Foodie Heaven in Augsburg: The Bavarian City No One’s Heard Of.

With the charms of the alluring Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg all nearby, Augsburg doesn’t get much of a look-in on the Bavarian tourist trail.

In fact we have lived an hour’s drive away from here for two years now and hadn’t even bothered to visit Augsburg ourselves until this weekend.

This was due to a bad review from an American expat friend (who wasn’t that impressed) and a less than enthusiastic write-up in the Lonely Planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Germany’s third oldest city is a beautifully buzzy place with astounding architecture and a thriving market perfect for foodie types.

In typical German style the Stadtmarkt (city market) must also be one of the world’s cleanest and most organised.

In one lane you will find around half a dozen bakeries, selling delicious German breads and mouth-watering cakes.

In another there are the colourful fruit and veg stalls peddling autumn truffles among the florists and a few home ware shops.

Then on a third aisle you have all the fishmongers and a few eateries where you can snack on fresh fish buns while watching the world go by.

As if that’s not enough the market also boasts a food hall full of international goodies in its Viktualienhalle.

Here you’ll find stalls brimming with Italian antipasti, Asian spices and fine smoked meats as well as a couple of pop-up bars where weary shoppers pause for a wine or beer. Nice!

It’s the perfect place for stocking up (particularly at Christmas time) and soaking up a great atmosphere at the same time.

As I grew up in Essex in the UK I used to think of markets as being the kind of place where dodgy guys sold cheap clothes and knocked off shampoo somewhere under a grimy underpass.

So I’m forever impressed when I stumble on a market that has charm, class and sells fruit a bit more exotic than apples.

After munching our way through the market we checked out Augsburg’s colourful Altstadt (old city) with its 17th century Renaissance Town Hall and gothic cathedral.

The sun even popped out for a bit, causing a rush of Germans to the nearest ice-cream sellers (they are mad for ice-cream here. When sun shines,  Brits sunbathe. Germans buy ice-cream).

Large chains and independent shops are in abundance in compact Augsburg too (perfect for shopping) with some cool arty places dotted along winding backstreets such as Dominikanergasse. I was impressed and wondered why the hell no one had gushed to me about this wonderful place before.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t trust American dudes or Lonely Planet. Find out for yourself.

After being seduced by the market and the shops we didn’t have time to see much else, but hopefully we’ll pop back one day to see the Art Nouveau synagogue and the famous Augsburg Puppet Box.

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

And Then The Pigs Magically Became….Sausages

On Saturday we went to one of my favourite local spots in Bavaria, a tiny, picturesque village up in the hills with a farm, adjoining restaurant, and a 5-star bakery.

I’ve never heard of a 5-star bakery before and I’m not exactly sure why the Kasprowicz in Gut Kerschlach is one, except for the sign outside saying it is and the exceptionally good cakes.

But at least I can now say that I have been to a 5-star bakery, even if there weren’t any limos parked outside, high-class hookers hanging out at the counter or bread rolls lounging around in tuxedos smoking cigars.

To get to the village you have to drive to another small village in the south of Bavaria called Pahl, and walk 20 minutes or so along a trail through tall forests and rolling countryside with gorgeous Alpine views.

It’s very pretty to say the least.

Once more it’s great for kids, because there’s very little traffic up there, and you can tour the farm with its kids’ park and zoo, with  moo moos, bunnies, baa baas and neeeee-ighs! (This is how I talk now I have a 16-month-old).

Now we all know how much kids love animals. And how much nicer it is to see them on an ‘eco’ farm, being treated all humanely and stuff. It was a lovely family outing, and our hearts were literally singing with joy as we skipped around in the sunshine like characters from a Disney movie, talking to the animals all Dr Dolittle like.

But sadly we were unable to find the oink oinks. The map showed their barn as being at the back of the farm. But they were nowhere to be found.

Max has just learnt how to make grunts like a pig.  When you’re a parent and your child learns to make grunts like a pig, THIS IS ONE OF THE HIGLIGHTS OF YOUR YEAR.  Therefore, we had to find those smelly noisy pink buggers as if our lives depended on it.

After ten minutes of frantic searching, we found what we thought was the pig area. Hooray! Max’s face lit up, and he started making his cute oink oink noises.

We all skipped over holding hands, with grins like the Cheshire Cat (not really but got to keep up the Disney-esque-ness of it all). We had found the pigs!

But instead of the pigs we actually found this….a sausage factory.

Are you having a laugh? Who puts a sausage factory on a farm for kids, right where the pigs are meant to be? That’s the wurst!

