Monday, August 25, 2008

Hamburg 1.1.94: Prosit Neujahr!

9:30 P.M. Feeling somewhat behind in this journal, partly because the last days at the cottage at Öhe seemed to drag, and I haven’t felt like writing. The weather grew steadily worse, till the last day at the cottage (29th), it poured continuously, as it did much of yesterday. This morning was the first day the sun has shone in ages. As a result—and because it was New Year’s day—hordes of brisk, healthy, and frighteningly earnest north Germans marching along the Elbchausee and the walks around the Alster. Marching, that is, when they weren’t eating with just as much earnestness and gusto at the fine restaurants in both areas.

Wednesday evening (28th; to return to the chronicle): W. and K.’s neighbors U. and G. had made a marvelous dinner, and brought it over. It was a roast of lamb—perhaps the shoulder—stuffed with garlic and cooked with vegetables (bell pepper and onion, I believe, with a touch of rosemary and perhaps red wine and olive oil). They called it Lammkohl. With it, a salad made from a green I’ve never seen, Feldsalat, which is dark green like cress, but has none of cress’s bite. Turned out to be a wilted salad with fried bacon, a bit of onion, and croutons. G. said one name for it is Rapunzel Salat. Could the green be the rocket that so fascinated me in childhood, when I read the story? (But isn’t rocket a field cress?) And for Nachspeise, quark mixed with whipped cream and some stewed raspberries, with more stewed raspberries for a topping.

With this meal the fairly good red wine of the Ahr valley, and afterwards a fruit liqueur made from pears, cherries, and plums which U. says is common in north Germany.

Then to a concert in a nearby village whose name I never saw, but which sounded like Gelding. The concert was in the village church, a pretty little Baroque church built in the late 17th century, and painted a chaste blue ,white, gray, and gold inside. It was emphatically north German Baroque—austere, not at all gaudy or kitschy. The nave had been added later, W. thought, and its ceiling was dropped below that of the chancel, as was the ceiling of the narthex, which was lower than that of the rest of the church. The effect was incongruous, I thought. On one wall at back a crucifix.

The concert was a chamber music performance of a Handel organ piece, some Bach cantatas, and the 4th Brandenburg concerto. Good without being inspired, as so much music is in Germany; technically accomplished, but not ever soaring.

The soprano who sang the cantatas had a good, clear coloratura voice, and she hit the right notes. But it was not a strong voice, and I noticed that the woman in front of me—whose very back of the neck bespoke determination and solidity—never clapped for her.

In general, the people seemed to be very severe critics, and they expressed their criticism by not clapping when they thought the performance was not up to snuff. A cluster of old ladies ahead of and to the right of me positively sucked their lips and cheeks in and refused to clap after some performances.

In general, people seemed haughty and unfriendly, as they were in Flensburg, where we had gone earlier in the day. North German coldness? Vacation town hauteur? Village over-compensation?

Before Flensburg, we had stopped at the castle of the Schleswig-Holstein duchy, Glücksburg, which faces Denmark across the water, and which was for a time in the possession of the Danish monarchy. It’s beautifully situated, but has a sad, forlorn air about it. I couldn’t help thinking of Hamlet and the death of the world in which such a building made sense. It’s rather severe and white outside; again, none of the fancy of southern Germany or even of the Eifel region, or the Mosel and Rhine valley.

Inside, I was most struck by the chapel, one of the earliest Protestant churches in north Germany—built as a Protestant chapel, I believe in the late 16th century.

In the 1970s, the original Baroque frescoes—nothing to speak of, really—were exposed, and now form the ceiling decoration. What interested me most, however, was the way in which the richly carved, massive wooden pulpit surmounted and surpassed the altar. A perfect visual statement of Reformation theology, an arrangement the guidebook says is sometimes to be met with in north German churches.

And back to the concert, in this scattered hodgepodge of travel details. Afterwards, W. and K.’s friends V. and V. invited us over for drinks. They had come by W. and K.’s the evening before for drinks. V. is an economist who works in a managerial position in some big company. Had spent two years in Detroit, and speaks good English. He was a schoolmate of W.’s, and is a longtime friend. Seemed somewhat sensitive and more delicate than many north Germans, which may have made me warm to him on meeting him.

V. did a theology degree and now teaches grade school in some inner city neighborhood even more ethnically and economically diverse than Altona.

Their country house to which we drove is enormous—a huge barn of a house with three levels and glass everywhere. Must be nice by day, but on a rainy winter night in north Germany, it was a bit desolate and comfortless.

One enters by a slate-floored foyer that opens without interruption into a huge room containing the kitchen and dining room, and a sitting area on a lower level. In the middle is an enormous metal fireplace shaped like this ∩ that I took to be Scandinavian. V. explained that we would normally have sat down in the sitting area facing the fireplace, but water had come up beneath the floorboards there, warping them so that they’ll have to be replaced. The floor of the whole room beyond the foyer is a pretty wood—birch, maybe?

So we sat in an alcove of the upper floor where there was a massive armoire, of which all the houses of affluent young professionals we’ve been in have a collection, some of them imported from England, as was the Birmingham grandfather clock in the foyer, and W. and K.’s grandfather clock. V. told us he had gone to England, bought furniture, and transported it by ferry to Germany; then he rents a truck (lorry, as he calls it) and brings it to his house. The chairs on which we sat (from the dining table) were handmade Shaker chairs that V. had constructed in England.

I like the German formalities connected to food and entertaining. I admit it gets tiresome always to sit around a table and eat—as Germans do at the drop of a hat—and talk in that heavy German way. But there’s something very civilized re: the custom of not drinking till you’ve all raised your glasses to one another, and met each other’s eyes in a Prosit or zum Voll. This ritualizes the act of eating a shared meal—makes every meal a communication. And it helps one attend to the taste of food and drink in more than an animal way, as people comment on taste and compliment the cook. (But Germans do tuck in with a vengeance after the guten Appetit: I’ve never been in a country in which people eat so quickly, with such self-absorbed animal pleasure; they actually spoon the sauce from their plates! Chaucer’s fastidious abbess with her fancy French ways would not be edified.)

After the drinks at V. and V.’s, at which G. and U. and a neighbor, R., had been present, and the concert mercilessly dissected, we returned, and U. and G. brought over more liqueur—at midnight! The drinks were followed by a walk to the Baltic Sea, as on other nights—making every night a very late one, with lots of champagne and other food and drinks.

Thursday not much to report. Some desultory shopping in Kappeln, waiting around at the cottage for a man to come repair the entry door window, which U. had somehow broken the previous evening, and then a drive in the dark, nasty gloom of late evening to Hamburg and to the Missionsakademie to fall exhausted into bed.

Yesterday, Steve and I argued much of the day—a miserable New Year’s eve. We had eaten only breakfast—Müsli and milk—and went in the early afternoon to see if we could find an open café or restaurant. Not having found anything, by 4 or so, famished and out of sorts, we drove to Winterhude, hoping there to find a café. Got to one just as it closed, so they offered us coffee, but nothing to eat. Tramped around Winterhude, buying berliners for the W.’s for New Year’s eve, and sat arguing in the car.

Then to W. and K.’s, where we ate at 7—potato salad, pasta salad, tsatsiki, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, meatballs (Frikkadelle to W. and K., but Bouletchen to their guests I. and B., neighbors of theirs from Braunschweig). And Sekt and more Sekt.

Whether because of the Sekt on an empty stomach, the all-day’s fight, or the arduous evening (re: which more below), I developed a splitting head, which has come and gone all day.

After the meal, at 20 till 8 there was a broadcast of a British comedy that has been broadcast every New Year’s eve for 30 or so years in Germany, and now plays all over the country. “Dinner for One,” it’s called, with a doddering old gentlewoman and her butler, lots of drunken slapstick, and the kind of broad humor the Germans (and, clearly, the Brits) relish.

Then back to the table—still loaded with platters and bowls and champagne bottles—for more to eat, including cheese. And after that off to a performance of “The Best of Dreigroschenoper.” It was mostly a performance of songs from the play, with a steel guitar and a bass steel guitar highly amplified—salt to the wound of my head, which throbbed more with the close room, heavy perfumes German women wear, effort to understand, and cigarette smoke after the intermission.

