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Shop hours in Europe are abbreviated by American standards. Workers have the state-given rights to rest on Sundays, evenings, and dozens of holidays. Of course, this clashes with the consumer’s demands for basic foodstuffs. The answer? Automats.
We’ve been noticing automats across Europe and how they seem to meet some fundamental cultural need. In Belgium one sleepy Sunday morning, an automat was busy dispensing fresh bread to the villagers. Slide in a couple euro coins and out came sustenance for breakfast.
In Amsterdam, a little snack shop off a busy street had a wall of tiny windows that contained an assortment of fried snacks like croquettes, small hamburgers, and frites. The snacks were being replaced by a worker frying in the back of the shop, but the automat had replaced the step of ordering. What you saw in the little window, was what you got. (In Amsterdam, they further this concept to entirely other areas of needs gratification).
Automats are like the snack machine in the company lunchroom, except the food tends to be fresh and/or heated and in some cases can be counted as full meals. They are the original fast food of Europe, although their popularity seems to be dwindling. There are still functioning remnants in old towns like Lviv, Ukraine, which sports a Soviet-era soda machine painted a battleship gray. One glass is shared by all customers, who toss in a few coins and fill it up to drink on the spot. When finished, the communal glass is turned over and a jet of water squirts up to sort of clean it.
My personal favorite was a pasta automat in Pisa, Italy. A multi course meal could be had within minutes. We could imagine the appeal. It’s maybe not the best of food, but you don’t have to go home to your Italian mama.
Football fever has taken a hold of Germany.
So much so, that the U.S. embassy issued a travel advisory against venturing too far into the land of bratwursts and biersteins.
The advisory was issued for last night’s semi-final game between Deutschland and Turkey, warning Americans about “violent disturbances” that may occur before or after the mid evening match. Particularly in the “public viewing” areas where hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands in the case of the Brandenburg Gate — gather to booze the night away with their eyes glued on giant t.v. screens.
And don’t go anywhere near the demonstrations afterward when streets get blocked and vehicles rocked, the advisory goes on to say.
Yeah, that’s pretty much what we found out on our own. Only, after all the travelling we’ve done in Asia, Africa, and South America, we never thought to subscribe to the travel warning feed for Germany. I mean, this is a place where a lone woman like myself can feel quite comfortable jogging along down a deserted bike path at night.
Despite all the hype — from the U.S. embassy and the German media — the Germany vs. Turkey square-off in the Euro Cup turned out to be quite peaceful. Not a whole lot more eventful than the party scene around Karnaval — at least in the Rhineland. The songs may have been different, but even the clown wigs were the same, albeit in the German colors of black, yellow, and red.
The tensions between Germans and the sizable Turkish community concerning everything from the building of mosques and wearing of headscarves to immigration laws, for the most part did not carry over to the football fans. Though the story could have been different had Turkey won.
We saw lots of good will gestures in Bonn. Hand-slapping between Germans and Turks after the game ended with Germany’s close 3-2 victory. A number of Turkish eateries unfurled both German and Turkish flags, as if not to take sides.
What was most surprising to us as football fever became pitched starting a month or so ago was just how overt the signs of German patriotism have become. The flag waving only started two years ago when the World Cup descended on Germany and German patriotism came out of the closet for the first time since 1945. This year’s game, being held abroad in Austria and Switzerland, cemented those sentiments.
For the first time since World War II, people here can proudly fly their flag, wear the colors on an armband or hair scrunchie or skirt or painted across their faces … and not feel guilt. They can even sing their anthem — although hardly anyone knows the words — or scream from the top of their lungs chants like “Super Deutschland.”
The so-called “public viewing” events — yes, they use the phrase in English — have also helped normalize the patriotism. People, mostly the youth, gather in parks and watch the game together and the energy of the crowd helps carry the high.
In other words, you don’t have to quietly root for Germany behind your stone walls with the iron shutters closed anymore.
Doing so might have actually killed a lot football fever fans last night, when a thunderstorm shut down the broadcast signal from Switzerland a couple times during the game. The German fans had each other for support.
If you look carefully you can find Tony in both of these videos.
Dutch food? We were thinking nothing fancier than croquettes, fresh herring, or some delightfully aged Gouda. What a pleasant surprise then that on a weekend trip to Amsterdam recently, we found De Kas.
The restaurant is a converted greenhouse that used to be an abandoned municipal nursery. You dine under a glass ceiling in the middle of the greenery of Frankendael Park. And the food is freshly picked from the De Kas gardens.
