customs, markets

Breckenheim’s very first village market…

Yesterday, something happened that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for awhile. Our little village had its very first neighborhood market on the Dorfplatz. It was also the first day of September, which means that, right on cue, the weather started to change in earnest. I’ve lived in Germany for ten years of my life and it never fails. As of September 1, it immediately gets cooler in Germany, even if it was broiling hot the week prior. Usually, by the 15th, I consistently need to wear a jacket, and have put away the air conditioners until summer comes around again. In fact, just a few minutes ago, I pulled the air conditioning hose inside and closed the window in my office for the first time in weeks. It’s really cooling down outside. I hope that means we’ll soon get some rain.

Some people might not think the neighborhood market is a big deal. I mentioned it on social media, and two of my American friends posted that their towns in the United States are doing the “same” thing. With all due respect to my American friends, I don’t think it is quite the same. Remember, I spent a good 35 of my 50 years in the USA, and have lived in several states, so I’m in a position to know something about life there. I would be very surprised if I went to a market in, say, my home state of Virginia, and found someone selling fresh harissa, locally produced sausages, or unpasteurized cheeses, which are usually pretty hard to find in the US.

I would also be surprised if they were pouring local wines. In the States, there’s a big emphasis on alcohol laws. Anyone appearing to be under 21 will be carded. This isn’t to say there are no booze laws here, but the drinking age is lower, while the driving age is higher… and fewer people drive here, anyway. And drinking seems to be more of a normal part of society, just as smoking is. In our case, the market was just down the hill from our house, and all of the people at the market are literally our neighbors.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful markets in the United States. I just don’t think they’re quite the same there as they are here. The market that happens in Wiesbaden is totally different than the market we had last night, which was very small and felt more like a wine stand with a few vendors selling their wares. However, I have a feeling that once the market catches on, it will be bigger, and there will be more things to buy than what was available last night. As it was, there was a flower vendor, someone selling vegetables, and a Turkish Feinkost represented. And the wine kiosk was open, so they were selling wine, beer, Schorles, and other non-alcoholic beverages. It looked like they had the usual Brats and Brotchens, too. I had Noyzi and Arran with me, so I didn’t get very close to the action.

Maybe it sounds petty, but it kind of annoys me when people back home assume they know how it is here… and claim it’s the “same” as it is in the United States. As an American who has lived many years in America, I know it isn’t, really. But then, a lot of things in the USA are not the same as they are in Germany. For instance, it’s pretty hard to find some of my favorite American style comfort foods over here. I am fortunate enough to shop at the military commissary, order from Amazon.com, and have stuff come through APO (government mail for US citizens). I regularly buy high quality grits from a farm in South Carolina, which are vastly superior to the Quaker quick or instant grits “crapola” in the commissary. I wouldn’t be able to find grits at all in a German store. Instead, I’d find polenta, which is not really the same. It’s only somewhat similar. Grits are also NOT semolina (Cream of Wheat). They are made of ground up hominy, which is corn.

The boys were amused by the sights and sounds of our little market.

It’s been my experience that Europeans tend to be more community minded than most people in the United States are, but of course there are always exceptions. And I’ve found that Breckenheim is a lot more of a friendly community than either of the towns we lived in near Stuttgart. Maybe it’s because of the wine. Stuttgart does have wineries, but the emphasis in the southern part of Germany is more on beer. Up here near the Rhein, it’s wine country. Maybe it’s because Hesse is not Swabia. Seriously… there is a different mindset in the Swabian region of Germany. It’s not that the people aren’t nice. They are. It’s just that it seems to take longer to make friends down there. The mood is a bit more insular, especially in smaller towns. There’s a different dialect that even native Germans sometimes have trouble understanding. And people, on the whole, seem to be more reserved and formal than they are in Hesse. In that sense, Germany IS like the United States, because as we all know, there are many different cultures within the regions of the US, too.

Anyway, below are some photos from last night. I didn’t get as close as I would have liked to, because we brought the dogs with us. Noyzi still gets pretty freaked out by strangers, although I can tell his instinct is to be very friendly. He’s still overcoming traumas from his youth, though, and that takes time and experience. I was proud of him last night, even if he was a little spooked by everything. Overall, he behaved very well. Arran, of course, couldn’t care less. He’s getting pretty old and is now unimpressed by a lot of things that used to set him off. Next weekend, Breckenheim will host its first wine fest. That should be fun, especially since it will be easy to haul home purchases from the Dorfplatz. Last night also heralded the opening of Breckenheim’s public toilet! I know that was exciting, too. The men of the village have been all over setting it up for weeks now.

