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Food Lovers' Germany

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

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As travel agents you’re especially aware of what today’s travelers seek. Standard one-size-fits-all tours are out; today’s traveler wants to step into local culture, do what locals do, experience the local scene and taste the local flavors. Especially the latter, as travelers realize that local foods and culinary traditions are a vital key to understanding local cultures.
Your clients may not have considered Germany for their foody travels, perhaps thinking that German food begins and ends with knackwurst, dumplings and sauerkraut. They may be surprised when you tell them that Germany ranks 4th in the world for the number of restaurants with 3 Michelin stars. They will find a full range of dining choices, from the traditional hearty Gasthof favorites to brilliantly conceived dishes to delight the most sophisticated palate.


While Berlin leads other German cities both in population and in the number of stars - 26 at last count - the Baden-Württemberg region claims a full one-fourth of all Germany’s nearly 300 Michelin-starred restaurants (www.tourism-bw.com). Many of these are in the capital of Stuttgart, but the little Black Forest town of Baiersbronn accounts for eight of the stars. Two restaurants there have three stars each and a third claims two. Even the airports have fine dining; Restaurant Top Air (www.restaurant-top-air.de) at Stuttgart Airport has been starred since 1991 and is Europe’s only Michelin-starred airport restaurant.


The Black Forest region - all of Baden-Württemberg in fact - is known for its food and wines. The delicious cured and smoked Black Forest Hams are prized everywhere and the famed Kessler sparkling wine (www.kessler-sekt.de) comes from the beautiful half-timbered town of Esslingen, near Stuttgart. Suggest that oenophile clients stop here for a tasting tour of Kessler’s historic cellars.


The Baden Wine Route, Germany’s oldest wine trail, winds through hills and villages on the east bank of the Rhine from Heidelberg south to Weil am Rhein on the Swiss border (https://visit.baden-baden.de). For a local insider’s experience near Stuttgart, suggest clients sample traditional dishes and wine at a Besenwirtschaft - simple taverns in the vineyards that serve only that vineyard’s own wine and local foods.


The most widely known culinary specialty of the region is Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte - Black Forest Cake, a dark chocolate cake liberally doused in cherry schnapps and layered with whipped cream and cherries. Although they may find these in restaurants, in Germany cakes are traditionally enjoyed as an afternoon pick-me-up with coffee or tea in a Konditorei. Advise clients to take a break from sightseeing and participate in this local custom - suggest Konditorei Café Walter Nast just behind the market hall in Central Stuttgart (www.stuttgart-tourist.de/en).

Cake and Coffee
The idea of cake with coffee in the afternoon did not begin in Stuttgart, but in Germany’s far eastern state of Saxony (www.saxonytourism.com). It’s uncertain where Germany’s first coffee house was, but the country’s coffee house culture was certainly born in the trade city of Leipzig, where there were at least 30 of them by the late 1600s. None of these original meeting places remains but Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum, a café near the Marktplatz, opened in 1711. This is a good place for clients to begin exploring Leipzig (www.leipzig.travel/en). They will be doubly pleased if they are music-lovers as well as foodies, for this café was a hang-out for composers including Telemann, Wagner, Mendelssohn and Grieg. Schumann spent so much time here that one of its signature cakes is called Schumanns Traum (Schumann’s dream). The history of coffee and Leipzig’s fascination with it unfolds in a free coffee museum upstairs.


A few blocks away, the Art Nouveau-style Café Kandler is just up the street from the home of Johann Sebastian Bach, Leipzig’s favorite musical son. They memorialize him in confections called Bachtaler (Bach coins): hazelnuts, mocha nougat and fine chocolate with a whole coffee bean hidden inside. For turn of the 20th-century Art Nouveau curves and flourishes, as well as quite possibly the world’s best raspberry torte, suggest Kaffeehaus Riquet. They can’t miss the fanciful corner building with a pair of copper elephant heads guarding its curved entrance.


Saxony’s most famous contribution to German gastronomy comes from Dresden; no German Christmas would seem right without slices of Dresdner Stollen. The buttery fruit-studded loaf is a staple at Christmas markets all over Germany, and competition for the best version is fierce among bakers. Dresden is fast becoming a fine-dining powerhouse, with three Michelin-starred restaurants and several other contenders (www.dresden.de/tourism)


Another Christmas favorite that’s associated with a particular city is Lebkuchen, a spice cookie made with honey and nuts, that has been baked in Nürnberg at least since the late 1300s (www.tourismus.nuernberg.de/en). A Lebkuchen Baker’s Guild was formed in 1643, and its master bakers were governed by strict rules on the making and ingredients, and until 1867 they had to be made by hand, as some bakers still do. Like Dresdner Stollen, Lebkuchen is sold at Christmas markets all
over Germany.

