Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

ornaments for sale at a Christmas market in Munich

Last week, I literally pigged out.  I was in Munich for four days and ate pork products at least three times a day.  Despite articles like this one touting Munich’s cutting-edge food scene, I was quite happy to stick with eating the traditional Bavarian specialties that are offered everywhere in town, which meant a lot of beer, dumplings (knodel) and pig.

weisswurst with suesser senf (sweet mustard) and pretzel

To start my day, I’d seek out weisswurst (white sausage), which, according to my colleagues in Munich, must be eaten only in the morning.  Weisswurst also has the distinction of being the only boiled sausage in the world that I love.  The veal-and-pork filling has a smooth, slightly spongy texture that brings to mind nursery food — very comforting, especially when it’s snowy and cold outside.  The accompanying suesser senf (sweet mustard) is so good that I’ve used it on non-weisswurst-related sandwiches.   Several Munichers told me you’re supposed to suck the filling out of the sausage casing, but I opted for the pansy option of cutting open the skin and pulling out the sausage filling with a fork.  (I didn’t feel as lame about my technique after I saw other German speakers doing the same).

The photo above shows the organic version I especially enjoyed at Munchner Schmarkert, a small caff in the Vitkualienmarkt.

gluhwein stall in the Residenz Christmas market in Munich

This being December and therefore Christmas Market season in Germany, I’d find gluhwein stalls everywhere in Munich.  I found it was a tough call deciding whether to nurse my gluhwein so I could warm my hands around the mug or scarf it down to warm up from the inside.  In any event, I loved the way friends would gather around the gluhwein stalls even on a cold, weekday evening.


brewery restaurant, Andechser am Dom

The places to order Bavarian classics all seemed to be affiliated with a brewery.  Andechser am Dom came highly recommended on Chowhound and a friend who is a former Municher (who called it “hands down the best brewery”).  I was initially suspicious because the place is located just off Marienplatz (the Times Square/Piccadilly Circus of Munich, but a million times more charming), but there are exceptions to every rule:  Andechser am Dom was packed with more German speakers than non-.  And as at several other “traditional” restaurants I tried in Munich, I ended up seated at a communal table with total strangers.  It was entertaining.

The food at Andechser wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t spectacular.  The resto’s selling points were the beer and the atmosphere, which was convivial.  Andechser was the first place in Munich where I tried some of the local specialties and learned that all those pretzels in the breadbasket get added to your bill at the end of your meal:  your waitress asks you how many you ate, and you’re on your honor to ‘fess up.

roast suckling pig (spanferkel) and potato dumplings (kartoffenknodel)

The above photo of spanferkel was taken at a Paulaner restaurant, zum Spockmeier, which was also close to Marienplatz.  zum Spockmeier was the worst of the three traditional beer-driven places I visited, and ironically, it was the one my Munich colleague picked out (which really goes to show you that locals don’t always know best).

In case you wondered, the best version of spanferkel I tried was at Spatenhaus an der Oper, where the suckling pig crackling could be shattered with a fork  and the meat was tender and moist.  zum Spockmeier’s gluey potato dumplings (kartoffenknodel) were also vastly inferior to those of Spatenhaus.  Service at Spatenhaus was also more attentive (though the maitre d’ at Spatenhaus seems to have an attitude problem).

roasted pig knuckle (schweinshaxe)

At zum Spockmeier, I tried some of Jon’s roasted pig knuckle (schweinshaxe), and I have a feeling my lukewarm reaction has more to do with Spockmeier’s mediocre execution than with the dish itself.  Where I’d expected gooey, silky joint meat, I instead tasted meat that was dried out.  Good thing the pan-dripping sauce saved the day.


For dessert at zum Spockmeier, I couldn’t resist the kaiserschmarrn, which was by far the best dish we had there.  Relative to the cost of the main courses at zum Spockmeier (most of which cost about 15 euros), the kaiserschmarrn was a pricey 11.50 euros.  But it tasted hot and freshly made, so well worth the money.  The eggy airiness reminded me of brioche, but denser, like a cake.

rostbratwurstl sandwiches at Nuremberg Christmas market

And last but not least in this roundup of pork-based eating:  I ate a lot of rostbratwurstl while in Munich.  In every Christmas market (and on every beerhall menu), I’d find these small, juicy sausages.  The colder the day, the more appealing these little guys.  Costing about 3 euros for three rostbratwurstl, they made for a filling, cheap snack.

