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What you should know about Austria and Germany’s ‘Stammtisch’ tradition

Friends, conversation, hearty meals and Gemütlichkeit: if you've ever been to an old beer hall in Austria or Germany, you may have come across the spirit of Stammtisch. Here's what you need to know about this storied tradition.

The word Stammtisch written on a table in an outdoor beer garden in Bavaria. Photo: DPA/Picture Alliance
The word Stammtisch written on a table in an outdoor beer garden in Bavaria. Photo: DPA/Picture Alliance

Maybe you’ve seen them — or maybe you’re one of them: the regulars at a pub, café or restaurant, always sitting in the same seats, ordering another drink, giving the owner a hard time and chatting with locals who walk through the door.

If that sounds familiar, you’ve likely gotten a glimpse into the meaning of “Stammtisch.”

Found throughout Austria and Germany, a “Stammtisch” is a regular meeting of friends coming together to enjoy a comfortable atmosphere and talk idly about anything and everything, typically beer-in-hand.

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The word literally translates to “clans’ table,” and while its meaning has changed over time, at its core is a certain sense of belonging that can be returned to again and again.

What is the history of Stammtisch?

Though you might be able to find a Stammtisch table at any typical tavern, brewhouse or beer hall across Germany and Austria (you may even spot an ornate “Stammtisch” sign signalling who’s who), the tradition isn’t always tied to a physical location. It’s more about the group itself, rather than the table where they meet.

Like any centuries-old tradition, it’s not entirely clear where the practice originated. Researchers Franz Dröge and Gudrun Schwibbe told science magazine Bild der Wissenschaft that it likely began in the 17th and 18th centuries, when artists, writers and thinkers across Europe would congregate in various cafés and bars to exchange ideas and discuss their work.

Later on in the 19th century, the researchers argue, it was the subversive politicians and union organisers who would gather around the table and talk over actions and political problems. The term “Stammtischpolitik,” or “pub politics,” was coined to cast these political discussions in an unfavourable light.

These days, convening at the Stammtisch is simply about joining in community for a good conversation, a game of cards or a drink. The regular tavern-goers of the older generation still exemplify its traditional roots better than anyone else, and many of today’s Stammtisch gatherings harken back to that era.

But the Stammtisch idea has also grown to encompass a wider range of gatherings, often open to the public, that are centred around a specific topic of interest. You might find, for example, a weekly Stammtisch for avid hikers, football players or foreign-language speakers, or a university program that hosts a monthly Stammtisch for its students to attend.

Why do people enjoy the Stammtisch tradition?

A Stammtisch provides a casual setting for people to connect despite ideological differences, where attendees have the opportunity to talk about what interests them. Altogether, it creates a sense of belonging without too much commitment: you don’t have to show up every single week. 

Regulars might likewise appreciate the social outlet that a Stammtisch provides. They may attend in order to practice a new language—or to pick up the latest community news and gossip. There’s nothing quite like a full stein to get the chatter flowing!

Whatever the reason for gathering, the communal spirit is at the heart of this tradition. Good food and drink contribute to the comfortable atmosphere, creating that warm feeling of “Gemütlichkeit.”

READ MORE: The best places to live in Austria that are not Vienna

Can anyone participate in a Stammtisch?

Though you’re likely to receive a volley of confused stares if you try barging your way into a long-running Stammtisch at the local tavern — the truth is, anyone can participate in this tradition.

If you’d like to join a Stammtisch group, try finding one in your area that’s open to the public and focused on a topic you’re interested in. German-learners will find that there are “Stammtische” (the plural) all over the world meeting to practice and perfect their language skills. Meetings are often advertised online, through social media or even posted at the restaurant in question. 

If there’s not a gathering in your city or town, consider grabbing some friends or colleagues and starting your own “regulars’ table.”

The table part isn’t so important — all you really need is the people.

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Eight habits that show you’ve embraced life in Austria

Living anywhere as an international resident will have an impact on your life, but if you recognise any of these habits then you have truly embraced the Austrian lifestyle.

