A Gluttonous Goodbye

One general rule of thumb that has served me well over the past few years, is there is no better way to farewell a place, than an eating tour. Take a week, or a weekend (or if you live in some sort of culinary paradise, space it out over a fortnight) and perform a solid, dedicated round-up of your favourite restaurants. Here, we have approximately three favourite restaurants; a Ratskeller, a ridiculous Bavarian novelty restaurant, and a Greek. Two have featured on our (modest) farewell eating tour.

It is my belief – and what are we without our beliefs – that wherever you live, it is wise to have a good local Greek restaurant. We sussed a Greek place out down here pretty early on, and to be honest it has been one of the top Greek restaurants I’ve come across in my time here. In Germany, or certainly the places I have lived, I have come to discover most Greek restaurants have been, justifiably, Germanised. This means cheese. The gigantic gyros plates come smothered in cheese and baked. Submerged in the cheese, there are an absurd amount of fries, and on the side, the ubiquitous Weißkrautsalat features often. But forget about the giant gyros teller, as weirdly delicious as it may seem, and machen mezze. You can always tell the mettle of your local Greek by its tzatziki and taramasalata, and Weiden Pallas serves a mean taramas.

Another local one must have, particularly if you live in Germany, is a good schnitzel joint. This is generally easily achieved if you live in a southern state beginning with B. During our time here, we’ve had two excellent schnitzel houses within reach; the local Ratskeller which has a schnitzel menu the precise length of an A4 page (and apparently serves a Haxe worth raving about) and the world’s weirdest restaurant, Schinderhannes, which is in a very small village about twenty minutes drive from here.

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Named for Schinderhannes himself, one of Germany’s most famed outlaws, the restaurant is usually jam-packed by 5pm by an assortment of Oberpfälzers and American military families, all sitting down to immense portions, watched over by a touch of taxidermy and other various bits of eccentric/Bavarian decor. You can’t book a table, so you either have to be there on the dot of 5, or be prepared to share with someone.

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Here, a half litre of Helles beer, goes for 2€. A giant currywurst and pommes will set you back 2.90€. Some part of the pig with a basketball sized Knödel and boat of sauce, bread and cheese, half a chicken, mountains of fries or great ladles of Kartoffelsalat … none of it soars above 10€. Why, just last night I believe a sour pig’s heart was going for around 4€, a Saturday night special. The expansive menu is a riot of unintelligible Bayerisch, enough to bring on feelings of flailing around in a sudden and terrifying fugue state.

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But the real star of the show is the Schinderhannes crumbed schnitzel. It comes falling off the plate, pushed off by a tidy pile of crinkle cut chips or a (generous) dollop of Kartoffelsalat, and a completely redundant slice of decorative capsicum. Preceding its arrival, is a small bowl of cucumber and Weißkrautsalat, a polite nod to health. But it’s fooling no one.

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And then, bäm. Schnitzel.

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Bäm. Beer.

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And the sensation you will never eat, or breathe properly, again.

Of Corners & Vulnerable Apartments

It’s funny what suddenly clicks when a place you have been wanting to leave, becomes a place you will leave very soon. It’s as if, up until that moment, you weren’t quite permitted to feel too much affection for it, so focused were you on getting out of it. Now that I know we’re getting out, this apartment, this home, feels strangely vulnerable, like I need to give it a hug and assure it that we did love it, we do, even though we’re packing it up and doing all we can to leave it.

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Our apartment looks particularly vulnerable at the moment, stripped of its paintings and posters, the shelves completely – and somewhat embarrassed about it – empty, standing there apologetically. The fresh white paint is so white, and the moving boxes are their usual ugly and bottomless selves. Do you always pack them and then think, ‘everything I own cannot possibly be in those boxes …’ at the same time as thinking, ‘surely I don’t need or use all of this stuff.’?

