Dionysian Gent (a.k.a. Getting the Noose in Ghent)

Karolus, Carolus, and Karel

As a lover of Belgian beer, I am continually reminded never to take the names of the beers for granted.  I am sure that every beer maker puts some thought behind the name of their beer and every beer will have some historical link from the brewer’s own personal life or something far more grand.  But it just seems like in Belgium, the beer names themselves are like an index of its history and legends.  Maybe it is more so than other countries, maybe not.  Probably it is because I live here and am surrounded by all of these delicious beers with interesting names day in and day out.  What I can say for sure is that I’m going to enjoy finding out.

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What do these two beers have in common?

If I may shamelessly promote my previous blog about Charlemagne, one of the facts I pointed out was that Charlemagne’s Latin name is Karolus.  This got me wondering if the Belgian beer Gouden Carolus was the same Karolus.  I was pretty sure already that the beers Gouden Carolus and Keizer Karel were named after the same person, but was Charlemagne the recipient of such Dionysian good fortune as to have two great beers named after him?  After a short online search, I discovered that that distinction belonged to another Holy Roman Emperor named Charles – in this case, Charles V.  Charles V has already made in appearance in my post about St. Peter’s Cathedral and Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.  This is what I love about beer, traveling, and history.  You always find these links which bring different experiences together.  It was Charles V’s mutinous army that sacked Rome in 1527 due to lack of pay, which was directly related to the expense of the building of St. Peters.

So who is Charles V?

What set me off on a bit of an adventure was learning that Charles V was actually born in Ghent (Gent is the local spelling), a city in the Flanders part of Belgium which at the time was part of the Habsburg Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire.  Ghent is but a 45 minute train ride from Antwerpen and what better way to enjoy a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon then taking an adventure to Ghent to seek out Charles V and at the same time meet up with my buddy Dionysus for a few beers?

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Charles V

But first a bit more backstory on Charles V.  Why was the Holy Roman Emperor born in Ghent to begin with?  Well, his grandfather was Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.  Before Maximilian held this title, Flanders was Burgundian territory.  Flanders had a long succession of caretakers called the Counts of Flanders and at the time, the person who filled those shoes was Mary of Burgundy.  Maximilian, looking to expand his father’s realm, cozied up to Mary and they were married and later had a son, Philip I, who was born in Bruges.  Four years later, Mary died in a horse riding accident leaving her 4-year old son as the rightful heir.  Of course this was the chance Maximilian was looking for and the people of Bruges realized this and imprisoned Maximilian.  Maximilian sweet-talked his way out of prison by making some false promises and later returned with 20,000 soldiers and Flanders became part of the Habsburg empire.  Philip I died before inheriting the title of Holy Roman Emperor, so that title passed onto his son Charles V after Maximilian I died in 1519.

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What is left of the legacy of Charles V in Ghent?

On Google, I came upon a very nice blog about Ghent from Act of Traveling.  It lists this blogger’s Top 10 reasons for visiting Ghent.  One of the ten reasons was precisely the connection to Charles V I was looking for.  And to my excitement, it led me to yet another beer.  So I grabbed a backpack (I have to be prepared to bring home some new beers, you know) and headed for Antwerpen Centraal on my bike.  Roughly an hour later, I was riding from Gent Dampoort towards the beautiful city center.

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Scenery on the way from Gent Dampoort Station

Here is where I take an aside.  Ghent has two train stations, Sint Pieters and Dampoort.  The main station is Sint Pieters.  However, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this is the better of the two stations for getting to the city center.  The walk from Dampoort is much shorter and lovelier since it takes you across a canal with almost Venetian-like pastel houses.

All that is left of Charles V’s Prinsenhof palace in Ghent is a single gateway.  But the real legacy arises from a rebellion that occurred in 1539.  The Flemish people have always been a rebellious people throughout their history.  They historically have accepted the rule of others as long as they were extended a certain amount of rights.  But when things aren’t going how they want, they revolt.  The one in 1539 was over taxes, and I am sure the memory of the deception of Maximilian I was still an unhealed wound.  Charles V came to town with 5000 soldiers and the revolution was stopped dead in its tracks.  As a penalty, some of the rebels were forced to parade around the city in white shirts with a noose hanging around their necks.  Later on, the people of Ghent embraced the nickname Stropdragers (noosebearers) which has become part of the tradition of the city during its festivities.  Just outside of the Prinsenhof Gate stands a statue of one of these Stropdragers.  For the first time, I had an understanding of the history behind the name of the beer, Gentse Strop.

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Gentse Strop, a Stropdrager, and the last remnant of Charles V palace

Why Two Beers Named After Him?

Seeing that his taxes were not so popular to the Gentse folk, it makes you wonder why Belgians would memorialize him with two beer names.  Well, on a grander scale, he was an emperor.  If he visited your city, it brought that city much wealth and fame and there would be much celebration and partying going on in his honor.  These grand entries into various cities would also be memorialized in tradition.  Perhaps the most famous is right here in Antwerpen where Charles V’s visit 1549 is part of a celebration which occurs every August 15.  The celebration is called Ommegang (procession or walk around).  Lo and behold, if there also isn’t a beer called Ommegang, which is part of the Keizer Karel selection of beers.  I just love drinking my way thru history!

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Dionysian Gent

This visit was by no means an exploration of the complete beer culture that the city of Ghent has to offer.  But I can take this opportunity to include some highlights.  Before I get to that, Ghent is an incredibly beautiful city.  Personally it still contains untapped potential for exploration and enjoyment.  I always favor Bruges, but every time I am in Ghent, I am enthralled with it.

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Sint Veerleplein

This is the beautiful square just opposite the fantastic intercity castle, Gravenstein.  On this square are a few cafes which are perfect for sipping a beer while engaging in the bulwark beauty of the castle.  Additionally there is a great bottle shop on the corner offering a fine selection of local beers.  Here I picked up bottles of Gentse Stout and Gentse Stouter which I’d never seen before.

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Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant

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This canalside beer cafe has around 165 beers on the menu.

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Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant

‘t Galgenhuis

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Claims to be the smallest beer pub in Ghent.  Sitting on the lovely Groetenmarkt (vegetable market).

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Cafe ‘t Galgenhuis

Praatcafe De Dulle Griet

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The sign claims more than 350 different beers.  This pub sits on the expansive Vrijdagmarkt (Friday market) looking right into the face of the statue of Jan van Artevelde.  For the Beer Pilgrims, there is the Dulle Griet house beer.

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Dulle Griet

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Gentse Gruut Stadsbrouwerij

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During my pilgrimage to Ghent, I happened to pass by the grand opening of a 2nd location of the Gentse Gruut Stadsbrouwerij in Ghent.  Gentse Gruut brews their beer with gruut instead of hops.  If you’ve visited Bruges, you’ve seen the Gruuthuse, which at one time was a storehouse from where gruut was sold to all of the local brewers.

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Gruut Amber

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