One of my favourite German dishes is Maultaschen. In case you haven’t heard of them, these are pasta squares filled with minced meat, spinach, breadcrumbs and onions, and flavoured with various herbs and spices. I can only recommend trying them.
Last night, however, I was not eating Maultaschen; I was having a consolation drink with my pub quiz team in cosy HOME Bar after a particularly dismal performance. To cheer everyone up, I told them about my new favourite German word – Sandwichkind (literally, sandwich child). I guess “Malcolm in the Middle” was called “Malcolm is the Filling” in Germany, although I might need a German to corroborate that.
Norbert: Hey, you want to hear another funny thing?
Me: Funny funny or German funny?
Me: OK, go on.
While I was aware that Maultaschen (probably) translates as “mouthofananimalbag”, I hadn’t really given much thought to the origins of this delectable Swabian treat. Clearly I should have for it turns out that the Swabians are tricky, non-God-fearing buggers, as Norbert explained.
Maultaschen are traditionally associated with Lent, which is when all good Christians are encouraged to refrain from eating meat. Like me, the Swabians obviously decided this was a load of nonsense. So they invented Maultaschen, the idea being that because the meat is covered by the pasta dough, God won’t be able to see it. Genius, right? There’s even a Swabian nickname for the dish – Herrgottsbescheißerle – which means “small-God-cheaters”.
Me: Bah haha! That IS funny!
Herr God, if you’re reading this, I made it all up. Can the Swabians and I still go to heaven? We’ll bring you some Maultaschen…
I have an appetite for Käse-Schinkenbrötchen that borders on the unseemly. I’m not really sure why as it’s basically a lump of bread with cheese and bits of ham on top. What I do know is that as soon as I bite into one, it’s like there’s a party in my mouth and I’m the only one invited.
In my opinion, the best Käse-Schinkenbrötchen can be found at the Steinecke chain of bakeries. The only problem is that by the time I get there most days, they’ve sold out of this little piece of heaven and I leave empty-handed, hungry and dejected.
However, on Friday morning, I had a good feeling. I have an early-morning lesson so, by the time I get back to my little Kiez, it’s still only around 10.30. Halfway through the lesson, my students morphed into talking Käse-Schinkenbrötchen and I knew I was in a bad way.
Lesson finally over, I hopped on the train home and raced across the street to the Steinecke. Hands sweaty with anticipation (no mean feat in a Berlin winter), I pushed open the door and dashed to the counter.
There it was. The last Käse-Schinkenbrötchen. And not just any Käse-Schinkenbrötchen – no, this one was perfection itself. Smothered in cheese with evenly distributed chunks of ham, baked to perfection… I lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. This was it – the holy grail of Käse-Schinkenbrötchen. I was salivating just looking at it.
Unfortunately, there was nobody behind the counter. A note scribbled on a bit of card informed me that the errant employee would be “gleich für Sie da”. Harumph. The most delicious Käse-Schinkenbrötchen in the world was so near and yet so far away. I waited impatiently, jigging about and drumming on the counter. (I needed to keep busy so that I wouldn’t lick the glass.)
The bell on the door tinkled and another customer walked in. She had Käse-Schinkenbrötchenlust written all over her and I started to worry that the still MIA employee might serve her first. I decided that I was willing to resort to physical violence if that scenario were to happen.
After around five minutes, the comfortably-padded employee emerged from the back of the store. She didn’t look like she was in much of a hurry to get back to her customers so I thought I would jar her out of her semi-slumbering state by roaring “Käse-Schinkenbrötchen!” at her before the other woman could jump in.
I turned to give my competition a triumphant smirk but when I turned back I was surprised to see that my Käse-Schinkenbrötchen delivery system’s hands were empty.
Walburga: Es ist runtergefallen. (It has fallen down.)
Walburga: Ja, es ist runtergefallen. Tut mir leid. (I’m sorry.)
She didn’t look bloody sorry.
Me: Drei-Sekunden Regel! (Three second rule!)
Walburga: Wie bitte?
Me: DREI-SEKUNDEN REGEL!
Walburga: Drei-Sekunden was??
Me: DREI-SEKUNDEN REGEL!
I was pretty sure that the floor in a German bakery would be cleaner than the floor in my flat and I’ve eaten stuff off that before and survived so I was more than willing to take my chances. However, disappointingly, it seemed that Walburga was unaware of the three-second rule. She offered me two disgusting salty things instead at which point I wanted to leap over the counter and slap them from her meaty hands.
Me: I’ll take a raisin Brötchen instead.
