A Communal Déjà-vu in Seßlach

Pushing down the shutter on the camera, I instantly felt I’d taken this exact picture before. It was an unassuming building in a small medieval town full of captivating architectural gems but it was special in that it was one of the few remaining communal brew houses left in Franconia, an area once rich with them. Once upon a time, to brew you had to have a special right bestowed on you. Fires were common in breweries since they were used to boil the water. The use of communal brew houses perhaps made it easier to protect them since they were fewer in number. Over the course of time, these fell out of favor and private enterprise reigned supreme, mostly leaving an important part of brewing culture forgotten outside of a few isolated places.

the Kommunbrahaus in Sesslach & the Roter Ochse

Déjà-vu is the feeling you’ve experienced something before and there are as many explanations for it as there are personal experiences of how it feels. Tiredness, both physical and mental, can play a role especially when traveling. False memories the brain tries to make sense of is another. Well, I was tired. That was for sure. Of course, taking a photo of a communal brew house wasn’t unfamiliar for me. I’d spent the three previous years doing just that in the Zoigl area of the Upper Palatinate but this didn’t feel anything like that. No, it was both more recent and further back in time. To be honest, I had been to Seßlach before. In fact, it was one of my earliest Franconian countryside excursions with my wife who I’d just met in 2002. It was also one of the first total surprises when it came to finding an incredibly atmospheric intact old town strictly through seeking out beer. It would play out countless times over the ensuing years.

my first trip to Seßlach & the most recent: it hasn’t changed much even if I have

Seßlach as a formal town dates back to the 1300s when its still intact wall was first constructed but there are records of people living on this spot from the year 800. What sets it apart is the near total lack of any modern buildings within the city walls. If it weren’t for a few cars prowling the cobblestone streets, you’d be walking around in an open air museum of medieval times. Though my visits were a good 18 years apart, very little if anything had changed. With an overnight stay, I had more time to wander not only the streets but almost around the entire wall. It’s a captivating little spot and I found myself repeatedly wishing my wife was with me as it’s the kind of place she enjoys.

colorful Seßlach

Oddly enough and surely adding to the Déjà-vu experience was I’d had a similar trip to Bad Windsheim three weeks earlier. That one had been prompted by going to a new brewery for me, Brauhaus Döbler which also just happened to have a communal brewery in town. This trip to Seßlach had been prompted by also going to a new for me brewery,  so it was easy to see how my brain was having a hard time processing it all. Add to that a half-dozen new beers and a hike into the countryside of each town and sensory overload was bound to creep in.

a quick stop in town before the hike to Heilgersdorf

My train to Coburg had been delayed just enough that I missed lunch at the Roter Ochse. It did allow me to hop off the bus right at my hotel and check in immediately. I wasn’t exactly starving but the Roter Ochse would be closed the next day which meant I’d have to stop back that evening after the hike. Midday breaks are not uncommon in these small towns. Of course the destination of my hike, Brauerei Scharpf, was in an even smaller village and it wasn’t even open until late afternoon. Ah, living in rural Franconia is simple but traveling there does take some planning. Well, I’d be good and hungry not to mention thirsty when I got there!

lovely countryside just minutes on foot from Seßlach

Appropriately enough, I exited the walled town via the Rothenburg gate and wouldn’t you know it, I was headed towards Rothenburg. No, not the famous one on the Tauber. As is typical of these rural hikes, even a circular route like I’d found, you are basically following a path to the next village. I guess it comes in pretty handy if you don’t have a car because buses are slim pickings in these parts. It’s a hilly area so unsurprisingly, the initial part was right up a hill which afforded nice enough views back to Seßlach. Since it was only two kilometers away, the church tower of Rothenburg was soon in view.

the village of Rothenburg

Soon in view and before you knew it, in the rear view. It was certainly cute enough but you probably wouldn’t go there if it weren’t on the way to a great brewery. Well, I wouldn’t anyway. I pressed on and was rewarded with open fields ready to be or already harvested and one mosquito-invested forested section which made me appreciate being out in the open once back out there. Sorry about no photos of that part, I didn’t exactly have time to whip out the camera. I spotted a marked route directly to Heilgersdorf, the village the brewery is located but despite a growing hunger, I stuck to my plans and continued to the hamlet of Bischwind. Of course, it was a drop to the valley for that and another short climb for the final stretch.

