Category: Germany


Right before I went to Germany for two months, I was chatting with a professor of mine. She mentioned that one of her favorite places in Berlin was Einstein Café on the broad thoroughfare Unter den Linden, and she recommended the Apple Strudel. I tucked away that advice and, although I don’t typically pick apple desserts when given other options (like chocolate-anything), I planned to get the stereotypically Austrian/German sweet pastry.

Apfelstrudel in Vanilla sauce (from Einstein)

Thus began my love affair with Apfelstrudeln (apple strudels). A particular German song, which I happen to love, seems apt:

“Lass Mich Nie Mehr Los” by Sportfreunde Stiller

[Note: Below are only two verses and the chorus, the song continues further.]

Wie New York ohne Sinatra
Wie Wien ohne den Prater
Wie ein Herzschlag ohne Blut
Wie Lindenberg ohne Hut
Wie ’ne Eiszeit ohne Schnee
England ohne Tee
So als ob bei Steve McQueen die ganze Coolheit fehlt

Jeder Boxer braucht ’ne Linke,
Kiss braucht viermal Schminke
Tonic braucht Gin.
Wie wär ein Leben ohne Sinn?
Wie ein leeres Paket
Wie ein Rad das sich nicht dreht
So als ob anstatt ’nem Sturm nur ein leichter Wind weht,

So bin ich ohne dich
Du hältst mich; mir fehlt nichts.
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los

English Translation by Kara (it rhymes nicely in the German, not in my translation, though):

Like New York without Sinatra, Like Vienna without the Prater, Like a heartbeat without blood, Like Lindenberg without a hat, Like an Ice Age without snow, England without tea, Like if Steve McQueen existed but without any coolness …

Every boxer needs a left, Kiss needs four times the makeup, Tonic needs gin, How’d life be without meaning? Like an empty package, A bike you don’t pedal, Like if there was a storm but only a faint wind blew …

Chorus – That’s how I am without you. When you hold me, nothing’s missing. Never let me go. Never, never let me go. Never let me go. Never, never let me go.

Romantic black & white photo of APFELSTRUDEL (notice the edge blur? Oh yeah!)

I propose a new lyric that I think would fit perfectly in my food experience: “Wie Deutschland ohne Apfelstrudeln” (“Like Germany without apple strudels”). Germany without my beloved strudel? It’s inconceivable. Such an idea goes against all that is good, right, and real in the world. It cannot be! Like the band Kiss requires makeup and a heartbeat intrinsically requires blood, that’s how German food would feel to me without the sweet Nachspeise of Apfelstrudel. It’s totally love-song-worthy.

(Isn’t that sweet German love song? You’ve got to hear it. So lovely.)

Einstein menu

That's me, all by my lonesome, at Einstein in Berlin

I had a lovely first taste of the dessert at the recommended locale: Einstein Café on the wide boulevard that leads to the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden. I sat outside, enjoying the sun (like a good German would, I’ve observed). The prices were pushing my budget, for sure. But this is a famous café and, after all my wanderings in Berlin, finding a table gave my feet a chance to relax.

Einstein menu

I had a “Braune” coffee, which meant that along with my dark coffee, I was served a small, warm pitcher of steamed milk to mix as I saw fit.

Kaffee

And I had a piece of Apfelstrudel in vanilla sauce.

My table at Einstein

Mmmm. I ate it slowly to savor the perfectly cooked apples in the crisp, yet buttery, pastry. The creamy sauce added to the sweetness. Heavenly.

The next time I had Apfelstrudel was as a dessert at a dinner in celebration of a fellow student’s birthday. We’d gathered at a somewhat grungy pub, Tiergarten-Quelle, located directly under the Tiergarten S-Bahn station.

Tiergarten-Quelle entrance

The dinner was delicious and I insisted that I couldn’t eat another bite. Until a friend suggested splitting an Apfelstrudel with me. Why not twist my arm a little? Of course, I said yes. And I’m so glad I did.

THE BEST Apfelstrudel (... at least that I tasted)

Tiergarten-Quelle has the best Apfelstrudel I’ve ever stuffed in my mouth. It was piping hot, topped with ice cream and whipped cream, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Oh gracious! If I hadn’t been so full, I might have resorted to wicked tricks to steal the other half from my friend. But I knew this dessert was not just a line Maria von Trapp/Julie Andrews sings from “My Favorite Things.” This was one of my favorite things!

Charlie's enthusiasm is rightly invested in this dessert

As it turns out, once my husband met up with me in Berlin, this was the first (and then third) Apfelstrudel he tasted. It was, thus, my second, third, and fifth.

So, from whence came the elusive fourth (or Charlie’s second) Apfelstrudel? Where else but in Wien (Vienna, Austria), its purported birthplace!

We had visited a strangely wonderful architectural experiment called Hundertwasser in Wien.

The colorful architecture of Hundertwasser Village

But we were getting hungry and cranky. Charlie was hungry and saw several eating establishments that could easily fit the bill. But we didn’t have much time in Vienna and I didn’t want to waste a dinner at any ol’ place. We noticed a café at the entrance to the village and walked up the stairs to get there. I am so glad we did.

Cafe in Hundertwasser Village

What we had for dinner has since left my memory. But we had, on our last night in Wien, a trinity of strudels as our shared dessert splurge. I can’t remember with precision their contents, but …

The three strudels

I know one was apple (that is, Apfel).

Apfelstrudel

One was custardy.

Filled with a custard of sorts

And one involved berries of some sort.

Berry?

It was all kinds of YUM. And quite fun to try different breeds within the Strudel species.

Variety is the strudel of life

So, in conclusion, here is my Ode to the Strudel:

Ach, Du schöne Apfelstrudel,

Viel besser als einige Nudel,

Wieviel süßer, und leckerer,

Und schneller gegessen.

Ich ess’ Dich am besten.

Speaking of quickly eaten ... Charlie and I must have been racing!

Warning: I’m sure poetry in honor of food should never be written by a non-native speaker, if at all. But here’s my translation:

Oh, you pretty Apple Strudel,

So much better than any noodle,

How much more tasty and sweetened,

And more quickly eaten,

You’re my very favorite to eat.

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Sticking with the East Berlin theme of my previous post – which hearkens back to a city very near and dear to my heart, where I spent 2 months in the summer of 2009 – I have fond, nostalgic feelings for a particular restaurant that provided me my first tastes of Southern German or, more particularly, Swabian cuisine (Schwäbische Küche).

Schwarzwaldstuben - Mitte, Berlin

Fond nostalgia is the feel Schwarzwaldstuben (translation: Black Forest Lounge) is going for anyway. They have kitschy-cool décor and the food is German-ala-nostalgia in many ways.

A look toward the bar at Schwarzwaldstuben

My German teacher at the Goethe Institut, Detlef, was the one who recommended this place as his favorite for German specialties in Berlin. He seemed to waffle on whether it was truly Schwäbisch or had some other regional loyalties (due to a Fußball jersey he saw hanging there). I, however, have found several online sites calling it either Swabian (the Anglicized name of the German region) or Southern German. So, there you go. I’ll just play the “dumb American” card if I get called on an inaccuracy here.

Menus

Schwarzwaldstuben is quite hip and if you go at the right/wrong times, there can be a wait. There are tables, a bar, and even a nice sofa and stuffed chair section.

Comfy seating available

The place and menu is such that you could order a little pot of coffee (their coffee is quite tasty) and sit and read for awhile (although probably not at dinner time when space is at a premium). But if you’re going there, though, why not make a meal of it?

Meine Kaffee mit Milch

The first time I went, I had Maultaschen (Pronounced: MOWL-tah-shin), large German-raviolis of sorts. The Maultaschen were served with an amazing German potato salad (if I recall correctly) and the flavors were a perfect match.

Maultaschen with potatoes and a great salad

The meal was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! You can’t get Maultaschen just anywhere, so I highly recommend this place. Charlie had them at another restaurant and they were quite different (more fried, I’d say).

Bionade (a naturally carbonated beverage)

I also had Bionade (Pronounced: BEE-oh-nada) to drink, which I recommend for the non-beer inclined (but the beer is reportedly a draw there, too, it’s Rothaus … as the signs outside make abundantly clear).

Schwarzwaldstuben from the outside (the beer-type is advertized more than the restaurant's name!)

I went with a group from my class at lunchtime. There was space for us, but I believe Detlef had called ahead. We sat at a big ol’ booth by the mural. I must report that not all nationalities find Schwäbische Küche as tasty as I did!

Zhishu waves hello

The next (and last – so far) time I went, I decided to try another delectable Southern German dish, Käsespätzle (translation: Cheese Spätzle). Now, I think it cannot be disputed that I like cheese. I really do! This cheese-centric dish was really, really tasty, but almost too greasy even for the most wicked of caloric sinners. The cheeses were of good quality, but there was so much, I lost the Spätzle in the mix.

Käsespätzle (and a listing of what was showing in Berlin outdoor theaters I was flipping through)

For those who are unfamiliar with this classic German side dish (although when combined with cheese, for instance, it can become a centerpiece), Spätzle (Pronounced: SHHPETS-leh) consists of miniature dumplings. Or, like what would happen if a dumpling and a pasta noodle had a baby. They are irregular in shape.

Closer up on the Käsespätzle. The bonus was that it was a big enough serving to make two filling meals.

Another valid reason to visit this restaurant if you’re ever in Berlin is the surrounding neighborhood. It’s in Mitte (City Center), but the streets immediately around Schwarzwaldstuben are very cool and have a different feel from those as you get closer to Museuminsel (Museum Island) further downtown. If you want a walk past some historic locales (and want to peek into a few picturesque Hinterhöfe [courtyards common to Berliner architecture]), take a walk down Auguststraße, for example, which is just a few blocks from the corner of Linienstraße and Tucholskystraße, where Schwarzwaldstuben is located.

A view of the corner

I do love food (too much – I’m still trying to learn to balance) and I thrive on new experiences. Making new recipes at home, as well as tasting someone else’s cooking, is a chance to embark on a mini journey of flavor.

My idea when starting this blog was to post about my wanderings (as in, world and domestic travel) and my culinary wanderings (as in, experiences with food – eating out and in). Well, blogging while I was bombarded with new places, people, and subject matter in Germany in the Summer of 2009 turned out not to be my specialty. I was constantly on the move, trying to soak everything in, which made it hard to edit photos and to write (in English – when I was supposed to be immersed in German) about my experiences with enough background for anyone else to understand it.

But, now, we’re fully settled in New Jersey. We’re starting our fourth year here together (my fifth year!). And we’re even further settled into a new house with more space. I’ve cut back on responsibilities at school (and we’re cutting back our budget). So, maybe this is a better blogging atmosphere for me.

I’ve recently been posting quite a bit to the website Yelp!, adding reviews of places I’ve been, or that Charlie and I have been together, mostly in the last year. I think I’ll be expanding and reposting several of those reviews here.

The Yelp! website has the following star scale to guide reviewers:

1 = “Eek! Methinks Not”

2 = “Meh. I’ve experienced better.”

3 =  “A-OK”

4 = “Yay! I’m a fan.”

5 = “Woohoo! As good as it gets!”

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans (taken by iPhone)

For the most part, except if the visit was very recent, the places I remember were my very favorites. The result is that at the time of this post I have never given any place a 1. I’ve given two places a 2 (one was a recent visit and bad service; one was because I was stretching to think of someplace I’ve been displeased with to balance out my ratings). I’ve given two places a 3 (and I felt really bad about one of them, even though it’s a nice rating!). I’ve given a whopping eight places 4 stars (which is pretty stinking effusive). And I’ve awarded the highest honor, 5 stars, to six different establishments.

I trust Yelp! because the reviewers are real people with real budgets and real preferences. We’ve used it to pick several restaurants and hotels and have, basically, never been led astray.

So, what do my overly-enthusiastic reviews mean about my reviewing mantra? Am I just uncritical? Have I, perhaps, majored in my favorite restaurants and forgotten about the poor or average dining experiences?

Kara, “The Simon Cowell of Life”

I am trained to be critical in some things: biblical scholarship, for instance. And, according to my husband, I’m really critical about “everyday life.” He’s taken, on occasion, to calling me “The Simon Cowell of Life” (referring to Simon Cowell of American Idol fame; he was my favorite of the judges the one season I watched, by the way).

But, thinking about my reviewing stats (see restaurants above; or, just ask me about TV shows or movies I’ve seen = probably 75% positive), I felt like I needed him to clarify. So I asked him: “In what way am I the ‘Simon Cowell of Life’?”

Under some duress (since he doesn’t want to be critical), Charlie said, “I just notice it with anything that’s on TV, you feel the need to criticize things. Sometimes it feels like, ‘What did that person ever do to you?’”

I asked him to clarify. He said it’s mostly “people’s appearances and voices on shows.” (I can actually think of two very specific examples of the latter that drove me c-r-a-z-y!)

My husband insisted, “I’m not trying to be meeeeean.” But then he went on: “To say you’re the ‘Simon Cowell’ is like to be so brutally honest that it’s mean. Maybe that person didn’t deserve such a harsh critique.”

Hmmm.

Cooking Brussels Sprouts at home

I mean, I think he’s right. I can get bugged by something (a systemic evil, administrative red tape, electronics not working, a mistake I’ve made, a terrible Boston accent on a show, a grammatical mistake) and harp on and on and critique it ad nauseum. My verbosity and my willingness to “speak the truth” combine in a nasty way sometimes. (Note to self: Work on that.)

But how does that part of me—the critical Simon Cowell part—become (if you’ll allow the metaphor to extend slightly further) the Paula Abdul of Food. That is, I love it all, with the rarest of exceptions.

Kara, the appreciator of little things in life

More flattering than the Paula Abdul comparison, I guess, I’d say, I appreciate the little things. I notice beautiful trees on the side of the highway as we’re whizzing past them and point each one out to Charlie. I worked hard during seminary and college to find something I liked in every class I took, which made education a wonderful experience, even outside of my interest areas. When I don’t like something at first (music, an artist, a vegetable), I try it again to see if I missed something about it.

And as a kid, disliking the food I was served wasn’t an option. We were praised for adventurous eating. In that regard, I blame my parents both for my wide expanse of tastes … and my wide expanse of backside.

So, sometimes when I read other people’s Yelp! reviews I think: “Ouch. Why are these people so picky?!” I mean, I can find something I like at McDonald’s, at Ruby Tuesday, at random roadside grills in Turkey, at open air cafes in Vienna (see photo below for proof!), at the swankiest restaurants in Princeton, etc. Anywhere.

Our shared dessert of Struedels in Wien (Vienna)

I don’t think it’s that I’m undiscerning. I have favorites and some things impress me more than others. There are places I’m happy to have gone once and there are places that, as I exit, I’m planning my return trip. There are recipes that I toss out as soon as I’ve made them, and others that I mark with a quick “We loved this!” notation.

But on the whole, I like the experience of trying new food, or familiar food at a new place.

So what if my Yelp! reviews make me look like a wide-eyed big-eater from Idaho? That’s not so far from the truth. And I hope to recount here on “the Wandering Palate” what I’ve tried and just how good it was.

Muuahahahaha

Where am I?

Where am I?

Doesn’t this look like a beautiful place? Wouldn’t you like to know where I am?

But you can’t. Because I never blog about what I do.

Wait, who are these Germans?

Wait, who are these Germans?

And wouldn’t it be nice to know to whom these heads belong? “Where might I see such fine heads as these, young lady?” you may ask. Ha. But I don’t answer in blog form.

Pale white before the dome ...

Pale white before the dome ...

What, pray tell, is that monolith of a structure behind Kara, you may ask. But I won’t answer. Nope, I’m the laziest blogger ever.

Wait, is that ... ?

Wait, is that ... ?

And where does this gigantic temple come from? The name of the museum would give it away, but don’t get your hopes up, because I won’t be talking about it.

That’s right, because I’m lazy.

Ich beschäftige mich mit meinem Sprachkurs, aber ich werde alles vergessen, was ich in Berlin gesehen habe. Leider ist es vielleicht so.

Meine Wohnung

In Berlin wohne ich im Kiez “Pankow.” Es war DDR vor dem Mauerfall. Hier ist mein Bahnhof:

Me, tired but still smiling, in my U-Bahn Station, Vinetastraße

Me, tired but still smiling, in my U-Bahn Station, Vinetastraße

Translating and expanding on the above: I live in the neighborhood called Pankow (although it’s closer to Prenzlauer Berg than most of Pankow). This area was in East Berlin/East Germany before the wall fell.

I live with a host whose name is Barbara, she’s a journalist and early childhood specialist/consultant. She has two children, twins (“Zwilling” in German), who are grown. In another room lives a boarder, Sigrun, whose husband and daughter are in the U.S. right now. Her husband is an American. Her English is impeccable. But, so she says, that’s why she doesn’t have to practice it with me!

Meine Aussicht

Meine Aussicht

Barbara, Sigrun, and I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building. That was a tough climb the first day with all my luggage, but since has been lovely, especially because of my great view out my window. Flowers are in bloom these days, and you can see some flowering trees in the park across the way. One night when we had a big thunderstorm, I had a great view of the lightning. I closed my windows, though, as we have no screens so there’s NOTHING to protect the house from the rain if I leave the windows open. (Note to self.)

Children (Kinder) behind my apartment buildingChildren (Kinder) behind my apartment building

I’ve heard lots of children outside playing. I think a little boy lives in the room below me. It’s about a 4-5 minute walk to the U-Bahn station. There are icecream parlors, flower shops, fruit/veggie stands, fast food places (to be discussed later), etc. right on the same street, Berlinerstraße, as the U-Bahn entrances. The only negative is that I’m about 30 minutes from the Goethe-Institut, which isn’t that much, but means I have to get up earlier or wait longer to get home after a long day.

My abode for 2 months.

My abode for 2 months.