Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TGIF at the former Senior NCO Mess in Lahr

On Friday, the 25th of March, in late afternoon, we and other former Canadian military members, civilians, spouses and Germans who had worked for the Canadians at Canadian Forces Base Lahr and Canadian Forces Headquarters Europe visited the former Senior Non-Commissioned Officers' Mess for what, as the new owner said, was definitely the last TGIF to be held there.  (TGIF meaning--for those who are not familiar with that term--Thank God It's Friday.)
 Two of the buildings in the area of the Mess that will be torn down.

Views of the Senior NCOs' Mess covered with graffiti.

We were shocked at the amount of graffiti on all the buildings, with the Senior NCOs' Mess covered with it inside and out.  Though fences were high and the gates had been kept locked for many years, vandals nevertheless found their way inside the fenced-in area.  It is disgraceful how these vandals ruined private property.
The picture of Hans and I shows the secluded area at the back and side of the Mess.

This picture is from the side door leading into the building

When we arrived at the former Mess building, small tables--stand-up style--were in place and a young woman was behind a long "bar" table that held glasses of German Sekt (German Champagne)--with orange juice available if wished.  Cases of mineral water and apple juice were beside that table with glasses ready.
Below, the Lahr Bürgermeister on the left and the developer on the right explaining what was happening within the area. 
We all then wandered into the former Mess, where graffiti greeted us once again.  Nothing, except for part of the old bar, was left.  
Behind the bar was a young man offering Canadian Club whisky for those who wished it, reminiscent of the old days, when the Senior NCOs would gather around the bar on Fridays for TGIF after work.  The atmosphere was certainly different but the feeling of former days was in the air.

The bar at the former Senior NCOs' Mess or what is left of it

Gaetan and Hans served by the bar man.
Hans, Colin and Gaetan beside the bar with glasses raised.
Although I had never stood beside this bar before and I didn't drink whisky, I enjoyed the nostalgia nonetheless.  Bill Fairley is shown on the left side in the picture.
The owner and organizers went to some trouble to find information and pictures of the days just prior to CFB Lahr's closure.  Trisha Cornforth helped in that effort.  Some of the signs and information posted outside the Mess can be seen below.  The first one shows the plan for the area and those underneath it depict a few of the last pages from Der Kanadier, the CFB Lahr and CFB Baden military newspaper.

On the bottom right corner of the picture to the right it shows Hans and I in 1993 receiving our Black Forest Officers' Mess retirement gifts (engraved wine decanters) from the Base Commander, Colonel Les Corbett.   

The late afternoon/early evening get-together was a nostalgic look back in time and also a look forward to the changes to come.  Canadian Forces Base Lahr is no more but the memories linger on.

Erika, Hans, Gaetan, Laska


Saturday, March 19, 2011

All About Buletten: A Berlin Specialty

On one of our early visits to Joachimstal, Hans' home town, we stopped at the Bahnhof Gasthaus (Train Station Gasthaus) at noon and joined the regular clientele for dinner.  The place was small and every table was full except for one.  We were lucky.  The Wirt (innkeeper) poured and served the beer, served the food and kept the place going.  From where we sat we could see part of the kitchen.  No fancy counters there, but good home-cooked food was being prepared by a woman who enjoyed her work.

At left, Herr Herfurth, the Wirt, and his lady cook.  This picture is from 1998 on one of our later trips.

We each ordered the Buletten, which until then I had never eaten nor had I heard the name, but Hans knew them well.  Ground meat patties, they came that day accompanied by hot red cabbage and boiled potatoes, along with a delicious homemade gravy.  It was the kind of meal where you would like to lick the plate clean, as a child might before he is caught!  The Gasthaus always served Buletten on Wednesday, so every time we made that trip--and we made it many times over the years--that is where we ate at noon and that is what we ordered.  Unfortunately, the Gasthaus was closed when we were last there.  (Potatoes from that area, by the way, are the best you can get, as good as Prince Edward Island potatoes from years gone by.)

