It is a rewarding experience for an non-German tourist to explode the Bavaria of “beer and pretzels” as a cliché. The author does this in the form of a culinary journey through Bavaria.
As an army marches on its stomach, a journey through Bavaria is also a journey of culinary delights. At any rate, you can safely try it out once because Bavaria cannot be reduced to a one-litre “Mass” of beer and pretzels the way it is done in “German” brew-houses in America from time to time.
Anyone landing at Frankfurt am Main airport begins their excursion in the city of Aschaffenburg in Lower Franconia because this city is the Rhine-Main’ gate to the “Free State” of Bavaria. Given its mild climate, Aschaffenburg confirms its occasional nickname as “the Nice of Bavaria”, taking its name from the French city of the same name on the Mediterranean coast. Aschaffenburg’s southern European flair can be seen in the beginnings of the vineyard region and its mid-city Pompejanum, an imposing Roman-style building built between 1840 and 1848 during the reign of King Ludwig I. Lower Franconia is Bavaria’s “Main and wine” region.
Franconia: the term is synonymous for dry white wine in “Boxbeuteln” bottles, gingerbread “Lebkuchen” and sausages.
A little further to the east, Lower Franconia’s heart beats in Würzburg. If you stop off at the Bürgerspital zum Hl. Geist (“Citizens’ Hospital of the Holy Spirit”) tavern, you are served the choicest wines in squat round “Boxbeutel” bottles. The old patrician estate in the Old Town was converted into a care institute for the poor by Johann von Steren in 1316 and today is used as a restaurant. The foundation includes the best-situated vineyards on the banks of the Main river including the Steinlage, which especially gets a lot of sun and where grapes ripen to make the dry white Silvaner wine. “No other wine tastes as good and I am fretful when my favourite drink runs out,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in praise of the wine to his wife in a letter from Würzburg.
In Upper Franconia, an easy-going car-drive through Franconian Switzerland along the Wiesent river is worth the effort. This is where numerous little distilleries make fruit spirits, which can be tasted in an original atmosphere. And cosy hotels for the then necessary overnight stay are happy to welcome travellers.
The city of Nuremberg, located in Middle Franconia, is Germany’s “gingerbread capital”. The gingerbread “Lebkuchen”, with its many aromas, has been made here since the 13th century. But Nuremberg is more, because the Nuremberg grilled sausage in its characteristic short and narrow nine-centimetre bent shape with its fine majoram taste is world famous. This speciality sausage’s ingredients were laid down as early as the beginning of the 14th century. Sometimes it is served in bread rolls, sometimes on sauerkraut.
If we’re talking about sausages, Nuremberg’s competitor is Regensburg. Regenburg’s Old Town is home to the world’s oldest fast-food bar, a 600 year-old sausage kiosk right down on the banks of the Danube. In this small, low-roofed kiosk, the air is so saturated with the aroma of beech-wood and sausage spices that it is almost impossible to breath – a wonder anyone can even work there! If at all, the fire that the sausages are roasted over goes out only temporarily – when the Danube floods. The “sausage war” between Nuremberg and Regensburg is even official, as Nuremberg also claims to be the oldest but, in a court case in 2000, it could only prove that its sausage-making history was 160 years younger than it claimed. So if we’re talking about sausages, humorous yarns like this are like a wonderful side dish for the silent connoisseur..
Former German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard swore by Pichelsteiner Eintopf.
Leaving Franconia, it’s worth taking a side trip into the Bavarian Forest Nature Reserve. Besides the unique forest and hill landscape along the German-Czech border, one can enjoy dishes such as Bavarian roast pork in beer sauce with potato dumplings in country inns. This heavy dish can be compensated for with a brisk walk on the Lusen or the great Arber mountains. In the most southern part of Lower Bavaria, the town of Regen is situated on the edge of the Bavarian Forest. The town’s simple-looking Pius pharmacy used to be a small inn, managed by one Augusta Winkler. This cook was the mother of the famous Pichelsteiner Eintopf, a kind of stew which is made fresh from various different types of meat and vegetables in a meat stock and which today – if somewhat unromantically – can also be found in canned form on the shelves of many discount supermarkets. The name of this tasty dish is taken from the Büchelstein mountain, where the Pichelsteiner Festival has been celebrated every year since 1874 and where Augusta Winkler probably made the stew that Ludwig Erhard, the Chancellor of Germany’s Economic Miracle, regularly referred to as his favourite dish.
If one continues on from Regen via Landshut to the state capital Munich, a morning pint in a brew house atmosphere is also rewarding. For example, one can visit the cosy vaulted halls of the Hofbräukeller not far from the Bavarian State Legislature and enjoy white sausage with sweet mustard, pretzels and wheat beer. Because of the freshness, people only used to eat the white sausage until 12 noon. This has remained a classical dish with morning pints. White sausage itself consists of veal, pork loin fat, beaten egg white, table salt, parsley and other spices such as ginger and cardamom. Whether you suck, peal or cut white sausage – enjoying white sausage correctly is a science. However, traditional brew house culture, with its tables for regular guests, the traditional Bavarian costume worn by the waiting staff, the guests – all this is synonymous with a large degree of the cultural image not only of Bavaria but of all Germans in the rest of the world.
Heading towards Lake Constance, one should not ignore the Allgäu region. One hundred years ago, the Allgäu tended to be characterised by poverty and simplicity. Its cuisine reflects this today with its simple flour-based dishes such as “Kässpatzen” (cheese noodles), “Schleifernudla” (finger-shaped potato noodles made of wheat flour) and simple desserts with earthy names such as “Nonnafürzle” (nun’s farts – small batter dumplings baked golden brown in fat) or “Versoffene Jungfern” (“drunken virgins” – little pieces of dough fried in fat and doused in hot grape must). At Lake Constance, it is worth visiting inns at Lindau’s harbour overlooking the lake itself. By the evening lights over the harbour, it is possible to see Lake Constance perch being served in various forms, for example wrapped in bacon with potatoes tossed in butter and creamed sauerkraut.
Bavaria: a menu as the basis for regional studies.
If one travels northwards from Lake Constance again, Dinkelsbühl also offers fish dishes in a historical small-town setting. For example, carp is served – very exotically – as sushi. But crayfish are also a genuine regional speciality. A local country speciality in Dinkelsbühl is “Hesselberg lamb”, from lambs which graze on the juniper moors and dry and semi-natural grassland and which graces the palate with added mushrooms.
The above-mentioned flavours of Bavaria can, of course, only remain a selection, but whether we’re talking about the purity law for beer from 1516 or the 600 year-old Regensburg sausage bar – the culinary side of Bavaria reveals a centuries-old depth of focus and cultural consistency in all respects. But then, … you wouldn’t expect anything else!
The author with Franconian roots was born in 1967 and studied law, sport and history in Cologne. From 2000 to 2007, he worked in Hamburg as an association press spokesman and as a trainee at a weekly newspaper. Bernhard Knapstein has been chief editor at the Europäischen Wirtschafts Verlag since 2007.