We’ll never live here again – and I can say that with the confidence of living with a north German who will do everything in his power to never live in the south again. And, while this has been an important and significant experience for me in my own German adventure, I won’t be living here again out of choice either. It is a beautiful, historical corner of the world, Bavaria, but it isn’t my corner. I know that now.

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I’m not sure what I’ll miss about living down here – yet. I’ll probably manage to gather a whole list of things as we drive out of here in just a week’s time. And if it isn’t things I miss about this place, that will jolt some sort of thought, it will be the very real knowledge that this time of my life that is coming to a close, in due time for what lies ahead. A lot happened down here, for me, for us, it is a period of time that holds an awful lot of memories and this place, for all the faults we found with it, has kept them all safe and sound, even when we were struggling with living here, even when we were planning to leave. This place, as a name, represents something bigger than our actual affection for it, which is a curious thing.

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So we’ll keep packing up our naked little flat, keep moving towards getting out of here. And these funny little things will keep clicking as the days count down to leaving this corner of the country.

 

Spring Cleaning

It is the most glorious weather. 15 degrees (sixteen some days!) sunny, blue skies. The park’s grass is green and gold and purple and white, all the bulbs arriving early after a mild winter and what seems like an early spring. Strawberries are in the supermarkets, half a kilo for 99c. Strawberries always mean good things in this part of the world. Although I am always cautious to celebrate good weather in March, because after March comes April and as we all know, April, April macht was er will (April, does what it wants). And last year it snowed in April. So, you know, low hopes can’t be dashed.

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Yesterday we went into town, along with the rest of Weiden, to do as the Germans do and flood the cafes’ outdoor seating (and ice cream shops – the queues were enormous). The sun was warm, too warm for jackets, yet all the Germans sat comfortably in their big winter coats and scarves, as if they knew something about the weather we didn’t, that snow was going to fall any second. I was daring and slipped my jacket off, exposing my clavicle. Exposed clavicles and ankles in months that are not May-September, warrants stares, and I received a few from swaddled fellow patrons. It was the only thing stopping me taking my cardigan off and going the whole hog with bare arms.

Strawberries = strawberry, banana and oat bread.
Strawberries = strawberry, banana and oat bread.

The weather is perfect for the change that is in the air in our household. It’s official. Our days as citizens of Bavaria are officially numbered. We’re out of here in three weeks, bound for the Baltic Sea, for SG’s hometown and my own version of a ‘hometown’ in Germany; Kiel. There’s a lot to do, like spring clean our ridiculous cellar, in which someone could be comfortably living right now without our knowing, so full is it of clothes, defunct appliances, unnecessary appliances, linen, a mattress. We need to sell a few things, pack up the rest, get a moving company quote (and compare it with the other possibility Drive an Enormous Truck Across the Country, which we’ve done before) paint the walls. There’s an apartment to be found in Kiel, and the general paperwork that comes with relocating states.

So things down here are, finally, and rather quickly wrapping up and winding up, pushing us closer and closer towards what’s next. In the past, we’ve always gone into new ‘chapters’, for lack of a less cliched word, with a known time frame. Not this time. We’re bound for the north not knowing how long we’ll be there for, only knowing it’s for as long as we’d like – and that’s actually as comforting as it is exciting.

 

The Satisfying Things About Coming Home

I love coming home after a long trip away. Love it. Love greeting the apartment, sorting through the mail, even though most of it is bills, bills, bills. Sometimes there’s a lovely surprise in there, like a postcard from afar, or a little package.

Six weeks in Australia both felt like six years, and six days. Time did its funny little compression/elongation trick, and then blew us out of the water with a hellish, time-travel-esque trip back home. We walked in through our front door, 36 hours on the dot after walking out of the one in Sydney. Grimy, greasy, lugging 90kg of luggage (I had a few books to bring over from Sydney …) and glad to be home.

And after 12 hours sleep, it means I am refreshed and ready to enjoy …

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The Satisfying Things About Coming Home

Opening all the windows and lighting candles.

A good grocery shop that replenishes the empty fridge and sad looking shelves, yields a bunch of fresh flowers, and fills the fruit bowl.

