Tuesday, October 2, 2012

German Hospitality and the Wurst Way to Get a Hot Dog

Beer and brats at a Saturday volkfest in Frankfurt.

Our European adventure began like all other modern transglobal expeditions – at the airport. With a six hour flight to New York followed by a nine hour red-eye to Frankfurt, Kip thought it would be cool to spend our four-hour layover running into the city to see the 911 Memorial. I was craving a NYC street  hotdog, so I set aside my concerns and decided to go for it. It was a fun idea to race around train stations and the subway, but by the time we got to the 911 Memorial we discovered we need a timed ticket to go inside and it was already time to head back to the airport. We found our hot dog and barely made it back to Kennedy as the last passengers were boarding the plane. And maybe that is why my luggage went to Paris instead of Frankfurt.

On the quest for a NYC street hot dog. What were we thinking?

So much for a hot dog,

I should have known we were headed to the very birthplace of sausaged meat.

When we got to Frankfurt Saturday morning we immediately checked into a chic cheap hotel with a recycled jeans theme and took a jet lag nap. We woke up hungry and disoriented and decided to take the advice of the German travel guide I picked up at the library before we left and we headed out to find the Saturday farmers market.

We walked a mile or so through Frankfurt and found the most delightful farmers’ market I have ever seen. Fall was in full swing and there were stands of local apples and squash and everything you would expect to see on a fall table. Frankfurt is famous for its Apfelwein, a cross between apple cider and weak beer, so several vendors were selling wine glasses of the yellow stuff. I tried to use a little German to order and was reminded that Germans count “one” on their thumbs so holding up an index finger and saying “I’d like one,” is likely to produce confused looks from the server and two glasses. With the help of a couple English speaking students we managed to get one glass to share.

The real treat at this mini Oktoberfest was a mobile restaurant serving up plates of sauerkraut, bratwursts, pork, fried potatoes and everything else characteristically German. Everything was heated over gigantic cast iron frying pans and handed to customers on real ceramic plates which they expected patrons to return for a one Euro deposit.

We got steaming plates of food and found a place at a crowded picnic table. Having read that it was acceptable etiquette to ask if you could join a table, we found a friendly couple and joined their conversation. They had lived in America, spoke perfect English and were delighted to include us. The husband who was a proud Bavarian told us all about that area of Germany. He was wearing the traditional Bavarian coat and had just come from Munich for the opening of Oktoberfest there. When we got ready to leave they invited us to join them later that evening for dinner with the rest of their family.
Tired and jet lagged but happy

Sharing food and stories with our new friends. The "grandmas" were the best. They laughed the entire meal. I have no idea what the jokes were about, but they seemed to be enjoying their beer too.

We took our new friends up on their offer and had one of the richest cultural experiences a tourist can find. The crowded restaurant was a traditional eatery with long narrow tables each occupied by large groups sharing pitchers of Apfelwein and plates of savory meats, sauerkraut and pork. The couple and their adult children and their childrens’ friends filled the long table almost uncomfortably, but when we arrived they squeezed together and made room for us. They treated us like celebrities and wanted to hear all about our travels and our life in the US. They explained everything about the food, including the tip that most of them watered the Apfelwein with soda to make it more palatable, and then they insisted on treating us.

Sharing a toast of peach liqueur with the German family at Adolf Wagner's.

Kip and I have always valued hospitality and we try to be generous to friends and strangers, but we were both astonished at this German family’s eagerness to welcome us. It was the kind of kindness that has life power. Once you have experienced such hospitality you want to offer it to someone else. 

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