Monday, April 25, 2011

Deutsches Eck

On the drive home from Cologne we stopped in Koblenz to see the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). The series of events that impacted this stop are quite interesting and subject for another blog. This one is about the Deutsches Eck, what it stands for and where it is.

The Deutsches Eck is a large statue of German Emperor William I mounted on a massive steed. Wilhelm I became the first emperor of the first-time unified German country after its defeat of France in 1871. Wilhelm died in 1888. Nine years later in 1897 he was honored with this enormous statue which sits on a point of land at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers.

Deutsches Eck, German Corner, at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers.

Two historical figures; Jeff and Wilhelm I.

Before I go on, this raises another rhetorical question I have long had. When two rivers join, how do people decide which river continues on and which one ends? In this case, why couldn’t the Mosel continue and the Rhine end? Why couldn’t the Missouri or the Ohio continue and the Mississippi end? Speaking of the Ohio River, why do both the Alleghany and the Monongahela rivers create a confluence that results in the Ohio? Why doesn’t one end and the other continue?

OK, I’m done with that, back to the Deutsches Eck. It was damaged by U.S. artillery during WW II and the statue was taken down shortly after the end of the war. Because of various political issues, it would not be returned to its original pedestal until September 1993 when a Koblenz couple volunteered to pay for all reconstruction costs.

Jeff and I at the extreme point of land between the Mosel and Rhine.

On the eastern shore of the Rhine, high on a bluff is the Ehrenbreistein (Broad Stone of Honor) Fortress. The present structure, with 20 foot thick walls, was built by Prussia in the early 19th Century. Today there’s an almost new, modern cable car system that will take people from the west side of the Rhine at the Deutsches Eck, across the river to the heights of the fortress.

Ehrenbreistein on the east side of the Rhine directly opposite the Deutsches Eck.

Deutsches Eck from Ehrenbreistein. The Mosel flows in from the top of the picture here which looks to the west. The Rhine flows here left to right, south to north. You can see the different colors of the river waters as they join.

The grounds around the Deutsches Eck and Ehrenbreistein had been set up for a six month flower show. In fact, in the picture above you can see the cable car system across the Rhine which was built especially for this flower show. I'm here on the Ehrenbreistein grounds. They really had done a nice job and everything was very pretty.

It was a beautiful sunny day to visit the German Corner and Ehrenbreistein Fortress. Comfortable beer gardens were situated in the shade along the Rhine. we knew it was going to be a perfect day for a drive south along the river and then home. Little did we know that our greatest challenge of the weekend was yet to come. But, as I already mentioned, that’s a subject for another blog.


Jeff and I just spent the Easter weekend in Cologne. Before I get into this too far I have a somewhat rhetorical question that first occurred to me years ago during our first visit to Cologne. Why are some city names translated to English and others aren’t. Cologne is the perfect example since the German spelling is Köln. Why is the German spelling of München translated to Munich, Nürnberg to Nuremberg but Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Wiesbaden are not translated? Some of it must have to do with the umlaut, that pair of dots above the vowel. Why not just drop the dots and leave it as it is for English?

There was a settlement in what is now Cologne as early as 38BC. The Romans moved in around 85AD and stayed until the Franks took over in 459. Throughout much of the middle ages Cologne was a Free Imperial City which caused consternation with the Catholic Archbishops who wanted complete control of the city and where normally not even allowed entrance to Cologne. During the 19th Century, Cologne lost its free city status and was at various times part of France and Prussia. When Cologne became part of the newly formed, unified Germany in 1871 it was designated a Fortress of the German Confederation because of its double fortified belt surrounding the city. Those city walls remained intact until after WW I when France required their destruction. Cologne was heavily damaged during WW II as the result of 262 allied air raids. Cologne’s mayor, 1917-1933, was Konrad Adenauer who would become the first chancellor of West Germany following WW II.

The thing Cologne is best known for is certainly its cathedral. It’s an absolutely amazing building in both size and design. The Kölner Dom was first begun in 1284. Because of finances, politics and several wars there were numerous periods when construction was abandoned. The cathedral was finally finished in 1880 and by then the city’s residence referred to the Dom as Dauerbaustelle (eternal construction site). Not surprisingly, during our visit, there were at least six areas on the cathedral where scaffolding was placed for either renovation or cleaning.

The Cologne Cathedral, the Kölner Dom. The shear magnitude of its size is almost indescribable.

Here I am on the Deutz Bridge with Cologne old town water front in the background with the Great St. Martin Church on the right and the Dom on the left. Great St. Martin dates back to 1150-1250 so it was originally older than the Dom. However, it was badly damaged in WW II and was totally rebuilt.

We had walked over to the east side of the Rhine. Here's the Dom and the Hohenzollern railway bridge.

It has become a tradition to place love padlocks on the wire mesh wall along the pedestrian walkway of the Hohenzollern bridge. Almost every padlock had some love message, some engraved.

On parts on the bridge the numbers of padlocks was quite dense. There must have been tens of thousands on the bridge. At one time the railway threatened to cut them all off but that resulted in a huge outcry. Now there's just too many to do much about it.

Back across the Rhine we're on our way into the Dom, the Cologne Cathedral.

The inside of the Cologne Cathedral was simply magnificent.

The stained glass windows in the Dom were too many to count. This is one of the larger windows.

Right behind the cathedral in importance is Kölsch, which is the light, golden lager brewed in the Cologne area. Kölsch also happens to be the German dialect spoken in this part of the country. So the local joke is that Kölsch is the only language that you can drink. There are numerous, quite impressive, gasthauses in Cologne that serve various brands of Kölsch. Interestingly, all establishments serve their Kölsch in the same, small, 0.2 liter, narrow cylinder, thin glassed, glass called a Stange (pole). Waiters deliver up to 18 Stangen (poles) in a circular tray called a Kranz (wreath). Although the glass of Kölsch is small and goes down quite quickly we figure that there is an advantage to this method. Waiters are quite aware of your need for refreshment so they are very attentive and quick with another fresh, cold Kölsch. Under German law, with only a few minor exceptions, Kölsch may not be brewed outside of the Cologne area. Well, I had more to say about Kölsch beer than I did about Cologne’s world famous cathedral or even the entire history of the city. I guess there’s a statement in that.

Our first stop for some Kölsch is at the famous Früh gasthaus. Here's a picture of the Kranz, the wreath tray, that all gasthauses used to deliver their Kölsch. In other places we watch them fill the glasses. They would load up the wreath with empty glasses and then pour the beer, rotating the wreath to fill them up.

Jeff and Früh, the most famous Cologne Kölsch.

The Früh am Dom gasthaus, just a few hundred feet from the Cologne Cathedral.

Next stop the Brauhaus-Sion, established in 1318. Although we sat outside on a wonderful day we walked around inside and it was really an impressive place.

Jeff and Sion Kölsch.

We decided to eat at the oldest gasthaus in Cologne, the Haxenhaus. A very nice, dark wood decor inside but we ate outside right on the Rhine River.

The meal of course starts with Gaffel Kölsch.

I had a wonderful sauerbraten, knodel and red cabbage. Yummy!!

Jeff had a crispy schweinhaxen and roasted potatos.

Next morning we walked back down along the Rhine past this fountain area. It was a bit cool. This is one of the three little boys that were gleefully playing away in the fountain, buck naked, all three.

A closer view of the Great St. Martin Church and some of the old town buildings that line the Rhine River.

Folks just loved to sit along the Rhine and watch the people stroll and the river flow by.

If you wanted a beer while you watched the people and the river this guy would eventually walk by with a wreath full of various beers.

Another of the wonderful beer establishments in Cologne, Peters Brauhaus, established in 1544. Really a great place.

Peters Kölsch.

The Peters Brauhaus fass, the tap. Hops above.

Jeff and Peters Kölsch.

Gaffel-Haus. Nice place to sit, right on the Alter Markt square.

Jeff and Gaffel Kölsch.

Brauerei zum Pfaffen was most notable because of the amazing woodwork inside on the walls and the standup tables. Really cool.

Malzmühle, although one of the more austere places was great fun. They have an interesting picture inside that shows the front of this building after WW II. The only thing remaining is the front steps and door frame. It's a fifth generation family brewery and gasthaus that started in 1858.

Malzmühle Kölsch, very good.

Sünner im Walfisch (Whale), you can see the whale on their sign, started business in 1626. It's a much smaller place than the others we'd been in but the folks there were very friendly and there was a very nice, old German decor. That's the Great St. Martin Church in the background.

Sünner Kölsch.

Inside the Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass (Salt gas). Another wonderful beer establishment. You can see here that they pour the Kölsch directly from the barrel and, if more than one glass, pour it with the glasses already in the wreath. This barrel is running low so they have it tilted up to help. They went through three of these little barrels while we sat there. The square hole in front of the barrel is sort of a dumb waiter. New barrels came up there, empty barrels went back down.

The Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass is one of the few places in Cologne that serves Päffgen Kölsch, very good. It used to be common for places to put tick marks like these on one of the beer mats at the table to indicate how many beers had been served, but not anymore. However, in Cologne it still seems to be the norm.

We finished our day at a great Italian restaurant, again sitting outside right on the Rhine. Our German/Italian waiter turned out to be a great guy and we had some very good conversation with him. After our meal he placed two glasses of grappe, Italian schnapps, in front of us. He also left the bottle and told us to have as much as we liked. How about none!! Actually a very nice gesture.

Cologne was way fun and an amazingly place to walk about, see the sites and drink the Kölsch. Our drive home was interesting and worthy of it's own blog and because of the way that evolved, actually two blogs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Aim Point

This is another one of those hard hitting issues that Sandra just won’t take on. But, it’s a legitimate story that needs to be told. This is a cultural situation that is important to the understanding of how our friends and allies in the world think and function. That kind of understanding will bring our societies closer together and make us more appreciative of the things that are important to each other. Yes, another toilet tale.

Apparently, there’s an aiming problem here in Europe. Maybe it’s actually just a concern in Germany because that’s where I’ve observed this issue. When you walk into a public toilet, quite often there’ll be an aiming point on the urinal wall. One brand of urinals has the life-size image of a house fly permanently emblazoned into the porcelain. Another uses the image of a lit candle. You can imagine how convenient these little aim points are and how it adds a bit of enjoyment to a standard relief event.

Of course, this is all well and good if you have a facility with these newer designed urinals but what do you do if you don’t? How do you improve the aiming in your establishment?

Now, just the other day, I’m in a very nice, very old gasthaus in Mainz. While visiting their toilets I discovered their ingenious aim point solution. It incorporates two of the things that are men’s favorites, and European men specifically, pissing and sports, and more to the point, soccer. It’s a little soccer goal right there in the urinal. What fun!!! GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!! GOLDEN GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!! Some inventive guy just made himself a million Euros and at today’s exchange rate that’s a million and a half dollars. GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!!

German Beer vs. French Beer

We drove over to Forbach, France, right across the German border, a 40 minute drive from our home in Weilerbach. There’s a super-store, Cora, (they call them hypermarkets over here) in Forbach that had been recommended to us by a number of people. We had two objectives in mind, weed killer and French wine.

Cora is a Belgium based super-store chain that does business in France, Romania, Hungary, Luxembourg and, of course, Belgium. The major attraction for our trip was the weed killer, available at Cora. A commercial weed killer for home use is not sold in Germany because of their position that it can eventually seep down to underground water supplies. And, of course, if you’re going to go to France you might as well get some French wine too.

Now, there are super-stores in Germany, such as Globus, and as you would expect these German stores are very clean, very tidy and orderly. Going into Cora was an interesting comparison on the varied cultures of two neighboring countries and their people. Forbach sits right on the French/German border. Cora is less than a mile from that same border but when you walk into this French super-store you notice some real differences from the German stores; not quite as clean, a bit of disarray and a definite odor. Interesting.

We did find the weed killer, €30 for a liter bottle. It was even called Round Up but, from what we’ve been told, it doesn’t work anywhere near as well the U.S. Round Up. Apparently it requires at least three applications to kill a weed, even though the French label of the Cora weed killer plainly claims one application kills weeds in 24 hours. Luckily, there was also a smaller spray bottle for €12 so we went with that; results yet to be determined.

Lots of Bordeaux wines to choose from at very reasonable prices. We came home with about ten bottles; taste and quality yet to be determined.

By now you're probably wondering what the title of this blog is all about. We enjoy Kronenbourg 1664. Really, it’s the only French beer that we’re familiar with. Interestingly, it’s a very common beer in British pubs and it’s even available in some U.S. bars. It cannot be sold in Germany because it doesn’t meet the beer purity laws here. Jeff said we’re not buying French beer when we live in the mecca of beer but I like 1664 enough that I insisted. When we got home we sat out on our patio and had a couple beers; Jeff, a German beer, me, the 1664. Below, the German beer on the left, Hofbrau, and the French 1664 on the right. Maybe Jeff has a point.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Schapps House

We spent an enjoyable Saturday evening with friends at the Schnapps House in Reichenbach-Steegen, a fifteen minute drive from our home in Weilerbach. The folks at the Schapps House host various group functions in their distillery building and before we started our meal they gave a small presentation of their operation.

To begin with, we walked into the room where they operate their distiller. Like most things in Germany, the schnapps/liqueur distillery business is heavily regulated. Of course, to operate such a distillery it requires a license. That can be a problem because the German government does not issue new licenses. No new license for distillery operations have been issued since WWII. So the only way to obtain one is to buy or inherit one. After a lengthy search the Schapps House partners were able to acquire one in 1997 for the price of 30,000 Euros. Then they purchased the state-of-the art distillery you see here. Stainless steel on the outside, copper inside, it's about twelve feet tall. It holds the maximum amount, 150 liters, of fruit mash allowed by German law and the tower above consists of three filters, also the maximum allowed by law. From that 150 liters of mash they recover 8-9 liters of 190 proof, yes, 95 percent alcohol concentrated schnapps. From that they add water until they have about 200 liters of ready to drink/sell schnapps.

The Schapps house offers 23 types of Schnaps (only one P in the German spelling) and 30 types of liqueurs. After our meal, which was an outstanding buffet, we had an opportunity to sample a few of their products. For seven Euros we tried ten, 1/2- ounce shots of schnapps/liqueus. Our choices, left to tight in the picture here, were, Strawberry, Hazelnut Ghost and Coffee Schapps, (thank goodness we only had three schnapps) Vodka-Fig, Chocolate, Cream-Vanilla, Cappuccino, Peppermint, Almond, Mango-Jalapeno and Honeydew-Melon liqueurs.Now, because of their adherence to strict quality control in fruit mash and hygiene, plus the use of no preservatives, the Schnapps House is consistently ranked in the top ten distillers in Germany. They have won numerous awards for their schnapps and liqueurs, regularly winning top honors against much larger distributors. In spite of all that, CRIKEY!!!!, these schnapps tasted like a mixture of turpentine, rubbing alcohol and an extremely faint flavor of whatever that particular schnapps happened to be called. I think that was pretty much the across-the-board consensus among our group of twelve people who actually sampled the schnapps. I certainly don't want to disparage our Schnapps House hosts and their lives work because their schnapps is highly sought after here in Germany. Obviously, there's people who have acquired a taste for this stuff and love it but, as we said in an earlier blog, I think it's the drink you love to hate. The liqueurs were a different story. All of them were a fun, tasty delight.

The night was a great success though. We were at the Schnapps House to celebrate a friends promotion to Lt Colonel. Having the opportunity to do that in the unique setting of a German distillery made the night even more special.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


We're pretty lucky, here in Germany, to have great landlords. They are local farmers; a very close family with four generations living together on their property. I'm sure that there are plenty of other folks who can say the same about their landlords being nice people but how many can say that their landlords also own gasthaus too?

Our actual landlords are Klaus and Hildrud. Their son Bernd and his wife Tonya own Bernd's Blockhaus on the edge of Weilerbach. The Blockhaus sits on a ridge above the family homes and in the middle of their crop fields and pastures. The sign here says that the gasthaus is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and that from here it's just a five minute walk on the footpath. Inside, the Blockhaus sits about 50 people and on nice days there's seating outside for double that. On those nice sunny days, because of its vista on the ridge, the view is splendid overlooking a herd of horses grazing and fields for miles to the west. The Blockhaus is a leisurely walk from the edge of Weilerbach and also the village of Schwedelbach and, because Germans enjoy a good walk on the weekend, the Blockhaus is a favorite destination.

Here's the Blockhaus from below. You can see that Bernd and Tonya smartly covered their roof with solar panels, a common sight now in Germany.

Bernd and Tonya offer standard German cuisine, schnitzels and rumpsteaks, always prepared excellently, by Tonya, just as you would expect. In the back of the Blockhaus menu, because they are farmers, they offer sides of beef at very reasonable rates. Tonya's family has a vineyard not far from Weilerbach and so the Blockhaus offers their label. The food is excellent, the atmosphere wonderful, the prices most agreeable and the beer is cold. What more can you ask from a landlord?

This is Jeff's attempt at art. An ice cold beer outside at the Blockhaus with the heat of the sun shining through. The cranium of the beer and the sky blend so that you can't see where one ends and the other starts, a true statement of how beer is a magnificent blend of man and nature. Good greif.