Having paid – I noticed she didn’t drop the money – I left the bakery in abject misery, knowing that Walburga would probably eat the floor Käse-Schinkenbrötchen as soon as nobody was looking. For all I know, that could be why they’re never available in that particular store – she sits in her little back room eating them all before I get there.
Once home, I half-heartedly chewed my raisin Brötchen, every bite tasting like heartache. Would there ever be a replacement for that most perfect of Käse-Schinkenbrötchen? I’m not sure but I’m guessing that if there is, Walburga will probably get to it first. Her and her stupid butter fingers. But I guess that’s the hazard of working in a bakery…
One of the things you must do when in this part of the world is take a trip to Haut Koenigsbourg castle. The road up there is a bit of a roller coaster with sharp turns, steep drops and mad people hiking, cycling and jogging to the top. Having me singing “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation…” at the top of my voice in your ear will make the whole experience even more enjoyable.
We parked the car and walked to the castle, stopping to take photos every couple of seconds. The views over the Rhine Valley from this vantage point are nothing short of spectacular.
Me, suspended over the Rhine Valley
On the way back, we took a spin to Colmar but, it being Sunday, practically everything was shut due to the French doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday – or any other random day.
Still, we had more important things to think about. Ireland and Germany were playing that afternoon and we had to hightail it back to Ribeauvillé to find somewhere to watch the matches. In Berlin, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Every bar, restaurant, café and even Döner stand has a TV set up so you don’t miss a minute of the action. The only place we could find that was showing it was Bar Streng, our saviour yet again.
We made it just in time for kick-off, ordered some wine and settled in for the afternoon. The French were out in full force to cheer on the home team and cries of “Allez les bleus!” rang out from every corner. I waited for a pause before loudly interjecting, “Allez les garçons en vert!!” After a brief stunned silence, the French took it in their stride and some good-natured banter sprang up. I guess they knew that the Irish were never going to be any real threat… Sure enough, they won it with relative ease and I didn’t have to take on a bar of angry French football fans. Phew.
If this had been Ireland or Germany, the bar would have been packed for hours afterwards, but the French cleared out tout de suite. In fact, by the time Germany kicked off, there was only me, Manfredas and one other guy left. Still, we didn’t need much company to enjoy watching Germany hammer Slovakia. At least one of my home teams was through.
Since the town was pretty dead, we picked up some takeaway and headed back to our little garden for a chilled evening of wine and conversation. I must be getting old.
The next morning, we found the one patisserie that was open – maybe the French had continued celebrating in their own homes? – and popped in for breakfast.
I ordered a pain au chocolat and a cup of tea and Manfredas, a coffee and a couple of croissants. This was clearly too complicated for the girl behind the counter. She proceeded to painstakingly write everything down, longhand, then look up the prices for each item and add them up on her piece of paper, carrying the one wherever necessary. While it was a little embarrassing to watch, we got our order in the end.
On the agenda for our last day was a trip to Kaysersberg, another ridiculously pretty town not far away.
We passed through glorious countryside along the way and finally rolled into town about an hour later.
We spent a wonderful few hours strolling through the town, marvelling, yet again, that places like this still exist.
Sadly, after some lunch, it was time to hit the road and head back to the airport. But, not without accomplishing one of my dreams along the way. Yes, we stopped in the baddest of all the BAD towns – Baden Baden.
The town itself is quite lovely but the crowning moment for me was this one:
Merriment achieved, it was time to head to the airport. Karlsruhe-Baden Baden is probably the only airport I’ve been to where there were no queues and you could practically sit on the runway while enjoying a last glass of wine.
Thankfully, this time round, our flight existed and we were soon airborne, waving goodbye to all of the prettiness below and wondering how we were ever going to readjust to being back in Berlin…
I woke up on Easter Sunday to another beautiful day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, a cock… was crowing in the distance, and I was awake at 9am – unheard of.
I cheerily hummed my way across the yard to the breakfast room, where Herr Scherr was playing the host with the most. While I was shambling around trying to locate spoons, napkins and tea, he presented me with a surprise gift.
I wanted to grab him by his manly German braces and plant a smacker on him, but his Russian wife could have been lurking nearby and that could have meant big trouble. Instead, I asked him for a pot of tea.
After dining like a queen and taking a shower, I popped back over to Herr Scherr to enquire about renting a bike for the day. He said he’d meet me outside the garage in around 10 minutes which, in German time, meant a minute and a half. He unlocked one of the garages to reveal a range of bicycles, choosing one that he thought would be a good fit for me. After hammering on the saddle a bit to lower it even further, I hopped on.
I wobbled around the yard a couple of times in front of him, he told me to have fun, probably mentally wrote the bike off, and I was on my merry way.