Amusing, though, in a way, to watch the rather ludicrous attempts of some of the audience to get down. A large woman with close-cropped black and gray hair in the row ahead rolled continuously, and bobbed her head about, much to the consternation of K. and B., who were sitting behind her.

Lots of ugly European glasses, too; some of them seem to be deliberately ugly, a new postmodern Brille with a neon-like colored bar on top and geometric lenses depending from it—the shape matched by necklaces worn by some men, with strange geometric pendants. Lots of that strange magenta red women color their hair here.

The performance was a by a man who lives in W. and K.’s apartment building, Dominique Horowitz, a French Jewish man who is married to or the co-vivant of a Hamburg woman. K. told me he’s a Broadway hit, and sure to be a Hollywood star. I wondered what it feels like to caper and cavort—in German, yet—before and audience of children and grandchildren of those who served in the Germany army in the Nazi period.

At midnight, glasses of yet more Sekt appeared as if by magic, and were passed to everyone in the theater. A solemn toast, followed by kisses all around, then an even more solemn toast (Prosit Neujahr!).

Then the doors opened onto trays of berliners, which one must eat in order to have good luck, and people began positively to stampede, shouting, “Berliners! Berliiiiners!!” W. tells me that the tradition is to fill one in every batch with mustard, but we don’t think any last night had Senf. They were a dry and tasteless Apfelmuss, which was eaten with much finger-licking and studiousness.

Then outside for fireworks, which to my surprise are completely legal, and had been being fired all day by both children and people passing by in parts of the city where we walked—people who like to drop a firecracker surreptitiously at one’s feet as one walks by. In the U.S., I have no doubt this would provoke street warfare. Not in Germany, which is such a strange mix of utter conformity, surprisingly effective honor systems (one of the payoffs of conformity?) like the U-Bahn, where one buys a ticket that is only rarely checked or the parking places where one displays the time one has parked on a time wheel on the dashboard, and controlled anarchy. There’s such a strong social sense among Germans—at least, with regard to some things—that I suppose the anarchy of something like these fireworks works, where it couldn’t possibly work in our “free” U.S. cities.

Then inside for a party in the theater basement, an old synagogue being restored. This centered around food, of course. Everyone immediately herded to long tables, then proceeded to set them up in even more methodical German order (but, I noticed, to facilitate community, too).

The food was on the side, help-yourself: frankfurters, French bread, potato salad, a cloyingly sweet salad of corn, bell pepper, and assorted what-nots, and salami and cheese. Not tasty, really, but not bad—as most German food is, solid and mediocre, without being really good or appallingly bad.

And, of course, a bar, with wine, beer, and champagne there for the taking. By the time we left at 2 A.M., as dancing threatened to start, my head felt like a watermelon on the verge of splitting, and my eyes were bleared and nose in torment from the thick smoke.

Today, an orgy of cooking at W. and K.’s—roast daube, stuffed zucchini, fish with remoulade sauce, ambrosia, green salad. Steve and I cooked from 2 P.M. till almost 8, then back here, where I must now close this chronicle and sleep, because the meal is for W. and K.’s parents and siblings, to be followed by a repeat performance in the evening with R. and C. Promises to be an arduous day, so I need to sleep, if only to assure time to exercise, too

2 comments:

admin - przepisy kulinarne said...

Każdy ma takie momenty w życiu, kiedy kieliszek domowej nalewki jest tym, co człowiekowi jest najbardziej potrzebne. Zziębniętego rozgrzewa, malkontenta pocieszy, byle tylko nie przedawkować - pozytywny skutek murowany. Najlepiej smakuje prawdziwa domowa nalewka zrobiona według dobrego przepisu. Trzeba ją wcześniej przygotować, aby mieć gotowe lekarstwo na przeziębienie, czy chandrę.

William D. Lindsey said...

Thanks--I wish I spoke Polish, but I don't. I can figure out enough to realize your blog is about food. Do you speak English? Can you please translate?

Vielen Dank. Leider kann ich nicht Polnisch. Bitte uebersetzen Sie was Sie haben geschreiben, auf Deutsch, Franzosich, oder Englisch. Seine Blog ist kulinarisch, ja?

Merci. Je ne peux par parler polonais. Est-ce que vous traduire ce que vous avez dit? Votre blog est culinaire, n'est-ce pas?