Saturday, November 28, 2009

Other Gathering Places: Getting together with Friends

The Gasthaus is the main eating and drinking spot for most Germans. That is partially because nearly every town and village has at least one, and for hundreds of years the Gasthaus has been a focal point of village or town life. But there are other gathering places that draw locals and visitors alike. The following three are common but not quite as many in number.

Restaurants: Many are also called Gasthaus-Restaurant or Hotel-Restaurant, the latter of course will have rooms; the former one, may or may not. Generally the Hotel-Restaurant will be more expensive, but not necessarily, as one of our favourites is a Gasthaus-Restaurant and it is a one star (Michelin) and their menu is fairly expensive. Usually, though, you will find at least one or two dishes on the menu that are not that expensive, but that depends on the place and just how fancy it is. One can usually tell just by looking at the menu posted. All eating places post their prices outside, whether it is a Gasthaus or restaurant.

The picture shown is of me at the Schwarzer-Adler, a one-star restaurant in the Kaiserstuhl, a large wine region built on former volcanic ash. The Romans planted the first grapes on their march north in this area.
Restaurants have much larger menus and will usually have dishes that one wouldn't find at a regular Gasthaus, such as lamb, duck, game or fish. The presentation will also be more elegant generally and perhaps a small first course "on the house" will be served. (Fish is usually only found in more upscale Gasthauses or in those that specialize in it; in the latter case, it might be quite a simple family-run Gasthaus with their own fish ponds out in the country). It is a good idea to reserve if you are anxious to dine in a particular restaurant. Weekends can be very busy, Sunday being the busiest day of all--noon hour and evening. Gasthauses, of course, can also be very busy and it is wise also to reserve for a Sunday or special holiday. With a group of more than four, I would always book ahead, just to ensure having a table available on arrival.

In summer, enjoy dinner on the patio or terrace as many restaurants feature them. Sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. During the Christmas season, they will be beautifully decorated inside; outside, most will have a tree glittering in white lights. At this time of year, we look forward to all of that, one of the loveliest times of year in Germany.

Vesper Stube: These are usually cosy places often found "in the middle of nowhere." Go up a mountain road and--if you are lucky--at the top or end of the road, you will find a Vesper Stube. Or driving through the forest on a small road, you come into a clearing with meadows greeting you and perhaps a farm with a Vesper Stube. Occasionally a small village will be the home of one, but mostly they are found in the country.

Generally these are small and simple, with wooden benches and long tables, though some do have smaller tables and chairs. Inside it is usually rustic with wood or even stone walls and a wood burning stove to keep everyone warm on cold days. Meals are simple, mostly cold dishes but with perhaps an egg dish, soup or Bratwurst offered as well. Beer and wine is offered, though the choice will be limited; Schnaps is nearly always available. Some Vesper Stuben have 'Most' on their menu; that is apple cider and it can be pretty potent. It's usually very cheap as it is produced, just like most foods served, by the farmer and his wife themselves. Some of the products that can come right from their farms are eggs, butter, bread, Schinken (ham) and cottage cheese or Quark. The Schnaps will come from the farm as well.

One needs distillery rights for Schnaps-making and the licenses can be handed down from father to son. Only so many licenses are given out, so if you aren't lucky enough to have a father or grandfather with those rights, you will have to wait and hope for the best that one will become available. In the small town next to ours, there are at least two with that license.

We go to a farmer out in the hills and anyone we've taken there with us says it is the best they've ever had. Hans thinks so as well. At that particular farm, the farmer loved his Schnaps (he has now retired and the son has taken it over). It was pretty difficult to get away without sampling a few of them! I rarely drink Schnaps myself, but will on occasion when it would be impolite to refuse. They are very high in alcohol, some 50%, so beware! Most are made from fruit-- cherries, plums and pears in particular. The world-famous Schwarzwaelder Kirchwasser comes right from here.

Winzerstube or Weinstube: A Winzerstube is owned and run by the vintner and the wines there will be his own. The Weinstube can be owned by a vintner but also by a co-op. If by a vintner, the wines will be his; if by a co-op, the wines will come from several vintners in the town (or nearby area), as their grapes go to the co-op to be turned into wine and bottled there.

