1226.

These dates refer to the date when these places received city rights, not when they were first occupied. Very much like Lübeck itself these places had been villages or townships long before. Their population had largely been of Slavic descent, and they were also often still pagans. We did talk about the history of the Slavic peoples living between the Elbe and Oder Rivers at length in the episodes 95 to 108 of the History of the Germans Podcast, so this constellation should not come as a surprise.

These foundations were explicitly meant for German Christian merchants who in the case of Rostock and Wismar mostly came from Lübeck and whose roots go back to Westphalia, the Rhineland and Flanders.

They were given an area adjacent but separate from the existing Slavic township or village. Only the settlement of the Germans would be given the town laws that granted them the right to establish a city council and exercise lower jurisdiction.

They would then build a wall around their new city. In some cases, like in Rostock, the first city is almost immediately followed by a second one next to it, one ends up being called the Altstadt or old city and the other Neustadt, or new city, even if the new city is barely a decade younger than the old one. Each would have their own council, town hall and city wall.

Rathaus in Rostock

In Rostock there was also the seat of the prince of Mecklenburg which formed the technically fourth entity. These four settlements merged into one city in 1265, chose one city council for the whole and built a joint city wall surrounding the agglomeration.

Ok, that was the process, but it still does not explain why the princes of Mecklenburg wanted these cities to be created and why they wanted them filled with German merchants.

As so often in history, it was the two main drivers of human behaviour, greed and fear. The princes on the Baltic shore, be they the counts of Holstein, the Mecklenburger or Pomeranians as well as the princes further inland, the margraves of Brandenburg and Meissen, the duke of the shrunken Saxony, the house of Welf, the archbishop of Bremen, the bishop of Magdeburg and all the other ones lived in constant fear.

None could be certain of their position. The central authority in the form of emperor Frederick II had returned home to Sicily, leaving the Regnum Teutonicum in the hands of his infant son and a regency council with the strict instruction not to exercise much authority.

And by 1250 even that bit of central authority fell away entirely leaving an almost free for all held together by some loose rules of chivalric behaviour.

For a prince, count, duke or bishop to feel secure he needed fortresses and money, lots of money. A city surrounded by a wall is a formidable defensive position. And what is even better is that the cost of building and maintaining this fortress is borne by the city’s inhabitants.

Plus cities were great engines of the economy. The city’s artisans create goods people desire and tools that increase productivity. The merchants open up markets bringing in and sending out goods. The city itself becomes a market for the agricultural surplus generated on the farms nearby.

And all that activity could be turned into sources of tax income for the princes. With a solid set of defences and some tidy income from taxes and tolls, a prince could then get on with the long and arduous task of turning his hotchpotch of rights and privileges into a territorial state.

And that was expensive. It required buying up land and rights from other lords, knights or bishops, and where they were hard to convince, take it away from them by force, until all power in the territory is consolidated in one hand.

But as we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch, not even for a medieval prince who can raid any of his serf’s home and demand food. The price he had to pay was to grant the new settlers a number of freedoms. In particular the right to form their own city council, to administrate their affairs and to adjudicate at least their civil disagreements and petty crimes. Only the judgement over serious crimes and in particular the right to convict someone to death was reserved to the prince. That is what it took to convince a merchant from Lübeck, Dortmund, Visby or Riga to move to Wismar or Rostock.

So confusingly, the political project aimed at consolidating all power in the hands of the princes starts with the princes giving some of these powers to immigrants. And they will live to regret that decision.

Hearing that the princes of Mecklenburg set up trading cities for German merchants on their lands may sound confusing to modern listeners. You may remember that the princes of Mecklenburg were descendants of Niklot, the pagan Slavic leader who had fought and lost against Henry the Lion. This was the last leg of a set of wars and harassments that goes back to the 10th century. There could not have been much love lost between Slavs and Germans.  

The ethnic persecution of Slavs ended when the first prince, Pribislav had become Christian and was recognised as a magnate in the Holy Roman Empire first by Henry the Lion and then by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. So just 60 years before the founding of Rostock, Mecklenburger and Saxons had been caught in a brutal struggle for survival and now the Slavs are inviting the Germans in, giving them land and privileges?