Buletten look similar to hamburgers, but that is where the similarity ends.  They are made from lean ground beef and ground pork and formed into patties the same way, although they are more rounded and thicker.  It is one of my favourite dinners and one that we have at home--or elsewhere--several times a year.  It is not a meal one will usually find in a higher-clss restaurant in Germany, just as you would not normally find meat loaf or shepherd's pie in a gourmet restaurant in North America--or hamburgers either, for that matter.  You would have to go to a pub or diner for those dishes.  You could call all of them, "comfort food."

Below, guests for dinner at our house:  Monika and Adolf along with Hans

Our meal included Buletten, boiled potatoes, red cabbage and cucumber salad.  We served both white and red wine.  (The white was actually served with the first course, which was Schneckensuppe, a Baden specialty (escargot/snail soup).

The picture below shows the same table. The six of us are incognito.  

We have served that same meal to guests at a dinner party both here and in Nova Scotia and everyone has enjoyed it.  The red cabbage goes especially well with the Buletten, along with either boiled or mashed potatoes.  A great accompaniment with the meal, though not always served everywhere, is cucumber salad.  We always have it at home with this dinner as it adds contrast in taste and colour and is easy and quick to prepare as well.  We also really like it!

Last summer, before Hans returned to Germany from Nova Scotia, he made this dinner for my sister Paula and brother-in-law Laurie.  Paula asked for the recipe in order to serve it at a dinner party of theirs.  She said it was a huge success--but a lot of work!  It does take some time, but much can be prepared ahead, including the red cabbage and the Buletten.  When I said it was simple food, one would not expect to serve that at a dinner party; however, it is so delicious that it's a great main course anytime.

After the meal is finished and enjoying the wine and conversation:  Paula, Laurie and Mary

The above dinner I hosted in N.S. after my arrival.

Hans made enough Buletten (they freeze well) before he returned to Germany so that I would have them to enjoy during my stay in Nova Scotia (we were there separately last summer).  When my friend Mary from Ontario visited me in early September, I served them, along with Hans' red cabbage and gravy--both of which also freeze well--to her, Paula and Laurie.  The following day, Mary and I had a relaxed meal (as shown above)--more Buletten--in our front porch off the kitchen, thus the informal setting. 

Buletten can also be found on the menu from time to time in Gasthäuser in Baden-Württemberg, but I didn't realize that until much later.  Here in southern Germany they are called Frikadellen or Fleischküchle (literally translated:  little meat cakes).

The first time I had those large patties accompanied by potato salad--rather than boiled or mashed potatoes--was at the Brauhöfers Braustübl  (the brewery Gasthaus), in the small town of Ulm, near Achern, about a 40-minute drive north of us.

The Fleischküchle were excellent and that potato salad was and is the best we have ever had.  That is saying a lot because we have had some great potato salad, including our friend Monika's and Hans'.  He has tried to duplicate the Braustübl's and has come close, but he has not equalled it as yet.  He asked the chef how he made it, but he would not divulge his secret.  He did tell Hans, however, where he bought his potatoes.  So now, whenever Hans goes up there, he goes to the same farm for our potatoes.  I drive to Ulm with him most of the time and on each visit I order the Fleischküchle and potato salad--in the middle of the afternoon because that is when we are always there.

The Brauhöfers Braustübl is one of the loveliest brewery Gasthäuser in the region.  There are several others that we know as well and all of them are gemütlich, but this one is our favourite.  It is rustic, historic and beautifully decorated with stained glass windows, wooden beams and wood panelling.

In the summer, they have a large beer garden under the plane trees.

Elli, the Wirtin (lady innkeeper) at the Gasthaus Krone in Allmannsweier, occasionally serves Fleischküchle at noon.  A few weeks ago that is what she had on her menu.  Hans and a group of men friends meet there each Wednesday at 12 o'clock, and knowing how much I liked those meat patties, he brought me a serving home, along with her potato salad.

This picture of Elli was at her Gasthaus on Ash Wednesday, the 9th of March, which also happened to be her 71st birthday.  We ladies had joined the men for lunch that day, though not for Fleischküchle but for a traditional Ash Wednesday meal, similar to the one I wrote about last year.  Elli served us all a glass of Sekt (German champagne) to celebrate her special day.

Many Metzgereien (butcher shops) and supermarkets sometimes have ready-made fresh Fricadellen (another name for Buletten).  A customer buys one and, along with a piece of bread or a Brötchen (a crusty roll), has it for lunch.  They taste great cold with hot mustard.  It is similar to having a cold meat loaf sandwich, something many men like. 

Our recipe for Buletten comes from a cookbook of mine called Die echte deutsche Küche.  Hans has made a few changes and additions and has translated it into English.

Hans' Buletten at home

Echte Buletten (Genuine Buletten) - Makes 4 servings

We always want more than the recipe calls for, so I suggest you double or triple the recipe.  Any you don't use for your meal will freeze well.

1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 and a half Brötchen, one day old (or French bread, about the size of one and a half medium to large rolls*)
500g (1 lb) ground meat (300g ground, lean beef; 200g ground pork)
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon Maggi (you can buy this--comes in a bottle--in a large supermarket)
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
1 pinch Oregano
1 good pinch cayenne pepper
Butterschmalz for frying (combination of butter and oil; use unsalted butter)

Melt the butter in a small frying pan; add the chopped onion and garlic and cook them until glassy.  Soak the day-old Brötchen or day-old French bread one half hour in cold milk and then drain it well in a sieve, squeezing out the liquid.  (The recipe calls for hot water, but Hans always uses cold milk.  You can use either.)  *Note: do not use a regular bun or roll as they are too soft.  You can often buy Brötchen in a German bakery.

Place the ground beef and pork in a large bowl; add the cooked onions and garlic, squeezed out Brötchen (it will break apart), egg, parsley, Maggi and seasonings.  Mix well together.  With damp hands, form the mixture into balls; press down a little until flat on both sides, but still rounded.  Note:  The recipe says form into small balls.  Hans makes his Buletten fairly large and so do most Gasthäuser.

Heat the Schmalz or butter/oil in a large frying pan; brown the Buletten slowly (on both sides) for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked through and crisply browned.  It is better to have them too brown than not brown enough.  Serve with gravy on the side

No directions for sauce were given with the recipe in the cookbook.   Hans makes his own.  The sauce or gravy adds greatly to the dish.  Make your own favourite beef gravy or as Hans makes his.  (It's important to make it from the same pan the Buletten were browned in, scraping up all the bits.)

Hans' Sauce/Gravy:   He often starts off with a package of Knorr dry sauce mixture (mushroom or Jägersauce--Hunter's sauce--or a similar beef-based sauce package) using about 1/2 cup of water with it (or as the package directs).  Stir both together and then pour it into the hot frying pan in which the meat patties were cooked (set the patties aside and keep them warm).  Hans adds some Knorr Delikatess Bratensauce, which comes in a tube.  (You may be able to buy it in a German Deli or in a supermarket.  This thickens the gravy, adds flavour and helps to brown it as well.)  Or, instead, you can add a good beef cube or so if wished.  Stir well.  Then add 1/2 cup cream, 2 to 3 dashes Maggi, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, a shake or so of Tabasco, about 4 tablespoons red wine and 1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy.  (When using a  package of dry sauce mix, you can use less water than called for and replace the water not used with red wine; add more wine if needed or desired.  You don't want the gravy to be too thin, however.)  Serve the gravy in a sauce boat and keep hot over a candle if possible.

  Hans' Cucumber Salad

We always have hot red cabbage and cucumber salad with the Buletten.  I gave the recipe for red cabbage in my blog about Advent, posted on December 16, 2010.  Here is Hans' recipe for cucumber salad.  The salad goes well with other dishes as well.

Cucumber Salad - Serves 2 (with a little left over)

1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

Mix together the following:  1 package Knorr Dill Salad Dressing; 1 teaspoon dry dill (not dill seed); approximately 1/4 liter (1/2 cup) fresh cream; about 1/2 teaspoon sugar; salt and pepper to taste; a couple of dashes of Maggi.

Place the sliced cucumbers into a cut glass bowl (adds colour to the table and is attractive; we usually put the red cabbage into a cut glass bowl as well, for the same reason).  Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and mix gently so that the cucumbers are separated.  The salad is now ready to serve.  Red wine goes well with this meal. 

Guten Appetit!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Eastern Germany's Historic Schorfheide and Its Byways

My last two posts were about the former DDR and all the many changes that Hans and I experienced over a period of about nine years.  I hadn't planned to write more on those years, other than a little about the food.  As the Schorfheide, however, is an historic area and is comprised of more than just small peaceful villages, lakes and the ruins from Communist days, I decided to complete the journey by showing you a few of the sites we visited and sights we saw during our trips to that memorable region.  Perhaps one or two more small stories as well to remind you of what it was like in those early days after the wall.

Hans standing beside a carved stone that marks the entrance to a forest area of the Schorfheide.

The two pictures below show a quiet street in Hans' home town of Joachimstal (note the town pump to the right of the tree; the other is a picture taken on a quiet pathway at the edge of the town.  (Hans, as a boy during the war, took their goat to the pasture every day and then home again at night for it to be milked.)

One day in 1991 we drove into a quiet village off the beaten path.  We were driving our red 1990 Corvette, which we had decided to take up to the Werbellinsee that year.  A big mistake! That car was certainly not meant to drive over uneven cobblestones and pot-holed roads.  It was a disaster!  After parking at the side of the empty street, we saw liquid leaking from beneath the car.  (We had hit a huge bump.)  What to do?  No cell phones or Handies (Germany's name for cell phones) at that time and no phone booths anywhere; no large garages in the vicinity as yet either for repair work.

A middle-aged gent came along and before we knew it, several men surrounded the car in awe!  None had ever seen a Corvette or anything like it.  One of them--the only one with a phone--jumped on his bicycle and pedaled about two kilometers to his house where he telephoned a garage in Berlin for us.  (We had ADAC, which listed names of garages; it is similar to CAA and AAA.)  

Another of the men went home and brought us back something to drink while we waited for a truck.  Two hours later it arrived and off we went to western Berlin, sitting in the cab beside the driver, the car on back, with everyone waving goodbye as we left.

We were told the car would not be looked at until Monday (this was late Friday afternoon), but they gave us a car to use until ours was ready.  We had planned to leave for home that weekend.  We got back to our Pension near the Werbellinsee about 7 p.m. that night, several hours later, and left for home in the south the next day.  A week later Hans drove back up to Berlin to pick up the Corvette.  I remained at home and at work.  Luckily, all the costs were paid by ADAC, including a night in a hotel in Berlin for Hans.  Needless to say, we never drove the Corvette up there again, although we did drive back to that village to say thank you.

Kloster Chorin

During 1990 and the ensuing years, we drove to many historic and interesting sites in the area, most within just a few kilometers of Hans' home.  Others were somewhat farther away but still within an hour's drive or so.  On one occasion, we asked Werner and Gisela, Hans' friends who lived in his house, to accompany us on a drive to Kloster Chorin.  They had never been there although they lived only 30 kilometers away.  As Werner pointed out:  "During the Communist regime the majority of us didn't own a car because of the long wait and the cost.  Like most, we went without."  (Within the next year or two, they did become the proud owners of a car, as did many others.)

Kloster Chorin sits in a peaceful rural setting between the towns of Eberswalde and Angermunde.  Built between 1273 and 1334, it is the oldest cloister of the Backsteingotik style (red brick gothic).  Although the monastery is no longer used as such, an inner grass courtyard, surrounded by a wall, is the perfect spot for contemplation or for the music concerts that take place there in summer.

The small village of Chorin lies just down the road.  Quiet cobblestone streets and simple houses surround a small church.  Stopping there briefly, we felt moon years from civilization even though Berlin was just half an hour's drive south.

The Schiffshebewerk (ship hoist)

Not far from Chorin, at Niederfinow, stands the gigantic Schiffshebewerk on the Oder-Havel Canal, a magnificent ship hoist and an engineering feat.  Built between 1927 and 1934, it is 60 meters high and 94 meters long.  Within minutes it can lift a ship--weighing up to 4,300 tonnes--36 meters high.  Even after 80 years, it remains a technological marvel.

Several dozen times a day a ship is drawn into the trough by steel cables.  The gate closes, the ship displaces water, the bell sounds, and the lift begins moving upwards.  After five minutes, the ride is over.  The gate opens and the ship moves out into the canal under its own steam.  Despite the cost of 27.5 million Reichsmark, an enormous sum at the time, it was an economical solution to negotiating the 36 meters of elevation.  One can climb the stairs and walk along the top of this unbelievable construction and watch it in action.  From the platform one can see the surrounding countryside, including Poland, which lies just 10 kilometers east.

Below, former royal hunting lodge of Hubertusstock

Closer to home, near the Werbellinsee, is Jagdschloss Hubertusstock, the former royal hunting lodge.  We found it at the end of a narrow road in the forest, one that turned off from the highway along the Werbellinsee, about 10 kilometers from Hans' house.  (He remembers playing in the woods nearby as a child with Werner.  They would walk there through the forest from the house.)  Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV built it in the Bavarian style between 1847 and 1849.  In the early part of the 20th century Kaiser Wilhelm II had many hunting parties there.  In 1983 it was heavily guarded and out of bounds for all except the East German leader, Honecker, and his invited guests.  (We drove partway up at that time.)

In 1992 it became part of the famous Savoy Hotel chain as a hotel-restaurant.  We enjoyed dinner there one evening with the history of former days surrounding us.  It had, however, lost much of its Bavarian Gemütlichkeit as it had been "renovated" in the Communist style (much plainer), losing much of its rustic beauty.  It closed some time later but re-opened in 2009 as a hotel.

We haven't been back since then but hope that some of the original style has been replaced.  The grounds surrounding it are magnificent with many species of trees and bushes that flourish in a beautifully landscaped terrain, with paths leading into the encroaching forest.  A huge bronze Hirsch (large red stag) stands near the building.

Below, the entrance gates to Göring's Carinhall on a fall day.


Off highway 109 and once again through the forest, are the ruins of Reichsmarschall (Air Marshall) Hermann Göring's former hunting estate of Carinhall, named after his first wife, Carin.  Situated between two lakes--Klein and Gross Döllnsee--the site is now enveloped by nature with only the birds and animals as its residents. 
Down a path and overlooking the smaller lake, is the location where Göring's wife, Carin, was buried and where he had erected a mausoleum in her memory.  That mausoleum was later destroyed by the Communists and her body returned to her homeland, Sweden.  A part of it (shown at right) still lies on the ground--or did the last time we were there in 2005.  Göring himself had the estate partially blown up near the end of WWII.  The Communists finished the job, with nothing remaining except rubble, evidence of curiosity seekers digging for possible treasure. 

The top picture shows our car in front of the gates; the one below was taken in spring, with a long view of the chestnut alley.

A short walk away, a double row of towering chestnut tress marks the original road in from the large stone entrance gates.  That last tangible reminder of this once huge estate still stands, emblazoned with Göring's coat of arms with his Marshall's baton.  Although he is remembered infamously as part of the Third Reich's hierarchy and one of Hitler's small group of advisers, he is also remembered for his hunting laws and reforms, many of which are followed around the world today.  He also created one of the largest--if not the largest--animal and nature preserves of that era. 

Hans reading the inscription on the stone about Kaiser Wilhelm II and turning to explain some of it to me.

One morning Hans and I set out on a walk through the forest.  Towering jack pines, birch and hundreds-of-years-old beech and oak trees predominated.  Golden grass, touched by sunlight streaming through the tall pines, looked to me like angel hair as it waved from side to side in the gentle breeze.  Hans called it buffalo grass.  

We were listening to the sound of the cuckoos' mating calls as we walked along, when, about 100 meters away, a herd of approximately 30 Hirsch (large red deer) loped across the pathway ahead of us into the deeper forest.  It was a magnificent sight as each one gracefully followed the huge-antlered stag leading them.  These forest areas were the home to many animals, particularly deer and wild boar.  In later years, signs of deer were few and far between, as hunters had arrived from the western areas of Germany and Europe to hunt, resulting in many disappearing.

This picture on the right was taken in a different area on a different occasion; however, it does show some of the "angel grass" or "buffalo grass" beyond Hans and his son, Heiko, the blueberry pickers.

Kaiser Bahnhof (Kaiser Train Station)

The Kaiser Bahnhof was rundown when we first saw it in 1983.  Later, it was restored on the outside (as shown on the left).  It hadn't been used as a train station for many years.  (It now has families living in it.)  In the Kaiser's time--in the early 20th century--he would arrive on the train from Berlin and from the Bahnhof travel along the road past Hans' house to Hubertusstock, his country residence.  The regular train station is almost beside it and was in use in the 1990s.  We don't know whether it still is today.  Both are situated about two kilometers from Hans' house.

We don't know how long the Russian sign with a forest fire warning was located there at the side of a road, but note that it was not in German, only in Russian and English.

We came across the following when walking one day with our friends, Brenda and Mike, one of whom took the picture.  Hans now has to live with the world and me seeing that statement and never letting him forget it!  It says, for those who don't read German, "Janet, I love you."  I do wonder sometimes who that other Janet was!

We drove down many country roads, through rustic villages and past many lakes.  We sat outside small country Gasthäuser and beside the Oder River, looking across to Poland on the other side.  Many villages, such as Werbellin and Hans' town of Joachimstal, as well as a small Gasthaus beside the Oder were home to storks during the summer months.  We were always interested in whether both the female and male storks had returned safely from their winter homes to their nests, perched high above on poles and the tops of houses. As storks mate for life, everyone watches for them each year in early April.

The Schorfheide was tranquil and beautiful with little traffic on the roads during those years that we visited it.  I'm sure it is still much the same, though no doubt the traffic has increased and modernization has been ongoing.  Werner and Gisela said,"Having our freedom is important for us all but particularly for our children.  We know that for ourselves it won't be that easy, as we are too old to benefit a great deal from the changes that are ongoing,"  (Many lost their jobs as did they).  But they said, "We can read the books we wish and we can travel to the west.   For our children, it is a blessing.  They will reap the benefits as they are still young."

Windmills under a blue sky a little farther to the north.

 The Werbellinsee towards sunset

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

East Meets West: After the Wall

 Pieces of the Wall

In October 1990, just three days after Germany's reunification, we drove through the old borders into the former Communist stronghold of East Germany as if walls, guard towers and barbed wire had never existed.  To the eye, nothing had changed--yet everything was different.  Crumbling, dreary buildings and roads full of potholes stared back at us just as we remembered from 1983.  Its citizens, however, now had the freedom to travel to the West and to speak their minds, and we could now go wherever we wished without worrying about visas, police or road checks.  We felt the sense of freedom all around us.

Hans coming from around the Bratwurst trailer!

 A few kilometers past the old border of Hof (north of Nürnberg, the city renowned for its Weihnachtmarkt--Christmas market) we came upon the first Parkplatz and the first sign of private enterprise.  From an old wooden trailer, a husband and wife were doing a thriving business selling Thüringer Bratwurst.  Though the air was cold, others, like us, stopped to enjoy the tasty and renowned sausages.  Thüringen is one of the 16 states in present-day Germany and is now called Freistaat Thüringen (Free State of Thüringen) of which it is justly proud.

Hans holding a mushroom at the back of our car.

The second sign of free enterprise wasn't long in coming.  We were amazed to see several Trabis--the former East German cars--stopped along the sides of the Autobahn.  More amazing were their owners who were zigzagging back and forth in the nearby woods and then racing across the Autobahn to the other side.  They were picking Maronenpilze--a special mushroom delicacy--and offering them to would-be customers at the parking areas.  Parking on the Autobahn (unless the car has broken down) or running across it was against the law in western Germany with a hefty fine if caught.  Doing so could be suicidal!  The eastern citizens had not yet adapted.

Capitalism reared its head a bit farther on.  A Russian couple in their sixties were eating a picnic lunch as we pulled into a Parkplatz.  A few minutes later the man removed a box from his car.  Opening it, he beckoned us over.  In it were several amber necklaces.  In sign language and with pen and paper, he made us an offer.  We refused.  We bartered back and forth until he finally threw up his hands and offered us a necklace at a good price, with a bottle of vodka thrown in!  

Just before we set out again, a chap tapped on our car window.  A burly, black-haired man stuck his head in the door.  Whispering, he asked us if we'd like to buy a leather jacket--"straight from Italy" he said.  We smiled but said, "No thanks."  As we drove past the next Parkplatz, there was the Russian car again.  It looked as if business wasn't at all bad.

The things that struck us most on that trip included those first indications of entrepreneurship.  Printed signs sprouted everywhere--tacked on doors and fences--offering various services, and new TV satellite dishes were attached to many house roofs.  Something that also stood out for me was all the new white curtains now hanging inside the windows.  Although they had always had white curtains in East Germany, these were western style, with more lace and of better quality.    

Most of all, though, the biggest change was the freedom that everyone could now enjoy.  We witnessed an example at first hand:  One day we drove slowly along a country road.  The only signs of life were birds and butterflies.  In the passing fields golden grain swayed in the breeze; above, a deep blue sky flecked with soft clouds.  The road let us to the Oder River.  We parked and got out of the car.  Total silence greeted us.  We walked along a pathway to the river and there, hidden behind tall reeds--as though posing for a Monet painting--were two women sitting at a small table shelling peas.  They beckoned us over when we stopped in amazement.  Laughing, one said, "We come here on Sundays, two old friends from each side of the former Wall."  The other added, "We want to capture this peacefulness while we can and to enjoy again our friendship and our freedom."  I have no picture of that scene, just the one in my head that will always remain with me.

Three Russian soldiers posed for me in 1990 in Eberswalde, the largest town in the vicinity of Hans' region.

As we drove through the countryside that summer, we noticed many restaurants and small inns.  In 1983, they were few and far between.  The restaurants we could find at that time were basic, with oilcloth-covered tables and walls adorned with pictures of Communist Party leaders.  The entire Gasthaus would become quiet and every eye would be upon us as we entered.  It was a strange sensation and tended to make me, in particular, a little nervous.  In one Gasthaus, we found ourselves at a table next to some Russian officers.  We had seen the truck outside with a young private, in winter dress up to his neck (on a very hot day), waiting inside the truck, while the officers sat inside the Gasthaus eating lunch and having a drink.  They watched us and hearing English being spoken, soon arose from their table and left.  I think we had made them nervous!

In 1990 people were still reserved and watchful.  As we entered any Gasthaus at that time, the experience was similar to 1983:  every eye would be upon us.  We were the "Wessies."  No one said "Guten Tag" on arrival or "Aufwiedersehen" on departure (good day and good bye, the norm in western Germany), but we always did.  We would usually get a nod and sometimes a reply.  

As time went on people became more and more friendly.  On one particular evening, we and the other guests in the Gasthaus Schorfheide (shown on the right) had a spirited discussion on politics, with everyone in the Gasthaus involved.  Eventually, we discovered that the people in the former DDR were often more outgoing than those in our area in southern Germany.  In the beginning, however, they were nervous and untrusting.

In 1990 and 1991 most restaurants and Gasthäuser were more like Grandma's kitchen:  simple arborite tables and chairs from the '50s era, but topped with fresh tablecloths and new curtains on the windows.  One fledgling Gasthaus owner served us steak from a barbecue at his and his wife's front door, while we sat at their kitchen table on the sidewalk.  The steak, vegetables and the Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potatoes) were excellent.  Many of those inns a year or more later were renovated and the old-fashioned furniture replaced.  They were pleasant and inexpensive, but we missed Grandma's influence.

Below, zur Linde, a Gasthaus since 1855

Hans above at zur Linde in Schluft

On two different occasions:  At that same Gasthaus (on the left), Hans and I with son Heiko and daughter-in-law, Heather.  On the right, good friends, Brenda and Mike, along with me.  Note the glasses!

