Bavaria is of course the world capital of beer, and a visit to one of Munich's beer halls, biergartens or breweries (or preferably all three) is an essential part of the Munich experience. But if you have a little time and want to sample something truly unique in one of the prettiest small towns I have seen in Germany, take the Autobahn north towards Regensburg, turning off before and head for Abensberg.
I will confess I had never heard of the place until friends suggested a day trip to an unusual brewery that my Munich landlord did not know about. If it was even slightly off the beaten track, it was worth looking into, especially as I had been told that it contained the work of that unique artists of unique artists, Hundertwasser.
A pleasant drive through hop fields and solar panel fields (why can't we have those in my much sunnier adopted home of Croatia?) revealed the Hundertwasser magical construction style.
We were only visiting during the day, but the Christkindlmarkt at the Kuchlbauer brewery looked truly magical, the stuff of fairytales. You can get a sense of it in this video:
We bought our tickets, which included a Weissbier (the only type of beer brewed on the premises) and a breze, and checked out the funky souvenir shop before the organised tour began. It is possible to book an English-speaking tour in advance, but I am not that organised and I battled with the German version, and I am grateful to the excellent guide for toning down the Bayrisch a little.
It was like entering a sweet shop. Hundertwasser decor everywhere, including what seemed like an enticing trail to follow, akin to the Pied Piper of Hamlelin. Hundertwasser was apparently keen on reusing materials, and the bottoms of many a beer bottle glinted magically, like exotic jewellery, guiding us through.
The original copper brewing equipment. I was impressed to learn that the average Bavarian drinks the contents of one of these in a lifetime - some 29,000 litres. I have some catching up to do...
Follow those magical circles, whatever you do...
And I liked the approach of the brewery - I had never been to a beer chemist before. Lots of small characters dotted around the brewery, a nice attraction for the kids.
And although the production looked very modern and efficient (24,000 litres an hour can be bottled by two employees, versus 1800 an hour by 9 workers 50 years ago), the shadow of Hundertwasser was everywhere.
And then rather a nice map, with some rather surprising information. The breweries of Bavaria, some 620 in all, significantly down from 1500 several years ago.
Time for a song from Aloysius. The tour was a great mixture of kitch and information, with several video messages from the visionary owner. We were about to learn a little more about his vision downstairs.
And pearls of wisdom at every turn - A drop of art is often better than a sea of knowledge.
And then, in this height of Hundertwasser adoration, what would you expect to find in the cellar?
Indeed. A lifesize replica of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. Quite extraordinary.
Leonardo's appearance was due to the passion of the brewery's owner, who was so into the painting that he had actually written a whole book about the painting and the messages da Vinci had left in them. Fascinating stuff and a rather fun, if totally bizarre, part of the tour.
From there we went into a room which looked like this. I was seriously beginning to lose it and I hadn't had a drink yet, but as the guide pointed out, we would have to work for our beer during the 80 minute tour.
Next stop was the Hundertwasser room, with a collection of dancing dwarves, all singing the praises of the various ingredients of beer. Although I didn't quite understand what was going on, it seemed that the dwarves were the clinching factor in getting Hundertwasser to agree to the project. After much correspondence and invitations from the owner, Hundertwasser had hitherto refused, but I guess a combination of a da Vinci lifesize in the basement and a few singing dwarves have the power to change anyone's mind...
There was time to linger fo a minute or two in the Hundertwasser room.
And then it was time to head for the tower, all 35m of it. It had been originally planned at much higher, but there is an unwritten law in Bavaria that no building can be higher than the church, and after much debate, a permit was 35m was given.
Hundertwasser died in 2000, and this was one of the last projects he worked on in his life. It opened in 2010.
There are several great projects showing different phases of construction.
And on a majestic December afternoon, it looked rather inviting indeed.
We started in the basement where our tour finished. We were encouraged to check out the Hundertwasser toilets and then climb the 200 steps (or take the lift).
With basin and mirror.
A little more stylish. I forgot to ask why women need four times as many basins as men.
And of course, no brewery would be complete without the world's largest collection of Weissbier glasses, some 4,300 in all on display.
The tower stairs had lots of hidden nooks and crannies, as well as splendid views of the old town.
And finally to the summit, the Tree of Knowledge, which was located in the bulb at the tower's head.
Which offered a rather fun view of the exhibition building which was to be our final stop.
Time to descend and take in some more details.
Or take a video tour of the tower.
And then to the beer hall to claim our free beer and breze. We had earned it!
There are a range of wheat beers to try, from 2.9 to 7%. And they were pretty good. In warmer times, there is a biergarten outside.
And then into the magical candy house, which comprised a souvenir shop and exhibition of Hundertwasser's paintings. No cameras allowed into the exhibition, but the real treat was in the basement with video footage of Hundertwasser living his simple life in very basic homes outside Vienna, in New Zealand, Venice and on his boat.
A stunning, stunning day out, and now I want to return for Christkindlmarkt at night. Abersberg itself is REALLY pretty - here is a video of some aspects of the old town.
All info on about the brewery you can find on its very helpful English website here.