If these Slavic princes did care about their own peoples being pushed aside and over time letting these places turn into German speaking lands, there is little evidence of it. Fortifications and income were apparently more important. And we are still 500 years before the invention of nationalism making identities as Christian and as an aristocrat more important than ethnic relationships.

This policy of inviting German merchants to settle in their lands was not limited to the Mecklenburger. The next set of cities along the Baltic coast, Stralsund, Greifswald, Stettin/Szczecin in Polish and Kolberg/Kolobrzeg.

Rathaus Stralsund

The magnates who founded them were the princes of Rügen and the dukes of Pomerania. These too were of Slavic extraction. The princes of Rügen had been amongst the most committed pagans and guardians of the last great pagan temple at Kap Arkona.

Likewise, the dukes of Pomerania had originally been the leaders of the Slavic tribe of the Pomeranians who had taken up Christianity thanks to the silver-tongues preaching of bishop Otto von Bamberg and the steel tipped lances of duke Boleslav III of Poland.

And again, these princes invited German settlers to come to their lands, take over some of the most promising trading locations and built their cities. In the case of Stettin/ Szczecin the choice was particularly stark, since it had been a sizeable city since at least the 10th century with an established trading activity. Still, the duke of Pomerania decided in 1237 to give the combined entity a German city law, replacing the existing Slavic rules.

Rathaus Stettin/Szczecin

And these princes did it for very much the same reasons as their neighbours to the west. Their neighbours were the Danes, the margraves of Brandenburg and Poland. The Danes under Valdemar II had raided along the Baltic shores for decades before the battle of Bornhoeved leading to a serious depopulation of the territory. Meanwhile the ambitious margraves of Brandenburg were expanding both northwards and eastwards.

Brandenburg’s move east was facilitated by Poland breaking up into six duchies after the death of Boleslav III “wrymouth”. None of these duchies could dominate the others, though technically the duke who resided in Kraków was the overlord of the whole of Poland. Each was in a precarious position vis-vis-vis their cousins, the margraves of Brandenburg, but not only them.

What knocked Poland for six in this period was the Mongol Invasion. In 1241 they arrived, led by Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan. The duke of the Polish duchy of Malopolska and nominal leader of the whole went to face them at Chmielnik.

His forces were annihilated, and the duke fled south. His cousin Henry the Pious duke of Silesia fared no better. He had gathered even more troops and was defeated at Legnica and he himself was torn to pieces. Though the Mongols turned back either because the election of a new Khan was taking place or because they found the climate less hospitable for their specific needs, they did briefly stop to completely wipe out the populations of Kraków, Lublin, Sandomierz and other cities.

So, for these reasons the Polish and the Pomeranian dukes needed to repopulate their cities as defensive positions and as sources of cash. And that meant inviting foreigners to come and settle down. These foreigners were mostly from the Holy Roman Empire and as we said before, demanded that they should have some say in the way their new cities were administrated and managed. This meant that cities were either given the law of the city of Lübeck if they were along the coast, or the law of the city of Magdeburg if they were inland.

That resulted in a situation where places like for instance Kraków consisted in a ducal castle complex plus a Polish settlement around it, which was inhabited by Poles and subject to traditional polish laws and the ducal jurisdiction. Meanwhile an entirely new city has been founded next to it, which was largely inhabited by German immigrants who had their own laws, jurisdiction, customs and language.

In some cases, these different settlement merged into one large city with a common city council, in other cases the different administrative structures and ethnic segregation remained for centuries. When these cities – like Krakow – joined the Hanseatic League, it was usually just the German merchant settlement that did so. Which gets me to the bit of today’s show that will get me the by far largest number of complaints and social media hate mail.

And that is the story of the greatest of all these cities along the Baltic shore – Danzig as the Germans call it or Gdansk as it is called in Polish. The history of Danzig/Gdansk could easily take up a whole episode and I may still do it at a later stage.

But for today I will stick to the bare bones. Gdansk might well be the oldest of the Hanseatic cities. Archaeologists have found remains of an 8th century Slavic settlement underneath the Long Market in the centre of the city. Arab visitors in the 10th century mention it and Adalbert of Prague, the saintly friend of emperor Otto III set off for the land of the Pruzzi and his utterly predictable death from here.

