The Story of the Stammtisch


Ray O’Brien

One of the most vivid memories I have of the four years my wife and I spent in Germany in the early ’70s was the evening we first ventured out to dinner at the old Gasthaus in the small village of Einod where we lived in the Rhineland-Pfalz Palatinate.

It was a typical German Gasthaus, with dark wood and stone walls, and beer steins of various sizes over the bar. The dining area was crowded that night, but we noticed an empty table near the front window. The table appeared to be made from a section of a large tree stump which had been cut and mounted on legs. So, the wife and I sat down to enjoy and evening of drinking and dining in an authentic German establishment.

However, no sooner had we pulled out the chairs and settled in than the Proprietor rushed over to us wagging his finger and saying something in German about this being the “Stammtisch” and motioning us to get up and sit elsewhere, which we did. With my limited understanding of the German language—and culture—I assumed that this “Stammtisch” was a “stump table” (Stamm/stump, no?), made from and old tree, and serving only as a “decoration,” which would explain why no one was sitting there.

Imagine my surprise then when, as the evening progressed, elderly men from the town began shuffling in, sitting at the “Stammtisch”, and ordering beers. Some sat there playing cards, while others played chess or checkers.  Conversation flowed freely!

We later came to understand that “Stammtisch” had nothing to do with tree stumps. Rather the word translates as “regular table”; the table reserved for the Gasthaus “regular customers,” usually the male village elders. Every respectable German Gasthaus has its own “Stammtisch.” So, why do I recount this story here?

About 10 years ago, I joined the Franklinville-Schwarzwald Mannerchor. My many years living in Germany had developed in me a deep appreciation for the history, culture, and music of the German people. And of course, I always liked to sing; in our church, at a music concert, even in the shower! The Männerchor has given me—an Irishman—an opportunity to not only hone my German language skills, but also to sing the music of some of the greatest composers the world has ever know; Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, as well as many lesser-known German, Italian, and American artists. So again, what does all this have to do with my “Stammtisch” story?

We rehearse every Tuesday evening (except during the Summer months) from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at the Vereinigung Erzgebirge German Club in Warminster, Pa. After rehearsal, a group of us singers—anywhere from 6 to 10, some German born, and others, like myself, native-born Americans—retire to the Club’s Ratskeller, adjacent to the rehearsal room, for draught beer, spontaneous singing, and thoughtful conversation. We sit around the same large table every week, sing songs from our Liederbücher, and discuss subjects ranging from music to math; science to engineering; religion to politics; culture to cuisine. I suppose one could say that we are the “village regulars” sitting in the Ratskeller at our own “Stammtisch.” The Freundschaft and Gemütlichkeit I experience in that setting takes me back to that Gasthaus in Germany, which I had so missed until I found the Männerchor.

Whether you are looking for music, song, friendship, conversation … or, like me, memories, I invite you to visit us and “audit” one of our Tuesday night rehearsals. And if you do stop by, please plan on staying and joining us afterward at our “Stammtisch.” I promise we won’t wag our fingers and chase you away. In fact, we’ll probably buy you a beer!