I didn’t have any real plan; I was just going to cycle around as much of the lake as I could manage. I am what the Germans refer to as a “Schönwetter-Radfahrer” so I was a bit out of practice and had no desire to kill myself on such a lovely day. I cycled towards the lake, where the Germans were out in force doing what Germans do best – walking, running, biking, eating, and drinking beer, though usually not all at the same time.
In case you hadn’t gathered from the previous post, BAD Saarow and Scharmützelsee are rather beautiful. In fact, it was hard to stay on my bike for any amount of time as I kept on jumping off to take photos of pretty things, which was virtually everything. The houses dotted around the lake are so cute, it’s hard to believe people actually live in them.
Under renovation but still lovely
But the absolute winner had to be…
I cycled on and on, proud of myself for not having fallen off or killed anyone. There were cycle lanes most of the way and it was pretty flat so this wasn’t really much of an achievement. Eventually, hunger started gnawing at me so I began keeping an eye out for a likely establishment. After a while, I happened upon the charming Café Dorsch.
I nabbed the last remaining outdoor table, ordered soup and a glass of wine, enjoyed the sun on my face and took in the view.
It was in the bathroom after lunch that I realised one leg of my tracksuit bottoms was still tucked into my sock but it was a bit late to do anything about it at that stage.
With my legs complaining only a little, it was time to head back to town, with a few photo stops thrown in along the way. It was lucky I was by myself as I’m not sure anyone else would have had the patience for all the hopping on and off I was doing.
Once back, I noticed a small beach that I’d somehow missed before. I sat down at the beach-side café, taking the only table that wasn’t reserved.
As the soup had only half-filled a gap, I decided to order some Apfelstrudel and a cup of tea.
With the sky starting to cloud over a bit, I hauled my strudelled butt back onto the bike, wondering if I should now have a sign that said “Wide Load”. After a nap in the comfiest bed ever, it was time to eat – again. As I was still belching garlic from the night before, more garlic was out of the question so I opted for the pork medallions and croquettes in mushroom sauce.
If Herr Scherr was surprised that I was still alive and that the bike was still in one piece, he Germanically didn’t show it. Back in my room, I poured a glass of wine and settled in for a night of fiddling about with the photos I’d taken. My phone vibrating made me jump. It was Fireman Sam.
Fireman Sam: Do you want to meet up?
Me: Ugh, I’m so full and so lazy.
Fireman Sam: I’ll be at your hotel in ten minutes.
Me: Urgh. (Belch)
I put on some perfume to try to mask the garlic, onion, pork and mushroom aroma and walked outside. There he was. Now, if you think I’m mad for getting into a car with a virtual stranger, don’t worry – he was a German virtual stranger. I knew I’d be safe as houses.
He drove to the lake and we spent a lovely hour or so walking around in the moonlight, watching the lights reflecting off the water. I spoke bad German, he spoke good German and we somehow made it work.
All in all, the perfect end to the perfect weekend.
I have recently begun to embrace the German love of discount supermarket shopping. This is more due to my financial situation than any particular desire to shop at discount stores, but whatever the reason, I figure it’s probably bringing me one step closer to being a “real” German.
Before I moved to Germany, I’d never set foot in an Aldi or Lidl in my life. This is partly because, in Dublin, they’re usually in slightly awkward locations and I would have needed my own transport to get there. The other reason is that I’m a bit fancy and I didn’t much like the idea of picking stuff up off crates instead of shelves. Despite my poor long-suffering parents trying to convince me that the quality of the products was just the same, I remained unconvinced.
Fast forward to my move to Berlin. Oh, I tried to maintain my fancy ways and started off by shopping at Kaisers and REWE, much to the horror of my equally long-suffering German flatmates. Within a few months, however, with my income dwindling, the time had come to get down, dirty and frill-free.
Before embarking on this low-cost adventure, I had been wondering why other foreigners make such a big deal about the speed of shop assistants here. Now I think I’ve got it figured out – the cheaper the supermarket, the faster the shop assistant. If Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves had been faced with a Lidl shop assistant instead of a maniac with a bomb, they would have failed miserably in their endeavours. Just like I do pretty much every time.
Oh, every time I go, I think that I’m mentally prepared. “This time”, I say to myself, “I’ll be the Gewinner and you can suck it, Lidl Lady.” And every time, I become an even bigger Geloser.
As I get nearer the top of the queue, I can feel my heart start to race. When I’m three or four people back, I get into a fighting stance and open my backpack. The noise of the dividers clacking off each other as the shop assistant flings them along the side of the conveyor belt sets my nerves on edge. Finally, I make it to the top of the queue.