In the 13th century Gdansk became the seat of a local prince, the duke of Pomerelia, another one of these Slavic rulers who got baptised and were elevated to a feudal rank of duke.

The dukes of Pomerelia were vassals of the king of Poland, and not princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The eastern border of the Holy Roman empire was the duchy of Pomerania. All lands east of there, including Pomerelia,, Gdansk and Prussia never became part of the Holy Roman empire, even though they were later parts of the kingdom of Prussia and the German Reich between 1871 and 1918, some of it until 1945. As I said, German history is complicated.

Back to the medieval dukes of Pomerelia. They supported the growth of their settlement at Gdansk and as it expanded, a new part of town was created to house more artisans and Slavic merchants. This part was called the Suburbium, or the suburb. From the end of the 12th century German merchants, in particular from Luebeck came to Gdansk and the duke gave them their own district to settle down in.

This district also grew rapidly and in 1225 duke Swietopluk of Danzig granted the German settlers city rights. These applied only to their settlement, which became known as the Rechtstadt, or the city of rights, as only this settlement had city rights, whist the old castle area and the suburb did not.

By the end of the 13th century the Rechtstadt, so just the German merchant city, not the other bits, joined the Hanseatic League. In 1294 the dukes of Pomerelia died out. The region was then fought over by the margraves of Brandenburg, some of the Polish dukes and the Teutonic knights, a war the Teutonic Knights did win.

The Teutonic Knights took over the old ducal castle. They did not like their cities to be too independent and they had their own ports and trading cities which meant they tried to suppress the Rechtstadt. At the same time, they founded another Slavic settlement, mainly for fishermen and the collectors of amber. This settlement they called the Hakelwerk.

Now we have four different cities on the territory of modern Gdansk, three Slavic ones, the castle, the suburb and the Hakelwerk and one German one, the Rechtstadt.

The Teutonic Knights’ efforts to keep the burghers of the Rechtstadt down turned out to be unsuccessful. The settlement grew and grew and immigrants arrived almost continuously from the Empire, looking for opportunities to make a fortune in this booming trading city. The Rechtstadt quickly became too small and so another city was founded, the Neustadt or Newtown. And even this was not enough, so another, a sixth city was founded, the Jungstadt, the young town.

 Meanwhile the old suburbia that used to be the place where the Slavic artisans and merchants had lived was gradually taken over by German immigrants so that this settlement too was given German city laws in 1377 and was renamed Old Town. There we are, the end of the 14th century the place we know today as Gdansk consisted of no less than six separate political entities, all with different legal and political frameworks, their own councils and town halls.

Four of those were dominated by German merchants and artisans, the Rechtstadt, Neustadt, Jungstadt and Altstadt, whilst the Hakelwerk was mainly populated by Pomeranian fishermen and the castle area by the Teutonic Knights, their administrators and servants as well as some Pomerelians.

Only in the late 15th century once Poland had taken control of Gdansk again would this agglomeration be unified under one city council. We will get back to Gdansk in a minute.

Let me just complete the round. If you go further east along the coast from Pomerelia you get to the territory of the Teutonic Knights. As you know we will do a whole series about the Teutonic knights, so we will touch upon their story only briefly here. The Teutonic Knights had been called by the duke of Mazovia, one of the six Polish dukes, to force the pagan Pruzzi into submission and acceptance of Christianity.

The Teutonic Knights did stick to that part of the brief, conquered the land of the Pruzzi in a 50-year long brutal fight that led to the near extinction of its indigenous population and converted the remaining peoples to Christianity. And they also established their own autonomous state reporting to no-one.

When they turned their mind to rebuilding the wasteland they had created, the Teutonic Knights established their own trading cities namely Thorn (Torun in Polish), Kulm (Chelmno), Elbing (elblag) and Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The Teutonic knights did pursue the same objectives in founding these cities that their princely neighbours pursued.

