Cuts of Meat

January 17, 2011

Nothing like a good meter-wurst!

Before I go any further, does anyone know of a good German butcher shop anywhere near Atlanta, Georgia?

In truth, there are lots of things as good, and better, than a good meter-wurst. We discovered that throughout our travels in Germany and Austria.

Our first day in Munich found us dining at a small cafe in the VictualMarkt. I’ve always loved old fashioned market places and Munich’s is better than any I’d seen before.

The first shop we saw was a butcher chop and its front window looked similar to the photo at this flickr website. Next door to that shop was another butcher shop with a similar display. Next came, you guessed it!, another butcher shop. There were three or four before the cheese shops started. Later we saw side-by-side seafood shops, pastry shops, and produce shops. All the food items displayed looked marvelously delicious. It would’ve been easy to spend hours just grazing.

By the way, there was also a soup shop or two. It made me think of the soup Nazi on the Jerry Seinfeld Show.

Instead of buying something and standing at an outdoor table (which many folks were doing), we opted for the cafe that would allow us to sit in a warm place and enjoy being served by a waiter who spoke very little English.

The name of the cafe is the Lowenbraun Pub and I highly recommend it. We each ordered a “sampler” platter. Lu’s was various cuts of meat cooked in different ways. It included schnitzel (with breading) and similar cuts (sliced very thin) cooked without the breading. Mine was a collection of wursts.

Mine came with sauerkraut and potato salad. Lu’s had vegetables and potato dumplings. All the meats were tender and delicious. As is often the case, I was very disappointed when I found myself stuffed to the gills and unable to even think about dessert.

Of course part of our problem was the basket of pretzels and bread that was on the table even before we sat down.

Over the years, Lu and I have had numerous soft pretzels, but these were the best we’d ever tasted. (This statement holds true even after we had a humongous pretzel at the HaufBrau Haus and numerous soft pretzels at other stops along the way.)

Fortunately, I remembered the words of Rick Steves.  The bread basket is part of the honor system. It was up to us to let the waiter know how many items we consumed so the cost could be added to our bill.

The next day found us “doing lunch” at the HaufBrau Haus.

Appetizers at the HaufBrau Haus.

I have to be honest and tell you that Lu and I did not eat all of this pretzel. To imagine the size of it, think of taking two French baguettes sitting end to end. Then tie them into the shape of a pretzel.

To us, the secret that made the German soft pretzels so good was that the dough itself tasted salty. In the US, it seems the salt is only sprinkled on the outside of the finished product.

For my main course at the HaufBrau Haus, I had the crisp roast knuckle of pork (it was the “bee’s knees”; no! Make that the pig’s knee.) It was delicious.

Lu had the roast pork with crackling. They cook it in such a way that the fat on the outside gets very crispy, yet the meat remains juicy and tender. It was also delicious and much better than any roast pork I’ve ever had.

Later in the trip, I dined on pork neck and various cold cuts like I’ve never seen outside of Europe. And I’m left wondering…

Where can I find a good German butcher shop anywhere near Atlanta, Georgia?

Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 2)

December 29, 2010

We were up bright and early on the morning of December 17th. We had a date with Helmut Gottschling at St. Lukas Lutheran Church on the east side of town.

But, before I get to that, let me explain that our first day in Munich did not end with dinner in the Viktuallenmarkt. After a most enjoyable meal, we returned the way we had come… past the old gates of the city and through Marienplatz. Most of the pedestrian area was dedicated to the Christmas Market.

New City Hall

As we walked, we heard beautiful Christmas Music. One song would be by a children’s choir; the next played by an 0om-pah band; and then a male and female quartet. The music sounded “live” and we looked around for a stage. When we looked up at the New City Hall (which is over 100 years old), we spotted the three groups that were providing the wonderful music.

Musicians on the balconies

Returning to our hotel, we passed by a store with a window display dedicated to the “Star Wars” movies… and all the characters were built with Lego blocks.

R2-D2 in the flesh - er, Legos!

Now, back to St. Lukas. We rode the number 17 tram to Effnerplatz and got off at Mariannenplatz… not to be confused with Marienplatz. Recall that we had a three day pass and could ride any form of public transportation. Thus, we did not need to worry about figuring out the money and fares, and were left plenty of time and brain power to figure out the names of streets.

We arrived near the church an hour before our appointment and wandered around the neighborhood for a while. We stopped in a small store and quickly realized it was a health food store. I saw no meat, and most of the products were labeled “BIO”. We bought some trail mix, a couple of candy bars, and two pairs of 100% Alpaca wool socks (which don’t fit me – Lu wins on that one!) The cashier, recognizing us as American tourists, gave us a free plastic bag (they normally sell for 10 cents) and a bag of loose tea. (Lu wins again!)

St. Lukas Lutheran Church

St. Lukas Lutheran Church has a beautiful view of the Isar River.

Isar River near St. Lukas Church

Pastor Helmut Gottschling not only gave us a tour of his church, he also gave us a brief history lesson. First he explained that the area where the church was built in 1896 was a relatively new neighborhood populated by well-to-do families. The area had its own mayor and council who insisted that a very large and impressive church must be built to reflect the prosperity of the community. That goal was most certainly achieved.

He then tried to put the age of his church in perspective. As I recall, it was the oldest Lutheran church in Munich, but only the third or fourth oldest church of any kind. The Roman Catholic churches had been there longer, but one church in particular no longer existed.

It seems that when Hitler and the Nazis came into power, the leaders of the Christian churches were supposed to fall into lock-step with the National Socialist party. The Bishop who occupied the oldest church in Munich – while not going out of his way to defend the Jews or question the tactics of Hitler – was not enthusiastic enough (in the eyes of the Nazis) about the New Christian movement of the Nazis. Therefore, Hitler had his church razed and built a large boulevard through the area the church had once occupied.

Another thing Helmut told us regarded St. Lukas. When the Allies began bombing Munich in World War II, the oldest churches in the city removed all their stained glass windows and put them in crates somewhere underground to protect them. St. Lukas was barely fifty years old at the time and saw no reason to take such action. While the church did not suffer any direct hits, the concussion of bombs exploding nearby shattered every window in the building. For years, the parishioners believed that was the extent of the damage. Then, about five years ago, a large stone (weighing almost a ton) fell from the side of the church and landed in a children’s playground. Fortunately, it was at night and nobody was in the area.

It was later determined that the stone that fell, as well as many others, had been loosened by the bombing a half century earlier. It cost over 4 million Euros to inspect and repair the entire outside of the structure.

Pews - as seen from the balcony of St. Lukas

Another very interesting thing we learned was that the architect who designed St. Lukas had previously designed a Jewish Synagogue (that was later destroyed by the Nazis), and that following the war, Jews who visited St. Lukas said they almost felt at home.

Evidently, prior to the Nazis’ attempts to eradicate the Jews, the Jews in Germany were making every effort to “fit in”. They abandoned their traditional garb, shaved their beards, and spoke German rather than Yiddish. Following the war, they realized such attempts were in vain and returned to their traditional ways.

A number of important facts came out of our discussion with the Pastor. First of all, the Treaty of Versailles almost ruined Germany forever. The demands of the Allies – both monetary and territorial – put a tremendous financial burden on a nation that had virtually no way to pay down the debt. The Weimer Republic, established in 1919, tried to overcome the difficulties by simply printing more money. This led to hyperinflation and people hauling around their paper money in wheelbarrows – trying to spend it before it became totally worthless. It wasn’t long before the citizens of Germany gave up hope of ever seeing their country return to its pre-war grandeur. That hopelessness opened the door for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who offered hope for a better tomorrow.

Many Germans were more than glad to hop on the bandwagon, while others stayed back and questioned the tactics and promises.

It wasn’t long before the German people were divided into two camps, and neither trusted the other. All too soon, those who were against Hitler were afraid to voice their opposition; they’d seen what had happened to others, and they were afraid to trust their long-time friends.

When World War II ended, there were still those who fully supported Hitler and some continue to do so. In the meantime, the new government banned the swastika and all other emblems of the Nazi Regime. It is only in the last decade or so that Germany has begun to turn their shame into a resolve to never let it happen again. Dachu and other concentration camps have become museums and people openly discuss the evils that had once plagued their country.

