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.
Being the height of summer, the selection of flowers at the Saturday farmers' market was extensive. Roses abounded, either locally grown or hothouse imports each with a plastic tag.
I decided to take locally grown summer blooms. We have had enough roses, and they grow in my garden. Imports can wait for winter.
I like local markets, because the offer a picture of daily life of wherever they exist.
Today, I visited the twice-weekly market in Hanau, Germany. Customers were also few, but I attributed this to the nasty weather and over-supply of grocery stores competing with price. Vendors seemed to be resigned to low sales, but still proudly touted their wares. I like the market, because many items are superior quality to chain store goods. I am fortunate enough to be able to choose quality over low price.
Last week, I explored the market in Hua Hin, Thailand. This was located in a narrow warren of alleyways off the main street. Outside, bright sunshine pushed the temperature past 30C. Inside, light was minimal; odors were intense; and the atmosphere was friendly. Despite an air of being at the lower end of the economic scale, people seemed happy. Prices were extremely cheap. Customers were few, but I attributed to the time of day.
I may have mentioned already that I enjoy wandering through open-air markets. The next bigger town has a market each Saturday and Wednesday: summer and winter, rain or shine, blazing hot or freezing cold. It is one of the bigger ones in Germany, about the size of two or three football fields. There is a mixture of famers, who grow their own things, people that make their own stuff, and sellers, who buy stuff at the wholesale market. There are bakers, butchers, poultry farmers, potato farmers, flower growers, etc. There is stands with Italian specialties, Greek specialties, Turkish specialties, cheese, fish, hand-woven baskets, pickled things (beets, cabbage, cucumbers), and game. There is a guy that sells Italian produce, which his father has driven overnight from Italy (about 8 hours), competing with local farmers. The market opens at 6 in the morning and runs until 14:00, but stands start set-up at 4. Of course, there are stands selling food to eat.
Today, the weather was particularly pleasant, if a bit hot for some. One might call it a nice summer day, despite the season not officially starting for a few weeks. I wanted to buy a fresh chicken for our Sunday lunch from the guy that raises his own. People that must endure grocery store chicken have no idea what they are missing.
Unfortunately, there was too much fresh, seasonal produce to tempt me, so I ended up over-loaded with bags. I got stuck at the Italian vegetable stand. The growing season is a bit further along in Italy, so there were ripe melons, huge artichokes, and giant lemons, added to the usual plethora of tomatoes. They also offer Italian bread, great for making bruscheta. Further along, roses are in season, so one must not rely on Kenya or Dutch greenhouses, and seasonal flowers are too many to choose.
I like to buy from the farmers, as opposed to retailers. One can spot the real ones, because the grandmother and all the family work the stand. The produce is not as uniform as that which comes from the wholesale market (probably from Spain), but the flavor is all the more natural. I also feel an inner need to support a dying breed, because I’ve seen what industrialization of food production has done in the United States.
I must say that we had one of the best lunches in a long time (and we eat well). Perhaps, the market experience enhanced my taste buds. Or, the season provided the pleasure. Lunch in the garden made me realize that humans belong outside, eating fresh things that nature has provided...
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.