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Bavarian Beer Riots

Beginning May 1, 1844, and lasting until May 5, the Beer Riots in Bavaria took place after King Ludwig I of Bavaria decreed a tax on beer. It was due to the rising cost of ingredients and raised the price of a beer by the equivalent of a penny.

Several thousand angry citizens stormed the breweries on the evening of May 1st. The authorities replied with repression, the decree of the Munich police director of May 4, 1844 states:

“The mines in the inns are not tolerated at all from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and in the afternoons only as long as no excesses are committed. In the event of excesses, the inns are cleared by the armed forces and the guests are exposed to the danger of being arrested. ”

The police director had not, however, counted on the local Army soldiers’ thirst for beer. These refused to act against the insurgents, and King Ludwig I had to reduce the beer price back to the old price. Order was only restored after the King decreed a 10% reduction in the price of beer. Ludwig I only remained King for 4 more years, when he abdicated following the Revolutions of 1848, and his son, Maximilian II, took his place.

Friedrich Engels, who is most famous for having developed Marxist theory along with Karl Marx, wrote a short article for The Northern Star newspaper a few weeks after the incident.

The Bavarian Beer is the most celebrated of all kinds of this drink brewed in Germany, and, of course, the Bavarians are much addicted to its consumption in rather large quantities. The government laid a new duty of about 100s. ad valorem on beer, and in consequence of this an outbreak occurred, which lasted for more than four days. The working men assembled in large masses, paraded through the streets, assailed the public houses, smashing the windows, breaking the furniture, and destroying everything in their reach, in order to take revenge for the enhanced price of their favourite drink. The military was called in, but a regiment of horse-guards, when commanded to mount on horseback, refused to do so. The police, being, as everywhere, obnoxious to the people, were severely beaten and ill-treated by the rioters, and every station formerly occupied by police-officers had to be occupied by soldiers, who, being upon good terms with the people, were considered less hostile and showed an evident reluctance to interfere. They only did interfere when the palace of the King was attacked, and then merely took up such a position as was sufficient to keep the rioters back. On the second evening (the 2nd of May) the King, in whose family a marriage had just been celebrated, and who for this reason had many illustrious visitors at his court, visited the theatre; but when, after the first act, a crowd assembled before the theatre and threatened to attack it, every one left the house to see what the matter was, and His Majesty, with his illustrious visitors, was obliged to follow them, or else he would have been left alone in his place. The French papers assert that the King on this occasion ordered the military stationed before the theatre to fire upon the people, and that the soldiers refused. The German papers do not mention this, as may be expected from their being published under censorship; but as the French papers are sometimes rather ill-informed about foreign matters, we cannot vouch for the truth of their assertion. From all this, however, it appears that the Poet King (Ludwig, King of Bavaria, is the author of three volumes of unreadable Poems, of a Traveller’s Guide to one of his public buildings &c. &c.) has been in a very awkward position during these outbreaks. In Munich, a town full of soldiers and police, the seat of a royal court, a riot lasts four days, notwithstanding all the array of the military, – and at last the rioters force their object. The King restored tranquillity by an ordinance, reducing the price of the quart of beer from ten kreutzers (3¼ denarius) to nine kreutzers (3d). If the people once know they can frighten the government out of their taxing system, they will soon learn that it will be as easy to frighten them as far as regards more serious matters.

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