Lidl Lady: Guten Morgen.
Me: (Eyes narrowing) Hallo…
The theme tune to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” starts playing in my head as we eye each other. And then we’re off.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep – her hands are a blur as she tosses my items onto the tiny metal space at the end of the belt. I panic and start throwing stuff into my bag, forgetting that bread should be at the top, and instead crushing it with a litre of milk and a bag of potatoes. But there’s no time to worry about that now – she’s finished beeping stuff through and the metal shelf is still full. She’s holding my onions in one hand and my shampoo in the other until I clear some more space.
Sweating, I cram in a few more items with one hand, while frantically searching for my wallet with the other. Lidl Lady is looking at me like I’m a simpleton, while all of the Germans in the queue are tapping their feet, drumming their fingers, and wondering how they’re going to make up for this lost 45 seconds.
I tap in my PIN number, growing redder by the second until it’s unclear where my tomatoes end and my face begins. They get rammed into the backpack as well. They’re already more purée than solid food, but the important thing is that they are IN THERE and I’m almost ready to go.
Quashing the urge to have a little cry, I swing my backpack onto my back, force out an airy “Tschüss!”, and defiantly swagger towards the door, tomato juice dripping down my back.
The Germans are probably tutting behind me, but I don’t care. I’ve just bought enough food to last me the week (and enough wine to last me for around two days) for the bargain price of just over €12. So, I’ll be back, Lidl Lady, oh yes, I’ll be back. And one day, one day, I will be victorious.
After bidding farewell to the new Mrs Miserychopsski, I hit the pretty streets of Dresden again.
You may have heard of Dresden as the birthplace of PEGIDA, and yes, this is true. However, I did see something along my way that gave me hope that at least some people there are a little more open-minded.
It was just a shame there were only around six of them…
Next on the list of must-sees in Dresden is the Frauenkirche. Unfortunately, the interior was closed to the public on that particular afternoon, but the exterior was pretty impressive. Built in the 18th century, the church was completely destroyed in World War Two (like pretty much everything else in Dresden). However, that didn’t stop the Germans and they rebuilt it after the reunification of Germany. Again, I think they did rather a nice job…
Shiny happy Germans were out in droves. That’s the nice thing about the Germans – even if it’s freezing, as soon as the sun comes out, they’re instantly out and about. I guess this is what keeps the wolf from Jack Wolfskin’s door.
However, much as I admire the Germans’ hardiness, I’m just an Irish pussy at the end of the day, and my hair was starting to resemble that of those trolls you used to stick on the end of your pencils. That meant one thing – it was time for tea and cake. Indoors. I found a nice café and ordered my typical black tea with milk and a Dresdener Eierschecke, which Google helpfully translates as an egg “spotted bull”.
Despite being a little bland, it filled a gap, and after all…
This gave me enough energy for a final stroll just as the sun was about to set over Dresden.
I made my way over the bridge and back into new town as it was definitely wine o’clock at this stage. I found a cute little bar called “Bottoms Up” and had a couple of glasses of wine before heading back to the apartment for a nap. I set my alarm for 8pm and in spite of the high-pitched singing of my host and the incessant bird music she was playing, I managed to fall into a deep sleep. A little too deep. When I opened my eyes again, it was 1.57am. I briefly toyed with the idea of going out anyway, but for once, common sense won out and I slept again until 9am the next morning. I must be getting old.
I could hear the sound of birdsong in the next room but wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, so I sent the bird lady a quick text to see if it was OK to leave my stuff in the room for the day.
“Of cornelia it is OK.”, which shows that even Germans fall foul of predictive text once in a while.
I really wanted to do a boat tour, but unfortunately, I was early – by a month. So I hopped on the sightseeing bus tour instead as I had to get to the Blaues Wunder bridge but had no idea how to get there. (This time I’d asked Dietmar – Mr Germany – about what I should see BEFORE I went…)
The tour was quite interesting even though I’d already walked a lot of where we visited the day before. Still, it was good to get some more facts and figures, information about the total destruction of the city, the beauty of its rebuilding and news of upcoming festivals and celebrations. On a whim, I decided to jump off at Großer Garten, a baroque style park. There had been a wall around it at one point, in a bid to stop any “common hussy” from wandering in, but that was gone now so this common hussy made the most of it.
Although everything was a little bleak-looking at this time of year, there were some definite signs that spring is on the way.
The park is home to the Dresden Zoo, the children’s railway and the Botanical Gardens, but I only had to time have a walk around the Summer Palace and lake.
Apart from the random rollerblader who chose that moment to stop and check her phone, I was very impressed. And I could only imagine how much more beautiful it is in summer.