A hot shower in your own bathroom, after 36 hours of travelling, with your own clean towels in reach.

Bed. Your own bed, with its pillow and sheets waiting to welcome you back in.

Wifi. Constant, fast, open-a-million-tabs-at-once wifi.

Making a pot of tea and sitting down to catch up, entirely, to gorge on the Internet.

Doing laundry. I love it. I love sorting out the suitcases of clothes, running the cycles with military precision, and pulling out loads of clean, familiar-smelling laundry.

Cooking.

Writing an enormous To Do list, with plenty of space for smug ticking.

Finding the space on the couch that may or may not dip slightly, because it’s your space and terrifically comfortable.

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Spring is just around the corner, as is our move up north. Plenty of change is in the air, and it’s making me sneeze. It’s good to be back.

To the Sea

We’re moving again. The Bavarian chapter is coming to a close, and we’re heading back up north. We don’t know exactly when, but it will be soon after returning from Australia, and just over two years since we moved here in 2012. How was 2012 two years ago? Isn’t it still 2012? How old am I?

Wie die Zeit vergeht. 

Bavaria, particularly the little pocket of it we have inhabited, has played a really important part in all of this, this being the German Adventure (for lack of a better, catchier name). To be perfectly frank, it hasn’t been somewhere we have adored living, indeed it was a transition the both of us found very difficult, culturally, socially, personally. But we drew a lot from our time here, of that I am certain. I feel that, had I not been given the chance to live here, my perceptions of this country and its people would be, naturally, narrower. I certainly wouldn’t know as much about bloody dialects and beer as I do now. As it stands, Weiden in der Oberpfalz offered an entirely different experience to the one I had in Münster, and was on the other end of the comparison scale when it came to life up in Kiel. If I had stuck to the north and the ‘mid-west’ of Germany, I wouldn’t have learnt as much as I have about the country I live in. I would likely have a different understanding of Germany as a whole (which is a very difficult picture to get a hold of, this country is so proudly regional, its people so very much connected to their patches of home).

And, of course, I have also learnt an awful lot about myself, living here. The places we set up camp in, for however long, reveal things about us, about our needs and wants. I will always remember someone telling me each place you live in, peels away a layer, shows you something different about yourself. What you can do, and indeed what you can’t. What you want from a home, what you don’t. What you need in life, in order to find your balance and purpose. As I move through this life, I’m finding the relationships with places are like the ones we have with people. Weiden hasn’t been perfect, at times it has been downright difficult, but it has been important. I will always believe that.

For me, Kiel feels like home here in Germany. I get Kiel and it gets me. It has been like that from the beginning, when I first caught a train up there to meet SG’s home town and Kiel and I connected in the freezing Baltic air. I feel right there, I feel good. I like the northerners, their openness and directness. I like the summers of beaches and strawberries stands everywhere you look. There is a freshness to Kiel, an openness – there’s that word again. I don’t feel contained, hemmed in, like I do down here. As I have learnt, I am not one for landlocked towns, for mountains and hills and lakes. I am one for the sea, and there I have it. Where I have the sea, everything is okay.

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Shall do.

Slide

It has been a quiet, mild slide into the new year. In fact, it has been a very mild winter. 2014 has opened with 5 degree days, nights only falling to 0. There isn’t a snowflake in sight, hasn’t been since those few days in early December that were entirely white. Some days, there’s even a little sunshine. And it isn’t dark at 4.30pm anymore, nope, we’ve turned that corner. Now we have light until at least ten to five. Those twenty minutes make a big difference, you know, when you’re a hater of all things winter, like I am. And I have tried hard with this winter. I thought we could, perhaps, change our relationship, come to a better agreement. But it’s still very bad, I am sorry to report, horribly strained and cold. We deliberately misunderstand each other, and ascribe terrible characteristics to one another, that other people can’t even see. I don’t think we’ll ever get on, really. But that’s okay. You cannot love everything, nor be loved by all.