The difference was that they were a lot more successful. All the cities we talked about here would shake off much of the control mechanisms their founders had put in. They would acquire full control of jurisdiction, they would buy off or fight off the taxation rights of their city lords and even gain the right to pursue wrongdoers in the surrounding lands to bring them to court in their cities.

Though only very few of the Hanseatic cities became free imperial cities, Lübeck, Bremen and Cologne being the notable cases, the rest were almost as independent of their overlords even if they did not have that status. The cities in the lands of the Teutonic Knights were different. Their city law, the Kulmer Handfeste left far more rights in the hands of the knights than the Lübeck law that applied in most other cities. The control of the Grand Master was so comprehensive that many negotiating partners of the Hansa considered him to be a member of the Hanse himself.

So, I am sorry for this long and arduous run through the foundation story of the various cities along the Baltic coast. The reason I did that was not just to complete the circuit.

There is a point to that. And that point is that there is a conflict built into the Hanseatic League right from the beginning. The dukes and princes who remained nominally in charge of these cities may have been forced to accept their independence, but for how long?

As they consolidate their power and form more modern states, these independent cities start to look like anachronistic leftovers from feudal times let alone that these places that are both militarily and economically crucial to their territories. Defending city liberties against the princes will be a constant undercurrent of the history of the Hanseatic League and one of the reasons of its ultimate dissolution.

Which gets us to the next question, what did these cities trade in? How did they get a foothold in the lucrative Hanseatic Trade? We know that Lübeck used the salt from Lüneburg, Oldesloe and Halle to get going.  But these other cities along the Baltic coast, they had no salt they could leverage into access to either Novgorod or the herring trade in Scania.

In unique natural riches there was the amber found on the coast of Prussia, a luxury product the Teutonic Knights shipped across Europe. That was by the way a truly ancient trade. Pliny the elder – always a most reliable source – talks about Amber from an island he calls Abalus, a day’s sail from the land of the Teutones wherever that was.

But amber is not really a crucial ingredient for anything, nothing that can be used to force kings and merchants to let you in to play in the big league. What these cities did have though was an enormous hinterland. And in this hinterland another army of Germanic immigrants had been called in to develop its agricultural production.

We talked about 12th and 13th colonisation of the lands between Elbe and Oder many times in the last season. We are now in the second wave when colonists move beyond the Oder River, sometimes along with the expansion of the Margraviate of Brandenburg or to populate the lands of the Teutonic Knights, but also upon invitation of the Slavic dukes of Mecklenburg and Pomerania and the Polish dukes, in particular the duke of Silesia.

The men and women from the first wave who settled into Holstein, Brandenburg and Meissen had come from the overpopulated regions of the Holy Roman empire, mainly from Flanders and the Rhineland. The settlers into Mecklenburg, Pomerania and Poland had a slightly different background. They were the descendants, the second sons and daughters of first wave settlers who had come to Brandenburg or Meissen. They did not require much persuasion to replicate what their parents or grandparents had done, having seen how well it had worked. Those who headed for Prussia were again different. They came directly from Franconia and central Germany where the Teutonic Order had large possessions and many of its members originated. Their houses in Marburg and Bad Mergentheim kept recruiting settlers offering land and low taxes.

What made this second wave work even better than the first one was that it happened alongside the foundation of the new trading cities we just talked about. These new cities provided a ready market for the new agricultural production capacity.

In part the grain, meat and fruit produced in the new villages went to feed the population of the new cities, but a large chunk also went into export. Grain from eastern Europe fed the rapidly expanding cities of Flanders, the English ports and in particular that emerging behemoth of London, the cities of the Rhineland with Cologne at its head, Northern France and as far as Spain and many more.

That list tells you that even assuming the lands of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and Pomerania were extremely fertile, which they sadly are not, there is no way they could have produced enough to cover that level of demand. Where it came from was initially the enormous estates of the Teutonic Knights.

We understand that in the year 1400 the various silos of Prussia held 800t of wheat, 1,500 tons of Barley, 6,500 tons of oats and 15,000 tons of Rye. 330 ships a year brought grain to England, 1,100 sailed to Flanders alone. The greatest of these export harbours was Gdansk or Danzig. What gave this city a huge advantage was its river, the Vistula. Again, take out an atlas and have a look.

