Saturday, April 29, 2006

On Being A Tourist

I should probably add a few notes about last weekend's madness before it all totally fades from my head, and it also gives me a good opportunity to post a few more pictures. This was, as you may remember, the Secret Project Vic's Pop and I were dealing with, and it's not revealing too much to say that it had to do with food. We wanted to check out various regional specialties in Germany, so, thanks to Karen, who seems to know everything about Germany, we had some ideas about places to try.

Nürnberg is a great tourist town. It's picturesque, has a great museum, the Germanisches Museum, just loaded with fine art, particularly from the medieval period, it's got the Albrecht Dürer house (where you can only see poor imitations of his paintings, but you can buy a coffee mug with a wonderful Picassoesque doodle of a self-portrait he included in a letter to a friend), and, for those of a more contemporary bent, it's got the Nazi Documentation Center at the parade grounds where those famous rallies were held. The city was pretty meticulously reconstructed after having the living crap bombed out of it during the war, but the reconstruction has none of the sterility of the fake medieval quarter, the Römer, in Frankfurt, and it's a good place to stroll around.

It's also got food, famous food. At Christmas, there's a huge Christmas market there, and the famous Lebkuchen are for sale on every corner. These huge frosted cookies are made from a wholegrain dough of some sort, and naturally leavened and sweetened with honey. We searched for, but couldn't find, the famous place where they've been made from time immemorial. What we did find, though, was what we came to eat, Nürnberger Rostbratwurst.

Grilled over a beechwood fire, served with sauerkraut and potato salad, and with that fixture of Bavarian gastronomy, the bread basket where they charge you for everything you take out (not that I could resist one of those pretzels), these are the real deal, and you can get them at the two venerable restaurants there, the Bratwurst Glöcklein in the Handwerker district across from the railroad station, and the Bratwursthäusle across from the Rathaus. The half-seen beer in the photo was a dark Tucher, and rather uninspired.

Our next stop was in the east, not the south. Görlitz is vying hard to be the European City of Culture in 2010, and I hope they make it. For some reason it wasn't bombed in the war, and this means that the whole town has a refreshing Old Europe feel to it. The light was going when we got there, but here's a shot of the immense main market square, the Obermarkt, which gives a tiny bit of the feeling of the place:

The most notable thing about Görlitz -- and the thing that may make their getting the City of Culture prize hard -- is that there was nobody there. Astonishingly enough, there's this gem of a city, just a couple of hours away from Berlin, beautifully restored (or in the process of restoration), and...where are the tourists? There weren't even any German tourists, and that's saying something. Train takes only a couple of hours, and an advance booking would probably get you some sort of promotional fare.

Another problem is that only EU citizens can cross the bridge into the Polish part of town, although the border guards were sufficiently bored to let us over if we promised to come back through their post. There was nothing on the other side but a dingy bar and a lot of mud from the construction, so it wasn't hard to obey. Still, with a Schlesische Himmelreich (see the post a couple of days ago), the local specialty of ham, Kassler (smoked pork chop), and pork loin stewed with dried apples, apricots, and prunes and served with a couple of hearty dumplings, costing only €11 (or less; we saw it cheaper after we'd eaten), and doubtless other goodies available which escaped our investigations, it would seem to be a place to investigate further.

Also in Görlitz' favor is that it lacked the East German vibe we found in Cottbus. Of course, it was part of the east, but the tackiness and sort of depressing feeling you get in a lot of former east German towns was lacking. Yet another reason to visit.

Between Cottbus and Görlitz, as I mentioned previously, we hit a small fair in Burg, and were rewarded with a display of all of the various Wurstwaren and vegetable specialties of the Spreewald district. The Spreewald is famous for pickles, of which we sampled several types, sauerkraut, which we let lie, horseradish, and linseed oil, which is one I've never figured out: there's a local dish of boiled potatoes, quark, and linseed oil that people are wild about, but sounds boring to me. But there were little bottles of it at the same stand that was selling the pickles, and they weren't cheap.

Our last destination was Lübeck, and its port, Travemünde, which was something of a bust because the Autobahn there isn't completed, and neither the GPS system in the car nor my road atlas had a clue how to get us there. We'd be speeding down the Autobahn and the GPS would say, in its cultured British female voice, "Make a U-turn if possible." The Autobahn just ends at one point and there are no signs to Lübeck to be found. We winged it with help from the map but got hopelessly lost for about three hours on the way back, finally galumphing down a road of dirt and mud which I don't think was legally declared passable, to find the road back.

It was also a bust because we were starving when we hit Travemünde, which we went to first because it seemed to have the best shot at a fish restaurant. Unfortunately, the one we chose wasn't very good. It was some sort of fake Italian place, and Vic's Pop ordered bruschetta for a starter and it was made with some sort of fake garlic. Really: I think it was garlic powder. I didn't think anyone did that any more, but I keep forgetting: this is Germany, the land that hates and fears food. After that, we went to see a sailing ship in the harbor there (which dated from 1911: who knew they were still making sail-driven vehicles back then?), and finally we drove back down to Lübeck, which didn't really seem to have much in the way of food-oriented stuff to see, although there is, of course, Niederegger, the most famous marzipan in the world, whose store is a tourist attraction that draws the rudest little old lady German tourists on the planet.

Since I'd also seen to it that Vic's Pop got a currywurst with chili sauce from Bier's, under the arches at Friedrichstr. station (my own recommendation for the best in town, the famous Konnopke's in Prenz'lberg notwithstanding), we finished with a Döner Kebap from the guys at Bistro Tor in front of my building. Not a bad culinary tour of Germany, given the time and economic constraints. But I haven't touched German food since. Gotta recover.

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