There wasn’t even an attempt to disguise the factory of horrors. There’s a whopping great big sign on the sausage factory announcing it’s a sausage factory, explaining to the children what happens to the animals inside. The way they break the news is quite hilarious. The sign is in German, but let me (or Google) translate.

“Kerschlach Factory. Here the animals that come from the farm and from partner companies are slaughtered in an animal friendly-way and are transformed into speciality sausages.”

“Transformed.” What a nice way of putting it.

It was a sad end to a beautiful day. We trundled off, heads bowed,  looking and feeling grim. Damn those Germans for always being so brutally honest and direct. Practicality rules over everything here. Feelings don’t always count. That’s why there was a sausage factory on a farm for kids. That’s why my friend’s nan lives in a sheltered housing scheme for the elderly with great views of the cemetery over the road. That’s why people here still wear Crocs – in public.

Although I have to admit, I have enjoyed a German sausage or two in my time.  They taste amazing. I guess there’s no point hiding the truth of what happens to most pigs in what is the land of sausages. In Britain I doubt this scenario would have existed, for fear of being insensitive and giving children nightmares. Not in Bavaria!

And at least, like whenever something doesn’t go to plan here, we can cheer up over five-star cake.

German Hospitals Rule – There is Beer!

As regular readers of my blog will know (all five of you), I recently spent a week in a German hospital following an unpleasant car crash.

This was actually my second week in a German hospital, having spent a week in the same one last year after having my baby there. (Yes, an entire week! No chucking you out after a few hours here!)

So I wasn’t that shocked to discover on my second stay that German hospitals are very different to English ones – i.e. they are nice.

Or should I say Bavarian hospitals. I have come in for some stick lately for referring to Bavaria as German. Tut tut!  How dare I confuse a German state as actually being part of Germany!

I even took a few pictures to back up my claims. Do all German hospitals look like this or is it a case of mega-rich Bavaria coming up trumps again? If so, I really undersand why the rest of Germany is so jealous hates this state. Take a look for yourself.

Spotlights and polished wooden floors? Ja Danke!

Wards with balconies overlooking the gardens? Naturlich!

Plenty of green space for patients to wander about in? In England this would have been turned into a money-making car park long ago!

An empty bed? Definitely not an English hospital then! Watch and weep, David Cameron.

Fancy artwork on the walls? This would never have made it on to the wall of an English hospital, for fear someone would use it to attack one of the staff then steal some morphine.

And a kitchen for patients with free tea, and use of a coffee machine. How lovely!

However, it was in this said kitchen that I also found someone’s secret stash of beer. Remember this is a Bavarian hospital, where prescriptions for beer are readily handed out. (Americans – that was a joke).

My only complaint of the German hospital was the food.

This was breakfast, and the same was ‘dished up’ for dinner.

Bavarians eat a lot, so I was surprised to find really meagre portions existing anywhere in Bavaria. So meagre in fact that when my little German couldn’t bring me food, I had to order take-away from the pizza place across the road. And I honestly don’t eat that much. That pizza man must make a killing from all of the hungry Bavarian patients! Especially the ones with the beer munchies! The most profitable businesses in Germany must be the restaurants close to hospitals! Open one if you can.

Finally, I couldn’t help but laugh at this poster for the hospital hairdresser that I spotted by the lifts.  It’s amazing what men can get for 29 Euros these days.

Regensburg: Bavaria’s Coolest City?

I love Regensburg.  For a city that boasts some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe, Regensburg is young, vibrant, fun, and cool. The University City is also stunningly beautiful and full of really really interesting places to devour food. The world’s oldest sausage kitchen? It’s in Regensburg! Germany’s oldest chocolate shop? Yay, in Regensburg! One of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria? Yep, Regensburg. (Why would a hospital need a brewery? Contrary to popular belief Bavarians, beer only cures confidence issues).

But back to Regensburg. It’s easy to explore the German city’s main attractions, colourful squares and cosy alleys in a day. It’s also just 90 minutes on a train from Munich, and well worth the trip.  (It’s been declared a World Heritage Site, don’t you know.)

Regensburg. What an alley!

We arrived by car from our little part of Bavaria and spent a full day soaking up the best of Regensburg. The first thing that struck me about this city is how similar it is to Prague. From their narrow winding backstreets, to their huge gothic cathedrals, and their old bridges over the rivers, the two medieval cities are somewhat in sync. While it’s not as large as the Czech city, Regensburg crams in over 700 spots for eating and drinking – minus Prague’s huge crowds and drunken stag parties. Hooray!

It also has lots of cool shops, a buzzing street market, and a relaxed, laid-back vibe. Me loves.

