Today is a holiday in Germany: Reunification Day, to commemorate the joining of “communist” East Germany with “democratic” West Germany. This basically meant that citizens of the former West Germany took over paying for their poor “relatives” from the east...and are still paying today.
As on most holidays, there are festivals up and down the country all competing for visitors and their pocket money. Even I managed to leave my lair and venture out to a festival in the old part of town, partly because the weather was so nice...and my wife dragged me.
The main attraction of these festivals is food and drink. This one had a “foreign” flair, offering French stuff. Flammkuchen is a favorite in Alsace, which now belongs to France, despite often being German (check history for yourself). This is not unlike pizza, since it is unleavened bread (kuchen) with toppings heated over a fire (flamm), except that some have sweet toppings (apple and cinnamon is tasty). This was probably introduced into the region by Roman soldiers on their march north along the Rhine River.
Local fare was also available. Being Autumn, people could bring apples from their yard and have them pressed into cider. Or they could buy some.
Despite the foreign words, neither is the Word of the Day. That honor falls to a fish. The word for trout is Forelle.
This word has significance for me due a minor incident in the past. I spent my 21st birthday alone in Fussen, Germany. I had traveled there with a Eurail Pass to visit Neuschwanstein Castle and was spending the night in a cheap pension (I was a poor student!). For my birthday dinner, I decided upon the brewery restaurant, having heard that they always had good food. I wanted to have trout...but did not know the word and no one spoke English. I ended up pointing to the word goulash on the menu, that being the only dish I recognized. This was very different from the dish my mother prepared, but I recall that it was tasty. Still, it was not trout, so my birthday was not great. Now that I know the word, I am no longer interested in eating this fish.
Anyone that has studied European history know that Germans and French have had a few disagreements in the past. Bits of real estate have changed hands a time or two, which explains why most people in the Alsace region speak German. On top of that, the French have been known to muttering disparaging comments about their neighbor. France’s most-famous chef, Paul Bocuse has given his verdict on German cuisine, saying “there is no such thing as German cuisine, but only a German method of dealing with leftovers”.
Germans see things differently, which brings us to the word, or rather words, of the day. There is a saying in Germany--Leben wie Gott in Frankreich, which mean “to live like God in France”. Germans appreciate French savoir vivre (I do not do French Word of the Day), French food, and French culture. The French do not reciprocate.
This explains why we travel often to France and Alsace in particular to eat or shop for food.
We did again yesterday, which explains the “radio silence” on these pages. We made the pilgrimage to our favorite restaurant, which might be the best in the world (but, who cares about other peoples' opinions?Sorry, but gluttony had priority. To make up for that, I will provide some nice photos of Alsace...
I like the Alsace region of France. One can find an interesting melange of two cultures, caused by history of changing borders. The landscape would be the same, regardless of whether Paris or Berlin rules the ground. That said, I appreciate the French flavor of land so close to Germany. Of particular beauty is the Route de Vin, a road through wine village gracing the slopes of the Vosges Mountains. Rules and regulations must be strict, because each village is picturesque, decked with flowers, clean, and lacking in commercial signage. Restaurants, small hotels, and wine estates make this a fine area for tourists.
Because we live about two hours away, the trip to a different world is easy and short. Many enjoy Strasbourg, but we appreciate the rural bits. On the way home, we always stop at a typical French hypermarket and fill the trunk with goodies.
Even without some knowledge of history, one might suspect something amiss in Alsace (that’s in France, for anyone not having had the luxury of advanced education). Almost all towns end in something slightly Germanic. The leading suffix is -heim , but plenty end in –hausen, -au, -wihr, -entzen, or -bach. I can just imagine French people living in other departments trying to pronounce Mittelbergheim, a classic German building-block construction.
Perhaps, names were changed in the past after one or two border alterations, and then people got tired to switching. Flags are easy to pull down and be replaced by one having been saved for just such a reoccurrence. And, children learn both languages in school. Pending the next border-wrenching war, they are useful in dealing with tourists.
Many Swiss cities have a different name in each language (Basel, Bâle). Which reminds me of a joke: An American returned from a trip to Switzerland and complained to a neighbor about how confusing city names were. “There’s this one city. It’s called Lausanne is French, Luzern in German, and Lugano in Italian.”
Thanks for asking. My birthday celebration in Alsace could not have been better.
We had a pleasant drive (after leaving the Autobahn and hitting the back roads), which improved greatly as soon as we crossed into France. Perfect weather and peak growing season added to the splendor. Rural Alsace is beautiful, kept that way by strict rules and regulations that prohibit excess signage, ensure traditional architecture, and require flowers on public streets. It is like entertaining the past, but with modern conveniences and good roads. The people are friendly, despite having suffered through (seemingly) constant battles over which country gets to fly its flag over their heads. At the moment, the French flag flies, but everyone still learns German in school (just in case).
The restaurant we were fortunate enough to enjoy, Auberge de L’Ill (it sits beside the Ill river), could be the best in the world (depending upon who is making the judgment). The ambiance is wonderful—in the dining room or spacious riverside garden—the service is exquisite (friendly—yes, friendly, even in France!), and the food could not be better (different, perhaps, but not better in terms of flavor and quality). I have been enjoying this restaurant since the 70’s; it is always worth the trip and never disappoints.
The slide show should whet anyone’s appetite to make the journey. A few editorial comments:
The saumon souffle was invented by the current chef's father. It is a unique specialty and something I have each time I eat there. One might think that the salmon was born with the souffle on its back and swam around in the Atlantic Ocean. The peche Haeberlin (peach Haeberlin) is another specialty, including a poached white peach, pistachio ice cream and a zabaglione. I did not eat the other deserts (although I would have liked to also have had the vacheron!), but thought the photos might appeal to those gourmets out there. No country in the world has cheese like France, whose government fiercely protects it from encroachment by EU regulators.
Plan ahead; it is booked out well in advance.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.