Standard
Uncategorized

Wine week in Wiesbaden… one last hurrah, and two rip offs!

Bill and I were trying to decide what we wanted to do today… when we were younger and less cranky, we might have decided to go to a place further afield, like Bad Homberg, or maybe Rüdesheim, which was having a wine fest this weekend. I’ve actually been wanting to go back to Rüdesheim myself, because I want to ride the Seilbahn. I’ve never done it before, and now is a good time to try it, before the weather turns to shit, as it usually does in September. But we didn’t feel like risking a Stau, and weren’t wanting to go far, so we decided to go back to the Wiesbaden Wine Fest, which ends tonight.

Overall, we had a good time. I drank lots of wine, and teased Bill, who didn’t drink nearly as much, since he had to drive. We ate good food and enjoyed the agreeable temperatures, which aren’t as bad as they have been lately, even if my house is still hot. We need rain very badly. But I know it’s coming, because the seasons are going to change soon. And, in my experience, they will change quickly.

We sat in a different part of the festival this time, and tried wines from three different Weinguts. We had different food, and I enjoyed a different public toilet. Sadly, Bill and I BOTH got ripped off.

It started with Bill. As it was mid afternoon, we required some food. He went off and came back with a fruit/cheese platter that was plenty of food, but not enough of what I wanted to eat. Bill had been talking about Langos, which is a popular Hungarian street food, that consists of fried dough topped with savory treats. Before today, I had never heard of them, but Bill talked them up. Then we saw someone with one that looked really good. So I told Bill I wanted to try one.

He went to the stand, very close to where we were sitting, and ordered me an Italian Langos– fried dough, tomatoes, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, and paprika spread. It was actually delicious, but the guy who made it, ripped off about 15 euros from Bill by shortchanging him. Bill was pissed about it, but didn’t want to confront the guy. So I dispensed a piece of wisdom, which was “You don’t always need to be driving the karma bus.”

It’s true. When it counts, Bill stands up for his rights. He did sue our ex landlady, after all. This was a minimal loss, and we were having a good time… and that guy is going to be caught eventually. Last night, we booked five nights at the very nice Bareiss Hotel in the Black Forest, a place that guy will probably never get to experience. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. I empathize with Bill being pissed, though. I just don’t think it needs to ruin the day, especially if it’s not enough of a big deal to say something about it.

Then I got up to pee. I paid the 80 cents with a two euro coin… I got change. Guess what? The “one euro” coin I got, came from Argentina. Yep… I got ripped off, too. I guess he saw me coming. Oh well. I took the coin and put it in my special foreign coin purse, which I bought in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996. It has coins from all over the world, as well as US coins that date back to 1880. No, a coin from Argentina doesn’t have monetary value in Germany, but having it provides me with a good story, which, to some people, is probably worth more than a euro. And I’ve never been to Argentina, so now I have a reason to go there, right? To spend my almost worthless two pesos, exchanged for a euro. The two peso coin is currently worth about .01 euro cent.

Anyway, we still had a good afternoon. This time, we had wines from three different wineries in the Rheingau. When we left, a lovely lesbian couple had taken over the table. They were doing what Bill and I always do when we buy wines to taste– trading the glasses. What a love language. The wine week ends tonight, so next weekend, I hope to have different photos. But for now, here’s what I have…

All in all, it was a nice afternoon, in spite of being ripped off. We learned new things. And, in the grand scheme of things, being ripped off twice isn’t a big deal. Because eventually, those guys will likely get busted, and we don’t miss the money, anyway. Next month, I will be writing about a legendary Black Forest hotel, after I get dental care. If you ask me, we are pretty blessed… as I write this, Elton John’s “Blessed” is even playing.

But I understand why Bill was pissed. No one likes to be a chump. At least he wasn’t alone today. 😉

Standard
Uncategorized

Lunch at Mangia, Mangia in Kronberg…

Although we had wonderful weather again yesterday, Bill and I never managed to venture out anywhere. Instead, we stayed home and enjoyed our usual backyard wine and music. Bill also made a “savory cheesecake”, which was something I used to serve when I worked lunch shifts at The Trellis in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Trellis was started in 1980 and run by Marcel Desaulniers, John Curtis, and for some years, the late Tom Powers. Mr. Powers eventually divested himself of his share of the restaurant and opened a competitor, The Fat Canary, which is still running and very popular. When I worked at The Trellis, Mr. Powers was already out of the partnership.

Anyway, a savory cheesecake is a cheese based pastry… but it’s “savory”. It’s a cheesecake made with cream cheese and some other kind of cheese. In our case, we used Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheese, but in Marcel’s cookbook, it calls for Dry Jack and Gruyeres cheeses and at the restaurant, they made it with cream cheese and Swiss.

