german food and restaurants

The Chocolate Museum of Cologne

The Chocolate Museum of Cologne
© Pixabay

A museum for the “Naschkatze”!  Wherever one may live on any of the five continents, it’s impossible to think of chocolate without thinking of Germany, for German chocolate sets the benchmark (“der Höhenfestpunkt”) for two very close, competent rivals, Swiss chocolate and Belgian chocolate.  The difference is that German chocolate is simply better, not only because it is a product of efficient German commercial interests, but also because chocolate is a true German passion.

The Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum – one of a kind!

The Chocolate Museum—the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to chocolate—was established in Cologne in 1993 by Dr. Hans Imhoff (12 March1922 – 21 December 2007).  Imhoff’s love of chocolate began in his childhood in Cologne’s Fleischmengergasse, where he lived, quite near to Cologne’s central library and also quite near to Cologne’s Stollwerck chocolate factory, founded in 1839 by Franz Stollwerck.

The Inspiration for the Chocolate Museum

The aroma of the Stollwerck factory’s products—chocolate, marzipan, and gingerbread—entranced young Imhoff, who indulged his love of chocolate by establishing a chocolate and sugar factory after World War II and successfully producing generic chocolates.  A few years later, Imhoff bought Berlin’s Hildebrand chocolate company, Germany’s oldest manufacturer of chocolate and famous for the “Scho-Ka-Kola” brand.  Imhoff later rescued the failing Stollwerck business enterprise, reorganized its management and marketing, and enabled his now extensive European Chocolate Group to buy such famous brands as Sprengel and Sarotti.  Claus Jacobi wrote the definitive biography of Dr. Imhoff, Der Schokoladenkönig. Das unglaubliche Leben des Hans Imhoff (Langen Müller, München 1997).

Chocolate in German culture

Chocolate plays a significant role in many Germany holiday traditions, including cultural and familial celebrations—in the form of candy.  The annual Advent calendars often include chocolate doors between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas.  Advent wreaths also become a conduit for chocolate.  A new candle is placed in the Advent wreath every Sunday, after which, the family sit together sipping their hot chocolate and enjoying one another’s company.  Every 5th of December, St. Nicholas Day, either St. Nicholas or his sidekick, Knecht Ruprecht (who is quite scary looking!), would bring a bit of chocolate to the children.  The family Christmas tree also partakes of the celebration of chocolate, for, included in its decorations, are decorative pieces of chocolate candy.  There are, of course, chocolate Santas to meet everyone’s Christmas-chocolate cravings.  Easter brings chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs as well.

The Chocolate Museum promotes chocolate as a food

Remember, chocolate is loaded with carbohydrates, which provides quick energy when needed, and it has healthful amounts of the antioxidants caffeine and the alkaloid theobromine.  The museum underscores what is the routine use of various chocolate products in German life, from bitter-sweet and semi-sweet dark chocolate, through milk chocolate, white chocolate, and couverture chocolate, used primarily in baking in quite familiar formats, e.g., chocolate bars, either entirely chocolate or, more likely, chocolate mixed with other delightful foods, such as nuts (hazelnuts are a distinct favorite), strawberries, yogurt, peppermint, nougat, marzipan, coffee—even bacon!  Then there are the quite popular romantic gift of filled chocolates, i.e., pralines, filled with all sorts of complementary sweets such as liqueurs and/or nuts and candied fruits.

The History of Chocolate

The museum’s collection is as extensive as it is varied, beginning, of course, with a succinct time-line history of the discovery of chocolate in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where the cacao tree was first cultivated more than three millennia ago by the Maya, Oltec, Toltec, and Aztec civilizations.  The cacao beans were used both as currency and, after processing, as a beverage, particularly a ceremonial beverage.  The museum shows that, eventually, the beverage conquered Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and was deemed so precious by the idle rich that it was served only in porcelain and silver containers.

The museum goes on to show the cultural history of chocolate as it sprouted and flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries through retail shops catering more and more to an expanding audience of devotees through a recreation of a typical popular candy-shop interior and with numerous examples of early advertising of chocolate products cleverly masquerading as “samplers” and collectibles of various sorts to be kept in scrapbooks and revered as if they were family photo albums.

A special treat for the visitors of the Chocolate Museum

The Chocolate Museum’s exhibition starts with the harvest of the cacao bean in a tropical greenhouse through to the raw product’s eventual arrival in a chocolate factory.  An impressively tall (three meters) chocolate fountain greets visitors to the exhibition.  The next level of the exhibition includes a chocolate studio displaying hollow chocolate products that include various fillings such as truffles.  If you want to try your hand at being a chocolatier, the museum offers both courses and the opportunity to exercise your skills.  Knowledgeable museum docents will explain the four-thousand-year history of cacao from the first frothy beverages to contemporary candy products.  You’ll also be treated to examples of early advertising of various chocolate products that will bring a smile to your face.  You’re also invited to enjoy the always running chocolate fountain.