The temperature was a whole 1C on the day we decided to visit. But the sun was beaming down on the cute, cobbled streets, and it seemed everyone was out visiting the market, drinking in cafes, or simply wandering around like us.

Regensburg street scene

Regensburg is very different to where we live in Bavaria. We live in a small village where people generally have one eye and women get beaten with a stick every time they leave the kitchen. Ok, so it’s not that bad, but you get the picture. I love it here really, but we all need a change from time to time. A day in Regensburg was just the very fresh and fricken cold blast of air that was needed. Sometimes you only need to take a little trip up the road to enjoy a break from the norm.

Don’t miss:

  • Lunch at the Historische Wurstkuche, the world’s oldest sausage kitchen. While these little beauts look a bit small, what they lack in size they definitely make up for in va-va-voom flavour. The restaurant makes its own sweet mustard too and it goes really well with the pencil sausages. The Wurstkuche is situated right on the banks of the Danube River near the Stone Bridge, but it also has an inside area for those cold German days. How lovely! Unless you’re a veggie, which I was when I first came to Bavaria. Kind of given it up now.

Sausages

  • Having a sweet at Germany’s oldest chocolatiers, Prinzess Cafe. Praline heaven. 

DSC_0457

  • A stroll across the Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146. Great spot to enjoy views over Regensburg.

Stone Bridge

  • A beer at Spitalgarten, one of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria. Sit outside in the biergarten under the trees, right on the river. 

Spitalgarten

  • The Dom, Regensburg’s awesome Cathedral. Now I don’t usually go all gooey for churches and all things holy, but this place has to be seen. It’s huge. It has magnificent stained glass windows. And it feels very eerie inside.

The Dom

Do you live somewhere with a completely contrasting area just up the road? Or do you have any experiences of Regensburg to share? Make my day and leave a comment! And here are some more pictures of Regensburg.

Munich’s Best Cakes?

Bavarians love making cake. I love eating it. And I have been assured that Maelu is the place to sample Munich’s best cakes. It’s swish, it’s pricey, and some of the delights on offer look like they’ve been polished with Mr Sheen. But this Konditorei is a great place to soak up the city’s atmosphere and stuff your face at the same time. I definitely recommend the chocolate eclairs. Divine. Maelu. Theatinerstrasse 32, 80333 Munich. 089 2429 2597.  www.maelu.de

Christmas Spirit Bavarian style

Germans love planning and preparation. No where is this more evident than during the festive season, when Germans seem to enjoy getting ready for Christmas more than celebrating the big day itself. Cute traditions swarm Bavaria at this time of year and are guaranteed to get even the biggest Scrooge into the Christmas spirit. Here are my top 5 Bavarian Christmassy thingies.

1. Biscuits galore – not Jaffa Cakes.

Bavarian biscuits home-made by my German in-laws

Bavarian biscuits home-made by my German in-laws

Bavarian housewives are baking crazy at the best of times. But in December they become total baking maniacs, who froth at the mouth while making the finest home-made biscuits you’ll ever set your tongues on. The beauties – often made with cinnamon and coconut – are baked from the very start of December, not just in the days before Christmas. Pay a visit to a Bavarian family home during this month and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a biscuit factory. If you banked on pigging out on Christmas Day and watching your diet for the rest of the month, then well, you’re literally stuffed.  If you’re offered these exquisite delicacies, saying no is not an option. Doing so is considered ruder than pooing on the hallway rug. If you want to create the illusion of being the perfect Bavarian housewife when you’re not, then fear not, because the biscuits are sold at the Christmas markets for a very reasonable price.

2. The Advent candle wreath. Home-made of course and not from the Bavarian equivalent of Homebase.

Another popular tradition harking back to Bavaria’s religious roots is the Advent candle wreath. You won’t find many lights switched on in Bavarian homes in December as most will have one of these burning away  somewhere. The evergreen wreaths usually have four or five candles. One is lit each week from the start of Advent on November 30, with the final lit on Jesus’ birthday – Christmas Day.

3. The Christmas Markets. Bavaria at its best.

Christmas market food stall

Christmas market food stall

Pretty, atmospheric and ever so Christmassy, the stunning Christmas markets spring up in almost every village, town and city from the end of November. They’re a great place to stock up on gifts and/or line your stomachs with food and alcohol. It’s a good job the markets exist too. Shop opening hours in small-town Bavaria are hit and miss to say the least, thanks to the distinct lack of recession here. All shops except those at petrol stations close on Sundays. Then most shut early on a Saturday (even the Saturday just before Christmas, as I found out the hard way last year). Many also close on Wednesdays, and also for about two hours at lunchtimes on the days they finally do open. So if you live outside of Munich, work normal hours and fancy a lie-in on a Saturday, then you’re totally buggered for getting any shopping done.