We visited zur Linde many times.  To reach it we had to drive several kilometers through the forest over a narrow dirt and cobblestone road.  At the end of the road was a one-street village, surrounded by tall pines and deciduous trees, where we would sit outside and enjoy the serenity over a glass of Berlinerweisse or a beer.  Berlinerweisse, a famous Berlin drink, is made from a top-fermenting wheat beer that is mixed with either raspberry syrup (turning it red) and tasting a little like Champagne, or Waldmeister/waldruf (turning it green) and tasting somewhat like cream soda.  Our favourite was the raspberry (Mike, in the picture above, had the green!).  This drink is always served in a large-bowled stemmed glass.  (The first time I had that drink was in 1976 on a bus trip to West Berlin, one organized by the Community Services at Canadian Forces Base Lahr.  While in Berlin, the tour went on a boat ride on the lake and that is where it was served:   surrounded by water, shore-lined trees and by East Berlin at one end/side.)

The Gasthaus Eisenbahn and the Wirt, Herr Holfeld, in Ringenwalde.


We frequented other Gasthäuser in the vicinity of Hans' house, where we would have an evening meal and a good discussion with the Wirt and Wirtin (owners).  As we made at least 13 trips to the area over the years, we had gotten to know them quite well.  One of them had attended the same school as Hans had.  Herr Holfeld had remained in East Germany, became an engineer in East Berlin and then returned to his Heimat (home) 30 years later to open up a Gasthaus in Ringenwalde.  We had many discussions with him over the years.

Another Gasthaus, Alt Grimnitz, was just on the edge of Hans' hometown of Joachimstal, about three kilometers from his house.  The owner, Herr Bockisch, loved folk music and told us that during the Communist era the beloved West German folk singer, Heino, was banned.  Shortly after the Wall fell but reunification had not as yet happened, the owner played the music in his Gasthaus.  A Communist guest happened to be in the Gasthaus and ordered him to turn it off.  When Hans heard that, he made him a cassette of Heino's music after we had returned home and brought it to him on our next visit.  The Wirt played it in the Gasthaus many times after that.  By then, the Communists had no further power.

(Heino has a deep melodic voice and he is also my favourite German singer; in fact, he is one of my all-time favourite singers from anywhere.  Unfortunately, he is now retired and seldom appears on TV or the stage as he once did.  I still listen to him, though, as we have many of his recordings.)

The Wirt and his wife, Herr und Frau Bockisch, in Alt Grimnitz.

The meal we had most often at several different places in the first year or two after the Wall fell was called "Hamburger Schnitzel," although it wasn't made from hamburg.  It was a pork Schnitzel with an egg on top. (I would graciously offer Hans my egg!)  That dish is usually called Schnitzel Bismarck elsewhere.

The choice from the menu was always small as only a few dishes were offered in those early days; always an egg dish and perhaps steak as well.  Wonderful Bratkartoffeln were offered everywhere as eastern Germany has always been renowned for their potatoes.  Sadly, in 1990, we found fields and fields of potatoes going to waste as there was no one to harvest them.  Few, if any, private farmers worked the land; instead, it was all government-owned and run (land taken from the rightful owners) with the people not working for themselves but for the state.  With no longer a Communist state, no longer were the potato fields worked or harvested.  We stopped beside one such area and Hans dug up about ten kilo to take home, some of the best potatoes we have ever eaten.

On each successive visit over the years, other dishes were offered, including specialties from the region, one of which was Soljanka, a tomato-based soup introduced during the Russian era.  I shall give that recipe and another--one of my favourite meals--in my next blog.

One of the things that really struck us was a billboard we saw on the side of the road in 1990, not long after reunification.  It is shown below.  It tells it all!

Nie wieder Sozialismus (Never again Socialism)
Freiheit und Wohlstand (Freedom and Prosperity)

Note:  Keep in mind that every Gasthaus has a day of rest (a Ruhetag), both here and in other parts of Germany, unless it is a large hotel/restaurant.  I apologize for any pictures that aren't that clear.  They are now over 20 years old and some of them weren't that clear to begin with.  All were retaken with my digital camera.  I used them to help tell the story.  Any picture can also be enlarged by clicking on it.  Just click on the arrow at the top left of the screen to return to the blog.  I would be interested to know if you have enjoyed these posts.  Although it is now over twenty years since the wall fell and reunification took place, it is a part of history.