We must admit that with press credentials, we got the royal treatment. This included a tour of the gardens by the manager and box seats in the kitchen to watch our food cooking. But in the full interest of disclosure, we paid our own way and the set menu ensured that the whole restaurant was eating alike.
Here’s our story, broadcast on Deutsche Welle in June.
One of the first spring herbs in Germany has become familiar to us this year. Bärlauch is a strong garlicky-tasting leaf that’s been all over the markets and on menus since February when it made its first debut.
Bärlauch is not for the faint of heart. Think of chives but so strong it can hold its own when cooked. We’ve seen it in bratwurst, as an early spring replacement for basil in pesto, and on its own as bärlauch soup.
This long flat leaf grows natively in shady meadows across Europe and has been enjoying somewhat of a revival in recent years. Perhaps, that’s because Germans are beginning to feel comfortable reveling in all things German, including traditional ingredients to the German kitchen.
It’s history dates back to the Early Stone Age, according to German Wikipedia. It still has a kind of pagan reputation with nicknames like Witches’ Onion, Gypsy Garlic and Forest Army. Folk medicine prescribed it for all kinds of maladies: indigestion, high blood pressure, an antibiotic, and even as a tonic going into battle.
We can kind of believe the last one. We came to realize that eating bärlauch must be a communal activity because bärlauch-breath should not be forced on others.
We appreciate it’s power in dishes like omelettes and as a pesto for spätzle with bacon (recipe bellow). Tony’s even tried it in an Asian stir-fry. We can imagine it as well mixed with sour cream on a baked potato.
It’s such a nice spark to early spring when, as every cook knows, the options are very limited. It’ll be hard to say good-bye to bärlauch when we come home … but maybe we’ll smuggle back some seeds and find a shady patch of garden for our Witches Onions.
Here’s the recipe for the Bärlauch dish shown above. In Germany you can buy spätzle premade in most supermarkets. While not as good as homemade we like to keep it onhand for a quick evening meal as an alternative to regular pasta. To make Bärlauch pesto follow any recipe for pesto substituting bärlauch for the basil and leaving out or going easy on the garlic.
Edit: After doing a little further digging I’ve discovered that Bärlauch is more commonly known as “ramp” in the US.
1 lb. Spätzle
1/4 cup Bärlauch Pesto
5 slices Thick Bacon
2 Tbl. Butter
1 Handful Arugula
(1) Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces (not too small) and fry until crispy. Drain the fat and set aside the bacon pieces.
(2) Fry the Spätzle in butter and black pepper until browned. I like to add quite a bit of black pepper.
(3) Add the bärlauch pesto, arugula and bacon pieces. Continue cooking until the arugula wilts.
Serve with beer or a German white wine such as Riesling.
Everyone loves a spectacle. A 121-foot Russian space shuttle traveling up the Rhine drew much of Bonn to the riverbanks yesterday.
I happened to be biking to work at the time when I noticed the traffic jams and gathering crowds, peering north towards Cologne in excited anticipation of the river novelty. The Rhine is typically brimming with river traffic: barges bringing coal and other raw materials to and from Germany’s industrial heartland, ferries of ogling tourists, and sometimes joyriders. The extremely swift current and deep waters make it a formidable river.
But a Russian space shuttle was something new. Once the pride and joy of the Russian space program, the long-ago decommissioned Buran (“blizzard” in Russian) spent years languishing in a Bahrain junkyard until the Technik Museum Speyer in southwest Germany snapped it up. Thus began it’s long journey through the Suez Canal, the Straight of Gibraltar, and around the coast to Rotterdam.
It seems the best way to ship it from there to its new home was the path much else goes these days: the Rhine.
I have to say that I always groaned about being dragged into the Air and Space Museum on trips to Washington with my brothers. I am not a big fan of arcane technology. But the excitement of the crowd was contagious as the banged up object sailed under the Kennedy Bridge and then south, the picturesque outline of the Seven Hills in the background.
According to the papers, the Buran 002 was a copycat of the American space program and made 25 suborbital flights in the 1980s before being abandoned. It’s due to arrive at its new home on Saturday.
A break from the winter doldrums in Germany led us to Genoa, a city on the Italian Riviera. For a week, we trod its narrow alleyways, saddled up to coffee bars and focaccerias, and explored the stunning coastline of craggy cliffs that tumble into the turquoise Mediterranean.
Check out the video of our adventure below, on our blog.