Where can the Chocolate Museum be found and when is it open?

The Chocolate Museum is located between the old town and the Rheinau harbour on the banks of the River Rhine.  For explicit directions via auto, bus, train, taxi, and the Schoko Express, go to http://www.chocolatemuseum-cologne.com/visitors/getting-here/.  The telephone is 49.221.931.888.0 and the eMail is service@schokoladenmuseum.de.
The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, from 1000 until 1800, and Saturdays, Sundays, & bank holidays from 1100-1900.  In addition, it’s also open on the 21st of March, every Monday in July, August, and December, and on the 10th, 17th, and 31st of October.  Tickets are priced as follows:  adults:  €9,00; Groups from 15 persons:  €8,50; Eligible discount:  €6,50 Groups from 15 persons:  €6,00; Family ticket:  €25,00 (2 adults their children up to age 16); children, students, apprentices, school pupils are entitled to this discount.  Voluntary service-providing, disabled persons, and senior citizens (at least 65 years old).  Children 5 and younger are admitted at no charge.  Also, if it’s your birthday on the day of your visit to the Chocolate Museum, we will invite you for free on your special day!

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The Chocolate Museum of Cologne
german food and restaurants

Der Biergarten – A Garden full of Beer?

Der Biergarten - A Garden full of Beer
© Pixabay

Beer garden Eden

The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising and suddenly it is summer. One of the best things you can do in Germany during the warm season is to visit a beer garden, especially when you are somewhere in the south of the country. Especially in Bavaria, you can not only see clichés become real, but also have some refreshing beverages and a traditional, yet timeless experience of “Gemütlichkeit”.

The History of beer gardens in Germany

You can find Biergärten all over the country, but the real ones are more to be found in the southern Bundesländer of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, just like their origin. The history of those beer gardens is tightly bound to the history of brewing. Thus, a bit of previous knowledge is important. In the 19th century, there was not such a wide variety of beers like you can find today in Germany, mostly because of the lack of cooling techniques. The most common beer in Munich, the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria, was thus the Märzen (from März = March). It is a bottom-fermenting beer (untergärig, the opposite of obergärig), one of the two basic kinds of brewing according to the Bavarian purity law. In this sort of beer, the brewers use a particular kind of yeast – a yeast that only ferments at temperatures between four and eight degrees Celsius for brewing. Therefore, the beer could not only just be brewed in the winter months (until the end of March), it was also hard to store it during summer: It hat to be stored cool to stay fresh. To do so, the brewers used deep cellars. On top of those cellars, they planted chestnut trees that shaded the light to increase the ability to cool the precious brew and, at the same time, do not damage the vault with their flat roots.

Soon, some of the brewers got an idea: They sold their beer just out of the cellar and also placed some simple chairs and tables just under the shady trees on top of them where the thirsty customers could sit and enjoy their beverage. Because the other pub-owners protested, King of Bavaria Maximilian I. proclaimed in 1812 that the master brewers could sell their beer and also some bread, but no other meals. Out of this fact, people were allowed to bring their own “Brotzeit” (a traditional snack) to enjoy with their alcoholic drink. That’s why even today it is a maintained tradition that it’s allowed to bring your meal to the Biergarten (but of course not your drinks).  Outside of Bavaria, this tradition is in some places uncommon and especially in beer gardens that are part of a restaurant or a pub it’s sometimes not allowed to do so. So better ask or just observe other visitors before unpacking your sandwich.

Beer Garden Culture nowadays

Today, there are numerous beer gardens, also outside of Bavaria, thus you will find the real traditional ones mostly in this Bundesland. Especially in Munich, there are several well-known Biergärten, for example at the Hirschgarten-Park where you can experience the right kind of Bavarian Gemütlichkeit. They are still very common places to be in summer and also to meet new friends because of their long tables where it’s not unusual to sit with strangers and enjoy a Maß or a Weißbier. Most of them are also offering traditional dishes in self-service if you have forgotten to bring your own. Of course, you can also get non-alcoholic drinks there. So don’t miss out on having an authentic time beneath one of the chestnut-trees.