the last stretch to Heilgersdorf was worth the walk

The last bit was worth the additional work and I was still in the village before I knew it. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was bigger than the previous two since they do, after all, have a brewery albeit a small one. That said, I could see it was filling up fast and was glad I’d timed it for just after its opening.

finally Heilgersdorf & Brauerei Scharpf

This was a bit of a mini-Déjà-vu as I’d stopped at the pub a week earlier when driving to Saxony. It was the planned lunch stop and according to their website, it should have been open for lunch for our Friday arrival. The lot was empty but the door was open. I went in and while my wife was using the restroom, I went into the pub only to be told it wasn’t open due to COVID-19. Fair enough but at least change the hours on the website or put up a warning on the homepage. To make matters worse, it was set to open in an hour but we couldn’t just wait around with a fair drive still in front of us. Even my pleading explanation we’d come all the way from Munich fell on deaf ears. This time, I’d e-mailed them and got confirmation it would be open and I think they even remembered me. I guess they don’t get a lot of pleaders, especially from Munich. At any rate, I was treated really well and the service was super by village standards. Their much sought after Märzen was amazing and the mixed meat plate to die for.

Scharpf Märzen & mixed meat plate

With the sun getting lower in the sky, it was time to pull out. I’d probably stayed a beer or two longer than necessary but I’d come a long way and I didn’t know when or if I’d ever be back. Thankfully, the hike back wasn’t long but it was the most forested section of trail and with dusk approaching, it was bound to be dimly lit and possibly mosquito-ridden. As chance would have it, there were no bugs but I did follow the Bible Way and went over the Christenstein. That’s Christ’s Stone the last time I checked. While I am a Christian, I know these types of locations were generally places of pagan worship prior to our more refined types of veneration. There were some eerie statues which I imagine wouldn’t have been so eerie during the day and if I weren’t in the woods at dusk alone after quite a few Märzens. Needless to say, I didn’t hang out at the picnic table but did enjoy the walk back nonetheless. The light was beautiful, as is generally the case when you’re out walking at that time.

the Christenstein area on the hike back

I was back in Seßlach in no time and was happy to see the Roter Ochse still open. It reportedly has the better food of the two communal brew house outlets but I could only manage to down a quite tasty soup. I wasn’t as enamored with their Hausbier so only had one before heading back to my room.

sunset from the trail & a quick stop at the Roter Oschse

The next day was gorgeous and after breakfast, I headed out for another round of photos before lunch. In such a small town, it wasn’t too hard to stumble by Gasthof Reinwand earlier than planned. Though lunch wouldn’t be served for another 90 minutes or so, the nice thing about Franconia is that’s no excuse to not serve beer. Their Hausbier was much more to my liking and any idea about leaving before lunch flew out the window.

the morning stroll & beer in Seßlach sealed the deal

I had a table to myself, important in COVID-19 times but decided that staying there until lunch would be a bit overindulgent so paid up and asked to make a reservation for lunch. I’d been asked if I had one when I got there and it was only 10:00 am. They explained they couldn’t make a reservation for one but that they’d find a spot for me on my return. I headed up to the Schloss Geyersberg to kill some time. It was a really nice walk but unfortunately, it’s a private residence. You can book a room for a wedding or party but regular visitation isn’t an option. I continued along the atmospheric tree-lined path and got some nice views of town for my efforts.

a few shots from my short excursion up to Schloss Geyersberg

Not overly disappointed by the castle being closed, I quickly headed back for lunch. I didn’t want to miss out on a spot and with the Roter Ochse being closed, Gasthof Reinwand was bound to be packed. I got back just in time to slide onto my old table, just as a family was finishing up. Though the Schäuferla looked amazing, I didn’t want to fight the shovel for the meat and tucked into a very large, homemade (I could hear the pounding the entire time I was there!) Schnitzel.

Gasthof Reinwand & their Schnitzel

After a relaxed lunch and a few Hausbiers, I headed back to retrieve my backpack at the hotel. The bus stop was conveniently just out front. I hope it’s not 18 years between visits next time and that my wife comes along too. People always ask me why I take pictures of food and the easy answer is it’s for my website but really, it’s just for my wife. There’s no better bait to get her to a brewery than a good home-pounded Schnitzel.

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