Law Marries Folklore in the Chicken Coop

Law Marries Folklore in the Chicken Coop

A birch broom, functioning as the vintner's bush, signals the opening of a farmstead tavern in Germany.
A birch broom, functioning as the vintner’s bush, signals the opening of a farmstead tavern in Germany.

People love them. Restaurants hate them. And that’s why the law had to step in.

A German vintner's bush tavern in a wine cellar.
A German vintner’s bush tavern (Besenwirtschaft) in a wine cellar.

When a European vintner suspends a bush, broom, or ivy bunch outside his door, that signals the sale of homemade wine and cheap, country food on his farm. The “vintner’s bush” is, according to the American Journal of Folklore, one of the oldest folklore customs still extant. Some people say it dates back to the Romans.

But the popularity of these temporary homestead taverns raises the ire of restaurant owners. To strike a balance between preserving both culture and competition, the law protects the vintners’ age-old right to self-market wine without a restaurant or liquor license, but to keep the vintners from undercutting restaurants, it restricts vintners’ opening periods, seating, and menus. Winemakers must also comply with hygiene regulations, and that has led to some interesting innovations in their dining areas.

A refurbished chicken coop accomodates diners.
A refurbished chicken coop accomodates diners.

Traditionally, a German vintner served up his wine, sauerkraut, and sausages in his own house. Families cleared all the furniture from their living rooms and bedrooms to set up makeshift tables and chairs for their guests. Because few families keep their living quarters clean enough to meet modern hygiene requirements, most vintners renovate and maintain a room exclusively for their guests. Remodeled barns and wine cellars are popular. In the summer, some vintners set up in their gardens. One German winemaker used the knight’s hall in a castle. I once ate in a refurbished chicken coop.

A museum in Lower Austria surveyed vintners for an exhibition about the vintner’s bush. It found that 10% of vintners were using their driveways, 18% a press house or cellar, and 31.5% an addition to their house.

What was the funkiest dining setting you’ve ever experienced?

As for me, I’d have to say the chicken coop.


Some literature on point:

Henry Carrington Boulton, The Vintner’s Bush: A Survival of Twenty Centuries, Journal of American Folk-Lore XV: 40 (1902)

Werner Galler, Buschenschank in Niederösterreich [Bush Taverns in Lower Austria], Sonderausstellung des Niederösterreichischen Landesmuseums 4 (1974)

(c) Ann Marie Ackermann, 2014

Written by
Ann Marie
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  • Was chicken on the menu?

    Is there a statistic that illustrates what % of restaurant business is lost during vintner season?

    • Chicken was on the menu, but you’ll be glad to know that it was plucked, cleaned, and cooked!

      Because vintners are open on a rotating basis all year around in Baden-Wurttemberg, there is no vintner season. That makes it harder to measure loss to commercial restaurants. I’m not aware of any statistics.

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