The Vistula is the ninth longest river in Europe flowing all the way from the Carpathian Mountains via Kraków and Warsaw to Gdansk. And it has a number of tributaries, one of which is the Bug which comes down to Warsaw from Lviv in Ukraine. With this connection, Gdansk became the gateway for the agricultural wealth of Prussia, Ukraine and Poland into Northern Europe. And I guess by now we are all painfully aware of the importance of Ukrainian agriculture in feeding the world.

For the first time since the Ancient Roman empire do we hear of large scale grain transports feeding densely populated centres in western Europe. I know I keep going on about this stuff, but again, grain is a commodity meaning you carry a lot of weight for not much cash. And you do this over thousands of miles? Getting this done organisationally and economically is no mean feat and a huge nail in the coffin of the idea that people in the Middle Ages lived within just a tiny radius around their villages. Yes most did, but if you were intrepid, you could sail the world even then..

Apart from grain there was the trade in wood. The enormous forests of Prussia, Poland and Lithuania provided the materials to build the cogs of the Hanseatic League members as well as the English and French vessels that fought in the hundred years war.

Another byproduct was wood ash that could be used as an abrasive cleaner, something the Flemish weavers used in cloth production. And there were the metals found in Hungary, Poland and Bohemia coming up the Vistula and some furs and beeswax from Lithuania.

But the biggest export alongside grain was beer. Beer is not something that requires a special climate like wine or a particular water quality like whisky. Anyone can make it anywhere and they have done so for centuries. Still, the Hanseatic cities became famous across Europe for their beer. Bremen and Hamburg still carry on making beer and brand names like Becks and Holsten tell of the old tradition.

Beer accounted for an estimated 8% of the daily calories consumed in the Middle Ages. It is by the way a myth that people drank beer instead of water because they were worried about hygiene. That was at best a side issue. It is more that medieval beer was extremely calorific and relatively low in alcohol, so it was a main source of energy for people who still mainly worked in manual labour.

What also set beer apart was that brewing wasn’t regulated in the same way most other trades were. Many medieval trades were organised in guilds that limited access to the profession in the interest of quality control and financial well-being of the incumbents. That constrained production and hampered economic growth.

Making beer wasn’t seen as a profession. Originally most households made their own beer, something you can still do with a beer making kit. Not everyone can make shoes, bake or butcher.

Since there were no guilds, the way the cities tried to control the production and to maintain standards for health and safety was by restricting the number of houses that were allowed to make beer. Hamburg for instance had 500 houses where the making of beer was allowed. If someone wanted to become a brewer, he did not have to marry some brewer’s widow, schmooze the guild masters and pass an examination, what he or she needed to do was buying one of the houses where brewing was allowed. That is why you often find breweries in Germany being called “Brauhaus” meaning brewer’s house, referring to the physical location where brewing was allowed.

I will now get on to a completely weird tangent so forward 45 seconds if you do not want to hear this story. One of the largest brands of beer in Brazil is called Brahma. It was founded in 1888 by a Swiss guy called Joseph Villiger together with two Brazilians carrying typical Brazilian names like Paul Fritz and Ludwig Mack. Today the company is owned by AB Imbev, parent company of Anheuser Bush. In 2020 Brahma found itself under attack by various faith groups, in particular Hindus for the use of the name Brahma, which is after all the name of the lord of creation in Hinduism. The company responded by arguing that its beer brand was named after Joseph Bramah, an English inventor of the draft pump valve, as well as the flush toilet. That was ridiculed by many, in part because there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence, the spelling is different and also because the beer pump Joseph Bramah invented was the kind that is still in use in British pubs. And that is no use for pumping Pilsener, the kind of beer Brahma mainly produces. And had the guys at Anheuser Bush who own Brahma known a few words of the German of their forefathers, they would have come up with a smarter made-up story. They could have claimed that Brahma stands for Brauhaus Mannheim or Brauhaus Mack. Not that there is any evidence for that anywhere either, but at least it sounds plausible and relates to an urban myth circulating amongst the German diaspora in Sao Paulo in the 1980s. 