Der Biergarten - A Garden full of Beer
german food and restaurants

The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm

The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm
© Pixabay

Ulm, a city in Baden-Württemberg with a population of roughly 120,000, has many worthwhile cultural sights.  One of its more unexpected and especially delightful sights is its Museum of Bread Culture on the northern edge of the Old City.  In 1955, Willy Eiselen (1896-1981) established the museum and, along with his son Hermann Eiselen (1926-2009), promoted the museum not only throughout Germany, but also worldwide.  The Eiselen family provided supplies, equipment, and provisions to the bakery trade and felt an understandably strong allegiance to the craft and trade of which they had been a part for so many decades.  The first exhibits opened in 1960 and the museum has grown considerably in the last 56 years.  Its one-millionth visitor passed through its doors in 2004 and it is now administered by the Eiselen (charitable) Foundation.

The Size of the Museum

The museum has more than 18,000 public-collection objects, of which 700 are on permanent display, supported by a rotating display of selected stored items to keep the exhibits as fresh as your daily “Brötchen.”  Displays include advances in bread making over the past 6 centuries and underscore the cultural, social, and religious significance of bread.  The museum also boasts of a comprehensive, bread-oriented library of more than 6,000 books.  One thing you will not find in the museum is even a crumb of bread.  Why?  Because, from its inception, the Eiselen family and the museum administrators have wisely held that bread is not an exhibit, but a food to be baked and eaten fresh daily.

While the museum proudly claims to dedicate itself to the “. . . 6,000-year history of bread,” the fact is that the history of bread can be dated from more than 12,000 years ago; however, I assure you that, regardless of the history of bread, when Germans perfected “Bauernbrot,” i.e., coarse rye or farmhouse bread, it reached its apotheosis, for “Bauernbrot” is perfection itself.  Along the way, there were many, many various grains and techniques used by cultures throughout history to make bread.

In the Beginning, there were the Grains…

The history of bread with all its intrinsic characteristics begins with grains, i.e., cereals, which ancient peoples ground carefully to make flour.  The museum covers this and all aspects of bread and bread making in detail on the first floor.  In the process, grains such as maize (corn), barley, millet, buckwheat—none of which contained sufficient gluten to create raised bread—wheat, and rye.  The well-known flat breads of various cultures came about because of the lack of gluten in the grains used, while the raised breads came about through grains which contained sufficient gluten to generate the gas (CO2) needed to inflate the gluten-rich dough.  To promote such gases, savvy bakers use leavens, e.g., natural leavens (yeast) and chemical leavens (baking powder, baking soda, etc.).  These are the most popular leavens, but there are certainly several more which provide specific and unique characteristics to the breads for which they’re used.

Bread throughout the ages

The second floor of the museum deals with the extrinsic aspects of bread.  Civilizations and cultures have progressed through history side-by-side with bread.  Bread’s only rival as a necessity of life is water, which is itself an essential part of bread.  When we realize that bread and water are requisites for life, it should be no surprise to find that both are linked inextricably to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals.  Of course, the absence of bread in a culture or civilization is just as significant as its presence; the absence of bread means famine.  Without a good harvest, in the wake of wars, and in the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods earthquakes, hurricanes, locusts, fires, wars, and plagues, there is soon no bread.  People starve.  As Jonathan Swift said in A Tail of a Tub, “Bread is the staff of life.”  Who could argue with that?  A significant display by such artists such as Markus Lüpertz, Salvador Dali, Käthe Kollwitz, Franz Francken, Pablo, Picasso, Georg Flegel, Max Beckmann, Man Ray, and Ernst Barlach includes magnificent representations of bread throughout the ages.

The historical Significance of Bread

If there were ever a commodity that meant the same thing to all people, regardless of culture or religion, it is bread.  First, of course, bread is a food; indeed, it is the basic food.  Beyond that, the word bread stands for all food in many expressions, e.g., “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In his Satires, Juvenal observed that the Roman empire had deteriorated to the point that the “. . . people . . . longs eagerly for just two things—bread and circuses!”  Shakespeare referred to “. . . the bitter bread of banishment” in The Tragedy of King Richard the Second.  Esau sold his inheritance for bread and stew.  The author of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám could not be happy with his life if he could not have a loaf of bread along with the company of his sweetheart.  Marie Antoinette allegedly lost her life by sneering at the plight of the commoners who had no bread.  “Let them eat cake,” she callously crowed.  A common English expression is “dough,” i.e., unbaked bread.  This slang term hasn’t yet migrated to German as far as I can tell, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

Bread was also a lifesaver in a quite literal way.  In ancient Egypt, physicians applied poultices of moldy bread to infected wounds.  In the early 17th century, wet bread was mixed with spider webs to treat wounds.  And, while the development was not sparked by bread, it is based on a mold much like the bread molds used by the ancient Egyptians and the medieval Poles.

