Today I’m delighted to feature a guest post by Kalle Ryan, Waterford / Dublin performance poet, humourist, MC of The Brownbread Mixtape monthly cabaret in Dublin, and possessor of a host of other talents.
This article originally appeared in The Metro Herald, 17/11/2012.
These days when you think of Germany, you inevitably picture Angela Merkel’s Sauerkraut face and her corresponding punitive, penny-pinching proclamations. If you’re more of an old school German thinker, you may have thoughts of wicked World Wars and a land fabled for being humourless, yet funnily drawn to David Hasselhoff’s musical skills.
But those broad strokes are ultimately unfair to a country, that I believe, is home to some of the great unsung secrets and joys of Europe.
As a teenager I travelled the length of Germany in a camper van with my family. It was a remarkable holiday that left a deep impression that lingers to this day. What I encountered was a country of wonderful variety, breathtaking beauty, fantastic food and incredibly warm people (with mullets, a lot of mullets).
We entered the country from the northern city of Hamburg, with its eclectic mix of erotic shops and Liverpudlian musical history, and bombed down the Autobahn (poor choice of verb when talking about Germany, I know) towards the magical city of Berlin.
Berlin really felt like the New York of Europe to me, with its wonderful blend of fascinating German design, historical landmarks, reliable and punctual public services, delightful local beers, as well as cool, punk-influenced, left-leaning art on every other street corner. How could you not love a city that was run by punctual hippies?
Our next stop along the way was Frankfurt, where I had a semi-religious experience as I encountered Germany’s legendary “Currywurst”. A char-grilled, flavourful sausage, sliced into discs and covered in a blanket of curried ketchup, then lightly dusted with fragrant yellow curry-powder. You simply have not lived until you have eaten this triumphant, teutonic takeaway treat. It is said that the secret to Germany’s continued automobile engineering success is founded upon a steady, streamlined diet of these curried sausages.
Sweeping south we entered the city of Stuttgart, home to the legendary Irish footballing victory over England in Euro 88. As an Irishman, the Neckarstadion ranks up there as a historical landmark alongside the GPO and The Hill of Tara. Stuttgart – a compact, cool city – is also home to the culinary delight of Maultaschen (German ravioli invented by monks to conceal meat from the Lord on Fridays). I recall thinking at the time that, if there were a World Cup for food, Germany would probably win that 1-0 every time too.
After several days of driving through swathes of the brilliant black forest, home to the legendary, delicious, unpronounceable Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, we arrived in Munich. Located in the southern province of Bavaria (County Cork’s spiritual German sister), Munich is a wonderland of ornate buildings, sunlit plazas, moustachioed manly types, ample bosomed matronly types and crafted glasses of crisp, bubbly Hofbräuhaus beer. Basically, it is what Heaven would undoubtedly look like if it were run by Germany.
A short jaunt down the road, bordering Austria, was the charming town of Füssen, our final stop. Nestled up in the Alps above the town is crazy King Ludwig’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, widely known as the inspiration for the Disney castle, or, if you’re a Britpop fan, the cover photo of Blur’s ‘Country House’ single. Regardless of the imitators and appreciators, it’s a stunning sight and worth a visit, if only to sit down and eat some traditional Schnitzels in its shadow. This delicious, deep fried, breaded veal dish was invented by some genius from nearby Vienna, who should clearly have won the Nobel Prize.
While this might all sound like a food and drink travelogue / memoir, what it really amounts to is a love letter to a much maligned country that has levels of complexity and beauty far beyond simplistic jokes about the war or our present predicament. I have been back many times since and Germany continues to reward and reveal.
We are, of course, in a recession, so if you can’t afford to travel to Germany any time soon, then I strongly recommend that you stick on a Werner Herzog movie, crack open a cold German beer, pick up some authentic sausages from your local German supermarket and have a Currywurst party at home. Who knows, it may even make you feel more kindly toward Frau Merkel.
(c) Kalle Ryan 2012