food / travel

German Brewing Secrets Turn Namibia Into Unlikely Beer-Making Mecca

Windhoek Lager has won eight gold medals since 2005
Windhoek Lager has won eight gold medals since 2005
Sebastian Geisler

Reinheitsgebot is the name of the German Beer Purity Law, which states that only barley, water and hops may go into beer.

Reinheitsgebot is also the best-known German word in Namibia. April 23, marked the 497th anniversary of the proclamation of that law in Bavaria, and in Namibia the anniversary is always cause for celebration. That’s because one of the world’s top beers is brewed in this former German colony in southwest Africa – Windhoek Lager, named after Namibia’s capital city.

Is the beer made in accordance with the German law? “Absolutely!” says master brewer Christian Müller. An African of German heritage, Müller says that German beer has become part of Namibian culture. His pride in Windhoek Lager is matched by the appreciation it gets elsewhere – such as the prestigious international DLG quality test organized by the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (German Agricultural Society), which has earned Windhoek eight gold medals since 2005.

In Germany, Windhoek Lager is mostly known among beer enthusiasts, but there’s a fan base across Europe – and not only because African-German lager beer has curiosity value. "The success of a beer is always determined by its taste," Müller says.

German quality

The law establishing Namibia’s "German Beer Day" was proclaimed in 1516 by Wilhelm IV, Duke of Bavaria. "Every Namibian knows what it is," says Müller.

And the Africans take it very seriously. Each step of the brewing process is carefully watched by workers sitting in front of flat-screen monitors. Müller patrols the halls where the beer, or what will later become beer, makes its way through an impressive system of pipes and huge steel vats. A general rule of thumb in this desert country is – what comes from Germany is quality.

Every year, Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) in Windhoek produces 214 million liters of beer – including the extremely popular Tafel Lager. It also has licenses to brew or distribute well-known brands like Heineken and Guinness, and for the annual German-Namibian Carnival it makes a special beer much enjoyed by merrymakers wearing traditional German dress.

Some 60% of NBL’s production is presently exported to South Africa and over 20 other countries around the world. But the company is in full expansion, producing 20,000 bottles of Windhoek Lager an hour requiring brewery workers to rotate on four shifts.

After the day’s work, everybody gathers at the Felsenkeller tavern in the brewery complex for some freshly tapped beer. "Prost!" (cheers) Müller calls out. That’s another German word everybody knows in Namibia.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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