Bill tries his hand at cheesecake. Yes, it looks like a sweet cheesecake, but it’s not… and it’s not a quiche, either. It’s cheese based, not egg based.

While we were enjoying the cheesecake, Bill asked me if I would like to go out to lunch today. I said that would be fine, so we made reservations at Mangia, Mangia, an Italian eatery in Kronberg im Taunus, which is just on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Kronberg is right next to Koenigstein, which is where I had my birthday lunch in June, and not at all far from Bad Soden, a spa town that also has an Italian steak house and rib joint called Rocco’s Italian Grill.

Our reservation was at 1:00pm. We live about twenty-five minutes or so from Kronberg, so I had to hastily wrap up my guitar practice so we could get there on time. We needn’t have been so concerned. Although the terrace was bustling when we arrived, there were many tables available indoors. We decided to sit outside and enjoy the last days of summer before the weather turns to shit. There’s a parking garage very close to the restaurant, as well as an outdoor lot right by the restaurant itself.

Here are some photos from our visit.

Lunch was very good, although I probably wouldn’t get the Smokey Avo Burger again. I’m pretty picky about my burgers. Bill loved it, though, and ate what I didn’t want, as well as his own pasta dish. I think next time, I’ll go for a pasta dish or maybe grilled dorade or salmon. The pizzas also looked great, but they’re always too big for me. Despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t generally eat that much. I just drink too much. 😉

Service was a little slow, but basically friendly. I enjoyed watching and listening to the people around us. I noticed a lot of people who were there were Italians, which is always a good sign in an Italian restaurant. On Sundays, they offer non-stop service, though they take a pause on other days of the week. The inside of the restaurant is very modern and kind of glam. It looked a little like it was influenced somewhat by American tastes. The pizza bread burger buns are unique.

I noticed a young couple who appeared to be on a first or early date. They looked like they might be teenagers. It reminded Bill and me of when we had our first date, although we were well beyond the teen years when that happened. It’s hard to believe that this year, we’re going to celebrate our 18th anniversary.

After we ate, we decided to take a walk through the very quaint town, which reminded me a little of Ribeauville in Alsace, France. There are many beautiful half-timbered buildings and interesting architecture. I guess Kronberg was not too badly decimated during World War II. Here are some photos…

On the way back to the car, I noticed the garage had a pay toilet. Since I drank water and wine at lunch, I decided to spring for a pee before hitting the road. The WC wasn’t too dirty, but there was a lot of graffiti. Since I know I have at least one German reader who enjoys reading the public’s thoughts on things, here’s what was written on the walls. Who says Germans can’t be crass?

Kronberg begs for a return visit and further exploration. As nice as Hofheim was last weekend, I think I might like Kronberg even more. It’s a very ritzy town. Too bad we couldn’t take the Mini. It needs gas and air in the tires, which Bill will take care of tomorrow. Then, he’s off to Stuttgart to attend to business for a few days. Whoopee. Guess I’ll play Sims 4 and watch more Call the Midwife.

Standard
Uncategorized

Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part four

Saturday morning, we woke up after a nice night at the hotel. After a hearty breakfast that included a generous portion of scrambled eggs, we drove into Strasbourg on a mission to buy beer. I had heard the city had some really nice beer shops. Not that Germany doesn’t also have places to buy beer– they do! But Germans are very proud of their beer, so it’s not as easy to find suds from other countries. When we lived near Stuttgart, we used to visit Heinrich’s 3000, a huge beverage market near Ludwigsburg, where one could find beer from all over the place. But we haven’t yet found anywhere similar near Wiesbaden.

Bill was a bit worried about driving into the city, but it turned out fine. He made his way to the Gutenberg Garage, which is located right in the heart of the old town. It was fortunate that we got there somewhat early. Strasbourg was alive with activity on Saturday, complete with a sort of mini carnival with rides. The only thing I didn’t see, that I usually see in French cities, was a carousel. I’m sure one exists somewhere in Strasbourg.

We Googled and found that Strasbourg has three beer shops that would have what we were hunting for, so Bill grabbed his trusty Rewe bag and we headed out… but not before I made a pit stop. A lot of garages in France have public toilets, and Gutenberg is no exception. Unfortunately, it’s also no exception to my personal habit of catching people urinating. Seriously, this happens to me all the time, and not just in Europe, where public urination is common. I either see someone peeing outside, often just feet away from me, or I inadvertently open a door that wasn’t locked and catch the occupant mid stream. Believe me, it’s not something I aspire to do. I wish people would lock the door, but maybe they worry about being stuck in the toilet. I don’t know.

