Saturday, 22 May 2010

Bielefeld, Germany: Part III

Bielefeld does not look particularly “German” to my eye, which really only means that it doesn't look like the parts of Germany I've seen featured in American movies about Oktoberfest or WWII. However, it does feel very “European,” though I am not entirely sure what characteristics motivate me to say that. The giant churches and spires are certainly European, both because of their size and their obvious age. There are many severely square building facades, which strike me as having that stereotypical eastern European communist government building kind of look. However, dispersed through these are some beautiful older facades with gold decoration, some Tudor-style buildings, and homes with very long, sharply angled, pointy roofs—something which I have not seen much of elsewhere in my travels:
(Note the gold writing on the tan buildings; don't be distracted by the fancy cars--there was a car show in the town square)

(I've never seen a facade quite like this before, with all that "extra" scrollwork jutting up into the air)

I am surprised by the number of buildings with orange tiled roofs. These look very Mediterranean to me, and remind me of the towns I visited in both France and Spain. One thing I do not see much of in Bielefeld, though I do see them during the train ride between Bielefeld and Hannover, is residential gardens, either the type directly adjacent to people’s homes, or the type occupying a plot somewhere down the road. However, there are tons of rape fields, which are the most beautiful color yellow I have ever seen. Rape is a member of the mustard family (Brassica napus, Brassica campestris) and produces the oil that, in the US, we refer to as "canola." I've always wondered what plant canola oil came from, and now I know. It turns out that they are quite attractive, and look particularly stunning when contrasted against the dark green of the grass and trees around them:
(Rape field near the University of Bielefeld)

One of the only things I did to prepare for the “culture shock” of this trip was to run off an eight-page list of German food translations. I should also have printed up some basic phrases that might have been handy for navigation, ordering, paying, and generally being congenial and courteous, but of course this slipped my mind. In any case, I did this because of the number of warnings I had gotten about German food. It was described as “heavy,” “meat-and-potatoes,” and sometimes just plain “bad.” This made me completely paranoid, because I tend to eat rather like a rabbit, and want a large portion of produce during at least one, and preferably two, meals each day. I was pretty much promised that I would not see any lettuce while I was here. As it turns out, this was ridiculous and I had nothing to worry about. At one point, I manage to order a “shrimp salad,” expecting a “fruit salad,” but it is quite tasty and is accompanied by the most amazing latke-like zucchini pancakes. Strangely, there is no salad dressing, which is something I have also encountered elsewhere in Europe (e.g., France). I am not in love with this, as I prefer to have at least a little oil and vinegar, but luckily there are some tomatoes along with the shrimp, and together they moisten up the greens enough to mollify my somewhat American desire to hide my produce under something less natural and healthy. Here, as in other parts of Europe and the UK, sparkling water is everywhere, which is wonderful—I love the stuff and hate always having American waiters look at me as though I am a self-obsessed prima donna who thinks herself too good for regular old tap water. In defense of the friends who warned me against the meat-and-potatoes nature of German food, I will say that there was one evening where I have some issues finding anything suitable on the menu. Currently, asparagus is in season, and there are many “get-it-while-it-lasts” specials involving white asparagus and a large hunk of meat. The other option is getting a large hunk of meat (including cuts you don’t often see in the US, such as ham hock) with sauerkraut and a large potato dumpling, or a giant baked potato doused with sour cream (which, by the way, is also ubiquitous here—anything that Americans would put butter on, the Germans put sour cream on instead). Unfortunately for me, I hate sauerkraut, dislike gravy, and only sometimes eat meat. When I do eat meat, it is rarely the type that once oinked, and especially not the cut that Americans call pork (vs. ham or bacon). My German ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves right now. So, to circumvent all this unfortunate cuisine, I order the “Fitnessalat,” which is what it sounds like—the “healthy” salad, involving greens and fruit and turkey, a nice poppyseed-like dressing, and some whole wheat bread. Tasty—until I dig too deep and discover some sauerkraut lying in wait at the bottom of the dish. What is with these Europeans and their pickled vegetables?! Oh well, at least I can say that I did eat sauerkraut while in Germany.

One final note on food: In order to escape the rain for a bit, we duck into the cafe at the Bielefeld modern/pop art museum (Kunsthalle). I order jasmine tea, which comes in a little one-person pot sitting atop a fondue-style burner. I have not previously encountered this method of keeping my tea warm as I drink it, and I am impressed by its ingeniousness. I also forget that it is there, and accidentally burn the dregs in the bottom of the pot once it is emptied. Oops. Anyway, accompanying the tea is, of course, sugar, and it looks like this:
(Anal-retentively organized sugar cubes. This is the first time in my life that I am surrounded by people more fanatically organized than I am.)

(more to come...)

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.