Bread and beer: the staff of life
German cuisine has its denigrators, and it can be heavy and predictable. Most restaurants offer venison in a heavy gravy, pork and dumplings and some kind of schnitzel and sauerkraut. But the key things in the national cuisine are the simple ones, and they are done blindingly well: beer and bread.
France may have a reputation for village boulangeries, but in my experience many of the latter have been driven out of business by local supermarkets. Germany, however, has very much preserved its local bäckerei, which are still village hubs all over the country. Not only are these places great for all kinds of bread – brötchen or bread rolls alone usually come in over a dozen different types – but they also serve good and inexpensive coffee and many also offer simple and nourishing meals, with some sort of stand-up counter or limited seating. In short, they are a bargain.
And Germany acknowledges its bread experience in a couple of museums: in the south, there’s a Baden-Württemberg’s Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm, on the banks of the Danube. In the north, there’s Lower Saxony’s European Bread Museum in Ebergötzen, not far from Göttingen.
This is not the place to detail Germany‘s complex beer culture, with all the beer varieties, beer halls, beer gardens and beer festivals, but it is worth pointing out a couple of interesting beer experiences. In Düsseldorf, for example, you can take a tasting tour of the traditional breweries in town which still make Alt-bier, old beer, which is similar in colour and taste to British ale. It’s a real contrast to Cologne’s delicate pale kölsch, just a few miles away.
Down in Bavaria there are tours of the famous hop fields of Hallertau, run by Elisabeth Stiglmaier. Plus all the beer-making Benedictines, as in monasteries such as Weltenburg by Regensburg, Andechs south of Munich, and Ettal down by Oberammergau. They all have their own breweries and beer gardens.
For a high density of local breweries and a truly nourishing smoky beer (Schlenkerla), the place to be is Bamberg. And no true beer pilgrims should miss out on the Zoigl villages of eastern Bavaria, where the concept of homebrew is taken to a whole new level.