As I have mentioned more than once in my main blog, 2020 has been a hell of a year for a lot of people. Between us, Bill and I have lost three loved ones in less than two months. I lost a cousin and a different cousin’s spouse. Bill lost his father. My cousin and Bill’s dad both died in November. Last night, we found out that we also lost a good friend in a guy we have been calling the “Mad Scientist” since 2008.
I found out about the Mad Scientist’s death by chance last night, as I was looking up his Greek restaurant, Agais, in Entringen, Baden-Württemberg, a place where Bill and I enjoyed many meals and lots of wine. It was where I tried retsina for the first time, and learned to enjoy t’zatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce much beloved by anyone who enjoys Greek food. It was also where I learned the Greek word “γιαμας” (pronounced “giamas”), which is roughly equivalent to the English expression, “cheers”.
I became a late convert to Greek cuisine, having tasted it for the first time in Vaihingen (a part of Stuttgart near Patch Barracks) at a little place called Taverna Faros. Taverna Faros had wonderful food, and we ate there a bunch of times during our first six weeks in Germany back in 2007. At the time, we were living in the Vaihinger Hof, a rather crappy but cheap hotel located in Vaihingen, which, over the years, has hosted many people moving to Stuttgart. I’m not sure the Vaihinger Hof is still open these days, since Air BnB has provided alternatives to living in hotels. But we were there for six weeks, and got very familiar with the restaurants in Vaihingen, since there were no kitchen facilities at the Vaihinger Hof.
Taverna Faros was where I tried dorade and gyros for the first time. Unfortunately, the proprietor was rather abruptly forced to shut down because he allegedly didn’t pay his taxes. The place where Taverna Faros once was is now known as The Auld Rogue. It’s a very popular Irish pub, and if you explore this blog, you’ll see that Bill and I visited there many times when we lived near Stuttgart from 2014-2018. Every time I went in there, I remembered that it was once a Greek place, and later became a disco, which we never visited.
Anyway, in the fall of 2007, after six weeks in the rather dirty but lovingly staffed hotel, we finally found a house in a little town called Pfäffingen. It was just a few miles west of the great city, Tübingen. Agais is located in a little village called Entringen, which we frequently drove through on our way to the military installations in the Stuttgart area. It was about 2 kilometers north of Pfäffingen.
Since I had recently discovered a love for Greek food, I told Bill I wanted to try Agais. We kept passing it every time we had to go to Patch or Panzer Barracks, and I was very curious about the food. So one night, we stopped in for dinner. It was probably in 2008, since we moved to our house in November 2007 and it took us awhile to get acquainted with the area. I remember when we walked in, there was no one there. But then a smiling Greek guy with wild, curly dark hair appeared.
At first, he thought I was Greek. If you were to see me in person, you might be as baffled as I was by that. I’m short, blonde, and very buxom, with blue eyes. Personally, I think I look very Celtic, which stands to reason, since my people were mostly from the British Isles. But the Mad Scientist initially spoke Greek to me. When I reacted with a baffled expression, he realized we are Americans and switched to English. He welcomed us heartily, and we sat down at what would become our usual booth (the only one in his restaurant, actually). He turned on Greek music– from Zorba the Greek. The walls, painted white and bright blue, were covered with personal mementos.
I remember after enjoying our first nice meal at Agais, I told the proprietor that I thought we’d be regulars. He said, “I think you should.” When we got home that night, Bill said the guy reminded him of a “Mad Scientist”. So that’s what we’ve called him ever since. His wife, Renate, is German and cooks the food.
Of course, the Mad Scientist had a name. I think he went by the name John in Germany, but I found out last night his real name was Ioannis. He was born December 27, 1938 and died on November 9, 2020, just one day after we lost Bill’s dad. I don’t know what ended John’s life, but in recent years, I did notice that he was not as vibrant as he once was. I don’t know for certain, but I suspected that he might have had a stroke during the five years we were out of Germany. I say this because when we first met him in 2008, he spoke perfect English. When we saw him again for the first time, back in 2014, he struggled to speak English and, in fact, may have even had some trouble with German, which he’d also previously spoken perfectly.