Ok, back to the Hanseatic League. Brauhaus, Brewing. So, as I said, there were no brewer’s guilds. But that does not mean there weren’t quality controls. Au contraire. The city councils would often issue detailed beer regulations and qualifications for the brew masters and their assistants. These regulations are much older than the famous Reinheitsgebot which was passed in Bavaria in 1516 and adopted into national law in 1906.

Hanseatic beer allowed for more variety but had one secret ingredient, Hops. Hops altered beer in two ways. One, it made it much easier to preserve, and second, it also gave the beer the “hoppy” taste that is still a key feature of northern German beer. So far so good. The Hanseatic beer is produced in vast quantities and can be preserved better than the moonshine people made at home, and it tastes nicely hoppy.

But why would you export it? Even today despite global brands, beer is typically consumed within a modest radius from the brewery. And in the Middle Ages transport cost were much much higher than today. Transporting beer 100km overland would increase the cost by 50-70% according to Erich Pluemer.

Now let me tell you about the great Hanseatic beer city of Einbeck. Einbeck is a smallish town in Lower Saxony halfway between Hannover and Kassel. The nearest port is Hamburg 230km away and Lübeck 290km away. So that means by the time Einbeck beer gets to an exporting harbour it is already more than twice as expensive as the local beer.

Now let me tell you that Einbecker Beer was famous across Northern Europe and was drunk as far north as Bergen and Stockholm, another 900km onwards by boat. Why would people pay 5X for the imported version of a daily staple? Something they drank more than 200 litres each per year.

Well, for the same reason one has to pay through the nose for Champagne, Wagyu beef, Apple phones and Louis Vuitton handbags. It is branding. Somehow German brewers managed to convince their customers across Europe that their beer was a luxury product well worth its exaggerated price. And Einbecker stood at the top of this brand pyramid. Martin Luther was given a barrel of Einbecker to get some Dutch courage before his trial for excommunication and another when he got married.

The demand for this Chateau Lafitte of beers kept 700 brewhouses in Einbeck busy. Einbecker Bock is still available, produced by the Einbecker Brauhaus that traces itself back to 1378. Alongside Einbeck, Hamburg, Bremen and Wismar too were celebrated for their beer. But all the Hanseatic cities were exporting beer still being able to extract a premium over the local lagers.  

Right,  we are now rapidly approaching the half hour mark. And that will now be the moment where for the third time I will have to say that, sorry, I will not get to Bergen, will not talk about the Tyske Bruggen, the Hanseatic Kontor. This is becoming a bit of a running joke now. But next week I will definitely get there – Scouts honour. And I will because now everything is in place. We have gone through all the major trading products that come out of the Baltic: Wax, Fur, Copper, grain, beer, amber, wood, ash and the big one, herring. We talked about salt and how Lübeck could leverage it into access to both Novgorod and the herring trade. Next week we will find out how the league as a whole but mostly the cities in Prussia and Pomerania leverage grain and beer into access to dried cod, haddock and hake in Bergen and privileges in the greatest of all medieval trading markets, in Bruges in Flanders. I hope you will join us again.

Before I go, let me thank all of you who are supporting the show, in particular the Patrons who have kindly signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans. It is thanks to you this show does not have to do advertising for products you do not want to hear about. If Patreon isn’t for you, another way to help the show is sharing the podcast directly or boosting its recognition on social media. If you share, comment or retweet a post from the History of the Germans it is more likely to be seen by others, hence bringing in more listeners. My most active places are Twitter @germanshistory and my Facebook page History of the Germans Podcast. As always, all the links are in the show notes.    

And just to remind you, the sub-podcast The Hanseatic League is still running. So if you want to point a friend or relative towards the History of the Germans but want to avoid confusion, just send him there. The Hanseatic League is available everywhere you can get the History of the Germans.

And last but not least the bibliography. For this episode I again relied heavily on:

Philippe Dollinger: Die Hanse – definitely my go-to-book for this season

Die Hanse, Lebenswirklichkeit und Mythos, herausgegeben von Jürgen Bracker, Volker Henn and Rainer Postel

Rolf Hammel-Kieslow: Die Hanse

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