Therefore the Christmas markets are more of a saviour than Christ himself. They tend to open late afternoons and even encourage the lazy shop-owners nearby to stay open for a bit longer. I love the way Bavarian shopping streets are so  traditional, diverse and individual, unlike the monotonous high streets overtaken by chains that blight England. If German high streets want to fight off online competition and avoid the same fate, then shops need to open more. Rant over.

4. St Nicholas. Like Santa but earlier and with an evil helper.

Nederlands: Sinterklaas tijdens het Het Feest ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On December 6, German children wake and eagerly check the shoes they left outside their door the evening before. If they were good, they will contain small presents. But if they were bad, they’ll find a lump of twigs where their toes should go. St Nicholas, a bishop celebrated for his good deeds, is the man responsible for rewarding the well-behaved kids. But his evil helper, Knecht Ruprecht, punishes the naughty ones with the twigs. Apparently most children are extremely scared of Knecht, and I often wonder if any parents are mean enough to put twigs in their kids’ shoes instead of say, an iPhone 5 (Bavarians are pretty rich). Ironically, St Nicholas was born a Greek. If he really were real, I doubt he would be rewarding German children today in the current economic climate.

5. Mistletoe. Really does grow on trees.

So this isn’t really a Bavarian tradition as such, but Bavaria has changed the way I look at mistletoe forever. I grew up seeing mistletoe as a tiny branch we brought for £2 at Christmas time from the local garden centre. Never once did I contemplate how mistletoe looked in the wild. In Bavaria, once the leaves have completely fallen off the trees, you can see mistletoe growing in them all over the countryside. From a distance they look like large birds’ nests. In fact, mistletoe is a parasitic plant, which can kill host trees. Sometimes you’ll see 20 of these bunches in a single tree. Now I realise we were completely ripped off paying £2 for such a tiny amount of mistletoe back in the UK, when you can climb a tree in Bavaria and get a huge bunch for free! Christmas kisses really should be available to all.

Go Small Town Bavaria for the Best Xmas Markets

Star Lanterns

Nuremberg and Cologne may boast Germany’s most popular Christmas markets, but for a more authentic experience head off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some real gems.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas practically every Bavarian town and village hosts its own Christmas market. Historic castles, beer gardens, town squares, quaint high streets and church grounds all over the land are transformed into picturesque Christmas scenes. The markets are so prevalent that you could easily visit a few different ones each week throughout December without travelling more than 10 miles. They range in size from a few stalls set up over one weekend to those with a good 20 traders operating every day for a few weeks. Each one is different in its own way. But at every market you will certainly find locals huddled around sipping mugs of Glühwein (translates as ‘glow wine’, a German mulled wine) and feasting on waffles, crepes and Bratwurst sausages. In fact many Bavarians seem to go to the markets mainly to drink and eat rather than shop. The goods on offer can vary, which is why I find it’s better to visit a few of the smaller Christmas markets rather than relying on one for finding everything you need.

Steamy Gluhwein!

Steamy Gluhwein!

One of my favourites is in a town called Diessen on The Ammersee. Its one-weekend-only market is small, incredibly festive, and extremely cosy and cute. Stalls lit up by fires and fairy lights sell hand-crafted goods such as woolly hats, soaps, candles, and wooden decorations. A team of blacksmiths showcase their art under the eerie lights of the imposing baroque-style church. And shoppers sipping on mulled wine sing Christmassy songs around a campfire (in German of course – not quite the same, but still). It’s definitely one of the prettiest Christmas markets I’ve been to. Another personal favourite is in a historic town called Landsberg on Germany’s famous Romantic Road. The market – held throughout December – is set around a large square lit up by a Christmas tree in the middle. The wooden stalls spill out onto the cobbled high street, teamed with its high and narrow, colourful buildings. Too pretty for words – especially when covered in snow.

Traditional Christmas market food stall

Traditional Christmas market food stall

When I lived in England, I relied mainly on the big high street names for my Christmas shopping. The Christmas markets in Bavaria have taught me a valuable lesson. Even though they’re all different, they all support small, independent craftsman and businesses selling unique, quality goods. Real people creating real things. I know who I’d rather see my hard-earned pennies go to at Christmas- or at any time of the year! Just be sure to visit one the markets at dusk. When they’re all lit up in the dark it really adds to the atmosphere.

Landsberg Xmas Market

Landsberg Xmas Market