Dining Out In Germany

When I was planning my trip to Berlin last month, I had a conversation on Ye Olde Facebook with my friend Heather about restaurants in Germany. I offered a lot of advice regarding how the experience is different from dining in the US, and I realized (not for the first time) that I really ought to post about this. I’ve been meaning to write this one for a long while. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

When you arrive:

Most restaurants in Germany do not have a ‘please wait to be seated’ sign. When you arrive, you are expected to simply sit down at a table of your choosing, although you should avoid any tables that have a ‘Reserviert’ (Reserved) sign. When in doubt, you should ask the staff.

Placing Your Order:

In places accustomed to tourists, it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to have an English menu.  Sometimes you’ll be handed the English menu as soon as they hear you speak.

Typically, your drink order is taken first, and then they come back a little while later to take your food order.

During the meal:

In the US, a glass of water is standard in most restaurants. Here, you shouldn’t expect a glass of water with your meal unless you ask for it. When you do ask for water, the waitress might ask you if you want it with or without gas. This is because carbonated water is very common and popular here. If, like me, you prefer not to have carbonation in your water, you can ask for ‘still’ water and it will be given to you “ohne Kohlensaure,” without carbonate.

Don’t expect ice in your drink in most restaurants, either. There are exceptions, but not many- even cola is typically served at room temperature here.

Some restaurants have longer tables where you might find yourself sitting with strangers- I’ve found myself in this situation a few times, and the preferred behavior is to politely ignore the other person. Sometimes you might find a talkative seatmate, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

When you’re finished:

The waiter will not bring you the check until you ask for it. It’s not uncommon for German folk to sit for quite some time after eating, have an espresso, and talk. More than one German traveler I’ve spoken to has expressed that the American habit of putting the check down while they’re still eating feels extremely rushed and rude. In Germany, nobody rushes you out the door.

Cash is king, especially when dining out. Credit cards are usually accepted in major places like hotels, but many restaurants won’t accept credit cards at all. American credit cards are especially problematic in Germany, because the banking systems are different here. If you don’t see credit card logos on the door of the restaurant, assume that you’ll need cash.

When the check is brought to the table, you will often be asked who is paying, if one person is paying, or if the check should be split. It is a common practice to split the check right there and then, and the waiter will give each person a subtotal based on what they ate.

You pay your check at the table, and the wait staff always carries a money pouch to handle the transaction. When the waitress brings you the check, she’ll give you a total. You say how much you’re paying- including the tip- when you hand over your money. For example, if I have a check of 23 euros and want to tip ten percent, I would hand them thirty and say “26 euros” (I usually round up), and they’d give me four back. Don’t leave your tip (Trinkgeld) on the table- that’s typically considered rude. If you want them to keep the entire amount you’ve handed over, you can say ‘stimmt so,’ or, in Bavaria, ‘passt so,’ and this is generally understood to mean keep the change.

Tipping is usually done at 10-15%. Any more and they’ll think you’re nuts. Absurdly generous, but nuts. In the US, people who wait tables have a tiny tiny wage and live or die by their tips, but here, they have a decent living regardless, so if you tip 10%, you’ll seem normal, not stingy.

That’s all the restaurant tips I have for the moment. I may revisit this post in the future.

This Leberkäse was eaten at the Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei.  It was served with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and mustard.

Short Post: Leberkäse

It took me a while to really get used to Leberkäse, but now I think it’s delicious.

Leberkäse, literally translated to “liver cheese,”  doesn’t always have any liver or cheese in it.  It’s kind of like Bavarian meat loaf, and it’s delicious.  Some people compare it to bologna.  It typically consists of corned beef, pork, bacon, and onions, ground together and then baked like a loaf of bread until it has a crunchy brown crust.

One very common way to eat Leberkäse is to make a Leberkäsesemmel- you cut the Leberkäse while still hot in a slice roughly the thickness of a finger, and put it on a semmel (bread roll).  Add some Bavarian sweet mustard, and sometimes sauerkraut, and enjoy.

There are a lot of variants on this food.  I’ve eaten Pizza Leberkäse, and it really did taste like a pizza.  Delicious!    Some other popular variants include cheese or bits of paprika (bell pepper). Generally, though, it just looks like this:

This Leberkäse was eaten at the Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It was served with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and spicy mustard.

I’m going to be so overweight when I leave Germany.  The food here is just too delicious.


Getting High In Bavaria

Long time friends of me know that I’m a big fan of tall stuff.  My friend Gabrielle has been with me to revolving restaurants atop towers in two different cities, as well as an observation deck on the Stratosphere in Las Vegas .   My favorite part of my 2006 Chicago visit was the observation deck in the John Hancock Center.  In Prague last month, I loved the miniature Eiffel Tower lookalike, the Petrin Lookout Tower.

I like observation decks, revolving restaurants, and television towers.  A lot.

Here in Bavaria, most of the tallest things aren’t quite as tall as the John Hancock Center, but there are still some amazing views to be seen.   Back in March, I posted about Walhalla, and included some pretty spectacular photographs of the view.

Since then, I’ve been to three more pretty tall places.  The first was Tropfsteinhöhle Schulerloch, a show cave near Kelheim.   The cave is a stalactite cave, and it’s closed during the winter because it’s full of bats during colder weather.    Regrettably, I saw no bats on this visit.

The path to get up to the cave is a pretty steep one, though, and just before you get to the main entrance of the visitors center, you’re treated to this view at roughly 1272 feet above sea level:

The second tall place I visited is Waldwipfelweg.    The centerpiece of this educational destination is a boardwalk that overlooks a particularly picturesque stretch of Bavarian forest.  It’s a very tall boardwalk, though.  I don’t think I would have wanted to be up there on a super windy day.