Eight habits that show you’ve embraced life in Austria

Life in Austria can be similar to many other European countries, but there are some aspects that are distinctly Austrian.

Here are eight habits that show you’ve integrated into the Austrian way of life.

FOR MEMBERS: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

Indulging in coffee and cake

Coffee and cake is almost as integral to the food culture in Austria as the Wiener Schnitzel.

So say goodbye to the diet, ignore any thoughts of guilt and get stuck into a slice of Sachertorte, Punschkrapfen or Linzer Torte

Preferably with a delicious coffee on the side.

READ MORE: Caffeine, war and Freud: A history of Vienna’s iconic coffee houses

Participating in winter sports

Austria, especially the west of the country, is a winter sports enthusiasts dream.

The Alps offer an almost endless choice in ski resorts, gondolas and mountain huts, with winter sports options ranging from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and Langlaufen (cross-country skiing).

Needless to say, if you live in the Alps, winter sports quickly become a central part of the lifestyle during the cold months. After all, it’s healthy, fun and even a bit dangerous (if that’s your thing).

It’s also a great way to explore the landscape of Austria and get a deeper understanding of the central role of winter sports in Austrian culture.

Downing tools for lunch

Lunch in some other countries (especially places like the UK) is often a sad sandwich while sitting at a desk. 

In Austria however, lunch is an important part of the day and many people sit down at midday with their colleagues or families to enjoy a proper cooked meal.

This is a prime example of the healthy work-life balance that residents in Austria enjoy, and is a much-better habit to embrace than working through a lunch break.

Wearing house shoes

In most Austrian households, people do not wear outdoor shoes inside. Instead, they opt for house shoes, otherwise known as slippers in English or Schlapfen in some Austrian dialects.

Also, many Austrian homes do not have carpet on the floor, which means walking around with bare feet or just socks in the winter can get cold – fast.

So if you’ve invested in a pair of house shoes or, even better, you have a backup supply for guests, then you have fully embraced life in Austria. 

READ ALSO: ‘I’ll probably return to the UK’: Moving to Austria as a Brit post-Brexit

Being punctual

Typically, Austrians are punctual people and don’t appreciate lateness.

For this reason, many international residents make an extra effort to be on time (or early), and it’s not uncommon to become stressed if you know you will be five minutes late.

As frustrating as this can be, it’s actually incredibly polite to be early for a meeting and not a bad habit to pick up.

sparkling water

(Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash)

Drinking sparkling water

People like to drink sparkling mineral water in Austria.

In fact, sparkling water is so popular that if you order a Mineralwasser (mineral water) in a cafe or restaurant, the sparkling variety is often served unless stilles Wasser (still water) is specified.

Want to be more Austrian? Then simply switch from still to sparkling water.

Stripping off

Countries in Central Europe are much more comfortable with nudity than other nations, and it’s no different in Austria.

The main place to expect an encounter with naked people in Austria is at the sauna. There are even some saunas that have a naked-only admission policy and won’t let people in if they are wearing swimming gear.

People also like to get naked at lakes – especially at the more remote or quieter locations – or at least go topless (for the women). 

The reality is, no one bats an eyelid. So put your prudish instincts aside and don’t be afraid to strip off.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on working overtime in Austria?

Taking sick leave

Employees in Austria are entitled to six weeks of paid sick leave (the number of weeks increases the longer the worker has been employed in the same company).

This means workers are more likely to take sick leave if they are unwell, rather than dragging themselves into the workplace and infecting their colleagues.

The downside though is that Austria has strict rules when it comes to taking sick leave with explicit orders to stay at home. Workers can even expect to be monitored by private detectives to make sure they really are resting at home, as reported by The Local.

For international residents in Austria, this can be hard to tolerate. But the upside is that you’re not expected to show your face in the office when sick, simply to comply with a culture of presenteeism.

And that’s a habit worth embracing.