Anyway, I managed to see a toddler’s bare behind as his mother was tending to him. Then, while I was waiting, a man and another child joined what was apparently a party in the loo. It took a long time before they’d all done their business and came trooping out, all smiles. It turned out they were German speakers who also spoke French. The mom apologetically said, “Toute le familie” to me with a laugh. Okay, I admit it was pretty funny, even if they did hog the ladies room for about twenty minutes.

After I took care of my personal business, Bill and I headed toward the Strasbourg Cathedral. We figured we’d be loaded down with beer, so it was better to stop in there first. It was the first time I had ever been in the cathedral in Strasbourg and, I must say, it was absolutely beautiful. It’s probably one of the most breathtaking cathedrals I’ve seen yet, and I’ve seen a lot of them. I think the organ was what got me. Bill got choked up, just like he always does. Here are some photos.

After we recovered from the sheer sensory delight of the cathedral, we headed down an alley and found ourselves at a well stocked by rather small beer shop. We spent some time finding brews from everywhere from Belgium to Cary, North Carolina! We bought as much as we thought we could haul back to the car without hurting ourselves.

After unloading our beer haul, we headed to a restaurant called Au Pigeon. This place doesn’t get great ratings, probably because it offers rather run of the mill Alsatian cuisine as opposed to anything really fancy or inventive. However, we had a wonderful time eating there. Service was friendly and we could tell that it’s a favorite of some locals. While we were waiting for our lunches, I watched one of the waitresses kiss about twelve guys French style– on both cheeks– as if she was in receiving line. The guys all sat at a big table obviously reserved for them and they ordered some wonderful smelling traditional dishes. It was so much fun to watch them enjoying the food and their fellowship. They laughed a lot, talked a lot, and made the restaurant feel very festive, which probably improved our experience. It felt like we were eating with locals, which I think we were. And we enjoyed our lunches, too…

My duck leg was pretty good, although it was a little overdone. I was just glad the gravy wasn’t loaded with mushrooms, like Bill’s dish was. I guess some people really love their fungus. If I loved it too, my life would be so much easier. The service was pretty good, although I think it’s better if they know you there. I could see they were very warm and friendly to those they knew, but not to those they didn’t. I guess that makes sense, though, especially in a touristy area. I read in Trip Advisor that the restaurant is family owned and the grandfather does the cooking. Also, the lady who waited on us didn’t speak English, but she did speak German, so we had no problems. All in all, it was a nice lunch!

Dessert was excellent. I love profiteroles, and I paired mine with a little cognac. Yeah, it was extravagant, but cognac is always a treat. And when we were finished, it was time to head back to the hotel, drop off the car, and head to the expo where we could pick up some wines from all over France! More on that in the next installment!

Standard
Uncategorized

Cruising around Calw…

Last weekend, when we visited the Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald, we were forced to detour through Calw.  I kept seeing signs for this town and had heard it was pretty.  Bill wanted to go out for a few hours, so we took a short outing to Calw, which is about 18 kilometers from our home in Unterjettingen and was Hermann Hesse’s hometown.  Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature in 1946.  He was born in Calw on July 2, 1877.

We left the house at about 1:30 or so, prior to having lunch.  By the time we got to Calw, it was about 2:15.  I was hungry.  The first order of business, once we parked at the huge Kaufland parkhaus, was to find lunch.

Hermann Hesse’s town…

 

Unfortunately, Calw was pretty dead yesterday and a lot of the restaurants there do the traditional pause, meaning their kitchens close at 2:30.  We wandered around looking for a place that didn’t close at 2:30 and saw a couple of cafes and ice cream shops.  We were turned away at one restaurant and a helpful German guy advised us to come earlier “next time”.  Duh.  I guess I should have been flattered that he didn’t immediately see us as Americans and assume we were “on holiday”.

I was getting crankier and crankier as my blood sugar dropped and Bill was apologizing to me for dragging me to such a quiet place when we ran across a gasthaus in the main square.  A smiling man was standing there with three huge chalkboards.  They were still serving lunch.  Success!

As much of the gasthaus’s sign as I could get with my iPhone while sitting down.  

Yesterday’s menu…

My salad.  It did the trick…

And the rest of our lunch… served on Hermann Hesse commemorative plates from 2002.

We sat down at an outdoor table overlooking what appears to be a massive construction and
restoration project.  Many elderly people were standing in groups.  I wasn’t sure what was going on.  I almost thought maybe there was a protest, but no one looked pissed off enough for that.  I was too focused on eating to investigate, but I think maybe they were hanging around after the weekend market.

The menu at the gasthaus included several dishes featuring asparagus and Hollandaise sauce.  I ordered the ham and asparagus plate for 11 euros and Bill had the turkey breast and asparagus plate for 13,50 euros.  Both dishes came with a trip to the self service salad bar and salted potatoes.  We washed lunch down with hefeweizen.  The food was good and hearty and it took about three seconds for me to stop being so hangry.

Cool buildings in the main square…

 

Bill enjoys a little more wheat beer.  It was surprisingly chilly yesterday.

 

Although we had come to Calw to see what was there and maybe find something fun to do, it was really pretty quiet yesterday.  So we decided to people watch.  It was an interesting way to pass the time.  I noticed that Calw seems to have a resident cat.  I’m not sure if it was a male or female, but I saw it three or four times.  It was a grey striped kitty with white “socks” and a crooked right ear that seemed to be perpetually cocked to the side.  The cat was distinctive looking and appeared to be quite a character as it followed people and wandered around the main square.  I never did manage to get a picture of the kitty.

I also noticed that Calw appears to have a lively music venue.  Roger Hodgson, former lead singer of Supertramp (one of my favorite 70s and 80s bands) is due to perform there soon.

Concert posters visible from where we sat.

 

We continued to watch the world go by from our table.  I saw the smiling proprietor of the restaurant warmly embrace an elderly lady as if they were dear friends or perhaps relatives.  I saw lots of kids go up to the fountain and dip their water guns into the water.  They’d fill the guns and shoot at the lion sculpture on top of the fountain.  Shopkeepers would get water from the fountain and water the potted shrubs in front of their stores.  It was a scene one wouldn’t necessarily see in the United States.

As we finished eating lunch, I noticed a small sign by the door at the gasthaus…

Nette Toilette?  What the devil is that?

 

I heard two girls talking about needing the WC and a man said, “Nette Toilette”– “nice toilet”.  So I looked it up on my iPhone.  Apparently, it’s a program in certain German cities where restauranteurs allow their toilets to be used freely by the public.  I think that’s a nice idea.  The reason behind this program is that there aren’t enough public toilets and it would cost money to build, maintain, clean, and protect them from vandalism.  Public toilets are also usually only in the center of the city, leaving necessary facilities out of reach for those who venture out further.  In exchange for allowing people to use their toilets, restauranteurs get money from the city and they may also get the odd impromptu guest who decides to stick around for a meal.  Calw is just one of many German cities with this program.  It’s good to know that if I see the red and yellow sign and need to pee, I can do so guilt free!

Our lunch tab was about 38 euros, which we thought was a good deal.  After we finished eating, we decided to wander around a bit.  I took a few photos of Calw’s beautiful old downtown district.

At one point, we heard lots of drums and Turkish horns.  I looked down an alleyway and noticed a large number of Muslims standing near a building as the noise continued.  It was obviously a wedding.  I think it was the first Turkish one I’ve ever seen in Germany.  People stood around, looking on curiously.

Someone’s pretty yellow roses.

 

When we got back to Kaufland, I realized nature was once again calling.  We went into the massive store and I found a clean and free WC.  Calw’s Kaufland is very nice as opposed to the one Bill visited in Herrenberg.  It’s very big, clean, and offers most anything you’d need.  We decided to pick up a couple of items.

I couldn’t resist taking this photo…  German quality written in English!

 

I never knew McDonald’s made ketchup.  I thought they just used Heinz.  Learn something new every day…  No, we didn’t buy any.  

 

Scary wine drink consisting of merlot and cola flavoring.  You’re supposed to drink it iced.  Nein, danke.

This was taken from the parking garage.  You can see the popular brauhaus across the river.

Street sign…

Our trip to Calw wasn’t long on structure or activity, but it was interesting nonetheless.  Calw is a really pretty town.  Next time, we’ll have to get there earlier and check out some of the museums and other restaurants.  At the very least, I got to learn a little about Hermann Hesse and the Nette Toilette program, right?

I was feeling pretty good about our little impromptu trip to Calw until we got home.  It was obvious Zane and Arran had engaged in a little scuffle in our absence.  Zane had a couple of bite marks on his face and it looked like he’d also thrown up.  I think they got in a fight over their Kongs, which they had been successfully using for months.

I cleaned up the mess and felt kind of bad for leaving them, while at the same time I was grateful that no one got seriously hurt.  I am forever fretting about the dogs.  Maybe it’s time we started taking them with us like Germans do.  That might necessitate a new blog all on its own.

Standard