The Traditional German Beer Stein

 History of the Traditional German Beer Stein

Beer Steins are symbolic of Germany and their traditions. They have an incredibly unique style, found only in specific regions, and can be easily identified. But have you ever thought why?


" Every part of a German Beer Stein, from its name to its lid has a reason and history behind it "


Where does the term "Beer Stein" originate from?

In Australia and many parts of the world, they are called “Beer Steins” which directly translated, does not make a lot of sense. Technically they should be called “Beer Steinzeugkrug”, however names tend to be shortened for ease of use. Steinzeugkrug literally translates to Stoneware Jug, while the shortened version Stein means Stone. Drinking from a “Beer Stone” sounds a little unusual doesn’t it?

When people think of “Beer Stein” they may think of many types of drinking vessels. Including large glass cups often found at Oktoberfest celebrations, to small metal jugs or the decorative, painted clay Steins. Technically these are all correctly identified as “Steins” even though they may not be made from stoneware.


What is the story behind the design of the German beer stein?

The design of steins has changed many times over the last few centuries, with the invention of glass making moulds, rise in popularity of materials and metal production. Before the 14th century, stoneware mugs were remarkably similar throughout the world. A clay cylindrical container, sometimes with a handle, either simply coloured or etched with intricate patterns and designs. However, it was a major catastrophe that caused the most identifiable change to the traditional style of German Steins.

In 1348 the Bubonic plague arrived in Germany. Second to only the Great Famine, the Plague brought a wave of death to Europe and with it, flies. Along with the notion that the Plague was spread by insects, strict quarantine measures and influx of disease, the German government decided to introduce more hygienic practices to eating and drinking establishments.

These hygienic practices included a law that all drinking vessels must be covered, as to not attract insects. And so, the traditional metal lidded stein as we know today, was created.

Pewter lid of German beer steinPewter lid of a German beer stein

Designs of these traditional styles have evolved over time and can be dated depending on their materials, etchings, makers marks and shape of lid. Most lids are conical or tiered, with slight variations in angle, engravings, and decorations. Flat, engraved lids are rarer.


How are German Beer Steins made?

Find out more about how beer steins are made using traditional craftsman ship methods

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Very few steins were made with a stoneware lid, with the most common material being Pewter. For special occasions or the wealthy, a pewter ring would be inlaid with glass, porcelain, or wood. During and directly after the World Wars, a shortage of tin and pewter changed lids to be made primarily from nickel.

German beer stein mould and decorations German beer stein with pewter eagle crest


What are decorate German beer steins used for?

The decorative etching or moulded designs of the steins originated from many different sources. Most commonly to commemorate an event or celebrations within the province the steins were produced. Couples dancing, feasting, and drinking were common motifs, often done in styles unique to the manufacturer.

Commemorative steins were produced mainly for collectable purposes, not to be drunk from. These steins usually had symbolic references, for either wedding and birthday gifts or to celebrate athletic prowess. The most popular commemorative steins were Regimental, custom made for military servicemen who had retired from active service. These steins were one off, and often portrayed scenes or achievements that the serviceman was involved in. Usually along with their name, dates of service and station within the military. 

"...Beer steins are designed to reflect past traditions as well as represent comparative moments in time..."

Modern day steins are both designed to be reflections of these past traditions as well as commemorative pieces to collect. Military scenes with warriors, crests and royal emblems are common motifs included on most steins. Festivals with scenes of drinking and dancing are also exceedingly popular.

However the most produced steins are of Germany itself, showcasing cities such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt. Images of the Rhein and Neuschwanstein castle feature heavily as well. These steins are produced to commemorate travellers trips to Germany, their heritage or love for the German culture.

Traditional German beer stein with pewter eagle lidTraditional German beer stein with German citiesTraditional German beer stein black painted with pewter eagle crest

As mass production worldwide has increased, authentic German made steins have become more popular over the years. Numbered and stamped limited edition steins not only becoming collectors items for their rarity but also their craftsmanship.

There have been few renowned makers of steins since their creation, most ending up in museums or private collections. However maybe not as well-known as the Mettlach collection, produced by Villeroy and Boch in the village of Mettlach. Their steins were well known to be of the highest quality, including extremely intricate hand carvings and painting. That was until the great fire, that destroyed most of their wares and halted production for nearly 50 years.

It is not known how many steins were created and survived, however most seem to be within the walls of museums around the world.   

If you have an old stein at home, it might be worth looking for a maker’s mark, just in case you might have stumbled upon a rarity.

At The German Village Shop, we pride ourselves in supplying all 100% made German Steins, including a large collection of limited edition steins. All steins in our range are sourced directly from the family run manufacturers, in the Westerwald area and are stamped with makers marks. A few of our Berlin stein designs also showcase a small piece of the Berlin wall upon their lid, which also contains an authentication certificate for the piece of wall.

Zoller and Born made in Germany beer stein companyHand made German beer steins from GermanyGerman made beer steins imported from Germany and sold in Australia

If you decide to purchase a stein, either to drink from, to commemorate your own trip or just to add to a collection. We hope you check out our large range online and instore.


 Looking after your German Beer Stein

We also have information on how to care for you German beer stein. If you already have a traditional beer stein or are thinking about purchasing one of these iconic German products, you can Learn more about caring for your German beer stein by clicking the button below:


Learn more about German Beer Stein care


Download your own care guide

Alternatively you can DOWNLOAD the Beer Stein Care PDF by clicking on the button below.

German Beer stein care PDF for download made by The German Village Shop

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