Christophe, You’re a Mensch, September 30, 2015 —
It’s almost as if we’re isolated from the rest of the world. Actually we are isolated, literally. In this walled-in medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber one gets the feeling that all life begins and ends here. There is no outside. Sure the internet works but who’s checking it? Daily life has evolved here reluctantly over the centuries. There is a routine. It is Germany of course. One of the routines is the duty of the night watchman. The night watchman makes his nightly rounds ensuring the inhabitants are safe and ever vigilant of fires.
I recommend the Night Watchman Tour. It is advertised to tourists for them to meet at the Market Square at 2000 (8 p.m). You can’t miss the guide. He’s dressed in a long black cloak holding a lantern and some sort of weapon. Here’s the funny thing, and I don’t think they meant to do this…he looks like Robert Plant circa Song Remains the Same.
According to the brochure: “In the years before the dawn of the 20th century, the night watchman was one of many citizens of Rothenburg responsible for the safety of the inhabitants of this walled, fortified city. Even though the citizens who slept soundly at night in their beds trusted him to keep the streets inside the high stone walls safe, his status was less than honorable. His pay was low and his job was a dishonorable one. Only the gravedigger and the executioner were lower. His job was dangerous, because he had to guard the city at night like a policeman.
The good citizens went to bed early. The people that he met on the streets were the drunks and the thieves. To protect himself and to show his authority he carried an intimidating weapon called a hellebarde.”
The guy doing the tour is hilarious. His knack of English sarcasm, peculiar inflection, and strange awkward pausing makes for a spooky yet fun-filled evening event. I recommend having dinner and a few beers first. Also, it ruins my theory that children, old people and Germans don’t get sarcasm. Robert Plant is very sarcastic.
Rothenburg in the day time is best done after having had a traditional breakfast of coffee, cold cuts, Emmenthaler cheese, fresh bread, butter and marmalade. And, don’t forget the soft-boiled egg that comes with its own egg holder and spoon. After being fortified in this typical German morning tradition you’re ready to tackle the cobblestone (hobble stone) streets for a bumbling stumbling route of discovery. By noon you’ll see a new medieval tower or spectacular sight and shrug as if you’ve seen them all. There is so much to see and so many wonderful sights that you’ll long for a break. I don’t care how in-shape you think you are, unless you have a size 11 shoe or larger you’re bound to hit the edge of a cobblestone and wreck your ankles, pull a hammy or just feel like the you’ve run a marathon. Side note: the Japanese tourists can be seen limping to their hotel rooms by the end of the day.
And by break I mean stopping into the local butcher (Metzgerei) and ordering a few Landjaegers and a drink to take elsewhere and enjoy. A Landjaeger Is a German-style beef jerky similar to a Slim Jim. The difference being is that the Landjaeger is not: “Beef, Mechanically separated chicken, Corn and wheat proteins, Lactic acid starter culture (ConAgra refers to Slim Jim as a meat stick and they all use bacteria and sugar to produce lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the sausage to around 5.0, firming up the meat.), Dextrose, Salt, Sodium nitrite (Cosmetically, this is added to sausage because it combines with myoglobin in animal muscle to keep it from turning gray.), Hydrolyzed soy (Hydrolysis, in this instance, breaks larger soy protein molecules into their constituent amino acids, such as glutamic acid. Typically, the process also results in glutamic acid salt—also known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), a familiar flavor enhancer.”
A Landjaeger is made from beef, pork, sugar, red wine, and spices.
By the end of the day you’re ready for a beer and a few Scnappses. This ain’t no Peppermint Schnapps from college. This is the real deal. It’s a clear brandy made from fruits like pears, apples, cherries. It’s forty percent alcohol and tastes like diesel. Not sweet. After the third one and all of the churches you’ve seen throughout the day, you’d swear you were suckling on the teat of Lady Madonna herself.
And this brings me to the Weinstubbe portion of the day. Weinstubbe means wine pub. Imagine yourself finally reaching the end of the day. Your American sedentary life has caught up with you. Your legs are burning from a 10-mile power walk over irregularly-placed jagged cobble stones. You’re bickering with your travel mates as low-blood sugar and road weariness sets in. Your neck aches because that fancy camera you’ve been carrying has pulled disc L1 and L2 away from your spine.
And then, you see it…the ornate placard hanging like a beacon of salvation swinging gently calling to you like a Siren in stormy seas, the Weinstubbe.
Translated conversation from the Weinstubbe, “Hallo Christophe. Can we please have a beer, dry white wine and some schnapps?”
“Why of course, Kind Sir,” Christophe replies with a smirk that implies that my German pronunciation sucks.
Christopher brings the order. “Better bring me two of what I just ordered. I’ve been through hell and back. Please forgive the Audie Murphy reference, Christophe.” He doesn’t get it.
Thirty minutes later.
“Christophe, another round.”
Fifteen minutes later.
“Again.” After bringing the drinks I nudge over to Christophe and politely ask, “I would like to present my water to the closet. Where is the water closet?”
He’s heard it all before. “Back there,” he says pointing to a big sign that says WC.
Merriment ensues. The night blends into morning. And, all is Wunderbar again except for a brief encounter with a disgruntled leather-clad German guy on his 5th beer. “I work for Toyota. Toyota sucks. I have to work tomorrow. I hate my job.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. If it makes you feel any better we drive Hondas.”
The next morning I peek into the kitchen and interrupt Christophe as he’s shoulder deep in a vat of sausage, “Two quick questions, Christophe.”
He wipes his hands on his apron and dutifully appears at my side flinging gristle and lard chunks from his fingertips. “Yes?”
“I have two days left. One, where do I spend the rest of my vacation? Two, will you pay for it?”
He ignored the second question but pulled a map out of thin air and told me how to spend the next two days.
Thank you Rothenburg. Christophe you’re a Mensch.