The Museum of Bread Culture is open daily from 1000 until 1700.  The address is Salzstadelgasse 10, 89073 Ulm; Telefon +49 731 69955; eMail info@museum-brotkultur.de.  Admission cost varies:  adults €4 and children, seniors, students, the disabled €3.  There’s a good chance that your tour of the museum will inspire your appetite.  If so, “guten Appetit!”

The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm
german food and restaurants

Eating out in Germany – Should You leave a Tip?

Eating out in Germany - Should you leave a Tip?
© Pixabay

Tipping is a classic dilemma for international travellers. It’s a way of showing your appreciation through paying a little extra for services, but how do you get it right and avoid embarrassment? Is there even a tipping culture in Germany?

No Need To Pay Their Wages

Visitors who come to Germany from the USA tend to be surprised by our relaxed tipping attitudes, but there is more behind this than miserly habits. While it’s common for service personnel in the USA to be paid less than a living wage, Germany fares slightly better.

Waiters and waitresses tend to make between 6 and 8 Euros per hour, and tipping is not considered the customer’s duty. Instead, German diners can use their tip to say “thank you” for good service and tend to consider this a bonus payment. The tip is aptly called *Trinkgeld* (drinking money). Even if you are a generous person, leaving a restaurant without a tip on an occasion is not considered a faux-pas.

So Who Gets How Much?

As a rule of thumb, 10% of the bill is a sufficient and polite tip in any environment from nail salon to restaurant. Here are a few services that commonly take tips:

  • Restaurant, café and coffee house waiters (table service is the German standard)
  • Taxi drivers, but not bus drivers
  • Toilet attendants in public toilets, although here it’s not considered a tip but an expected payment you’d be rude to evade
  • Tourist guides who give individual attention

In the following services, leaving a tip is not considered obligatory (but not unheard of either):

  • Hairdressers, nail technicians, massage therapists etc
  • Hotel staff carrying your luggage

Germany is still behind many other countries when it comes to adopting card payments, and the prominent use of cash has encouraged a system of rounding up your bill (*aufrunden* in German). You will be appreciated for leaving your tip in cash. Make sure you hand it to the waiter directly instead of leaving it on the restaurant table.

So when you get your bill, the calculation is not for an exact percentage amount. Instead, look at the amount (which usually includes tax), add 10% and then round up to the nearest Euro. This way, a bill of €18 is well-served with a tip of €20.

The way to communicate this is to say *Stimmt so* (that’s even) as you hand your waiter the rounded amount. If you are paying with a higher denomination (for example a €20 note for a €13 meal, and you want to pay €15 including the tip), you can tell the waiter which amount you want to pay and say *machen Sie 15* (make it 15). They will understand what you mean and generally acknowledge it with a *Dankeschön*.

If you feel like you need a little more guidance, this TripAdvisor page goes into detail.

Are German Waiters Rude?

Every now and then, I have heard friends from other cultures complain about the rudeness of German service personnel. This is not something I’ve ever experienced, but the standards are slightly different. Waiters will not introduce themselves by name, and as a restaurant visitor you are expected to find your own seat. If the restaurant is lively and has big tables, don’t be surprised when others ask to share your table – it’s part of creating a communal atmosphere. (You wanted beer halls, right?)

German waiters will be confused if there’s a hiccup in the “waiter-diner dance”, but in tourist-friendly areas it won’t be their first time. As long as you don’t ask for free water, pay in cash, make sure you ask for the bill, and tell them your requirements as early as possible, you’re on the right path.

Eating out in Germany - Should you leave a Tip?
german food and restaurants

Konditorei Secrets – Das lebendige Brot

Konditorei Secrets - Das lebendinge Brot
© Pixabay

Certainly St. John did not have German Konditorei delicacies in mind when he wrote his Gospel, but, given the attendance at German Konditoreien every Sunday afternoon following religious services, it’s entirely possible that his phrase puts a majority of Protestant and Catholic churchgoers in mind of their local pastry shop.

What makes a Konditorei special?

Konditoreien are more than pastry shops.  They are a German cultural tradition, and their patrons deem their particular Konditorei to be both unique and the paragon of their class.  Regardless of how old one becomes or how far they now live from the Konditorei to which their parents took them as children, no Konditorei measures up to the mouth-watering delights of their first Konditorei experience.  One remembers one’s first Konditorei as one remembers their first kiss, the first time they rode a bicycle without training wheels, and their first Christmas.  It is that sort of memory.