After another half hour or so on the bus, we finally pulled up at the Blaues Wunder bridge – “Blue Wonder”, but maybe they should have called it “Blue Steel”? While I’ve seen prettier bridges, the surroundings were absolutely lovely. Three palaces on a hill overlook the Elbe as it flows under the Blue Wonder, and this suburb of Dresden had more than a little fairy tale feel about it as well.
See what I mean?
All too soon, however, it was time for a final glass of wine before getting the bus back to Berlin. Unfortunately, the sun never did come out the second day, but I’m looking forward to visiting again in summer. Unless they rebuild the “common hussy” wall, that is.
The problem with Berlin is that it’s just too much fun. Not that that’s much of a problem most of the time; it just makes leaving it, even for a short time, very difficult. However, I’m determined to start seeing a little bit more of the country over the next few months, and until the summer, this will probably take the form of some day trips, or weekend breaks.
First on the list was Leipzig and amazingly, I made it there last Sunday, only one day later than originally scheduled. (Blame Friday night for that one.) At 9.15, the bus rolled up at Alexanderplatz, our tickets were checked by the jovial driver, and at 9.30 on the dot, we were off.
Unfortunately, this is where I fail a little as a “travel writer”. I’d love to give you a flowery description of the scenic landscape we passed but I fell asleep and only woke up as we hit the outskirts of Leipzig. Instead I’ll say that there were probably some fields and trees and villages and let you visualise that in all its stunning glory…
Done? OK, moving on. After a 2.5 hour nap, there’s nothing I like more than a good feed so I took a stroll into the city centre in search of food. It was dry, if a little overcast, but I figured if it stayed like that all day, I would be pretty lucky, this being the end of January and all. My second breakfast decision was made as soon as I noticed an option on the chalkboard outside Central Café…
Because, you know, sometimes you just have to…
The café was cute and cosy, and the service friendly and efficient. To my delight, they had Flammkuchen on the menu, so I ordered that, a cup of tea, and a white wine – because I was on holiday.
Though a little on the small side, the Flammkuchen was delicious and everything was going down a treat – until I noticed the couple sitting not far from me. Every time she spoke, he stared so intensely and lovingly at her lips, I thought he was going to eat her. It was slightly off-putting to say the least. Luckily, the drunkest man in the world walked in at that point and I kept myself entertained with the thought that he’d have to pick up his breakfast with his face, as his arms were firmly bound behind his back in the jacket he was struggling to take off. As I was leaving they were playing the song, “Lick my neck, my back, my pussy and my crack…”, which I thought was a little inappropriate for Sunday brunch but hey, this is Germany.
Unfortunately, the Leipziger I’d met in the queue for the loo at a hippie/hipster (who knows?) commune the weekend before had bailed on me, so I was on my own on the mean streets of Leipzig. I managed to take one cheery sunny photo before the sleet/hail/snow/rain that would last the rest of the day kicked in.
Leipzig is yet another of those cities that is dubbed the “mini-insert random city here” – in this case, “mini-Paris”. But don’t judge me – it was Goethe who said it first, back in his student days at Leipzig University. For a relatively small city, Leipzig actually packs quite a punch on the famous dead guy scene – Johann Sebastian Bach was a choirmaster here, Mozart and Mendelssohn both performed here, and Wagner was born here in 1813.
I first passed Nikolaikirche, but there was a service going on at the time and I’m banned from those now so I couldn’t go in.
In the absence of my hippie/hipster buddy, I’d printed out a page from the Frommer’s website which said that one of the best things to do in Leipzig was explore the Art Nouveau arcades that thread the old part of the city. As that sounded warm, I was convinced.
The most impressive of these passageways, by far, is the Mädler Mall, adorned with chandeliers, and home to the famous Auerbachs Keller, the setting for one of the scenes in Goethe’s Faust. Sculptures of some of the characters pique your curiosity about visiting the restaurant downstairs.
That woman’s coat tried to steal the limelight
A quick look at the price-list, however, confirmed that I would not be eating there. Maybe it was cheaper in Goethe’s day.
I exited into the market square, which was market free on that day, but still very pretty, even in the gloom.
The Old Town Hall is now home to the City History Museum, so I made a mental note to come back and visit a bit later, and carried on. I was not disappointed.
YES! It was just what I’d always wanted! A shop selling eyes – and more! Thankfully, it was Sunday and the shop was closed. Otherwise I fear I would have purchased a load of eyes I really have no use for – and possibly more. Thank you Germany for your sensible Sunday shop closures.
Part two coming soon… (unless the Leipzig Tourist Board stops me)
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain