Monday, July 23, 2012

Bacon Beer in Bamberg

It’s really easy to spend all your time going from big city to big city. This is especially true in places where the cities are easily recognized, like Germany. Names like “Frankfurt”, “Berlin” and “Nuremburg” are hard to miss, but we can’t make it everywhere. The world is a very big place. Plus, smaller cities usually have friendlier people, are cheaper and let you get closer to the culture of a country.

In other words, we wanted to get into “small town Germany”.
We had a leisurely breakfast hanging around “The Tent” our last morning in Munich. A tram took us to the train station and we purchased some lunch for the train. For Leslie, that meant a pretzel. For me, a Doner Kebab. Doner Kebab is meat roasted on a rotating spit, then served in flatbread with tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, onion and optional spice. This one was chicken and cost €3.50, or about the same price as coffee on the train.
Three hours later, we found ourselves getting off in “small-town Germany”. There seemed to be a single main-street leading away from the train station, so we took it. Two minutes later we asked for directions and found Bamberg Backpackers Hostel right around the corner. It’s much easier to find your hostel when the town is the size of a postage stamp.
Apparently, Bamberg is a popular destination for Germans. As a result, it was almost completely empty. The Germans will book in advance for weekend trips, so everybody evacuates on Sunday evening. There were the two of us and two American girls when we arrived.
The hostel was nothing special, but wonderful for the two of us. We’d been hot, sweaty and bitten by bugs throughout Italy, and while “The Tent” in Munich was quite nice, it was still a tent. Here, we were inside, in a normal-temperature where we confident there were no mosquitoes. It was awesome.
Of course, there’s a ton of small towns in Germany, but Bamberg stuck out to us for two reasons. First, it hasn’t been destroyed in any of the wars. Of course, WWI and WWII pop into Americans minds when we think wars in Germany, but Napoleon, the 30 Years War and a plethora of other battles have meant that most of the older architecture in Germany has been lost to antiquity. Bamberg is the exception.
Plus, they have bacon beer. Yes, you read that right… bacon beer.
It’s not actually called bacon beer, but Rauchbier, which literally means “smoked beer”, but people come from far and wide to behold the bacon-y goodness. In fact, when we checked into our hostel, they gave us a map and marked down about a dozen breweries. We later learned that there’s about 50 in Bamberg.
So off we went, in search of food and the local delicacy.
Bamberg is quite small. So small that we spent no money on transportation for our entire time there. We could walk the entire thing.
First, we found ourselves walking through a quaint little shopping district. Cobble-stoned streets combined with kitch-y little shops mingled with large department stores as we walked through the city-center. It had a definitive German style to it, even if the shopping district was quite polished and new. There were a few churches and old buildings scattered throughout, but most of it was very modern.
It only took a couple minutes to walk through the shopping district to get the Old Town.
It was so cute I wanted to pinch it’s cheeks.
We took a little covered bridge across a river to get into Old Town. Streets didn’t go straight for more than a block and were usually at a gentle curve, with shops and restaurants all along the side, but we did have a mission. The man at the hotel had marked one specific brauhous as the one we had to go to.
When we got to the place he marked on the map I felt we had reached town center. There was an intersection of two cobble-stoned roads. Cars could come through but the bikers and walkers were more common. Each of the four corners had a different restaurant on it, with two of the four having large outdoor seating areas in the intersection. One of the others had people spilling out the front door onto the sidewalk. Eventually, we picked one and made our way to the biergarten (beer garden) in back.
One of the running difficulties we’ve had is with menus. We have a Rick Steeves language guide for Italian, French and German, which has a menu-decoder, but only about 1/3 of the words in the menu are in the book. It makes it quite difficult to know what we’re ordering. We have tended to order a lot of sausage in Germany because it’s one of the few things we understand on the menu, although we’ve learned 95% of German food is some combination of meat, potatoes, onions and dumplings.
Fortunately, the biergartens provide a solution. Everyone sits in picnic tables set up end-to-end so they’re almost one long table. We ended up sitting next to a German couple who offered to help us when it became apparent that we didn’t know what anything was.
As a result of that knowledge (and the fact we’d made few purchases that day), we ended up ordering a single item that was recommended for two people.
First, the waiter brought two bacon-beers and a round ceramic device that looked like a big ash-tray with wholes in the side. There was a candle in the middle. The beer was some of the darkest we’ve had since arriving in Europe, and actually tasted like bacon.
A few minutes later, the waiter brought an entire cast-iron pan filled with food and placed it on the ceramic candle, which is apparently for keeping the food warm.
Inside, on top of a bed of sauerkraut we had roasted pork shoulder, ox-tail, half a duck, knodel (German-style dumplings) and a zwiebel. The zwiebel ended up being Leslie’s favorite, which is an onion with most of the inside layers replaced with a meat-loaf like dish. Personally, I liked the pork shoulder, which still had the skin on it. The phrase “pork rind” finally made sense. We were stuffed. It was good, but a little too much meat for Leslie.
The next day we wandered the rest of the city. Our main destination was Kirche St. Michael, which is an old Baroque church, although we really wanted to get there because we heard it was the best spot to see the entire city from. I found it very German that there was a biergarten serving from the back of the church.
The walk down took us along the river and over another unique walking bridge before taking us through some of the more residential parts of the city.
We had dinner at another brauhous (brewery), this one having been opened in the 1400s. Leslie got another zwiebel that was even better than the night before. I think it was called Osterhaus, but I’m not sure.
Throughout the day, we had been discussing whether or not to remain for a third night as the food was good, the cost-of-traveling was relatively low and it was all-in-all a great little town. That said, we decided against day 3 because we had walked over the majority of the main sights in the course of two days.
We also had our friends John and Danielle Dolin that we were supposed to meet in Geneva, Switzerland after two more nights. I didn’t think we needed two more days and if we only stayed one than we wouldn’t be able to see our next place for more than a day. We generally consider two the minimum.
So that said, we made the decision to leave our quaint little German town and move onto another, close to the Swiss border.
We woke up on day three, made a quick stop by the post office, purchased a six-pack ofOsterhaus Rauchbier for the Dolins and got back on the train.
Next stop, The Black Forest. Frieburg, Germany.

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