The Development of Bakeries

Like everything of quality in Germany, Konditoreien developed gradually and deliberately over many, many years.  It all began with bakers’ refining their bread-making techniques.  Starting with hearty farmhouse bread (“Bauernbrot”), the bakers gradually added ingredients to create bread that would delicately tempt many different palates.  Always experimenting, the avid bakers first added sugar, then raisins, then other candied fruits and zests.  Indeed, the word Konditorei comes from two combined Latin sources:  conditure, which means candy, and condire, which means flavoring.

As the bakers’ skills improved and as their rivalries and competitions arose, the bakers’ imaginations seemed to be boundless. Until now, we’ve reached a point that, at the end of a hearty meal, diners can enjoy a wide selection of gorgeous, well-frosted cakes made with many eggs and nuts, coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough, cookies, many other pastries, and even ice cream to top off their meal along with plenty of hot, fresh, strong coffee or steaming hot chocolate.

What began as a desire to improve the craft of baking morphed into an artistic endeavor that fed the soul as well as the body.  The enjoyment of the delicacies of one’s local Konditorei with family and friends became a rite of passage, almost a religious ritual, that encapsulated family and, by extension, German society in a cocoon of well-being—and it all tasted sooooooooo good!

These specialist bakers began to call themselves Lebküchler, perhaps an awkward blending of Leben (life) and Kuchen (cake).  Whatever the derivation, these former craftsmen had become artists and their creations have become an integral part of German culture.  These artists founded a guild in 1643 in Nürnberg and, eventually, their shops became modern-day Konditoreien.

The Introduction of Spices and Herbs from Overseas

What we now understand as globalization is not a modern phenomenon.  It existed millennia ago, as early as the 5th century, and is now distinguished more by its rapidity than by its pervasiveness.  Perhaps the most interesting and well-known example of early globalization is Marco Polo, who traveled in the 13th century to and from China over a period of 24 years, from 1271 until 1295.  The so-called age of discovery, which spanned the 15th-18th centuries, brought sugar, herbs, and spices from around the world to Europe and the Lebküchlern adapted them to their art.  They had many home-grown flavorings, e.g., honey, that they used efficiently and imaginatively. The chief interest of the Lebküchlern was not only for sugar, but also for herbs and spices that improved their pastries, e.g., cinnamon, aniseed, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, clove, nutmeg, coriander, allspice, and various nuts, e.g., almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

The introduction of almonds in the 14th century was a boon for both the Lebküchlern and their customers, for it brought about marzipan, a delightful paste of ground almonds and either honey or sugar.  It is probably the most versatile and most anticipated sweetmeat on its own as well as a much-loved component of icing for cakes, for fruitcakes, wedding cakes, and Christmas cakes and stollen.  It’s often fashioned into animal figurines, covered with chocolate, and stuffed into tartlets.  A typical German use of marzipan is forming it into the shape of a loaf of bread, known as Marzipanbrot, during the Advent and Christmas season, and shaping it into a pig as a New Year’s present referred to as a Glücksschwein, i.e., a lucky pig.  One of the most popular uses of marzipan is in conjunction with the classically famous Window Cake or Battenberg Cake, a light sponge cake, constructed with pieces of yellow and pink cake held together with apricot jam and covered with marzipan.

An Overview of the Authors personal Favourites

All of these wonderful desserts and more are available regularly or seasonally at Konditoreien throughout Germany.  Here are some of the most famous delights Konditoreien offer.  I hope they entice you to visit as many Konditoreien as possible whenever you’re in Germany.  These include Aachener Printen, a pastry available only in Aachen; a Berliner, a jelly-filled specialty of Berlin; Zwetschgenkuchen, a plum short-crust sheet cake; Black Forest Cake, comprising several layers of chocolate cake interlaced with whipped cream and cherries; Welfenspeise, a layered pudding with a bottom layer of beaten egg, vanilla, and milk and a top layer of an egg-wine sauce; Donauwelle, a marble-like sheet cake with sour cherries, buttercream, cocoa, chocolate, and layered batter; Spaghettieis, a unique German ice cream fashioned to look like spaghetti; Gugelhupf, a marble-like Bundt cake; Rote Grütze, a fresh red-berry fruit pudding; and Mohnklöße, a poppy-seed based dessert that includes dried figs, raisins, apricots, dates, etc., almonds and hazelnuts, flavored with sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and rum combined with a boiled milk-bread base.  These are just a few of the treats on offer.

By now it should be crystal clear that Konditoreien are a big deal in Germany.  In fact, they’re such a big deal in German culture that the Austrian composer Strauss, as loved in Germany as in Austria and Switzerland, paid homage to Konditoreien with his 1922 ballet Schlagobers (Whipped Cream), inspired by the cultural joy and love Germans have for their Konditoreien.

Konditorei Secrets - Das lebendinge Brot