Isele's, below, is a cosy Weinstuben with stone walls and a simple wood stove to keep it warm.

Both Stuben can be similar to a Vesper Stube or to a Gasthaus and can be small or quite large and elegant. They are naturally found most often in the grape-growing areas. Schnaps is usually available but seldom beer. Food is always available and the menu will be according to the size or type of the Stuben (elegant or simple). Most Weinstuben or Winzerstuben are nicely decorated inside, often having wooden floors and wood panelling on the walls and ceiling.

Isele's is in our next village, about one kilometer away.  He is a vintner and serves his own wine and also sells it for those who wish to buy any to take home.  Frau Isele does the cooking, offering a small menu of both cold and warm dishes. 

 Below, Isele's Weinstuben at night.

Wine tastings, if at a vintner's stube, are quite often available, though it would normally be given before opening hours. We have gone to many wine tastings but usually right at the vintner's residence, where most have a tasting room in part of the house or next to it. The Winzergenossenschaft (wine co-0p) is open every day and one can just walk in and ask to sample some wines. We make a point, though, if sampling, to buy at least a couple of bottles, as the tasting is usually free.

Germany is one of the few countries whose wines are made from one particular grape. Most wines from our area never get exported anywhere as they sell out right at home or within the province. Some varieties of grapes and their wines include Muller Thurgau, from which the largest amount of white wine is produced (it's the locals' everyday white wine); Weissherbst, which is becoming very popular once again; some interest in it had declined over the past number of years, though not with me! It's my favourite everyday drinking wine; Weissburgunder (pinot blank); Grauburgunder (pinot gris); Spaetburgunder (pinot noir), from which the German red wine is produced.

Hans is beside the small bar area talking to Herr and Frau Isele.

In an article later on I will explain some of the ways to determine just what that bottle of German wine you have bought or would like to buy will be like, as German wine bottles tell you quite a lot on their labels. Drinking and eating in Germany is an enjoyable occasion and their eating establishments are varied; they are places to sit, relax and contemplate life's pleasures. So eat, drink and enjoy a bottle of German wine at home or in Germany! Zum wohl!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gathering Places: Food, Drink and Friendship in a Gasthaus or Cafe

I've been writing about eating and drinking in Germany, particularly about our area of the Black Forest in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Many around the world know only the word "Germany" as that is the English translation for Deutschland. Here, it is called Deutschland, and only Deutschland, though their products say, "Made in Germany"!

I plan to write this in two parts as there is so much to show you about the various eating establishments. I will talk about the Gasthauses, restaurants, cafes, Vesperstuben and Weinstuben, the latter three in my next article or Post. So now, on to "Essen und Trinken" (eating and drinking) and some characteristics of the typical food and drinking establishments found here.

The picture above shows a Stammtisch at a typical Gasthaus, the Deutscher Hof, and one that we know well in Biederbach.  Hans is on the far right side; others are German friends with Herr Burger behind the bar. 
Gasthaus: This is perhaps the most important of all eating places in Germany, and not just in our area here. It is a place where one goes to eat, linger and to enjoy a glass of wine, beer or Schnaps; to meet with friends or the "locals" for discussions about politics or the latest news. (In France, this would be at a cafe.) The Gasthaus can be simple or elegant, is mostly family-run and might offer rooms for the night. Some advertise outside as follows: "Zimmerfrei" meaning rooms available. If they have rooms but all are booked, you will see the word: "Besetzt" (full).

On the right, the Stammtisch at the Kleiner Meierhof in Ettenheimweiler where the regulars sit and discuss the events of the day. 

A few serve warm food throughout the day, but generally the eating hours are from about 11 or 11.30 a.m. until about 2 or 2:30 p.m.; and in the evening, from about 6 until 9 p.m. This is flexible, depending on the Gasthaus. However, small meals can usually be had throughout the day, mainly cold offerings such as Schinken (ham), sald and cheese plates or Wurstsalat, a Baden specialty. A few other things such as an egg dish or Bratwurst is often available as well.

Unlike many North American eating places (other than in pubs or taverns), one can stop and have an alcoholic beverage in Germany without having to order something to eat, whether it is at a Gasthaus or at any of the other establishments. Our custom is to drive through our area on a sunny day and stop at one of our favourites for a glass of wine (me) and a beer (Hans). We sometimes do it on a miserable day as well as what can pick up the spirits more than getting out and talking to the Gasthaus owner or someone at the next table, doing the same as we are doing: getting away from the weather!

On the left, Herr Burger in the Gasthaus Deutscher Hof in Biederbach, where we go most weekends for fresh Pretzels.

At the top or bottom of a Gasthaus menu, it will nearly always say that service is included. That doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't tip. I have read articles saying tipping isn't then necessary. But we and everyone we know tip about 10 per cent when we have a meal; if just a drink or two, we either round off the bill to the next Euro or give what we wish to give. Keep in mind that next time or the time after that you will be remembered. Eventually, if you go often enough, you know the owners and they know you. Also keep in mind that alcoholic beverages are not looked upon as tabu, but are readily available in all eating establishments ( grocery stores and supermarkets as well).

On the right, a group of our Canadian and German friends at the Stammtisch at the Gasthaus Krone in Allmannsweier

Nearly all Gasthauses, simple or elegant, have a Stammtisch (local's or regular's table). It is the large wooden table in the centre of the room, along the wall near the bar or against the fireplace. It is reserved for frequent customers, usually men from the town, but women are often welcome (as I have been), and, unless invited to sit there, one should choose another table.

The Stammtisch will never have a tablecloth and usually it will have a large lamp hanging directly above it. All other tables--nearly all Gasthauses cover them with linen tablecloths--unless with a sign "reserviert" on it, are free and you may sit wherever you wish. It is not unusual to have someone ask if they may join you when no empty tables are available. We ask that ourselves on occasion and often it ends up being an interesting evening. We have met some great people that way, exchanged addresses and kissed and hugged on departing (though I'm sure the wine and beer helped!). Many Germans speak English and others will try, even if only with a few words. Hand signals work just fine even without the language.

In summer, sit outside in their beer gardens as most will have one, usually near the door before you enter. The typical Gasthaus at times can also be called a Wirtschaft or a Gastaette (the latter doesn't usually have rooms available). Its atmosphere is unique, and other than Germany it will only be found in German-speaking countries such as Austria and Switzerland.

At left, a beautiful Cafe in Brettental, Freiamt, about 20 minutes south of us

Cafe: The cafe is known for its cakes and tortes. Normally you choose the cake or torte at the counter, as that is where they will be, behind glass; it will then be served to you at your table. You can, of course, order any you wish to take home with you and we have done that from time to time as we have a cafe at the bottom of our street. People sometimes ask if I make German cakes or tortes and my answer is always, "No, I can't make them half as good as those at the cafe or Conditorei, so I will continue to buy mine." (A Conditorei is the place that makes cakes and tortes, as a bakery is where they bake and sell bread.) The Conditorei quite often has tables within where you can have something sweet, made there.

You will often find a small menu on the cafe table and can order from that. Some typical items may include ice cream and various sundaes but also such things as a soup of the day, Wurstsalat (a salad of cold processed meat, some cheese and dressing), and maybe even Schnitzel. Cafes will usually have outdoor tables in the warm seasons, often right next to the sidewalk.

At right, the elegant Cafe at the front with a glassed case of freshly made cakes and tortes.

Cafes, too, can vary from simple to elegant and the cakes and tortes can vary from normal portion size to extravagant. One soon learns where the latter are! One of the best we've had was out in the country, up in the hills and just before going into the forest. It was a farm cafe. We have never seen such huge pieces of cake, though some we've had since then come close.

All cities will have several cafes, including Lahr, the nearest city to us (about 50,000 population and where the Canadian military was stationed for 40 years, until 1994). Generally, though, the smaller the town or village, the more enjoyable the cafe. Not that they'll be less busy, but they'll be less hectic--and the more cake or torte you'll be served!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chicken Night at the Gasthaus

Nearly every week I go out for chicken and I usually go alone. This is my time. I not only love the chicken, but over one of my favourite wines, I think, listen to and watch what is going on around me. I love this quiet hour or two, although at times the Gasthaus is not especially quiet. It always is for me though. I know the family well and always feel very welcome.

