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German Food & Drink

German food and drink has nothing to do with bicycling but everything to do with enjoying your bicycle holiday in Germany.

Just a few words about the stuff you eat and drink. I also touch on Sundays, some niceties, tipping in restaurants, coffee and pastry because they go together so well. And I prattle on about beer, food, wine, bread, and even ice cream. None of this is really necessary to know but I offer it to you anyway. Who knows, you may partake.

Sundays: First of all, visitors to Germany need to know that many, if not almost all, stores are closed on Sundays and major holidays. Unlike the US where you can shop 'til you drop 24/7, in Germany they believe in letting the employees have a family life; so they close Sundays. Why is this important? Consider you are on a bicycle and it is Saturday (or any day before a major holiday). You may want to buy your groceries or bike parts today, not tomorrow. Maxa and I enjoy a bottle of wine in the evenings after we come back from the restaurant. If we want wine on Sunday evening, we buy it Saturday and carry it all day.

Polite Niceties: It isn't that Germans are formal, but they are a little more paced in their interactions with others that we are used to in the colonies, as the Brits still call America. For example, when Germans come into a room full of people, they usually make the rounds, saying hello to each person individually and shaking hands, or perhaps giving a good friend a hug or someone of the opposite gender a peck on the cheek – or on both cheeks. It's unthinkable not to acknowledge everyone individually unless the number of people is daunting. Even when walking into a restaurant or a kneipe (pub or tavern), one frequently has a greeting for the people already there, especially if there are only a few other people. A safe greeting is "Guten Tag," – unless you are there in the morning or late at night, then the greeting would be "Morgan" or "Abend" respectively. Similarly, when you leave say, "good bye" or, "Auf Wiedersehen" (the "Auf" is de-emphasized and sometimes omitted. It means until [we] meet again).

For a discussion of table manners, you can refer to our discussion on the Miscellaneous page.

Tipping in Restaurants: Tipping is encouraged. Especially by the people receiving the tips. Waiters and waitresses regard tips as a portion of their fair compensation. However, one must look at the check, if a service charge is already included, a  tip is still expected but just round up to the nearest Euro. On larger checks to the nearest 5 Euros. Most restaurants do not include a service charge in the total so the tip should be about 10% of the total check. You are welcome to tip as much as you want, of course. Conversely, if you really didn't like the service collect your change. Here is a short course on the tipping words: Service is Dienst; a tip is Kleingeld; Dienst Leistung is service charge, normally expressed as a percent and usually on a separate line. One more thought, do not leave money on the table, give it to the wait staff directly.

Coffee and Pastry: The Germans raised coffee drinking to a hedonistic art form a century before America invented Starbucks. They have many and varied selections of coffee and they, like the Italians, have long had coffee shops when you can spend all afternoon. Additionally they have small kiosks where one can purchase a small cup of strong coffee, toss it down and continue on their jittery way. They usually like their coffee strong – not always espresso strength but much stronger than the Folgers in the stereotypical diner of Middle America. The British have their teatime. The Germans have “Kaffee.” Midafternoons on lazy days, you will find Germans gathering for Kaffee. You cannot drink coffee without something to be washed down. They probably invented “Kuchen” (delicious pastry) just to go with their coffee. Right after that, they invented whipped cream to go with the Kuchen. Kaffee, and its necessary accompaniments, is as much a social experience as it is fattening. I highly recommend it. But then, I have high cholesterol and a spare tire so you can make your own decision. In restaurants, if you order coffee, they will ask if you want a “eine Tasse, oder ein Kännchen.” A Tasse is one cup; Kännchen is simply a small pot that holds about two cups. In lieu of Kännchen sometimes you'll find a Kaffee Pot which is a large cup or a mug. Since there are no free refills, this is probably the way to go. If you order Kuchen too, they may ask you to choose one from their inside display. Or else, you can ask what sort of Kuchen they have available.

Beer: For a more complete discussion of beer, go to our page on the subject, German Beer. But in simple terms, if you say "ein Bier" or "ein Pils" you will get what they normally serve. You may be asked if you want "ein Grosses oder ein Normales." Here size does matter. A Grosses beer is typically 0.4 or 0.5 liter. A Normales beer is usually 0.33 liter but it could be a little bit smaller. In some establishments, they take beer very seriously indeed. Classically, a well pulled Pils will take seven minutes to pull before it is servable. Then it is served with a head of foam that might extend beyond the top of the beer glass. Nevertheless, the liquid level must at least be to the line on the glass when it is placed in front of you. All the above said, many establishments just pour you a beer, sometimes mixing it with a glass of standing beer poured a few minutes ago. That speeds the process significantly and is becoming more the norm nowadays. You can have your beer in just a minute or two. Some say that taking the shortcut is a travesty, others say, that they are thirsty and do not care.

