Friday, May 24, 2013

Chasing Clichés (aka Around Town, II)

In Yes, Chef! A Memoir, one of Sam's favorite books, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson writes that his philosophy of cooking is to "chase flavors." I've decided that my philosophy for the rest of our not-yet-limited-but-already-all-too-short time remaining over here will be to chase clichés.

To kick off the cliché campaign, J and I had homemade fondue made by a real, from a mountain town, pension-accruing-even-while-a-postdoc Swiss (thanks Martin). [Blogger's note: whereas conservatives grossly exaggerate the generosity of the American welfare state, I romanticized the Swiss: Martin informs me that his pension is in fact frozen while he has a postdoc in Germany.]

I think we did pretty well.

Next, we've decided to embrace German, Kaffee, Kuchen, and Eis culture as enthusiastically as possible, which is easy to do considering a small gelato is 1€, or about a third of the Avenues price. Germans do not need an excuse to walk for ice cream or cake. And although sometimes I miss American-style coffee houses with plenty of seating and bottomless mugs of coffee, I love how the lines between cafes/coffee houses/bars/restaurants are completely blurred here. This sign says it all.

As just noted, the situation need not be perfect for an ice cream or cake. Often it's so cold that you need to wrap up so you can sit out on the main square and have a sundae (blankets provided).

Sometimes you need to have a quick Kuchenpause standing up on an expedition in between rain showers. Beats energy bars. 

Ah but when the weather is finally nice for a few hours ... watch out for thousands of Germans converging on their nearest ice cream parlor. It got so bad in Berlin this spring that one store owner was sheepishly forced into increasing prices (nice problem to have) to try and diminish the crowds his neighbors were complaining about. Here in Tübingen, we have competing gelaterias right across the cobblestones from each other near the entrance to Old Town, and on one sunny and warm weekend day -- ok, the warm and sunny weekend day, and one of two total sunny and warm days so far this calendar year -- the following resulted.

We did not wait the 30 minutes. And anyway, when in Germany, we prefer "Spaghettieis." Yup, the "carbonara" is in the background. I could write a whole entry on the Italians in the German imagination ...

The cakes are great, often filled with cream and fruit and not so much actual cake. 

The grocery store (!) where we bought the above claimed that it's a "Holland cake," but my Dutch officemate, Susanna, was perplexed by this characterization.   

In the coffee department, even though one can find the odd Tasse Kaffe here and there (amazingly, it's more expensive than an espresso -- if only Radina's would charge less for an espresso than a cup!) -- I just can't seem to convey the notion in a store that I would like our beans ground thicker than cocaine. (And remember, we are forced to buy them store-ground because of the home coffee grinder problem.) I've tried every phrase we can muster from Google Translate -- please grind them for a paper filter and/or an American-style maker; please grind them more coarsely than normal; I don't use an espresso machine, so please grind them coarsely; God Damn it, stop the machine! -- but every time, the beans come out like powder. I swear this happens even when I see the employee adjust the machine to a coarse setting. Of course, part of the problem is that the German verbs for grind and paint are indistinguishable to a non-native speaker (mahlen and malen), so I guess the coffee purveyors just give up (and press "default: extra fine") after they determine that I'm the strange American who wants his coffee beans painted.

With the help of the Bettymobile, we've also mastered the German castle and church excursion. The historian in me is tempted to provide a detailed summary of each castle's family, and its relative significance to the Thirty Years War, but I will resist (feel free to email me). Suffice it to say that we enjoyed the hike up to Hohenzollern. Ever notice that official pictures are always better than the ones you take?

From the castle we enjoyed a romantic view of the German countryside.

Hohenzollern has a beer garden, of course. And to think they say Swabia has no beaches.

This beer garden also gave us the chance to embrace the cliché of the vegetable-not-called-potato-less meal (unless, like the Reagan administration, you consider ketchup a vegetable).

I'm not exactly sure where Schloss Sigmaringen is. At that point we'd driven around Swabia twice and been drenched on what should have been a great walk along the Danube. But the place was tremendous (and if you ever need an Italian restaurant recommendation in the town ...).

Churches we've seen in abundance, as well. One of our favorites was nearby Zwiefalter. I'm not a religious historian, but I think the place may have been Catholic. Or be Catholic. It's unclear what the place is now because Napoleon secularized it, and the grounds how house an asylum. [Blogger's note re: Brent's comment below ... I should have made my sarcasm a bit clearer here. We've seen enough stark Lutheran churches to know that this over-the-top Baroque one is Catholic.]

Even better, this place is 50 meters away.

The brewery was closed; you have to call ahead with a group of 15 to get a tour ... so score a point for U.S. beer culture on the matter of tours and tastings. But score one for the Germans with places like this, about 3k outside of Tübingen. The Dinkel Acker Jubiläumsbier was excellent.

We've all had so much fun around town that at one point I almost captured Ella smiling. She has the best paparazzi-dar I've ever seen. 

1 comment:

  1. A few follow-ups:
    1. OK, I agree there's no need for the history of every castle, but this one deserves at least a mention as the Cold War home of Frederick the Great's bones! He was transferred back to Potsdam after German unification.
    2. Are you still required to put on pantoffeln (felt slip-ons to protect the floor) when you tour the castle? I remember that fondly.
    3. Zwiefalter beer is excellent, and I believe I recommended this very itinerary to you a while back. If I didn't, glad you found it!
    4. The over the top swirly baroque (rococo) is a sure sign it's Catholic.
    Happy travels!