Famous Products from Marzipan to Pumpernickel
The medieval town of Lübeck, former capital of the important Hanseatic League trading consortium, is now known as the world capital of marzipan (www.luebeck-tourism.de). There are lots of reasons to visit this charming Baltic city, not the least of which is stopping for lunch or a coffee break at Café Niederegger, founded by the pastry chef Johann Georg Niederegger in 1806. Beautifully packaged marzipan chocolates are an easy-to-pack gift to bring home.


American clients won’t be able to bring home the prized Westphalian Ham, produced from acorn-fed pigs and smoked over beech and juniper branches. But they will find it served in restaurants in Münster and Dortmund, and throughout the Westphalia region, which is also known for Germany’s best Pumpernickel breads. Scorned as peasant bread until Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV championed it, this dense flavorful loaf is now savored with paper-thin slices of Westphalian Ham. In addition to the cultural highlights of its cities, Westphalia is known for its historic castle towns and its beautiful hiking trails (www.nrw-tourism.com).


Even the iconic German sausage - Wurst - has its regional differences. Munich is known for the juicy delicate Weisswurst. Traditionally eaten only before noon, these can also be seen on restaurant menus, but the best place to send clients for these and other Bavarian treats is the Fleischmarkt, Munich’s lively open-air market. Farther north in Bavaria the sausage of choice is the finger-long Nürnberger Bratwurst, grilled over charcoal. They are found in street-side stalls and food trucks (and far from Nürnberg as well), but THE place to send clients is to Bratwurstglöcklein im Handwerkerhof, Nürnberg’s oldest Bratwurst kitchen, dating from the early 1300s.


Leave it to cheeky Berlin to come up with its own sausage sensation, Currywurst. You can find them all over Germany now, but they originated in post-World-War II Berlin (www.visitberlin.de/en). The difference is not in the sausage, but in the topping, a sweetish tomato-curry sauce. Curious clients can learn more about them at Berlin’s Deutsches Currywurst Museum, where they can buy currywurst souvenirs and sample them at the snack bar. For a wider sampling of Berlin’s food scene, book clients a tour with Secret Food Tours (www.secretfoodtours.com/berlin/food-tours).

Celebrating Food
Currywurst is not the only food to get its own museum in Germany. There’s a Chocolate Museum in Cologne, the Museum of Bread Culture (Museum der Brotkultur) in Ulm (www.tourismus.ulm.de), a Peppermint Museum (Pfefferminzmuseum) in the Bavarian village of Eichenau, and one devoted to herbs and spices, Spicy’s Gewürzmuseum at Speicherstadt in Hamburg (www.hamburg.com/tourist-information). No fewer than three museums are dedicated to the humble potato and at Schrobenhausen, in Southern Bavaria, clients can visit the European Asparagus Museum (Europäisches Spargelmuseum), celebrating white asparagus. The best time to visit here - or any number of other places that grow this prized crop, is in June for the Spargelzeit festival.


Food festivals are popular events all over Germany, and asparagus is a favorite one because the harvest season (known as Spargelzeit) is relatively short, from about mid-April to the end of June. Southwest Germany celebrates with the Baden Asparagus Route, running through the prime asparagus-growing region from Schwetzingen (the “Asparagus Capital of the World”, southwest of Heidelberg) through Karlsruhe and Rastatt to Scherzheim. Visitors can watch harvesting (or join in), follow educational trails and take part in Europe’s largest asparagus festival, in Bruchsal. Almost anywhere in Germany clients will find special Spargel menus at this time of year featuring white asparagus specialties in every course.


Thuringia’s biggest food festival is the Onion Fair held in Weimar during the second weekend in October. Onion braids and wreaths, onion quiches, breads, soups and snacks and all things onion are sold from 500 or so booths in a fair that has been held here since 1653 (www.visit-thuringia.com). Also in October, the Stadt Land Food festival in Berlin celebrates good food and good farming, showcasing local food growers and producers. In September Cologne streets are filled with vendors selling local specialties and international foods at the Street Food Festival.


From June through October, clients are likely to find smaller local festivals, as well as farmers markets anywhere they travel. No matter where your clients go in Germany there is bound to be good food.
www.germany.travel

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