Martha Glahn and Anton Tomic – köbes at Peters Brauhaus in Cologne. Photo: Marina Weigl

“Köbes”: Bringing beer and wit to the table

In Rhineland breweries, it's not waiters who serve, but the Köbesse. Quick-witted men and women who can be rough and ready.

If you’re not familiar with certain customs, it’s easy to put your foot in it. In many European countries, for instance, a thumbs-up is a good thing but it’s extremely offensive in Australia and parts of Africa. And the “A-OK” sign doesn’t have a positive meaning at all in Russia or Greece – it’s an obscene gesture.

Mind your language: what not to say in Cologne brewery pubs

If you want to make yourself unpopular in a Cologne brewery pub, simply call for the Kellner (the standard term for “waiter”). Clad in traditional uniforms, the people who serve guests in these quaint pubs don’t class themselves as Kellner, instead seeing their occupation as a profession in its own right and one with a long history.

Where does the word köbes come from?

How long is just as difficult to say as where the word köbes originated. These witty beer-bringers apparently appeared on the scene at some point in the 19th century and their name is derived from the kölsch dialect form of Jakob. Why? Well, there are countless theories you can listen to over a glass – or five – of kölsch beer.

The one thing that is certain is that you can’t have a Cologne brewery pub without köbes (who can be any gender, incidentally). They bring goodwill – and a literally never-ending supply of beer if you don’t know the all-important rule: put a beer mat on top of your glass if you’ve had enough or live with the consequences (glass after glass after glass)!


Mit dem Laden des Videos akzeptieren Sie die Datenschutzerklärung von Vimeo.
Mehr erfahren

Video laden

A tough job

Entertaining as they are for guests, these kölsch carriers have a tough job, says 63-year-old Martha Glahn, a köbine (a female köbes) at Peters Brauhaus. “On average, there are around 200 guests to serve per day,” she tells us.

A former civil servant, Martha was a late starter to the pub trade, joining the Peters team in 2003. “Traditionally, köbes are men but the 1990s saw more and more pubs open up to the idea of recruiting women,” she explains. She’s grown a thick skin in her two decades as a köbine, she adds, as she does get the occasional difficult guest.

At the end of a stressful day, köbine Martha Glahn likes a good glass of wine. Photo: Marina Weigl

What does Martha do after a particuarly stressful shift then? “I treat myself to a good glass of wine!” she laughs. It goes without saying, of course, that she partakes of the odd glass of kölsch at home too when she feels like it. On the job, though, köbes need a clear head – as Martha’s colleague, Anton Tomic, can tell you. He’s been doing it for four decades, making him one of the city’s longest-serving köbes.

Anton Tomic – an old hand at köbessing

“You see a lot as a köbes. There are lovely stories, funny ones but sad moments too,” the 64-year-old tells us. Before becoming a köbes himself back in the 1980s, the former soldier in the ex-Yugoslav army used to enjoy meeting up with köbes for a beer after work.

From soldier to köbes at Brauhaus Peters: Anton “Toni” Tomic. Photo: Marina Weigl

“Of course, after a while, the things they used to tell me about what happened at work piqued my interest,” Anton says. The uniform was a perfect fit straight off and he had no problem finding his feet when he started the job.

Nonetheless, according to Anton, “Being a köbes is not everyone’s cup of tea.” As well as bringing the beer and the wit to the table, köbes are expected to listen to whatever guests have on their minds – no matter how talkative or tipsy they are!

So you have to want to do it. Like 55-year-old Khalil Snafi.

Being a köbes isn’t the same as being a waiter. It’s a vocation!

Khalil Snafi, a köbes at Früh am Dom

“Even the best maître d’ in a fancy restaurant wouldn’t make a good köbes,” says Moroccan-born Khali. And he should know because he’s been a köbes at Früh am Dom for over 20 years.

He sees himself as a beer-bringing entertainer – not a waiter. His stage is right next to the table, next to the guest, he says. And despite the stress of the job, you can’t help but notice how proud the köbes are of what they do. Martha Glahn sums it up: “Cologne without köbes? That’d be like a hot dog without the sausage!”

Khalil Snafi is a köbes at Früh am Dom. Photo: Birte Kaufmann

0 comments on ““Köbes”: Bringing beer and wit to the table

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *