26 November 2009

Germanic Charms...

My family and I recently returned from spending three weeks in Germany and Austria, where a number of charms were particularly noteworthy to our North American eyes.

Bread, beer and sausage are exceptional: both tend to be made from simple ingredients with extraordinary variety and flavour. Beer benefits from the German purity law of 1516, which limits the ingredients to water, hops, barley and yeast. In spite of these limitations, there are hundreds of beers, and the flavours vary considerably, along with the appropriate glass for the consumption of each variety. My personal favourites were the various Weiss / wheat beers. In the summer, a little lemonade can add a refreshing zest to an already exceptional beer, making it into a radler (with Pils) or a russ (with Weiss) depending on which beer you use. The broad variety of alcohol-free beers, admitedly a little counter-culture to fine beer, are thankfully plentiful for those who are driving or cycling after visiting the beer garden.

Visiting a German bakery is an adventure unto itself. The pretzels and dark, hearty breads are full of flavour, not to mention the rolls made of a variety of grains. Where else can you by bread by the pound? Though Germans do eat white breads, the dark varieties are my favourites, especially the spelt (dinkel) flour rolls!

Sausage seems to be a European delicacy with each region producing its own varieties. Some sausages, like white sausage (Weisswurst), even have special serving bowls and rules. In Bavaria it should be consumed before noon and with beer; so much for avoiding alcohol in the morning.

Not to be mixed with an early-morning beer and Weisswurst, the culture of commuting by bicycle is also very refreshing. Not only are bicycle lanes and paths very common and well-maintained, bikes configured for comfort and all-weather commuting, especially the fenders, friction-powered lights and bike racks/baskets. While racing cycling has its following, cycling for daily transportation is very common and comfortable.

German homes are as utilitarian as their bicycles. Inner doors are made of solid wood and most windows open in two directions: they can be tipped up or opened like a door depending only on the direction in which you turn the handle. Even commercial buildings often have windows that you can open for a breath of fresh air. The German tendency to take fastidious care of their homes is both a blessing and a curse. They are delightful places to live, but difficult to part with when schooling and job changes increase commuting times.

The public transportation network is also a pleasure to use, whether for long journeys or within large cities. The stations are generally well-kept and trains tend to run on time. Many people live comfortably without driving their cars often or at all.

Like their homes and train stations, Germans tend to be well-organized and pay close attention to detail and keeping their environment not only clean, but delightfully inviting and attractive.

Although sales and income taxes tend to be high, property taxes are almost negligible, allowing those who own their homes to stay in them when they retire with limited incomes. This is truly a blessing.

1 comment:

  1. while in Germany, Austria, you could have used these maps: