The Wine Fest that Wasn’t

It’s summer in Berlin which means that there are around ten festivals happening every week. In fact, there’s so much going on, it can be close to impossible to decide what to do. This weekend, however, the choice was easy. My two favourite words were mashed together into one German word and the decision was made. Weinfest.

Get in my belly
Get in my belly

After a relaxing brunch, Manfredas and I hopped on the bus to Britzer Garten. I had been there once before and thought it was beautiful so I was looking forward to going again.

Unfortunately, the festival wasn’t being held in the park proper but in a side bit next to a windmill.

Windmill. Check.
Windmill. Check.

We walked for around 10 minutes after the bus journey, wondering at the lack of drunk people on the streets. Clearly, this wasn’t going to be a massive party.

We got there to find not much of anything at all.

Is that it?
Is that it?

There were only three stands in total and two of those were selling coffee and cheese. Erm, what? But there was ONE wine stand so we marched over there and asked the barman what was going on.

Weinman: Well, there were supposed to be four wineries here but two cancelled and the third crashed in the outskirts of Berlin so now it’s just me. 

There wasn’t much we could say to that so we ordered a couple of glasses of Weißburgunder and sat down, lowering the average age of the revellers by around 30 years.

Manfredas: I’ve been thinking about why this isn’t really a fest.

Me: You mean apart from the lack of people and wine? 

Manfredas: Yes, apart from that. It’s because there’s no sausage. 

Me: I think they’re going for a more classy “wine and cheese” French-style of proceedings. 

Manfredas: THIS IS GERMANY! GERMANS NEED SAUSAGES! 

Me: Right. 

Since we’d come all that way, we decided to have a second glass and chill out for a while – the good thing about a fest with 20 people is that there is never a queue for the toilets. When we were around half-way through, a van pulled up and a band (dressed in American GI uniforms) stepped out.

Me: Oooh, there’s a band! We have to stay now!

PARTY!
PARTY!

They started at 6pm on the dot and the lead singer explained that they were normally Checkpoint Five but they were missing their drum and keyboard players so, that night, they were Checkpoint Light.

Me: Oh, hahahaha! This is just too funny! A wine fest with no wine and a band with no members! Ha hahahahaha! What are drums in German anyway? 

Manfredas: Schlagzeug.

Me: Hit thing! Ha hahahahahaha! 

Yes, we had started ordering wine by the bottle at that stage…

The band launched into energetic renditions of all the old American doo-wop classics, with every second song being an Elvis number. I was in heaven. Amazingly, the tables started filling up and we were soon sharing ours with a bunch of fun, middle-aged Germans.

They ordered a cheese plate which came with Schüttelbrot. Seemingly, it’s the preferred bread of the Alpine regions but it was far more fun whacking it off the table to try and break it than it was to attempt to eat it.

My new German friends drummed along with the music.
Bread that’s harder than the table

We all roared along with the music, providing percussion by beating the table with the bread. I’m pretty sure that Elvis was spinning in his grave by that point.

People were up dancing, the wine and conversation flowed and what could have been a total bust turned into a fantastic night out.

Even the Latvians turned up.

EEEK!
EEEK!

I can’t wait to go again next year. I only hope that it’s as disastrously funny as it was this year.

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The third Alsace post will be up next week! 

 

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Adventures in Alsace (2)

I woke up the next morning to find Manfredas dancing around the room with a slice of raisin bread the size of my suitcase in his hand. It seemed it was market day. (And yes, you read that correctly – I slept through him showering, leaving, going for a coffee and exploring the market. This is thanks to a combination of German-early-risingitis and excellent earplugs.)

I hopped (sort of) out of bed, pulled on my slippers (that Manfredas had packed for me) and put on the kettle to make a cup of tea (with one of the tea bags he’d also packed). German men just keep on giving…

Manfredas: I texted the owner for the wifi code. 

Me: What did she say? 

Manfredas: (showing me his phone) Sur le meuble dehors dans le couloir ou se trouve les livres!!!

Me: She forgot an accent. “Où” is where; “ou” is or. And three exclamation marks is excessive. 

Yes, I’m even a grammar nazi in languages I barely speak. We located the code, which was so long and complicated that even a German would be impressed. I simply gave up. Instead, I made my way to our sun-dappled petit jardin with my tea and hunk of bread.

Imagine breakfasting here every morning...
Imagine breakfasting here every morning…

We discussed our plan for the day which was basically no plan at all. Perfect. After surviving the bathroom, we made our way down the main street to the market. They’d closed the street to traffic because of it – it seems that being able to buy cheese, meat and wine is far more important than being able to get from A to B in these parts. Gotta love the French for that.

Cheeeese...
Cheeeese…

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A little kid came running up to us with a basket of fresh bread which we nibbled on as we strolled around the gorgeous streets.

As we walked, I thanked my lucky stars that it hadn’t been one of these that had shat on me the night before…

Special delivery...
Special delivery…

After a couple of hours of meandering, and with the sky starting to look a bit threatening, we stopped off for a bite to eat and the first (but certainly not the last) glass of wine of the day. 

DSC00746
Eek!

The heavens opened just after we sat down and, around half an hour later, we got to see a man drenched as the awning collapsed under the weight of the water. It was time for another carafe of wine to celebrate that it hadn’t been us.

Once the sun came out again, we made our way to the tourist information office where I picked up enough leaflets to open my own office. We also learned about the Petit Train Touristique and, as luck would have it, it was leaving in around ten minutes. We strolled over to the pretty park at the edge of town, paid our fares and got on.

Le petit train!
Me looking ecstatic

The tour would take us through the steep, winding streets of the town, out into the rolling hills and vineyards beyond, through the town of Hunawihr, and give us a panoramic view of the three castles that dominate the landscape. All in just 50 minutes. Who could ask for more?

DSC00798
Le petit train!

There was an audio guide in eight different languages so we popped on our headsets and off we bumped. It was so much fun taking up the entire street and just praying that we wouldn’t meet anything coming the other way. Pedestrians scattered and I gleefully gave them the royal wave as we passed. The scenery in this part of the world is just breath-taking.

Not even the English twat doing the commentary and pronouncing “Riesling” as “Rise-ling” could dampen my spirits. Back in town, I discovered that the French take shit just as seriously as the Germans do.

Ha ha ha!
Ha ha ha!

Having recovered myself somewhat, we decided that it was time for a little dégustation. We headed for one of the many options dotting the main street.

More wine!
More wine!

We tried the Rise-ling, which was lovely, but the Pinot Blanc was the clear winner for both of us. Obviously, they do sort of expect you to buy something at these places so we picked up a bottle for a little nap-cap. It had been an exhausting day, after all…

By the time we were ready to hit the town again, the town had all but shut down. A couple of places we tried had already closed their kitchens – at 9pm. We persevered and finally found somewhere. The evening was a bit chilly so I had a hearty, traditional beef stew. (It did not photograph well.)

Cute Alsatian wine glasses. Of very little practical use.
Cute Alsatian wine glasses. Of very little practical use.

After realising we were the only two people left, we paid up and let the wait staff go home to bed. Even though Ribeauvillé is far enough removed from Berlin so as to appear to be on another planet, old habits die hard. Going home at 10.30 on a Saturday night? NEIN!

Thankfully, we found the rather German-sounding Bar Streng up a side street. After a couple of minutes, I got chatting to Caroline – part-time waitress, part-time vineyard worker.

Moi: Oh my god! That would be my dream job! 

Caro: Well, I start at 6am on Monday – you’re more than welcome to come along. 

Moi: Maybe another time…

I’m probably far better at drinking wine than I would be at making it – but I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – coming soon! 

Adventures in Alsace (1)

Manfredas: Do you want to go to Alsace for a few days? 

Me: What would we do there? 

Manfredas: Look at pretty places, eat good food and drink lots of wine. 

Me: In. 

Manfredas picked me up at my door in a dinky Car2Go and off we went.

Like driving a bumper car on a motorway.
Like driving a bumper car on a motorway.

We made it to Tegel airport in around 25 minutes, which meant that we had loads of time before our flight. The plan was to go through, sit down with a cuppa and a pastry and wait at the gate, which was clearly displayed on the board. Ah, the best-laid plans…

Manfredas had checked us in the day before and had the boarding passes on his phone. HAD. That morning, they were nowhere to be found. Having tried and failed repeatedly, we approached the attendant zealously guarding the Priority Boarding lane. She couldn’t help us and she wouldn’t let us through to ask the guy at that desk. NEIN, we’d have to queue up behind the 200 plebs with check-in luggage.

We joined the end of the queue, and I told Manfredas to call Air Berlin to see if they could help. The woman who answered the phone – eventually – didn’t know anything, couldn’t or wouldn’t help, and didn’t even ask for the details of the flight or our names.

Me: OK, plan B. I’ll stay in the queue with the bags, you wait until Zealhilde over there turns her back and then duck under the barrier to the Priority area. 

Normally, Germans aren’t rule-breakers but with 15 minutes to go until our gate closed, we really had no choice. Manfredas succeeded in his mission and I inched our bags towards the distant check-in desks. A few minutes later, he signalled me to leave the queue.

Me: What happened?

Manfredas: The flight’s been cancelled. 

And that was that. No announcement, no notification. Good job, Air Berlin. We joined another queue – this time with other confused and angry passengers. You know the ones – cancelled flights, overweight luggage charges, forgot to print out their boarding passes… We all bonded over our mutual hatred of Air Berlin and had a jolly old time. The woman behind the Desk for Hopeless Causes and Rip-off Merchantry managed to book us on a flight to Stuttgart an hour later.

Stuttgart - home of the Ladies' Standing Toilet.
Stuttgart – home of the Ladies’ Standing Toilet.

We picked up our rental car and were off. By now, we were obviously way behind schedule. Stuttgart is further from Alsace than our original choice of Karlsruhe-Baden Baden and we had lost an hour at the airport. Still, we were in high spirits when we finally pulled into our lunch destination – Strasbourg.

Pretty, pretty...
Pretty, pretty…

At this point, I was so hungry I could have eaten Manfredas, but we were in France, home of fine food, so I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. I hadn’t banked on France’s bizarre opening hours and random rules. Yes, it seems that France likes to shut down its kitchens, right around the time normal people are ready for lunch. We tried three or four places but none were serving food at that time. They looked at us like we were a bit mad for even thinking 2pm could be a reasonable eating time.

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Eventually, we found somewhere in the main square and I inhaled a slice of quiche and a glass of wine. We strolled around the city for an hour or so, taking in the sights and enjoying the laidback French chatter all around us. Our secondary aim was to find a breathalyzer; it’s compulsory to have one in the car when driving in France. Unfortunately, nowhere sold them, nobody knew where you could buy them and half the shops were closed anyway. Le sigh.

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We found the car and hit the autoroute again.
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Traffic was much worse than we had anticipated so we were both a bit frazzled by the time we finally arrived in Ribeauvillé. Three laps of the crazy one-way systems trying to find our apartment didn’t help much either. Still, find it we did. Manfredas called the owner. No answer. He called the other number. No answer. He left messages at both numbers in pretty decent French. After a few minutes, she texted back.

Bonjour! La clé est derrière le volet et votre chambre est la première à droite. 

Me: What’s a “volet”?

Neither of us had a notion so we stalked the outside of the building clawing at anything that might reveal a space behind it. Turns out “volet” means “shutter” but we were both giggling uncontrollably by the time we figured that out.

Les volets
Les volets

We let ourselves into our little apartment. I badly needed to use the loo so I went in, closed the door and had a wonderful Sitzpinkel. Then I tried to get out again. NON. The door was on a little metal roller and that had twisted so that I couldn’t move the door. I bashed at it, kicked it, wrenched it – it wouldn’t budge. Manfredas, having come back in from trying to get a phone signal on the street, was greeted by a barrage of swearing and this sight:

Note: This is a reenactment. He didn't leave me trapped there while he took photos.
Note: This is a reenactment. He didn’t leave me trapped in there while he took photos.

He managed to free me and amid a fit of hysterics, we left to explore Ribeauvillé a little. To say that this place is pretty would be the understatement of the century; it’s nothing short of adorable. Narrow, winding streets, gloriously colourful houses, flowers in every windowsill, hearts on the wooden volets… it’s chocolate box charm all the way.

We found a restaurant – not hard to do – and sat down to dinner. I was just tucking in when a bird shat on my arm. Encore le sigh. Still, we figured that was probably all of our bad luck out of the way and proceeded to make the most of the night.

Wining, not whining
Wining, not whining

 

Stay tuned for part two! À bientôt!