Deutschland Unter Alles

Note: The views expressed herein, and any attendant anti-German sentiments, are the sole responsibility of the Germans for being German. Gojira takes no responsibility for the following commentary even though she totally wrote it.

So. I have never been particularly fond of Germany or Germans. I appreciate their efficiency and organization (the transportation system in particular), but I don’t appreciate their sacrifice of independent thought for said efficiency and their inability to absorb any deviation from their established schemes. I don’t care for the language; I don’t like how loud they are; I don’t know why they all wear eyeglasses; most of all, I don’t like that they eat cake for breakfast.

The reason for my trip was a visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair; I tacked on a few days in Berlin as a consolation prize, because who goes to Frankfurt voluntarily? By the way, the Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 advertised itself via this gentleman at right. Does he make you want to read? He makes me want to eat cheese.

I arrived in Frankfurt around 8am on a Tuesday and was at my hotel well before 9am. Check-in was a bizarrely late 3pm and yes, they would let me check in early for the bargain price of 50 euros. Minus 50 europoints for Germany. Markups during the book fair are outrageous. You could now stay at the Mark Hotel for $90 per night; I paid $250 a night. I have never before spent even close to half that on a hotel and certainly not on one that doesn’t let me check in early, doesn’t provide a hair dryer or any toiletries and has janky wi-fi. Minus 160 europoints. Times four.

Lots of restaurants and hotels in Germany do have wi-fi; however, in most places said wi-fi is fiercely protected by a code. Of course, anyone can have the code, if they ask for it, thus making a code unnecessary. On a good day, I resent having to talk to strangers. On a day in Germany, which is never a good day, it makes me irate. At my hotel, the code changed every 48 hours, was valid for 24 hours of use during those 48 hours, and had to be re-entered every single time you used the Internet. Shall we say minus 24 europoints?

The food in Frankfurt was foul and the above is just about all I ate for the four days I was there.

Travel tip: Everywhere in Germany, a cappuccino is cheaper than a milchkaffee (café au lait). The reason is that the cappuccinos are gross.

On the left are quarkinis, doughnut-like creatures which I think may be Dutch in origin (pretty tasty). On the right: let’s not even talk about it.

I saw quite a few tourist groups during that long, six-hour morning spent wandering the streets waiting to be able to check in to my hotel. I looked at them quizzically and they looked back quizzically, because I was the only person in the city not wearing black, navy blue or gray.

Every day I came back from the fair around 6pm, determined that I would relax for a bit and then head out for dinner around 7, and instead fell asleep immediately and woke up at midnight. I did this for four days. I kept telling myself that it would be better to hang around outside for a bit before dinner since I couldn’t stay awake inside, but I just couldn’t stomach the excess time spent in the Frankfurt air. So I opted to starve myself half to death and surf the web. I still remember the first code: MFfLNXvF. Imagine how many times I had to type it in.

Things seemed like they might be going right on Saturday, when I arrived in Berlin. It looked like a city. It had buildings, nice ones (in fact, it looks a lot like Paris, only with Germans in it, which, well, you know). I was staying in Mitte at the lovely and exquisitely located Artist Riverside Hotel and Spa, which  cost 45 to 65 euros a night (depending on the day of the week) and contained a hair dryer. Did you hear that, Frankfurt? (I am not usually prissy about such things, but I went to Frankfurt on business and had 15 meetings with people I’d never met before, and it is hard to look presentable when you have bangs and no hair dryer.) My friend C had recommended a restaurant in the area, Sophie ‘n Eck, at which to have schnitzel so I dutifully ate the above. The potatoes were fantastic, the beer was delicious, and the schnitzel  was good but (travesty alert!): I actually like the one at Loreley on the Lower East Side better.

The next day things got even better. I had googled “Berlin breakfast” and Google had dutifully answered: Zuckerfee. The Sugarplum Fairy. Off I went, perhaps to Prenzlauer Berg, who cares, to have the Sugarplum Fairy Breakfast.

This is in my top five all-time best breakfasts. And the coffee is my all-time, number 1 best-ever café au lait. But I don’t know if that’s because I had eaten and drunk nothing but foulness for four days. The breakfast came with scrambled eggs, American-style bacon, potatoes, pfannkuchen (pancakes; actually, Berliners use the term pfannkuchen to refer to what the rest of the country calls “Berliners,” which are jam-filled doughnuts), toast, delightful blueberries in their juice as a topping for the pfannkuchen and the toast, and superdelicious fresh fruit, including some massively tasty pineapple. The whole thing was a dream and the waitstaff was friendly. How novel. Berlin and I peaked early; two hours later we would be broken up and we would never speak to each other again. I guess this is why they say you should never eat schnitzel on the first date.

After breakfast, I went to Mauerpark (Wall Park), where I managed not to see any bits of the wall (something I continued to do successfully throughout my trip), and to the fleamarket there. In short order, I had bought a dress and some ankle boots and given directions to three different Germans. (Because the wild-eyed crazy-print-wearing fairly incoherent woman waving around fistfuls of maps seems like the right person to ask. The best part is that they all dutifully headed in the directions I indicated.)

And then just like that I was over Berlin.

Blah blah, Brandenburg Gate. Whatever.

For Baji. Their spring rolls weren’t so great. They may be Asian, but they are still German.

