Who knew? We, exhausted from our economy class flight from Boston to Frankfurt, thought we’d spend Sunday muddling around Karlsruhe, scraping together enough food for Monday breakfast, and trying to stay awake long enough to beat jet lag. But Karlsruhe knew better. It planned a beer and food festival for the day of our arrival, and situated it in our backyard, the grounds of the Schloss Karlsruhe.
After unpacking, and taking an all-too-short nap, we set out to walk with some non-essential goal, mostly to keep from sleeping away the whole day. Music we could not avoid identifying as a live band drew us towards the grounds of the Schloss, just to see what kind of a party the locals were throwing there. Stunned, as we entered the greenspace, we saw tents—and more tents—dispensing such beloved German treats as flavored almonds, lebkuchen with sayings like “My Sweetest” or “World’s Best Grandma”, smoked sausages—and yes, beer. As we strolled among the tents, we realized it wasn’t just a tent or two selling beer, it was dozens, selling beers not just from the big local brewhouses, but also beautifully crafted small batch brewers, and also such exotic lands as Scotland, and the Czech Republic. And Poland. We’d entered Beer and Pork Wonderland.
You could buy a cute little one-ounce glass, curvaceously shaped like a wheat beer glass, and bring it to any beer vendor for a low-cost taste of one of their offerings. What a way for a couple of jet-lagged, stressed-out Americans to readjust to life in Germany! We were able to sample several offerings before exhaustion took over.
We couldn’t help noticing that many of the food and beverage tents used a medieval décor theme. Eventually, even my jet-lagged brain realized that there was a simple reason for this: many of Germany’s breweries date back to the Middle Ages, when monks developed recipes still used today. Many beers are called “Klosterbrau” (or “Monastery Brew”), boast of origins several centuries back, and term their product “heavenly”! Such a long and proud tradition may in part explain Germany’s comfort with public drinking. After all, if the monks made it, it seems at least endorsed by the Church.
All summer in the US, we’ve tried to eat foods we’d be hard-pressed to find or prepare in Germany. We must have succeeded because we now discovered we had a craving for exactly the pork specialties we encountered today! There were many varieties of sausages, with curry sauce and without, but best of all the hams, delicately smoked, skin sizzling from the rotisserie, tender and juicy. The lines were longest at the ham vendor, but the meat was well worth the wait.
There were also bands playing at either end of the lawn, so that their styles didn’t conflict. Grandparents, parents, children and teenagers, all danced to the same music. Therein lies a key to the European enjoyment of food and drink festivals: if you dance, you burn calories! You also get pretty tired, and before nightfall, we strolled back to our little apartment, and slept well for our first night back in Germany.