Some early evenings, wanderers arrive after a 15-kilometer or more walk through the forest or along meadow pathways. Those walking groups are often in their 70s and most remain spry and full of fun and continue to enjoy life. The conversation never ceases. They enjoy their food, and a glass or two of beer or wine. Other times, a family comes in to celebrate a special occasion, including grandma, grandpa and the children and often other relatives as well. Kids in our area are used to going out to a regular eating place, though of course they go to places like McDonald's also. But when it's a family affair, it will be to a Gasthaus.

Nearly everyone who gathers at the Linde in Wallburg orders their well-known deep-fried chicken, including me. They have been serving this for over 40 years. Many Canadian service men and women and their families who were stationed in Lahr knew it well. Recently a write-up in the Lahr paper mentioned the Gasthaus and said that Canadians came often and nearly all ordered chicken and specified, "Lots of sauce, bitte!" The owner still laughs about that and those nostalgic days.
When I was at the Linde a few weeks back I decided over a glass of my favourite wine to start my blog. Sipping on my Weissherbst and thinking about it, my blog name came to mind. I posted my first one the next day.
After sitting down at my table I order a viertele (1/4 liter) of Weissherbst. Not that I really need to order it as Waltraud and her staff all know what I have each week. They usually just ask, "As always, Janet?" Weissherbst is rose in colour but isn't actually a rose wine in the usual sense. It is made from the Spaetburgunder red grape (Pinot Noir). The skin is left on for a very short time and then removed, unlike the process when making a true red wine where the skins are left on much longer. Once made and bottled, the Weissherbst colour can range from a pale pink to almost red. The longer the skin is left on, the redder the wine. The taste is also affected. I like it somewhere in between the pink and the red, but better lighter than too dark. Each Weissherbst, from one vintner to another, will taste somewhat differently, just as all wines do from vintner to vintner and area to area.

After a short period, my salad arrives. It is one of the most delicious around. The cook makes the dressing and it is light and refreshing. It is basically made with mild vinegar, oil, a little sugar, salt and pepper and some minced onion. A little Maggi might be added as well. I prefer a plain green salad, though a tomato or other bit of decoration will be added to it. Mixed salad is preferred by others.

Of course, the chicken is what everyone waits for. It is a deep-fried small half chicken with skin so crispy and flavourful that you want to eat every morsel, especially all the skin! Forget the dieting! To go with it, I order a half portion of pommes frites as I love the French fries but can never eat all they normally serve. Looking around, just about everyone is eating exactly the same meal, though there are other dishes on the menu which are also good.

Years ago, when I was here in the 1970s, my favourite "chicken" Gasthaus was the West End outside Lahr. I didn't know about the Linde at that time. Ilse's chicken was superb, very similar to Waltraud's at the Linde. In fact, everything Ilse served was excellent. She was a great cook. Nothing fancy was offered, but all of it was good, "comforting" food one might have called it. Her salad was similar to Waltraud's; both told me their recipe, which is similar to what I mentioned above. Ilse is no longer with us and neither is her husband, August, but those memories of her food linger on. We went there so often--also every week--that when we left in 1974, she gave us a gift, an unusual and thoughtful gesture, and one I still have--along with the memories.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My German Village

The village of Ettenheimmünster is nestled at the edge of the Schwarzwald, the world famous Black Forest. This village was formerly a Kur Ort or health resort, and in earlier days it was the end of the train line. The road also stopped here; to go over the mountain one had to use horses. At Münchweier, the town one kilometer west of us, the vineyards end, with the hills and mountains beginning at our doorstep.

The main street of Ettenheimmünster leads directly to France westward (through Münchweier)--without a turn either left or right. Twenty minutes later, at the end of that main road, one arrives at the Rhine River and the small ferry that crosses over to Alsace every 15 minutes each day. It is free and garners a lot of traffic to and fro.

If we drive out of our town eastwards, at the end of our village we immediately climb the first mountain--the Streitberg. Once over the top and down again on the other side one comes to the Schutter Valley with beautiful views of meadows, farms and cattle grazing. Turn left, you will find many towns as well as many Gasthäuser. Turn right at that junction and you head into the high hills and another mountain to some lovely villages.

Our village, Ettenheimmünster, is also picturesquely located. It is mainly residential. An artisan makes and sells pottery at the bottom of our street and just above by the canal is an Imker or bee-keeper. A large long-term care home, recently renovated and in the old style, sits on former monastery land on the main street through town. That monastery is now long gone except for part of the wall. Until recently, within the walls, were a flour mill and baker. There is a small business that sells fireplaces on the main street now celebrating its 25th year.

Just below the pottery maker, on the corner facing the church, is a cafe. Here in Germany cafes are known for their coffee and cake rather than a place where townspeople congregate to drink wine and have discussions or perhaps have a small bite to eat as in France. However, cafes here do offer small meals, wine and beer and they can be a meeting place. Our cafe is small and not fancy, but it has fresh Brötchen (rolls), tortes and cakes every day and offers a few other simple things to eat. In summer, there are tables and chairs outside beside the sidewalk. As the cafe is directly across the street from the cathedral, many tourists stop by throughout the year.

A winter view from the north side of the hills, facing south.

The cathedral, Wahlfahrtskirche St. Landolin, a pilgrimage church in the baroque style, is the most important site in our village. The church of today was built in 1687. It contains one of the few Silbermann organs in the world, built between 1766 and 1769. The church's history, baroque interior, and its famous organ attract visitors from all over Europe and elsewhere. Concerts throughout the year fill the church to overflowing.

Part of the lore of the church is the natural spring well that is sheltered under a cupola next to the main door. The story is that an Irish monk came to what is now Ettenheimmünster. A heathen hunter is said to have murdered him by beheading and where the monk's head fell onto the ground, five Quellen or springs arose. He became a martyr.  This led to many other monks coming to experience this wonder. By 725 stood the first settlement for monks and, later, a large monastery was built.  The waters are supposed to be good for the eyes. The story of the beheading and the springs can be seen on the ceiling of the church.

Across the street from the church, near the cafe, is another spring well and every day people line up to fill their containers with the water:  not for their eyes but for their coffee!

Unfortunately we have no Gasthaus in our village. One that closed its door as a Gasthaus now makes and sells Flammen Kuchen--a specialty of this region--to various Gasthäuser and markets and for parties. Flammen Kuchen (called tarte flambe in France) has a thin pastry-type crust and various toppings; my favourite is the topping with Münsterkäse (Munster cheese).  Schinken (slightly smoked ham) is a common topping. First though, a mixture of sour cream, eggs and creme fraiche is spread over the pastry. That might change somewhat with the baker. You will find it at every festival or special market.

From our house we hear the church steeple clock announcing the time every quarter hour. Last spring the steeple was struck by lightening and it damaged the clock and the bells. It took a few days for the repair and I must say everyone missed both. We also hear the church bells pealing out whenever there is a wedding, a funeral or a service. The biggest day, though, is on December 31st at midnight, when, along with bells from all the churches in the whole area and throughout Germany, they ring in the New Year for several minutes, accompanied by fireworks from every single village and town.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some Specialties of the Region

Yesterday, as usual on a Wednesday, I met with women friends for lunch. The picture is of one of them with the chef. (I did ask her if it was okay!) We got together at a well-known Gasthaus just outside Lahr. In the 1920s the Damenmuehle was the place to go for a Sunday walk, culminating in coffee and cake at the Gasthaus. It has recently been re-opened after having been closed for some time. The new owners have refurbished it inside and out without losing any of its warmth and atmosphere. Outside is a wonderful beer garden beside a small man-made lake where swans and ducks glide by, wonderful on a beautiful day and a great place to take small children or a special friend.

We women, of course, discussed numerous things, including blogs. None had ever read a blog or really knew that much about them. I didn't either before getting started on my own, though I did know what they were. They all gave me ideas about what I should write about. Food was high on their priority list! They mentioned Spaetzle, Spargel, Wildschwein, Zwiebel Kuchen, all of which are seasonal specialties here. Some of those I had in mind already and will talk about them as the seasons progress. Spaetzle is a Baden specialty all year long; Spargel is the white asparagus served here in Germany in spring; Wildschwein is wild boar and is served in late fall and winter, and Zwiebel Kuchen is an onion tart, served with new wine during the grape harvest.

Today, though, is about our lunch. The menu at the Damenmuehle is quite small, though they have added to it since last spring. In some ways the fewer options is a negative thing, but in others, it means the chef isn't so overworked that he can't put the time into his dishes properly.

My choice for lunch was Schweinelenchen, which is pork filet cut into several pieces for serving. I had three very thick ones, all topped with Camembert cheese, which were then broiled quickly in the oven. I have had Schweinelenchen many times but this is the first time with Camembert. Often it comes with Pfefferlingen (chanterelles). Both ways are a great idea for a dinner party, I think. Mine came with a delicious and delicate sauce and small potato croquettes made by the chef that seemed to melt in the mouth. They were superb. Lots of butter in the potato puree within them and that is what made them so flavourable. I ended up taking two of the three pork filiet pieces home (still topped with the Camembert) as I could not eat more.

Gertrud ordered Kuerbissuppe (pumpkin soup) to start. She said it, too, was excellent. At this time of year, from early into late fall, many Gasthauses have that on their menu. I always think of pumpkins as being North American, but I'm sure there are more pumpkin specialties served here in Germany than even there. We do see them everywhere and perhaps the idea did come from North America.

Erika had a chicken salad and it was so large she had trouble eating it all and, actually, I'm not sure she did. Monika ordered a Wurstsalat, which is another specialty of our area. It was huge! She also took half home. Wurstsalat combines thin strips of meat or Wurst (something like bologna but much better quality) with a salad dressing, along with some onion and cheese (the cheese only if it is called a Strasburger Wurstsalat) and perhaps a type of pickle or something else a particular Gasthaus might add. Wurstsalat differs from Gasthaus to Gasthaus and restaurant to restaurant. It's the dressing that makes the difference--and the quality of the meat.

The chef came to our table shortly after we arrived and asked us if we felt quite hungry. I then asked what was special for that day and he answered, "Everything!" He is personable and very talented and artistic, which shows in the presentation and his flair. He also came back to our table to ask if we enjoyed our meal. They were very busy with a large group from a conference in another room having lunch, so that was appreciated. The waitresses (Kellnerinen) wear Trachten (traditional German dress). Both, I'm sure, were trained in a hotel management or cooking school due to their professional service.

I must say that they had no idea I would be writing about them and neither do any of the other Gasthauses or restaurants or markets I have talked about.

We are fortunate here with so many good restaurants and Gasthauses within a short radius of where we live. Next time I'll tell you a little about our village, which is about 20 kilometers south of Lahr and an hour from Basel, Switzerland and Strasbourg, France.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Schnitzel, Wine & Quark at a Cosy Stube

This evening Hans and I went to a local vintner's and his Weinstube (wine inn). Herr Isele and his wife started this from scratch, building it out of the ruins of an old barn in a village near us. They bought the property along with some vineyards, and Herr Isele has been making his own wine in the region ever since. His wife cooks for their guests, all of it homemade. They also offer cold dishes. She also looks after seven kids, though a couple of them are now grown themselves and help out in the vineyard and in the Stube.

We started going there shortly after they opened and that was quite a few years ago now. A couple of babies came along after that and we watched them growing and later playing games at a table while guests were enjoying food, wine and comradeship.

One steps down into the Stube upon entering from outside into a room of rock walls and a small wood burning stove. The first room, where we usually sit, is small with only two regular tables and one table with two chairs, plus a small bar (large enough for only two to three people to stand). Going through that first room you come to a larger room with several tables as well as a play table for children and beyond it to the garden area, where in warm weather it is a wonderful place to sit and eat and drink one's wine, all of which is from Isele's own vineyard.

In the beginning, both Hans and I found Herr Isele's wine too dry (or what we thought of as too sour at the time). Hans even told him that and a good argument got underway. But over the years his wine has gotten better and better, and now we have to admit some of them are very, very good and even excellent. Many others think so as well.

So tonight that is where we went once again. I had their Schnitzel, which is always excellent. A Schnitzel is not the same everywhere, though they are all prepared in much the same way and cooked much the same way. Frau Isele's are thicker than most and from a very good cut of pork, tender and tasty. Not all Schnitzels are covered in crumbs, but that is how I like them best. A Wienerschnitzel is always covered in crumbs and the true one is made from veal. We, however, prefer ours made from pork. So in Germany, unless it says Wienerschnitzel on the menu, it will likely have been made from pork, not veal. Even if it says Wienerart (art of Vienna), it doesn't necessarily mean veal either. To make sure it has crumbs, the word "paniert" should be there unless it is Wienerschnitzel.

Some Schnitzels are sauteed or panfried in butter and oil; some are deep fried in oil. The latter is considered by some to be the proper way to cook them, but the first one is also delicious and the more usual way to cook them generally. The butter does add a lot of flavour and that is how mine was cooked this evening.

I had Bratkartoffeln (pan fried potatoes) with my Schnitzel paniert. Hans had something else, a favourite of his: Quark (a type of cottage cheese) with fresh bread. By the way, I took one Schnitzel home as two came on my plate and they were more than I could eat. That is very common in our area, and in any local Gasthaus the owners or chef are very happy to wrap them for you to take home. I wouldn't do it at a high class restaurant, though even then I suppose one could. Well, perhaps not at a three star restaurant!

I started out with a glass of Weiss Burgunder wine (pinot blanc); Herr Isele's is very nice, one of my favourites there. Hans had a glass of Muscat, which was very unusual and had a wonderful full body. It tasted a lot like one of our favourites--Scheurebe--with a similar flowery taste. Both these wines were from 2008. The 2009 wines are expected to be very good, but we shall have to wait until next year to find out. All of Herr Isele's wines are for sale so one can go there and buy a case or a bottle of whatever type of wine he has. He does offer wine tastings as well.

During our evening, we spoke with several people as that is often the way in a Gasthaus or Stube. Everyone talks to everyone else, especially in a small and cosy place as this is. We ran into two or three people that we know and stood beside the small bar as we were leaving to talk with a neighbour of ours. We also talked with the Wirt (owner), Herr Isele) and the Wirtin, Frau Isele. That is also customary. For us, friendliness is as important as a good meal or a good wine. Without the first, one just may not go back. As we often say here, we can find good food and wine in many Gaststuben (inns, restaurants), so without pleasant service, we'll go elsewhere next time. That was certainly not the case tonight; we'll be going back again before long.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Canadian Remembrance Day in Lahr, Germany

Sunday, 15 November 2009

My blog notes are coming from a village in southwestern Germany, where I live for most of the year. My village is only 25 minutes east of Alsace, France and about an hour north of Basel, Switzerland. This whole area is a wine region, so over the weeks ahead you will note that wine plays a big part in my life and the life around me. Because of the wine, food plays an important part to the life here as well--or, perhaps, it's because of the good food, that wine does!

But today I will talk about Remembrance Day. Last Wednesday, 11 November, my partner and I participated in the Canadian Remembrance Day service in Lahr. The German cemetery is in the heart of this small city and the Canadian cenotaph can be found almost at the top of the cemetery, which is fairly steep and a good climb. The Canadian Legion followed the traditional service with a German band playing the anthems (O Canada, The Queen and the German national) with a bugler playing taps. Wreaths were laid from the city of Lahr, the Legion and the German Canadian Friendship Club. Many of us there placed poppies on the cenotaph and grave markers.
The minute of silence was observed. For me, knowing how many Canadian soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan made this service especially moving. But I also remembered my great uncle, Alfred Riggs, who died in the Boar War in South Africa in 1902. He was one of three Prince Edward Islanders who were killed in that war. My uncle was 20 years old and a long way from home.
During WWI two Canadian pilots were shot down over Lahr, thus the reason for the cenotaph in Lahr. In this same spot where the cenotaph is are the graves of several Canadian soldiers who died while on duty in Germany with NATO after WWII.

Many Canadians have retired in this area, thus there is a Legion (in fact, two), Canada Haus and the German Canadian Friendship Club. Since Canadian Forces Base Lahr closed in 1994, this service has taken place each year as, of course, it had during the years the military were here.
After the service, many of us joined together at a Gasthaus (inn and eating place) for clam chowder, which has been traditional for years in the military on that day. The Legion president, in fact, made the clam chowder at home and brought it in. Canadians far from Canada but never forgetting our heritage and German nationals joining us, all remembering the fallen and the soldiers on duty today.