Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trip: Two (German Breakfasts, Captain Beefheart, Green Sauce Addiction)

Despite our best-laid plans to rise early and grab each day of the trip by the tender bits, we slept. And slept. And kept sleeping. By the time we arose, Lydia had laid out a hotel-worthy spread on the small kitchen table. I felt like the rock star that I never was. This was also the beginning of our month-long love affair with German, and Continental breakfasts.

(Continental as in, the Continent of Europe. Not "Continental" as in rising from your faded mauve bedspread in an anonymous Interstate hotel that's more Soviet bloc than 'Merican, padding down the taupe staircase to a small room blaring ticker-tape talking-head news-babble, to hotplates filled with unripened melon, brown-and-serve mystery links, and waffle batter that is the consistency of a loogie. And to think I used to love staying in hotels.)

The base of the German breakfast is, of course, bread. But not an CO2-aerated loaf of fluff; no. In this case, small rolls known as "brötchen", literally, "little bread." Topped with sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or thoroughly burnished pumpernickel, they are baked each morning and best fresh (although later they become delightfully crusty).

At approximately 11:30 in this photo; notice the spread of five spreads.
Homemade banana jam; Nutella (of course); a marzipan spread (my new drug); a second homemade jam; and peanut butter (I think). Yowza.

Atop the bread, use one of the above spreads, or cold cuts and cheese. Or spreadable cheese—a magical substance tough to find on this side of the pond, plain or flavored with herbs or seasoning. Later in our journey I would discover quark, a soft, spreadable-yet-agreeably-sour cheese whose closest relative would be cream/neufchatel. Except quark is clearly the wealthy, sexy relative in this family tree.

Eggs are soft-boiled, and served in a little egg-holder. Amelia immediately found these adorable—though I don't think any have turned up in our house yet. The Germans we were around cracked off the top piece (okay, they scalped their egg), seasoning as they ate the egg out of the shell-as-vessel. Handy, and a hell of a lot easier & less messy than peeling. And Lydia had fresh fruit. And yogurt. And clementines. And juice. And coffee. How did we make it out of the house again?

After post-breakfast lazing, we finally coffee-d up enough to hop a quick train back to Frankfurt, where the day & sky became increasingly gray. We headed for the Museum für Kunsthandwerk (Museum for Handicrafts...basically), which had some large historical book-art exhibits. Lydia (studying rare books) hadn't made it yet, and as I'd recently left the library, and Amelia knows some bookbinding, we had to go. Housed in a modern, white-and-large-windowed building with slowly sloping lamps and open display rooms, we picked through a large room full of small-run books you could handle. A personal highlight was a book of Beefheart poems & lyrics alongside his paintings.

("The dust blows forward 'n dust blows back /
And the wind blows black thru the sky /
And the smokestack blows up in suns eye")
Captain Beefheart, "The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back" from Trout Mask Replica

(Amelia & Lydia in front of yellow Forsythia. The Main River runs through the background. I think we'd just eaten, hunched over on a blustery riverside bench, an amazing couscous salad, and beet salad, and marzipan roll, all from a convenience store in the train station. Beats snapping into a Slim Jim.)

After snagging some quick looks at some amazing graphic Japanese advertising, and funky furniture from the 60s and 70s, we headed out just before closing, walking along the Main till we crossed on the Altë Brucke, which was covered in clumps of cheaply-inscribed padlocks bearing pithy love claims. We continued walking and sight-gazing all around the reconstructed Altstadt (rebuilt after the war to look "old", as very few buildings survived).

(Frankfurt am Main. I told you it was gray. I also failed to read my phone's instructions, and thus took VGA-quality pictures for the entirety of the trip. I have no excuse for my pathetic lack of preparation.)

Of course we peeked in the wonderful red sandstone Frankfurt Dom, saw some cool modern architecture in a block full of townhouses, had our minds blown by the seemingly endless parade of pedestrian-friendly/only zones, saw a mall with a hole through the roof (take that, Circle Center), viewed the skyline from a 6th floor rooftop pedestal full of French teens...and then, finally were starving enough to seek out a meat-filled German dinner.

(On the way up to the viewing pedestal, we scooted via escalator past various women's clothing joints who featured, in various states of weathering, faded coloration, and creatively cut; shirts/vests/swimsuits/pants made out of or containing the American flag. Odd. This wouldn't be the last time I was confused by German fashion choices.)

Just off a main shopping artery, we curled down a staircase to Apfelwein Klaus, a Frankfurt traditional German restaurant featuring the regional specialty...Apfelwein. The dimly-chandeliered, rustic-cellar of a room had long wooden tables with benches on either side, and coat hooks lining the stone walls. I was into the idea before we even sat down to peruse the meat-heavy menu. Since the ladies were set on varieties of Schnitzel, I had to be the odd-one-out and ordered Tafelspitz, which turned out to be an enormous, simmered hunk of tri-tip beef. It was drowning in another regional specialty, which I would soon worship at the altar of: Grüne Soße. A beautiful, light-but-creamy medley of hardboiled-egg, vinegar, oil, and seven heavenly herbs, I believe I threatened (and not idly) to bathe in the stuff.

(The worst picture of a meal. Ever. I didn't want to give myself away as a tourist by using a flash. Even though I dumbly looked up when the waitress asked me a simple question. Two schnitzels in the background, Tafelspitz in the foreground, sidled by a bowl of Grüne Soße that I gamely tried to finish by dipping any leftover meat scraps in. And possibly eating with a spoon. Freak.)

The Apfelwein was much drier than any American version would be---almost like a sour-edged, punchy cider. We emerged from the meat-booze cellar into the freshly-minted night air, and strode around to clear heads and eyes. We found our way into a train station just opposite the opera house, and rode back to Mainz. I bought a bottle of beer at the station to accompany our walk back to the apartment. Lydia's roommates Till, Nanette, and Johannes were all hanging out at the kitchen table, and lured by Johannes's very kind offer of more beer, we/I stayed up until the wee hours talking politics, jobs, gas prices, the word "fuck", hitchhiking, airports, and more.

(Frankfurt's opera house at night. I believe kids were skateboarding on its steps during the late afternoon, while around the side of the building, rich folk walked down a red carpet to a fancy bistro. These two things seem to co-exist peacefully, another attribute of the ability to live with people that seemed so prevalent throughout our jaunt. As Americans, it seems like we're always trying to get away, to not hear our neighbors, to erect a fence or buy land out in the boonies...)

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