During our first two years in Germany, we stopped by Agais many times. We also brought visitors there. Those first couple of years, John was quite healthy. He told us that he used to work in Canada as an engineer. He moved there with his first wife, whom I think was Greek. Their marriage broke up, so he married a German woman, who brought him to Germany to live. That marriage broke up, and he married another German woman, the one we know as Renate. They had a son who, during our first tour, was attending the university in Tübingen. Sometimes, we’d see him in the restaurant, helping out. He looked a lot like his dad, complete with the wild, curly black hair.
Although I’ve had Greek food I’ve liked better, Bill and I loved to visit Agais because we could always count on an entertaining evening. John loved to chat about all subjects, and we’d talk about everything from American politics to Greek/Turkish relations. He learned how we liked our food, and we could always count on getting pistachio nuts and candy at the end of the meal, as well as ouzo. John was also famous for giving out eucalyptus drops, which will clear out your sinuses and are great to have around whenever you’re sick with a cold or the flu. I carried them around in my purse for years after we moved the first time.
In 2009, we had to leave Germany a year earlier than we expected. We never got the chance to say goodbye to John and his wife. I always regretted that, since they’d shown us such a good time when we were in Germany the first time. The five years we were back in the States, I thought about them a lot.
Just before we moved, they had opened up a “vacation apartment”. It still operates today. I remember on one of the last visits we had before we moved “home”, we happened to dine there at the same time John and his wife were hosting several obnoxious German couples. I wrote about that incident when it happened and the story can be found on this blog. The short version is, these couples were staying in Entringen and had been dining at Agais all week. They had sort of taken over John’s restaurant, dictating which music he should play, and running him ragged. I noticed they were casting derisive looks at Bill and me.
I understood much less German then than I do now, but I could tell at least one of them was making fun of us. And we also heard them disparaging the Swiss. When they finally left, John asked us if we understood what they were saying. Bill said we hadn’t. Chuckling wickedly, John said, “Those people have been here all week for marriage counseling. They’re here in a last ditch effort not to get divorced!” Apparently, there is or was a marriage counselor in Entringen of some renown, and the annoying jerks at the table near us were there to receive services.
When Barack Obama got elected, I remember John was excited. He said he was glad to see a black man in the White House. Then he added, “But I think he might get shot.” We were shocked at the time, but given the fact that John was an older man who had lived through the Kennedy administration and watched America from afar, I could kind of see where he might have gotten that impression. Fortunately, Mr. Obama survived his time as our president.
In September 2014, Bill and I finally visited our old friend again. We walked into his restaurant, and it was unusually busy. His wife saw us and recognized us immediately, giving us a huge grin and a welcome. It took John a couple of minutes, but then his eyes widened and he smiled and said, “You are back in Germany!” It was at about that time that we realized that he was not the same man he was in 2009. But we made a point of visiting him occasionally when we were living in Jettingen, which was probably a 15-20 minute drive from where he was.
I wish we’d had a chance to see him once more before we left the Stuttgart area about two years ago. I would have liked to have been able to say goodbye. Unfortunately, we never got around to it. The last time we saw him was in September 2018. I noticed that over the years, the portion sizes were smaller and the prices were a bit higher. And he’d stopped handing out pistachios. I don’t think it was necessarily because he was trying to be stingy. I think business had gotten rough for him, especially after he got sick (and he did confirm that he was sick for awhile). But his English did improve, even if it wasn’t as fluent as it once was. And we still loved to visit his restaurant, remember old times, and make new memories.
It looks like his wife is carrying on with the restaurant and apartment, although Germany is now back in lockdown mode until at least next month. On their Web site, it says they’re doing some renovation work. I hope she can keep the place going during these tough times.
Agais is the one place that bridged our two stints near Stuttgart. It’s the one constant of both time periods, a place where we were always warmly welcomed. A lot of the restaurants we used to love to visit during our first stint went defunct long ago, but not Agais. And we could always count on John and Renate to show us a nice time. I will always remember the “Mad Scientist” fondly. He was a very good man.