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Wine: Do not leave Germany without sampling the wine either. The Romans first introduced the tribal Germans to the art of making and drinking wine during their occupation two thousand years ago. Thereafter, grape cultivation flourished and Germans have been proud of their wine ever since. Much of the German production is white wine although some red wine is produced in many regions. Like with French wine, the variety of the grape is less important than the vintner, the region, and the vintage. In Germany, you can sometimes tell what region a wine comes from by the shape of the bottle. The wine palette in Germany is discerning to the balance of sugar and alcohol. Many, but not all, of the wines are sweet and the sweetest are frequently the best. Look for words like Kabinett, Spätlese (late harvest), Auslese, or Trockenbeerenauslese (dry berry harvest) for higher quality libation. Eiswein is a special type of wine made from grapes that are harvested after they have frozen on the vine. Of course, the locals drink the less expensive varieties of Tafelwein or Landwein for everyday meals. Spending a lot of money on fancy wines is for tourists or for very special events. I discuss German wine in great detail on our German Wine page.

A word to the wise: In Germany, they have a saying. Wein nach Bier, das probier. Bier nach Wein, das lass sein! It is something most teenagers learn on prom night and it translates to: Wine after beer, you can try. But beer after wine, leave it be (don't try it). And, another thing they say in Germany is: Drink and drive, lose your license. Their tolerance level of blood alcohol is 1/4 of that in the USA. Don't even drink one beer and hope to drive. If you are nailed, you're toast. No kidding. You read it here.

Ice Cream: Somewhere between food and drink we squeeze ice cream. I say squeeze it here because if you eat it as soon as it is served, it is solid, but wait a while and you can drink it. I believe ice cream is a food (actually a vegetable) because my three older brothers told me so. However, my sainted mother always told me it was a dessert. No wonder I grew up confused. I like my brother's logic though; if you want to eat dinner, why not make a dinner of vegetables and chocolate sauce. When Mom comes home, she will be proud of you when you tell her you only had vegetables for dinner. But I digress.

Ice Cream in German is Eis. The Germans didn't invent ice cream, in fact they frequently call their ice cream stores "Italienische Eis Spezialitäten" or "Italian ice cream specialties," giving proper credit to the country that has done the most to improve the taste of ice cream since it was invented (in France I have heard). Italian ice cream is smooth but a bit more toward a creamy sorbet than the super-sweet, super-creamy ice cream that Baskin & Roberts or Ben & Jerry's sells in the USA.

Ice creamIce creamIce creamWhat the Germans bring to ice cream is the art of making it look either like something decadent or something that doesn't look like ice cream. They take the concept of a sundae and turn it into a work of art, sculpted before your eyes. There will be mountains built of tiny balls of ice cream topped by towering peaks of wavy whipped cream, drizzled with different colored sauces served in fancy glass containers (dishes or bowls just don't describe these vessels). Your selections frequently contain a liquor or two. The coup de grâce is chunks of fruit, tiny paper umbrellas, or tiny pompoms to add the extra festive touch.

Even more interesting, you may see plain dishes like spaghetti & meatballs or bacon, eggs & pancakes on the menu. When they are served they look for all the world like you are about to eat a main course of something that Denny's Restaurant sells. But nooo! You will discover that these dishes are made of ice cream and fruit sauces. Such fun! But, you do pay for it. A visit to the Eis Laden, or ice cream store, might cost you €15 to €20 for ice cream and coffee drinks for two. You can get by for less and still enjoy the flavors by ordering plain ice cream in a dish. But you'll be missing half of the fun and I am told that, "there are no pockets in the shroud" anyway.

Food: Someday soon, I will add a few recipes on a separate page that will link from the top of this page. But that is then and this is now. Only after a discussion of beer, can you think about what to eat.

