Thursday, September 6, 2012

Leipzig -- Day 1

   It threatened to be a jammed-packed day, as we not only had to see everything we wanted to see in Leipzig, but get to over to the hotel near Berlin-Tegel as well. Tegel is one of those airports like Gatwick. It's the old airport and it's "in the city" only in the loosest of definitions. But before any further talk of Berlin, we have to talk about Leipzig!
   First thing, we went to find a place to have breakfast. Originally we were planning on going to a famous coffee shop, but as it turns out, they're not open for breakfast, so we went to another place nearby called, rather unfortunately, Club Spizz.  There I had a traditional Leipzig breakfast, which includes a seven-minute egg, brown bread, some smoked ham, liverwurst and....wait for it....lard. Yes, that's right, apparently a big thing in Eastern Germany is bacon-infused lard on bread. I did eat it. It was ok, though it's hard to get past the fact that you're pretty much spooning lard directly into your face.
The main attraction, so to speak, in the city is the fact that it was the long-time home of J.S. Bach and his family. He was the cantor of Thomaskirch for several years as well as teaching at the adjoined school. St. Thomaskirch itself is a gothic Lutheran Church, partially rebuilt after allied bombing in WWII and oft-restored since sulphur and soot from a nearby mine did extensive damage to the statuary and paintings inside over time.
   Across the street from Thomaskirch, in his formal home, is a museum dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, his life and family and of course his music. We managed to go to the Bach museum on the only day of the month that admission is free, so we stepped through each room and listened to every audioguide snippet until our heads were packed full of Bach trivia. Here's a piece that's floated to the surface now -- Bach had 2 wives over the couse of his days, and between them fathered *20* children. As a result, there are several Bach relatives alive today. Sadly, none are in the music trade anymore.
   After the Bach museum, we headed to Zum Arabischen Cofe Baum (Of the Arabian Coffee Tree), which declares itself to be one of the oldest continually running coffee shops in Europe. Atop the old shop is a slightly tongue-in-cheek museum dedicated to the history of coffee in Europe generally and in Leipzig particularly. An interesting fact is that there used to be four dedicated members-only Masonic coffeehouses in Leipzig, where members of the Freemasonry performed their secret rites and...presumably drank coffee.
   I had a house specialty flavored coffee (I know, I know, I was reluctant even to put that in writing. I'll be thrown out of the coffee-snob club for sure for this one). This being one my last opportunities for trying food in Saxony, I also had a Leipziger Gose beer -- Brett, pay attention, because this one is really unique.
   Gose beer is a top-fermented regional speciality beer made with at least 50% malted wheat. In the brewing they add corriander and salt during the brewing and do a short malolactic fermentation at the end to give it a strong, sour character. It was *very* different, almost tasting like a cider.
   They also had a dessert on the menu that I couldn't stop myself from ordering, and I am sure glad I did because it was one of my favorites for the whole trip. Take whole, stoned plums, stuff them with Marzipan, add a little quark cheese, dip in a sweet batter, deep fry the whole thing, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and add a sauce made with sloe plums. Serve with a bit of ice cream. Absolutely fantastic.
   Afterward we strolled around downtown, deciding not to go to any more museums with the hour and a half left to us. We walked through the downtown farmer's market, oogling the fresh end-of-summer fruits and veggies, the meat and seafood vendors, and the spice vendors. At a local dairy market we braved a bottle of fresh local milk, since we won't be able to get anything like that it in the states. It was really good, though I suffered a little for drinking all that dairy.
   We walked to a park on the Goethestrasse across the street from the train station to watch some ducks while we burned off some time before our train and then left Leipzig at 3pm for Berlin. By the time we got to Berlin it was about 5 and we took an S train to the canalfront, where we stopped at a restaurant right on the channel. It was a really nice final dinner in Germany -- we had a table next to the river and the weather was cool and bright and beautiful
  I had ox cheeks with a potatoe cake topped with chanterelles (in season and all over the place). The cheeks themselves were braised in a red wine sauce and topped with some kind of "foam". Foam is a big culinary trend right now, and I think it's kind of a rubbish trend to be honest. The meal looked great except for said foam, which sort of made it look like someone had spit on the food -- not a very appealing presentation. Still, it was delicious, spit and all.
   Dad had his *acutal* last Wiener shnitzel of the trip, and much to our surprises, it was actually the best shnitzel we'd had so far.
   We watched the sun go down over Berlin and said our silent farewells to the city, and essentially our trip and started our winding way to the hotel near the airport.
   And when they say "near the airport", they mean "in the approach lane". They also failed to mention the lack of AC in the room which required that we open the windows and allow the planes to swoop by. You could hear them coming practically off the runway. By the time the plane passed by, it had evolved into a brain-filling roar. Eventually we had to endure the warmth and close those windows to avoid feeling like the wrath of God was coming down on us every five minutes.
   The next day would start at 6:30 am, and since I am writing this entry a few days late, let me foreshadow and say that it would be a travel day for the recordbooks.

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