This time last year, I was in Australia. And on that side of the globe, I love this time of year. It isn’t persistently grey and cold and dark, the people curmudgeonly because the weather is wearing thin and the bubble of Christmas popped. It’s warm and light and relaxed. People are satiated by the overlapping celebrations of Christmas and Boxing Day and NYE. Half of Sydney has scampered off on a quick beach holiday. We’re still eating leftover Christmas ham and cheese toasties for lunch. The cricket’s on, so’s the tennis, constantly, even when nobody’s in the room. Our feet have forgotten what real shoes actually feel like.

The first few days of the new year, indeed the first month of the new year at home, has a completely different feel. And it is, to be honest, usually the month where I miss Australia the most. Any other time of year, I am quite content with life in Germany. Spring here is truly something. Summers up north are beachy and chilled. Autumn is remarkably pleasant. But in January, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be, than down under.

We have been holing up down here in Bavaria, bracing for 2014. Something tells me it is going to be a big one, bigger than usual anyway, so I don’t mind having a quiet slide into this year as we count down to jetting out of Frankfurt and into Melbourne. Count down to six weeks in New Zealand and Australia, to weddings, the Australian Open, an NZ road trip, BBQs with friends and family, my birthday. We’re catching up on movies we missed in 2013 and TV series, eating as many vegetables as we can, because few pass one’s lips during the German festive season, and going for walks like an old couple (only without matching Jack Wolfskin jackets).

Things won’t stay quiet for long, so we may as well enjoy it while we can.

The Griswalds are Back

The last time my parents were in Germany, it was December 2010, and I had just moved to Münster. I had also managed to come down with some sort of ‘mono thing’, possibly as a result of working something like 70 days on the trot, in a bar, serving inebriated tourists until 3am, over the course of one very long, very hot Greek summer.

That funny little tomato you see, is a ntomatini, native to Santorini. It tastes like the sun.
That funny little tomato you see, is a ntomatini, native to Santorini. It tastes like the sun.

It began snowing in Münster, in 2010, on the last day of November. No on quite knew what to do, least of all me. For the first week, I was utterly enchanted, rushing to the window every time I saw the stuff fall. Then one cold evening after work, I got off the bus, put a touch too much weight on my leading foot, slid a metre or so on the ice and came to a crashing halt on my bottom. Enchantment over.

Meanwhile, over in France, where my parents were holidaying before coming to visit me in Germany, my father was doing the precise same thing; skating along the ice in his smooth-soled shoes, and coming to an abrupt halt on his own bottom. I do believe his enchantment with the notion of a winter wonderland ended somewhere around then as well.

But there was more snow to come. By the time my parents blew into Münster, it was covered. Schneebedeckt. We had our first white Christmas, the post-fondue walk occurring knee deep in snow, because the Münster council hadn’t acted quickly enough after the first snow dump and it all just piled on from there. My mother was getting about in some ridiculous coat that could have kept her warm in the depths of Siberia, my father was clomping along in brand new snow boots he had had to purchase after his smooth soled shoes had betrayed him in France, and my sister was trying to push me into the snow (she ultimately fell in herself to make a snow angel, and couldn’t get out.)

The Australian Griswalds had taken on the snow and it wasn’t pretty.

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Ultimately, the snow defeated my father. Late one night, unbeknownst to my mother, he changed their flights home, meaning they skipped the planned Dresden and Leipzig visits (I had heard him asking many people ‘will it be like this in Dresden’ and blanching when the response was ‘probably worse’) and flew back to Sydney two weeks early. It was one of his better dummy spits.

Now my parents are back. They’re in Munich as we speak. Presumably, so are Dad’s once-worn snow boots. They’ve never witnessed a Bavarian winter. It is supposed to sink to -17 overnight, soon, and when I told my Dad that, he casually said ‘oh, again?’ as if his experience of Münster’s -2 will be comparable. And I woke up this morning to this:

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Mum and Dad … you ready?