This discussion and insight was not what we expected in our tour, and I may be editorializing about more than actually transpired, but I believe I’m accurate in my estimation of the Germany of today. Now, getting back to other things we learned.

Pastor Helmut Gottschling told us his church has over 6,000 members and they were all preparing for a concert to be held on the evening of December 18th. That is why there were risers in front of the altar.

St. Lukas altar in preparation for the Christmas Concert

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stick around for the concert. Our schedule called for us to be in Nuremberg by then.

After thanking Helmut profusely for spending well over an hour with us, we returned to the tram stop and rode number 17 back to Karlsplatz. That returned us to the Pedestrian area in time to hear and see the Glockenspiel on the New City Hall.

The famous Glockenspiel

After examining some of the items for sale in the Christmas Market, we headed for the HaufBrau Haus – Munich’s most famous beer hall.

My bride and I at the HaufBrau Haus

Lu was especially interested in the oom-pah band.

A real German oom-pah band

I was more interested in the one-liter mugs of beer and king-sized pretzels.

Munich - My Kind of Town!

We ate lunch and made sure to savor their specialties. I had the Crisp roast knuckle of pork in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling, and Lu had the Roast pork from Bavarian production with crackling in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling. We had never tasted pork cooked either way and both were delicious. The dumplings were OK.

Surprisingly, neither Lu nor I took any photos of the Christmas Market booths. However, not to worry; we took pictures of Christmas Market booths in other cities. If you’ve seen one booth, you’ve seen them all!

Following lunch, we returned to the hotel for a while to warm up and set a spell. After a brief rest, we jumped on a tram headed out of the center city. We rode it to the end of the line when we were told we had to get off and catch a different tram back into the city.

What surprised me the most about that ride was that we saw far more apartment houses and condos than private homes. Perhaps that is true of every major city in the world. I just haven’t paid that much attention.

We were less than surprised when the “next” tram back into town was the same one we had just got off. I guess the conductor was just following proper protocol.

Later, in the late afternoon, we headed back to the market and grazed – I think. I’ll have to check with my bride. I don’t recall eating a meal in a restaurant.

There was one booth where they were frying potato pancakes. One man occasionally added lard to the griddle and then spooned out the batter in neat rows of eight or ten cakes along a four by two foot cooking surface. Another man would follow behind and turn four or six cakes at a time. As soon as he reached one end of the griddle, he’d return to the other end and start taking the cakes off and placing them on a grate which allowed some of the grease to drip off. The two men worked in harmony to keep the griddle constantly filled. In the meantime, a woman would place a wafer about the size of a graham cracker on a napkin and stack three cakes on it prior to adding the apple sauce. She immediately handed it to the next person in line.

I would’ve take a picture of this booth had I not been so impatient to get in line. I was lucky and was given four cakes instead of three. Lu began by just asking for a bite. She ate two of the cakes and I ate the other two. They were delicious.

By the way, for breakfast on this first, and only, full day in Munich, we found a coffee shop at the main train station that served wonderful pastries to go with our coffee and tea.

Later in the evening, we returned to the food booth at the entry of the Pedestrian zone.

Food booth by the skating rink

There we bought two bratwurst sandwiches and two bottles of water. Each sandwich had two wursts, and we had our choice of mild or spicy. Lu stuck to the mild; I had one of each. The big surprise was the deposit we were charged for the two plastic water bottles – 1 Euro apiece! We had about $2.75 tied up in empty plastic bottles. You can safely bet that we returned the empties and got our deposit back.

I should also mention that many booths in the Christmas Markets sold mulled wine and served it up in ceramic mugs. Those mugs carried a two and one-half Euro deposit. I’d say the Germans know how to get your attention when it comes to recycling. In fact, I don’t think we saw any sort of Styrofoam container during the entire trip.

We thoroughly enjoyed our “snack” as we watched ice skaters and a Zamboni on the rink behind the food stand.

By this time, a combination of a whole lot of walking and jet lag compelled us to call it a day. We took a couple more photos and returned to the hotel. The next day would have us taking the S-Bahn 8 back to the airport so we could catch the bus to the cruise ship waiting for us in Nuremberg.