The third tall place I visited recently was the Befreiungshalle  (“Hall of Liberation”).  This is a sort of companion piece to the Walhalla- there’s a third monument near Munich that I have to go see now that I know that it exixts.  The Befreiungshalle was constructed on the orders of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, with a ceremonial opening in October of 1863.  The Befreiungshalle sits on Mount Michelsberg above the city of Kelheim, upstream from Regensburg on the Danube river.

On the walk up to the Befreiungshalle, you can get an amazing view of the Danube river, including the boats that run between Kelheim and the Weltenburg Kloister Brewery.   I’ll talk about Weltenburg in another upcoming post.

The structure itself is pretty amazing.  It’s ringed by eighteen huge statues which are allegories of the German tribes. The number 18 also symbolizes the date of the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig (October 18, 1813), when the Coalition defeated Napoleon’s troops.

As with the Walhalla, however, the view is best from the stairs in front of the main entrance.  You can see all of Kelheim, and some of the surrounding countryside.

There are still some other tall places in Regensburg and Berlin that I haven’t been to yet.  They’re on my list.  Yep, I have a list of tall stuff to climb, all over Europe.  I’d better get to it.

Short Post: American Style

One of the things that has been continually and steadfastly amusing to me since my arrival is the German marketing gimmick of referring to something as American Style to drum up interest.  Here’s a couple of examples that made me laugh.

The only place I’ve actually seen pancakes besides the grocery store is at an “American” diner.
Very few foods are less German than plain white bread. Real German bread has a lot more varieties- and a lot more flavor.
I’ve had long conversations with the guys in the office about “American style pizza,” during which I explained the differences between New York style, Chicago style, deep dish, pan, and a few other varieties of good old American pizza. None of them really resembled this “American Style” pizza. The first time I saw this, I knew I had to try it. It was edible, but wasn’t all that great.
American hot dog style? Germans put a lot of strange things on their pizza, but this one is actually kind of appealing.

Observations At Six Months

As of today, I have been in Germany for six months- I arrived on Saturday, November 12th. During that time, I’ve been keeping a list of things that I wanted to mention on the blog, but that aren’t long enough to carry their own blog post. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • In German, Kerze means candle. Katze means cat. Mishearing one or the other can lead to a very silly conversation.
  • They sell the perfect size Coke here. .2 Liters is enough to accompany most meals without being as small as a shot glass.
  • Movie theatre popcorn here is not salty by default, it’s sweet. Not all theatres even sell the salty version that I’m used to. I was very surprised the first time I took a bite of movie theatre popcorn here.
  • Many Germans are very, very tall. I’m still convinced that someone boinked a Frost Giant at some point in the past.
  • There is one German word, Entschuldigen, which can be used for both excuse and apology. This is yet another way that conversations between native English speakers and those for whom German is a second language can be very complicated.
  • The German approach to child-rearing is a little bit different. The American “stranger-danger” paranoia doesn’t exist here, so it’s not uncommon to see a list of children’s names on the back of a proud parent’s vehicle. They also rig up these ingenious skateboardy things that are attached to the back of their strollers with a little hinge like the one pictured at right- this woman is pushing the stroller with the infant, and the smaller kid stands on the little board with the wheels, so he gets a ride as well. I think it kind of looks like fun.
  • Where an American would say “I’m crossing my fingers for you,” a German would say “I’m pressing my thumbs.” It means basically the same thing- wishing luck or good fortune. It is done with the thumb of one hand only, bending it inside the index finger and pressing on the outer joint of the thumb with the fingers curled around it.
  • It’s a small difference, but I’ve noticed that public restrooms here are not constructed the same way that they are in the US. The area where toilets and urinals stand is usually separated by the area with the sink and hand dryers by a door, so each restroom is actually two smaller connected rooms. This is not the case in private bathrooms or very small restaurants, but most of the restrooms that I’ve been in here outside of my own apartment are built this way.
  • Germany uses the letter ß. The letter is pronounced as ‘ss’ and that is an acceptable alternate spelling. This is especially common on street signs. For example, one of the main streets downtown is Maximilianstraße. This can also be typed as Maximilianstrasse, or abbreviated as Maximilianstr. The reason I bring up the letter ß is that it comes up several times in the next bullet point.
  • Elevator buttons are different here. The ground floor is usually labelled EG, which means Erdgeschoß, the German word for the ground floor. I first thought it had something to do with ‘Entrance.’ A parking level below the first level is often labelled with UG. I thought at first that it meant ‘Underground,’ but it really means Untergeschoß. An upper level would be OG for Obergeschoß. A parking garage is usually called a tiefgarage, but don’t expect to see that listed on the elevator buttons. Sometimes, the ground floor is labelled with 0 and a level below that is marked as -1. The first level above the ground floor is labelled 1 because Germans consider the first level up to be the first floor. In other words, I climb a flight of stairs every day to go to my first floor apartment, but in the US I’d call it a second story apartment.
  • Speaking of things being different underground, the duplex parking here can be a little nerve-wracking. This may exist in the US, but I’d never seen it until I got here- underground parking where a space can have multiple stacked vehicles. Each person who uses a parking space has a key to raise and lower the parking ramp. I would be constantly worried that I would drop my keys down into the Pit Of Souls beneath the lowest cars. Still, it’s an impressive use of space. And hydraulics.