After our annually painful math session on the occasion of my 71st birthday, Ingrid and I discussed her children’s ages. Little blond Miriam, who played the violin and loved horses, is now the 43-year-old mother of two daughters and the business manager of a pharmaceutical company.
Alexander, who turned 40 just three days after my birthday, is these days properly addressed as Herr Doktor Klimke, befitting his current position as a microbiologist doing genetic research. As Ingrid described the exotic coffee beans she had sent him for his birthday, I remembered the tow-headed Xandi of the 80’s who ran everywhere he went and loved his morning sausage with its smiley face.
Shortly thereafter during a commercial for Deal or No Deal, I realized that host Howie Mandel’s surname is the German word for “almond.” I immediately lost myself in a reverie about the “gebrannte Mandeln” from my days in Hanover. Translation does not do this nutty treat justice – the almonds were not only roasted but also candied. They were sweet and crunchy and luscious, and I often bought them from a vendor in the Passerelle, a sort of underground passageway from the main train station into the heart of the city of Hanover. On my way home from shopping, I would buy a portion – served in a paper cone – and settle back for the train ride to Springe, nibbling as familiar landscape flashed by.
As I continued to hunger for other yummy items of German cuisine, memories of my very first visit surfaced. In 1969 I was living in a suburb of Stuttgart, where I could see a vineyard right outside my window. It was harvest time, complete with the traditions of “Neuer Wein und Zwiebelkuchen.” We drank “new wine” and ate “onion cake,” the latter resembling quiche. I have never been much of a wine drinker, but I certainly savored the onion cake I consumed against the picturesque backdrop of a southern German wine harvest.
Of course, Hanover was not the only city with street vendors. My frequent go-to lunch in Stuttgart was a freshly-grilled “Bratwurst” served on a small rectangular cardboard plate along with a crusty “Brötchen” and a smear of spicy German “Senf.” It is not difficult to conjure up the sights, smells, and tastes of those sausages with the accompanying roll and mustard. Oh, “brats” here in the states are juicy and tasty, but they cannot compare to a sausage lunch on a German street.
I have already written, probably several times, about the German panacea for almost any sweet tooth: cakes and pastries. There was the lovely tradition of “Kaffeetrinken,” afternoon coffee drinking celebrated at home or in a café. Almost every year my arrival at Ingrid’s house was preceded by a visit to the Café Marx for a whole package of sweet rolls and slices of three or four different cakes. Flutes of champagne, cups of coffee, dollops of whipped cream, and samples from all those pastries later found me full – and properly welcomed.
And each summer I found further opportunities to visit the restaurant side of Café Marx for a tiny pot of coffee and a slice of cheesecake – alone with my thoughts, with a friend for leisurely conversation, or with my teenage troops. A truly memorable “Kaffeetrinken” was the one that included the presentation of a Graham High School diploma. Julie Bowling gave up attending her commencement exercises to participate in the exchange program, and we surprised her right there in the café with her high school sheepskin. Such a special occasion warranted special bakery treats!
I cannot possibly narrow down my favorite foods from Ingrid’s kitchen over 27 years of visits there. Hubert did his part with his delectable weekend omelets, oozing cheese and topped with fresh chives from the garden. Oh, the luxury of it all!
But it was Ingrid who – day after day, year after year – turned out roasts and soups and salads and veggie dishes to rival any restaurant I have ever visited anywhere. From “Rouladen” – rolled up beef containing bacon or a pickle, to onion soup or an entire cauliflower baked with a butter and bread crumb topping, her cooking skills were exemplary. And I had the added pleasure of watching her perform her art right there in the kitchen. I can still see her standing over the stove with the open overhead cabinet giving her access to an unrivaled array of spices and seasonings: she tasted and spiced and tasted and seasoned her way through any number of scrumptious Sunday repasts.
But Ingrid also had to come home from school every day and fix the mid-day meal for a husband, an American “aunt,” and two hungry children. Upon her occasional announcement of “Fischstäbchen” and “Wackelpudding mit Vanillesoße” as the day’s menu, Miri and Xandi would skip and dance their way through the house in celebration of fish sticks and Jell-O with vanilla sauce. Remember, it’s the little things.
Even as I sit drooling over my computer keyboard, however, the thought of roasted almonds without the paper cone, onion cake with no nearby vineyard, bratwurst on a dinner plate, or apple cake from an American bakery lose a bit of their appeal. And I can have fish sticks and Jell-O any time. But not sharing them with those two jubilant youngsters – well, it just wouldn’t be the same…
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.