Admittedly, I had one dinner in Munich that wasn’t all pork and dumplings:  the Wein Cantina in a posh corner of the Haidhausen neighborhood served a sophisticated four-course tasting menu for less than 40 euros.  The place is primarily a wine shop, but there are a few dining tables, and the Cantina’s food is tasty, creative and a nice break from large, rib-sticking portions of traditional Bavarian dishes.

And that’s it on my dining in Munich.  I’m now back in the U.S. for Christmas so wherever you’re reading this post, have a Merry Christmas.

Andechser am Dom, Weinstrasse, 7, 80333 Munich, Germany; +49 (0)89 29 84 81; closest metro stop:  Marienplatz

Spatenhaus an der Oper, Residenzstrasse, 12, 80333 Munchen; +49 (0)89 290 70 60; closest metro stop:  Marienplatz or Odeonsplatz

Wein Cantina, Elsasser Strasse, 23, 81667 Munich; +49 (0)89 44 41 99 99; closest metro stop:  Ostbahnhof

zum Spockmeier, Rosentrstrasse, 9, 80331 Munich, +49 (0)89 260 55 09; closest metro stop:  Marienplatz

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Nuremberg Christmas Market (image from http://www.zimbio.com)

I have to be in Munich for a few days this week, so I took a daytrip today to visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market, which is just an hour and 45 minutes away on a regular (non-fancy) Deutsche Bahn train.

I’m not a huge fan of Christmas ornaments or freezing cold weather, but things I *can* get behind are a festive atmosphere, mulled wine (gluhwein), cakey Christmas cookies (lebkuchen) and hot-off-the-grill small sausages (rostbratwurstl), all of which are available in abundance in Nuremberg this time of year.

It was snowing today in Nuremberg, and while my friends searched out all manner of Christmas ornaments made of straw, wood and even prunes (click here or google zwetschgamännla), I occupied myself with lots of snacking and drinking.  I’ve come to love buying gluhwein in all sorts of cheesy commemorative mugs, and the wine sellers ensure you bring the mugs back by charging a 2-euro deposit for every gluhwein you order.  And if you just *have* to have that mug, well, at 2 euros, that’s the cheapest souvenir you can buy.

Even gluhwein proved to be no match for the cold after three hours, so in search of a heat source of the fossil-fuel-generated kind, my friends and I ate a fast, cheap and good dinner at the self-service chain, Vapiano.  I’ve eaten before at this type of place in Munich, where you’re provided a card on arrival, and then you choose food from different stations (in my case, a pasta station) where the food is made fresh in front of you, have the food ‘charged’ to your card, and then you pay for whatever’s on your card as  you leave the resto.  For 5.50 euros, I ate an enormous bowl of freshly-made spaghetti with pesto.  It was a nice break from all the schweinshaxe and general pig-and-potatoes diet I’ve been ODin’g on this weekend.

Nuremberg’s Christmas market was a sight to see, and I’d highly recommend a visit, especially for the Christmas fanatics among you.

To reach Nuremberg from the UK, I flew into Munich and then caught a Deutsche Bahn train from the Hauptbahnhof.  The trains leave almost every hour and tickets were 20 euros roundtrip.  The trains get standing-room-only crowded, so wait on the platform early.

Vapiano was about a five-minute walk from the Nuremberg train station at Konigstrasse, 17, 90402 Nuremberg.

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If you’ve been to Europe, you know that Sundays are not the best days to play tourist. In most cities, 99% of stores and restaurants are closed on Sunday, and Leipzig is no exception. Luckily, we had several sources of activity available to us despite the Sunday effect: (1) personal sights courtesy of the infinitely-patient Hubert; (2) the Leipzig train station (Hauptbahnhof); and (3) the Stasi museum.

Jon at Josef Kalfus grave, Jewish cemetery, LeipzigWe drove first along Berlinerstrasse to see the Jewish Cemetery where Jon’s great-grandfather is buried. Hubert pointed out notable community members during our walk through the graveyard – a woman who was a women’s suffrage leader, a famous rabbi and so on. There were updated gravestones erected on family plots to honor those who’d died in the Holocaust, and there was a plaque commemorating the fact that the graveyard was at some point the only place Jewish children were allowed to play (because they were otherwise banned from public parks).

After paying respects, we headed back into the center of town to find where Jon’s grandma grew up. Based on the address and description Grandma Gina had given us (i.e., it was across from the municipal liebhouse where Jews had all their belongings confiscated), we determined that the building she lived in no longer exists, and where it once stood, there is now a parking lot.