North Hesse Specialties: We home base in Kassel in Central Germany, which is in North Hesse. There are a few North Hessian specialties that are noteworthy. There are a two North Hessian specialties that will probably taste good to most American palettes. Ahle Wurst (old sausage) and Grüne Sosse usually spelled Grüne Soβe (green sauce) are the two that I can easily recommend. Ahle Wurst is a smoked aged salami type of Wurst that is lightly spiced with a mixture of herbs including garlic. Interestingly, the words Ahle Wurst, which comes from one of the local dialects means alt Wurst (old sausage) in high German. There are several common spellings of the words such as aale Wurst, Alewurscht or aahle Wurschd depending on who is doing the spelling and what dialect their grandparents spoke. An old Wurst by any other name, will not smell at all the same. (Poor Wm. Shakespeare. I am always playing fast and loose with his quotations.)

There are minor taste differences in Ahle Wurst because each butcher shop (Fleischer) has its own recipe. The aging process varies too. You can purchase air dried or smoked Ahle Würste. I am addicted to them; it is perhaps one of the causes of my spare tire and high cholesterol, Bier being another cause.

Grüne Soβe is a sauce made with seven common garden greens, hardboiled egg, and sour cream. It is used as a sauce for boiled potatoes and/or fish. The herbs are, parsley, sorrel, dill, borage, tarragon, chervil, and cress. In North Hesse, one can purchase these herbs pre-bundled in the green grocer section of the local market in North Hesse.

One North Hessian dish that a few natives of the region enjoy is Weckewerk. Now if you have developed a palette at least a standard deviation or two from the norm as I have, you should try Weckewerk. Weckewerk is mostly meat but also contains some of the soft tissue left over from the butchering process after everything else imaginable has been salvaged. I mean everything from the internal organs to the tail (i.e., ox tail soup). This pile of, uh, protein is chopped fine, mixed with spices, herbs and garlic and then fried. Then much of the liquid fat is drained off and the mixture, an unappetizing light grayish brown color, is flopped on a plate with some mashed potatoes. The potatoes are important, they soak up the remaining grease - and that is no small task.

Another North Hesse dish I have not tried, since my cholesterol went off the chart, is Wellfleisch. Wellfleisch is made from the meat and soft tissue in a pig head. I asked if there was brain in the Wellfleisch and the answer was, no. Perhaps, the brain is more valuable than the parts used for this dish.Eisbein

Lastly, a North Hesse dish I that I have tried but could do without is Eisbein. Eisbein is the lower part of ham hocks boiled in its skin with herbs and spices. The same part of the swine baked instead of boiled and without the skin is call Schweine Haxen; served with Sauerkraut it's a tasty dish and not quite so fatty. This I have tried and I look forward to eating it again.

Wurst: Not a regional specialty but a national treasure, like our America's hamburgers and hotdogs, are the fried or boiled Sausages (Würste). There are several types including Brat, Wiener, and Weiss just to name a few. These are served all over the country and although each butcher shop uses a slightly different recipe, they are fairly standard. Bratwürste (bratwursts) are made from a combination of beef and pork and are served in short chunky style, long and narrow style, and really long style. The really long ones (16 inches to a meter or more) are commonly found at street kiosks and are served with a small roll called a Brötchen (or a Semmel in Bavaria) and a spicy mustard called Senf. Each time we come to Germany, I do not feel as if I have truly landed until I get my "fix" of a Bratwurst from a street vendor - served too hot to eat and with a worm of spicy mustard all along the top of the Wurst. To die for, really. Today, one can find Bratwurst in long strips braided together for grilling in your backyard. Nüremburger Bratwürste are finger sized and a serving is about 6 Würste typically with sauerkraut and potatoes.

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The subject of Wurst should correctly include Aufschnit. Aufschnit are lunch meats such as Bologna, but the topic is so very much more complicated. Any grocery store and certainly any butcher shop (Fleischer) will have an assortment of Aufschnit that numbers from 25 to 100 different kinds. What we know as salami will be subdivided into ten or more different types that all look similar to the untrained eye. They will slice the Aufschnit for you as thick as you want it sliced. Typically, you ask for a definite number of slices or a fraction, such as a quarter, of a pound.

Meat Dishes: Don't leave Germany without trying Rouladen mit Rotkohl; a thin slice of beef wrapped around a pickle, some bacon, and some onion. The sauce is a thick dark gravy and the food will melt in your mouth.Labscouse

When in northern Germany, around Bremerhaven, I urge you to try Labskaus, a mixture of corned beef, potatoes, and pickle. Typically served with red beets, herring, and a couple of fried eggs. Wonderful. While we are talking about dishes I enjoy, try Matjes Herring. Pickled virgin hMatjes Herringerring served only in season in late spring.

SchweinebratenFavorite German meat dishes include Wiener Schnitzel, Sauerbraten, Kohlrouladen, Rouladen, Falscher Hase (meatloaf), Hasenpeffer, Schweinebraten, and Sülze. If you are in the Swabisch area like Baden-Württemberg, try Maultaschen and Spätzle. Wiener Schnitzel is named Wiener because it presumably was made famous in Wien (Vienna in English). Sülze is meat in a gelatin with a little vinegar for a sour flavor. Sülze comes in many forms, and the ingredients vary greatly. It tastes wonderful with remoulade sauce and some Bratkartoffeln.

Bratkartoffeln with Zigeuner schnitzelStarches: Speaking of Bratkartoffeln, these are boiled potatoes then sliced and fried in oil or bacon fat. Add a little onion and bacon in the process and wait until the potatoes have a good color and serve hot. With a couple fried eggs, you can make a meal of them. Another frequently consumed potato dish is Salzkartoffeln sprinkled with parsley. And Dillkartoffeln are the same idea, just sprinkled with dill. These are simply potatoes boiled in saltwater. Spätzle is a noodle dish served with any meat or fish dish. Spätzle is a great gravy soaker-upper if the meat dish has gravy with it. One of my favorite noodle dish is Maultaschen. This is a Swabisch specialty too. Directly translated, Maultaschen are like large filled ravioli. The story goes that in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church required that no meat (except fish) should be eaten on Fridays, the people in Schwaben tried to fool the local priest buy serving what looked like noodles but ones that were stuffed with the meat they loved. So the filling for Maultaschen frequently includes meat, onion, bread crumbs or rice, and seasoned with spices and garlic.

Mixed with sweet dressingSalads and the like: A typical salad is a mixture of green fresh vegetables and pickled vegetables often served with a sweetened yogurt and sour cream dressing. However, there is also Fleischsalat, translated as meat salad but is made from pickles, mayonnaise, and thin strips of Mortadella (a bland sausage similar to Bologna). Several types of Heringsalat exist that are simply chunks of herring and onions in sour cream – tasty.

Vegetables: Typical vegetable dishes include Spargel, Sauerkraut, and all the normal garden green vegetables. Spargel is a white asparagus that has a 6-week season around May. In north Germany one may find Zwiebelkuchen. Zwiebelkuchen resembles an onion pizza but is actually a semi-sweet yeast dough topped with onions caramelized in butter, some bits of bacon, and sprinkled with a hard white cheese.

Meals: My all-time favorite German custom is the evening meal of different cold cuts, cheeses, and a variety of other delicacies called Kaltteller or "cold plate" in English. These are eaten by putting one item on a slice of bread, or a part of a slice, and then cut into bite sized pieces with a knife and fork (remember, the fork in the left hand, knife in the right). Germans normally eat their big meal in the middle of the day and they feel that it is not healthy to eat a big, hot meal in the evening before going to bed. A habit most nutritionists will agree with. By the way, when eating Kaltteller, do not make a sandwich, it is considered gauche.

Bread: While on the subject of consumables, I have to tell you about the breads. I feel sorry for those of you who cannot or have not developed a taste for bread. Being an American and over 50 ("OFBK Club"), I was raised on Wonder Bread. (“What a waste of flour and water.” he spit disdainfully.) Once I discovered good crusty peasant bread, I have never looked back. Germans, like the French and Italians, worship good bread. There are bakeries where you can select from nearly 100 different types and shapes of bread. Having tried many of them, I have yet to meet a loaf I could not like (although, I eat pumpernickel only with ripe cheese or strong fish). The staple in the German diet is a medium rye bread called Graubrot or gray bread. Another staple in the diet of Central Germany is Brötchen, literally “little bread.” Fresh Brötchen are available in every village of more than 10 homes. With a little butter, some jam, some cheese, or a slice of Wurst, it is the breakfast of choice for millions of Germans. Brötchen can easily be into a sandwich and carried on your bike for a snack or lunch (Mittagspause). These sandwiches of Brötchen are called Belegte Brötchen and are usually offered ready made in a bakery or a meat store.

One more thought about bread. In Germany, I understand one can even buy liquid bread. They call it flüssiges Brot and it consists of grain, water, and yeast – see Beer above (get it?).

More about biking in Germany can be found in these pages: What to Expect on the Tour, German Bicycle, Laws, German Culture, German Beer, German Wine, and Miscellaneous.

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