After many oddly wine-centered meals in Germany, I am sure I’ll be for a beer in my future tonight. That’s because I am staying at Burg Veldenstein, the castle on the hill above Neuhaus am Pegnitz, a village of smart little red-rooved houses each painted a different pastel shade—robin’s egg, peach, canary, mint, pink. The lynchpin of the local economy is obvious at a glance down into the valley from the castle ramparts (not from my room; from my room I get to watch the driveway).

Neuhaus serves to staff the giant Kaiser Braü brewery, which takes up about one-quarter of the town below. Oh, sure, I saw a few tractors parked up against some of the houses during my stroll around town, but I’ll bet they’re used to grow barley and/or hops. In fact, as I discovered, the brewery even owns Veldenstein castle itself, and the place is so focused on beer that they don’t even have business cards—just coasters printed with their address and phone.

Sure enough, at dinner the hotel’s gregarious manager even scolded the two elderly German gentlemen seated at my table (in Germany, large tables for six or eight become common seating on crowded nights) for ordering wine with their meal. He gestured at my giant, foam-headed mug and entreated them to try “just a little glass.” They demurred, and the owner eventually relented and left to get their wines. I lifted my massive glass and, with a giant smile and a tone suggesting they were truly missing out, assured them, “Schmecht sehr gut!” (“It tastes great!”)

But something was bothering me. An almighty brewery down in the valley… it owns the castle up on the hill… Hmmm. Now, why does that ring a bell? I wandered out onto the castle ramparts, ducking under joists and beams laced with dusty cobwebs, and found a little stone bench built into one of the arrow-slit windows for footsore sentries. I sat for a while, watching a luckless fisherman standing in the high grass and working a bend of the slow-flowing Pegnitz at the base of the cliff atop which perched the castle. He gave it up after a while and stomped off toward the massive brewery, past which flowed the stream and the railroad tracks. What is it about that brewery…?

I went down to poke around town. The only thing of interest was a little baroque, onion-domed church dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. Inside, the ends of the last six pews on either side bristled with a dozen 10-foot-tall staffs, each topped by a foot-high statue of a saint. This gaggle of martyrs had clearly been chosen for their patronage of local traditional crafts and callings, represented by the painted shields below each saint’s flowing robes—St. Michael for the masons, St. Crispin for the cobblers, etc. Even the church’s two apostolic namesakes seemed picked less for their fame than for their patronage, of blacksmiths (Peter) and merchants/businessmen (Paul—though I had always heard the was patron of upholstery or something similarly inappropriate; perhaps his vigorous “selling” of Jesus all over the Mediterranean won him a kind of traveling salesman cred, the way St. Francis’s deathbed ability to see a mass taking place miles away later got him tapped as the patron saint of television).

As I snapped a few pictures of Neuhaus’s venerated statuettes, I wondered idly why the bells were tolling at 6:50pm, but when folks started filing in I realized it was calling them to mass, so I left quietly. A tiny, wizened old woman in a red cardigan, wielding an aluminum cane and long white hair that was trying desperately to defy gravity despite the berets she had clamped on it, came rushing out after me. I turned to face her as a tidal wave of high-pitched German washed over me. I caught the words “…patron of [something]” a few times, and she kept gesturing towards somewhere up and away on the hillside, then pointing back to the church.

Her face looked calm, so I figured I wasn’t being chewed out for using my camera in the church. I fell to smiling vaguely, nodding, and saying “Ah, so,” whenever seemed appropriate whilst trying to figure out how to politely extricate myself from the one-sided conversation before she realized I didn’t understand her in the slightest. Suddenly, I realized the flood of German had stopped. I snapped out my reverie and saw that she was leaning on her cane and looking at me intently with piercing blue eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said in my best German accent, trying to keep up the charade and avoid embarrassment. “I didn’t catch that.” She pointed to my camera and finally said something I understood. “You were taking photographs in the church?”

Oh, crap. I am in trouble after all.

“Oh, it was just so beautiful!” I stammered. “And the saints…”

“Ah!” She cried, and asked which saint I was taking pictures of. My mind fell upon the last one I photographed, St. Bartholomew holding his skinning knife, and said “Barthamüs” as my brain started working overtime to phrase, in German, an explanation that my great grandfather had been a butcher (which is true) and hoping that would be enough to excuse my actions.

But before I had to drag my ancestors into it, the old woman gave a little cry and, with a delighted gleam in her eye, said, “Our patron!” She raised her fist in the air triumphantly. “Bartholomew, with his knife in his hand.” She waved her fist around happily. “My family, we are butchers!”

I grinned. “My great-grandfather, too.” She gave a glad little cry, said goodbye, and toddled back toward the church door, chuckling. I started walking away, toward the brewery, thinking that she turned out to be quite nice, if a little nutty…

Insanity! That’s it! An insane asylum connected to a brewery connected to a castle up on the hill. It’s Strangebrew! That’s the set-up in the movie, history’s silliest riff ever of the basic plot of Hamlet.

The next morning, excited, I drove down to Kaiser Braü itself and peered through the glass doors at the ranks of stainless steel tanks and computerized monitoring equipment supervising the brewing process. It was a Saturday, and no one was around. Damn. I had hoped to finagle a tour and perhaps even meet the Brewmeister, so I could ask him about his plot for world domination. There wasn’t even a murderous hockey team made up of mental patients hanging around.

Foiled in my plans to foil the Brewmeister, I quit the brewery and turned my wheels south to follow the Pegnitz River towards the Romantic Road and another night of ensured beeriness. And this time, I would actually be staying in a brewery itself. No way THIS Brewmeister was getting away from me.