Beer Riots in Bavaria

The following is one of my favourite short articles by Engels. I was prompted to prepare it for the Web after reading the anarchist magazine Here and Now about the Leeds Hyde Park pub burning riot of 1995.

Beer Riots in Bavaria

by Frederick Engels

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 [1] &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 d) [2] 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.

Written in mid-May 1844

First published in The Northern Star No.341, May 25, 1884, with an editorial note: “From our own Correspondent”

A note in Vol 3 of MECW describes The Northern Star as follows: –

a weekly, central organ of the Chartists, published from 1837 to 1852, at first in Leeds, and then in London; it was founded and edited by Feargus O’Connor; George Harney was one of its editors. Engels contributed to it from 1843 to 1850.

1. One of the public buildings of Ludwig of Bavaria, built in 1841 near Regensburg, was named by him “Walhalla” after the legendary posthumous abode of the German mythological heroes. The palace contained a collection of sculptures of famous men in Germany. The King himself wrote a guide book for it: Wallhalla’s Genossen, geschildert durch König Ludwig den Ersten von Bayern, dem Gründer Walhalla␁s, München, 1842. Poems written by Ludwig of Bavaria provide a sample of meaningless and pretentious poetry; they were published in 1842. [Footnote from the Lawrence and Wishart edition of MECW, Vol.3, London, 1975].

2. The abbreviation 'd' (for denarius) was used in the UK currency to represent a penny before the currency decimalisation of 1971. [jjp]

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Updated by ETOL: 22.10.2003