Ever since former student and fellow traveler Lisa Siegenthaler Turner posted a Facebook picture of “spaghetti ice cream” from her trip to Europe this summer, my taste buds have been on alert; and my mind has been dredging up delicious German food memories.
I discovered the improbably-named cold treat many years ago when my exchange students raved about it. I expressed a measure of disbelief, assuming they had made a vocabulary error. Soon I found myself at a little ice cream store in the pedestrian zone of Springe; sure enough, “Spaghettieis” was on the menu.
I was served an icy confection that did indeed resemble a plate of pasta with sauce – until I plunged my spoon into it. The worker behind the counter showed me how he concocted the realistic dish: he forced vanilla ice cream through a contraption containing rows of tiny holes and topped the resulting “strands” with raspberry sauce. Yum!
Lots of former GHS exchange students would probably agree that many of our German food adventures stemmed from vocabulary misunderstandings. My own initial mistake occurred just a few weeks into my first stay in southern Germany.
I was a college senior in the late 1960’s when I ordered my first “Bratwurst” from a stand in Stuttgart. When the vendor handed me a small cardboard “plate” on which he had arranged a tasty, grilled sausage beside a crusty roll, I decided to ask for mustard and carefully requested “Seife.”
Although the vendor dolloped mustard next to my brat, from his expression I knew immediately an error had occurred. It was not until later that a quick dictionary check revealed I had ordered “soap” – the correct word for mustard is “Senf.” Seemingly close, but worlds apart!
Weak vocabulary comprehension led to difficulties, too, during those early years. My host family in Stuttgart raved about the dessert planned for one Sunday meal, something they called “Büchsen.” I prepared my palate for a mouthwatering pastry, only to learn a new word that day when my hostess opened a tin can of peaches. New vocabulary, disappointed taste buds!
Vocabulary confusion also caused problems for GHS exchange student, Cindi Caudill Buell, when her host family invited her to choose whatever she wanted from the restaurant menu. Being a good Champaign County girl from a farm, she settled on ham and promptly pointed to “Schnecken” on the entrée list.
Her astonished family questioned her choice – just to make sure she really wanted “the little animal with its house on its back.” Eventually the Germans understood that she desired “Schinken” – not the snails she had ordered. Easy mistake, far different dish!
A basic cooking utensil created a rather amusing misunderstanding the year our partner school in Springe celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. My group and I took a black and white Falcon Flag as a school-to-school gift for the big “do.”
During a get-together in Ingrid’s home with friends who had also traveled to Graham, the subject turned to the evening I would present our gift to the principal at the formal gala. I mentioned the “Fahne” I had brought, at which point all conversation stopped cold.
Questions and frustrated explanatory description continued until I finally retrieved the flag from my suitcase to demonstrate its appropriateness for the occasion. Relief appeared on all faces – including mine – when I finally realized I had mispronounced “Fahne,” unknowingly substituting the word “Pfanne.” My German cohorts had been envisioning my presentation of a black-and-white frying pan to our partner school’s top administrator. Whew – disaster averted!
During my first trip I accidentally learned a new food custom. My Stuttgart family hosted friends who brought along slides from their vacation to Egypt. Our refreshments were apples, one of which I consumed in the dark room as we viewed the pyramids from every possible angle.
An hour or so later, light once again filled the room. I sat there with the now-brown apple core in my hand, considering the fruit an awkward choice for the get-together. To my surprise, however, the Germans had eaten their entire apples – seeds and all – and were left only with stems. Lesson learned!
I guess my favorite food adventure in Germany involved, oddly enough, cheeseburgers. At her annual evening for former exchange chaperones, Ingrid was determined to serve American cheeseburgers. McDonalds in Hannover refused to sell her uncooked ones, but she managed to find the ingredients – including soft hamburger buns – to make her own.
When we all sat down to eat, Ingrid announced that I would explain how to build a cheeseburger. I demonstrated layering the burgers with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion and adding mustard, catsup, and mayonnaise. Under my direction, we all plopped bun tops on the stacks we had created.
In the middle of savoring a taste of home, I noticed my European friends had ceased to eat because they were losing ingredients, as tomatoes and onions slid from their burgers. And then, the Germans did what they do – they removed the bun tops and enjoyed their sandwiches by means of knives and forks, not quite able to duplicate the necessary American cheeseburger grasp. Quite the treat, devoured American or German style!
I have to stop writing because I have made myself hungry. But I will always remember and cherish the yummy food I enjoyed in my second homeland during the years I ate as the Germans ate.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.