It started to rain, and we went to see the building where the Jews like Grandma Gina had found protection on Kristallnacht. The building sits across the street from what is now the US consulate, and it’s no longer the Polish consulate. Rather, it’s a city-owned guesthouse, whatever that means. There’s a small plaque in front to remember the Polish Consul General who decided to give safe haven to Jews on Kristallnacht. It’s amazing to me how much this city remembers.

Because we’d read so much about the Voelkerschlachtdenkmal, we figured we ought to see it despite Hubert’s warning that it’s no great shakes. The V is a monument commemorating The Battle of Nations, a victory of several allied countries over Napoleon in 1813. Hubert was, of course, absolutely right. The thing is a hulking, brooding hunk of stone that, frankly, looks pretty damn scary and ugly. Considering the Prussians decided to build this thing 100 years after the battle it commemorates, the monument is more about Prussia’s own aggressive ambitions at the time than it is about commemorating anything.

Leipzig’s train station, the Haupbahnhof, is the largest in Europe and houses 140 shops, half of which are open on Sunday. Other than dropping by the post office and pharmacy, though, there wasn’t much we found super exciting in the shopping mall. The clothing stores and houseware stores were closed, so really, what else is there to see?

The Stasi museum, which illustrates the banal, but fierce control exercised by the East German secret police, was pretty interesting despite our having to follow along on a photocopied brochure in English (.50 euros well spent) in order to understand anything on display. The museum is in the building on Dittrichring where the Stasi had their Leipzig HQ, and everything from the drab beige linoleum floors to the musty smell of a 1970s office creeps me out. I thought the disguise kits for Stasi agents and the tools used by the Stasi for opening and reading mail sent to/from Capitalist countries were the most interesting.

Today’s Eating:

Bagel Brothers, LeipzigBagels at Bagel Brothers (Nikolaistrasse, 42) were tasty. Chewy, moist interiors and slightly crunchy, shiny exteriors. The store was bright and clean (it’s likely a chain, though we didn’t see any other locations in the city), and we laughed about how it marketed the bagels as “new york style with a schmear.” We’ve always thought of bagels as originating in Eastern Europe, but it seems that the way to sell them as “authentic” now is to make them come from New York. Bagel sandwiches were named after JFK, Doris Day, and someone named Dick McDay.

Telegraph Café & Restaurant (Dittrichring, 18-20) was the perfect way to relax and warm up after our hour at the Stasi Museum down the block. Cozy banquettes, newspapers from around the world (no Sunday NYT, alas) and wi-fi access, combined with low prices for pots of loose-leaf tea – how could you not drop by, really?

As if we weren’t grateful enough that it was open on a Sunday night, the generically-named Restaurant Sushi Bar (Klostergasse, 18, around the corner from Barfussgasschen) served up a 19-euro all-you-can-eat sushi menu today. We sat on these high stools at an oval-shaped counter, and cheesy little wooden boats floated around the counter “carrying” various sushi. It’s the pre-cursor to conveyor-belt sushi? We ate our weight’s worth in shrimp tempura sushi and then called it a night. After all, we have a 4 am wake-up call tomorrow in order to catch our 6 am flight back to London.

The Dismount:

I just finished reading an excellent book called Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Dr. Paul Farmer who, among his many other accomplishments, transformed the way the medical establishment thinks about treating drug-resistant TB in poor countries. According to the book, Dr. Farmer always asks his medical students to take him through a “dismount” – a lessons-learned, summary-style debrief at the end of every case. So here’s my dismount on Leizpig:

It’s a historically-rich, beautiful city that’s struggling to find its place in a post-unification Germany that favors institutions and industry centers in the former West Germany. As cities in western Europe go, it’s an affordable place to visit, and there’s enough variety and quality of food and cultural activities left in Leipzig to make it worth a visit.

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Zill’s Tunnel restaurant, Leipzig

I had low expecations for the dining scene in Leipzig – the former GDR’s image may have informed this impression, as did the fact that in Prague, we ate a whole lot of dense potato dumplings that I think are still weighing me down.  That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of eats today (see the previous Leipzig Day 1 post for a description of what else we did besides eat).

For lunch, we’d asked Hubert to take us to his favorite “traditional German food” restaurant, and that’s how we ended up at Zill’s Tunnel Restaurant. The restaurant sits on Barfussgasschen, which is a cobblestone alley lined with restaurants. I don’t think I would have picked it out on our own because of concern that it was on such a touristy-seeming street, so once again, I was glad we had Hubert with us.  I guess the reality is that even though in any other geography, the Barfussgasschen would scream tourist trip, maybe there aren’t enough tourists around to make it so.  And this means you take it for what it is – a street that happens to have a lot of restaurants on it.

Although I wouldn’t eat it every day, I have only good things to say about my eisbein sauerkraut, which are slices of braised beef with red cabbage sauerkraut, topped with gravy and served with airy potato-and-butter dumplings called klosse. Hubert explained that my dish, especially the klosse, are a Saxon specialty, and I definitely wouldn’t complain if I crossed paths again one day with a klosse.

Jon had a little less luck with his sauerbraten mit klosse. Like me, Jon is now a fan of the klosse, but the sauerbraten could have used more seasoning to make it interesting. Sauerbraten is a “pork knuckle,” which is a giant, fatty leg of pork. It was cooked so that it was still tender and juicy, but when you’re eating a hunk of meat that serious, I think you need a little something something to lift up or hide the heaviness.

Ur Krostitzer, the local pilsner I ordered, was so hoppsy (is that a word?) and flavorful that I downed two during lunch, and Jon was equally happy with his dark lager, Schwarze Perle.

Our tab for three came to less than 50 euros. Check it out when next you’re in Leipzig.

Because eating ten thousand calories’ worth of meat and potatoes wasn’t enough, we also stopped by a large, bustling Movenpick café near the Old Town Hall for desserts and coffee. I’m so creative, I ordered black forest cake (schwartzwald kirsch torte) and tea. No complaints about the goodies, though I must humbly apologize to my fellow Americans for furthering the stereotype of Americans as dumb and bumbling. After all, I was the loser in the bathroom who couldn’t figure out how the soap dispenser worked. I pumped and pumped and wondered where the soap was. Too late, I realized I’d managed to pump soap all over my arm.

As if this bit of genius weren’t graceful enough, the bathroom attendant had to witness that and my embarrassment at not having any spare change to leave with her (as is the custom here).

For dinner, we walked back to the Barfussgasschen to try out,Varadero, a Cuban restaurant (think Communist-era connection). We were disappointed there were no plantains on the menu, but the beer was again good (Wernesgrun pilsner) and overall the food was hot, fresh and cheap. I loved all the black-and-white photos Varadero Cuban restaurant, leipzigon the wall of Che and Fidel, and when you throw in the lightbox photo of a beach and assorted palm trees, I’d say the décor was comfortingly not German.

Jon’s garlic shrimp appetizer was a standout (surprisingly not overcooked), our main courses were fine, and our one disappointment was with the black beans and rice.  The beans were undercooked (still hard) and the dish was very dry despite the liberal use of bacon fat. How hard is it to cook black beans and rice?

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Leipzig Airport

Guten tag from Leipzig, Germany, where J.S. Bach was choirmaster for 27 years, Goethe studied law and Felix Mendelssohn lived and worked.Jon and I have just checked in to the Leipzig Westin.

Our Air Berlin flight here was uneventful, though as a testament to how often we fly budget airlines in Europe, we were surprised that we were given assigned seats when we checked in at Stansted Airport. When was the last time we flew on a European airline that assigns you seats?

We landed a little behind schedule, and then Jon and I were stuck at the back of the plane and then waited on a long line through immigration (I loved the customs guy with three-star epaulets. He’s a three-star immigration official, don’t you know?), all of which means that we missed the last train into Leipzig.

We then schlepped back and forth across the large, shiny-and-new Leipzig airport to find a cash machine and then a taxi into the city. Our ride cost 31 euros, which is about three times more than the train would’ve cost, but at least (1) the taxi was super nice – all of the ones waiting at the airport were humming mercedes; (2) we got to whiz along the autobahn at a blistering 140 km/h; and (3) it took only 15 minutes to reach the hotel.

The hotel is pretty standard-issue Westin: gleaming, splashy lobby with trendy lighting, and rooms that don’t live up to the lobby (do they ever?). I have to admit I feel cheated not to find a Heavenly Bed in our room. How ever will I sleep at night?

Frivolous comments set aside (for just a moment), Jon and I have serious plans ahead of us this weekend. Over the next 48 hours, we’ll search out the old neighborhood and haunts of Jon’s Grandma Gina, whose family lived in Leipzig for generations until the Holocaust came and almost wiped them out.

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