Much “Achtung!” About Nothing. Episode 6

Is there anything to eat in Spargelzeit?

***

Two things to do in Frankfurt. What the hell is Spargel?

The importance of German rivers.

 

You handle Spargel like a woman: Grab it carefully by the head and gently stroke it underneath.

– Karl-Heinz Funke

“Kirschen rot, Spargel tot.” (Cherries red, Spargel dead.)

– Frankish farmers’ proverb.

I was hungry. I had subsisted on aeroplane food for the last 25 hours and I needed something with flavour, texture and nutrients.

The skies over Frankfurt were hazy and overcast, but the evening was warm, so I wound my way through the touristy and expensive Sachsenhausen district (not to be confused with the concentration camp of the same name), a sanitised and fanciful approximation of what Frankfurt’s medieval old town might have been like before it was bombed into dust during the Second World War.

The menus outside every restaurant touted something called Spargel, and there seemed to be very little else on offer. Spargel with potatoes. Spargel with ham. Spargel this way and Spargel that way. Chalkboards proclaimed joyfully that it was now Spargel time. Finally, Spargeltime is here! We have the freshest Spargel! We have the biggest Spargel! We have the best Spargel! We have German Spargel! Spargel, Spargel, Spargel. What the hell was Spargel? Was Spargel all they ate in this country?

Judging by the prices they were asking, I figured it must be some kind of a small bird, some kind of brightly coloured finch perhaps? Or maybe, from the sound of the name, perhaps a swallow or a sparrow? Spargel, no matter how it was cooked or what it came with, was priced way out of my league; so I delayed my Spargel-eating experience and walked on in search of less exotic meats.

On that first night, the bar for Germany’s culinary delights was set pretty high.

Eventually I crossed a major road and found myself in an area which seemed a lot less likely to feature on postcards and travel brochures.

Beneath a Lebanese flag painted on a wall, there was a hole. It was, literally, a hole in the wall, no bigger than a serving hatch, but the aroma wafting into the street was incredible. I love middle-eastern food, and when I peered in at the ingredients I figured I was in luck. Everything looked hand made, authentic and fresh, and when I bit into that lamb shawarma with tabouleh, baba ganoush and extra lifid I wasn’t disappointed. The cook asked where I was from and when I told him Sydney, he told me he had cousins there and that one day he would visit them.

The German-speaking world has had a long love affair with real Turkish coffee

Around another corner there was real Turkish coffee with real Turkish delight, the stuff that’s made from rose-petals and dusted in fine icing sugar, which almost melts away in your mouth without needing to be chewed. On that first night, the bar for Germany’s culinary delights was set pretty high.

Back at the hostel I was unpacking when my roommate Fritz introduced himself and suggested we go somewhere for a beer. Fritz was a young guy from Bayreuth in Bavaria (home of the opera house that was purpose-built for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas), in Frankfurt for job interviews at some of the major banking houses. So off we went to hit a couple of the beer gardens of the rowing clubs on the banks of the Main. After sampling Frankfurt’s international fare earlier in the evening, it seemed like the polite thing to do to sample a few half litre mugs of various German beer varieties in the long spring twilight on the riverbank.

Munching on some excellent potato salad and salty dill gherkins, we watched the cargo barges chugging up and down the river. Fritz told me that in Germany the rivers were still major freight routes, that the “Binnenschiffe”, (meaning interior ships, i.e. ships that ply inland waterways) move around 240 million tons of freight a year, accounting for about 10 per cent of total freight on the move through Germany. His conversation was not as dry as it sounds.

As the daylight slowly dimmed, the fairy-lights in the beer garden twinkled on and the tipsy pensioners drained their mugs, wiped their mouths on large linen napkins and rose slowly from their evening meals to totter off home. We meandered back to the hostel and Fritz talked knowledgeably about Bavaria’s women and the hot wind, the Alpenföhn, that makes them crazy in the summer. Good food from all over the world, friendly people, tasty beer, crazy women… my enthusiasm for this Germany venture was growing. I had a train to catch in the morning, so I set my alarm and dreamed of women in horned helmets being driven wild by the Alpenföhn as they dined on tiny birds, roasted alive over hot coals.

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