Dinner on day 2 or was it day 3? Who cares, I was still in Germany. The beer was a gross misfire. When I poured it out after two sips, it was GREEN. I googled to find out what I had drunk and here are some choice quotes from reviewers:

“Chemical aroma of glue and marzipan.”
“All about this beer is wrong, glad to have tasted such an awkward beer though.”
“Sweet soda herbish unpleasant flavour… baaaaa!”

Couldn’t agree more. And am pretty sure that last reviewer was an actual sheep. The quiche was filled with onions, which is a ridiculous crime to perpetrate on an otherwise perfectly good quiche.

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when my family lived in Germany: red currants and vanilla pudding. Another early childhood memory is also from our time in Germany: a balcony, a chick from inside a Kinderschokolade just out of reach, frustration. I re-created the currants and pudding to perfection. Separately, they were both unappealing, the currants too sour, the pudding too sweet. Together: delight. I didn’t have a spoon so I had to use madeleines (see below), which kept breaking. I bought a different brand of Erdnuss (peanut) chips every day; all forms were good, even the generic brand. I found these amazing mini bottles of Sekt (German version of Prosecco). 1.19 euros each! Delicious and perfect for a one-person aperitif. I brought back eight, each one stuffed into a sock or a pair of tights to guard against breakage. When I got home and opened my bag, there was a note saying that my baggage had been inspected due to suspicious contents. Sock-shaped missiles perhaps? Okay, Germany, plus 9.52 europoints for you.

I couldn’t not buy the German version of InTouch. First of all, when reading it I suddenly become fluent in German (“Christina Aguilera hatte Sex mit Frauen!”, “Auch Stars sind total normal!”). Second, that cover! It’s actually from the present day! Not 1984! It’s amazing. Did I mention that Germans have the worst style? They do. What else? The madeleines were pretty crappy,  but they were French so discredit where discredit is due. More Sekt, yum. The liverwurst! A wonder. Tip: When purchasing liverwurst, look for the most artificial-looking one you can find. The smoother and more Pepto-Bismol pink it is, the more delicious. You don’t want anything that looks like it could occur in nature. I hadn’t noticed that the salami was labeled “fit,” which meant that it was in some way salutary and therefore: foul. Tossed, along with the madeleines. There’s also a new kind of potato chip back there (I was tiring of Erdnuss) that wasn’t great, but I finished the bag.

At some point I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet’s guide to Berlin (I love LP, but their city guides are pretty much always bad, so I knew to steer clear of almost everything, and since I wanted to steer clear of everything in Germany anyway, I suppose it was quite useful). There I learned that sometimes a little German is worse than none at all, as my brash overconfidence in thinking that tartufo were mushrooms and Jakobsmuscheln were mussels from some place called Jakob resulted in truffles and scallops, tolerable but not my favorites. (Two things are off about my logic: One, tartufo is clearly an Italian word, not a German word, and two, what else could it mean but truffle?) During dinner, the couple next to me (French) debated which of them was the louder snorer. At some other point, I rented a bike for an hour, grew bored, decided it was about time to return it only to look at the time and see that exactly 13 minutes had passed. So I went to track down red currants instead. When I emerged from the grocery store, I saw that I had successfully locked the bicycle lock to the bike rack. The bicycle itself remained available for the taking. At about the 50-minute mark, I returned the bicycle, practically throwing it down the stairs (STAIRS! in and out of a bike-rental shop!). At another point, I went to an Austrian place for dinner and when the waiter tried to remove the plate of the man next to me, he (German) barked: “Nein!”

Those, my friends, were the highlights.

This picture is terrible, but it had to be taken: Christ, the leather-goods company, next to Mephisto, the shoe company? C’mon.

My child army of Sekt, pre-packing. In a shop I found this sticker card that perfectly sums up my feelings about Germany. Note that I am not the one who manufactured this, Germany is. It’s okay—they know!

Child army of Sekt at home: “Hallo! Vee ahr zo happee to lif mit our Chinese bruders und schwesters! Viva Amerika!” Well said, child army, well said.

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6 responses to “Deutschland Unter Alles

  1. Awe-some. I’ve been feeling guilty about not going to Berlin, since it’s all the rage (or it was until I started considering going there), and now I am deeply relieved. Liverwurst-purchasing tips appreciated!

  2. Berlin appears to be the new Buenos Aires. All the Williamsburg hipsters are moving there, which seems to work out nicely for everyone.

  3. oh, i missed ye.
    re: “On a good day, I resent having to talk to strangers.” – that’s why we are soulmates

    re: “schnitzel” – whenever tp is cooking something that i don’t immediately recognize and i ask him what it is, the response is usually “schnitzel” which makes me imagine that you are eating anything from stew to soba noodles.

    re: “Sugarplum Fairy Breakfast” – aye, for the name alone!

    re: “given directions to three different Germans” – so the tradition of natives asking you for directions is upheld.

    re: “madeleines were pretty crappy” – i had them in barca and again in dc and i think they are not good anywhere. i’m sticking to croissants and pound cake.

    re: ‘he (German) barked: “Nein!”’ – mexcellent.

    re: last batch of pix and commentary – tee hee.

  4. You should ask TP to make you cod schnitzel. It’s delicious.

  5. Yeah, I blame Proust for the whole madeline debacle. Nothing can live up to that kind of buildup.

  6. never read proust. i ain’t got the same kinda book-lurnin’ you do, ms. fancy pants.

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