Sunday, April 30, 2006

from Buren, Germany: spargel and potatoes, with butter

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Why, of all places, Buren? Ed, my traveling companion, does business with a factory owner here. You know, Ed, the relaxed guy with the duffle bag? Who avoids meat and avoids fancy cars and living spaces (try: sheep shed just south of Madison)?

We speed by train to Koln, then to Dortmund, and there waits Oskar, ready to take care of us. Oskar, politely dressed in tweeds to meet Ed, dressed in an old t-shirt and jeans (don’t forget the duffle bag). Ed, his big time American buyer who routinely requests shipments of parts needed for vintage BMW motorcycles in the US. Oskar, who drives the most gadget filled car I have ever seen, opening the door for Ed, who proudly drives a 93 Geo (I think; I can’t really tell as the rust has eaten away any markings), with pink stripes, because it came that way; purchase price: $600.

If Ed is an original who-knows-what, the elderly Oskar is a quintessential German industrialist (you know, in my imagination, since in truth he is the only German industrialist I have ever met). He puts his car in the fast lane of the highway and stays there for the entire fifty mile trip home.

There are no speed limits on this highway? Ed asks this staring at the speedometer which is registering 180 km/hr ( approximately 105 miles) and still climbing, as sheets of rain drench the road, and wimpy cars jump out of the way, to make room for the big black bullet, driven by a man with very gray hair.

Oskar booked us a room at a lovely inn in the center of Buren. We had searched the Net and asked about a few simple choices on the outskirts. I think he must have thought we were Americans without an imagination. He ignored them all and placed us in a hotel fitting for one of his major clients.

He points now to a church across the street. Looks very old, very… Christian.
You want to go in tomorrow? To look, sure. A noble if ancient history, there.

[N.b.: Buren is known for the castle on the outskirts, where Himmler set up his experimental epicenter for the breeding of the superior race. We went there today. Wewelsburg – a beautiful castle turned ugly.]

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In the evening Oskar and his wife prove that what goes on in the German kitchen can be splendid. In the home kitchen that is. Buren is pork country and we have it wonderfully prepared with roasted veggies, on kebab sticks.

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But it’s the dessert that deserves loud clapping and hooting, if only Mr and Mrs Oskar did not seem so refined and proper. An appfel kuchen (forgive spelling, it’s not my language) with vanilla ice cream and a home made eggnog sauce.

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And the drinks! You’d think it would be all about beer, but no. A lovely aperitif of a local bubbly white poured over brandied apricots, followed by a German Riesling look-alike (actually two bottles of it, as we are all in the mood), followed by an herby digestive, lovingly called killepitsch. I received a present bottle to take back home. I’ll serve it with the story of why it has the word kill in the name, a story that seems to trace it back to the drinking habits of German soldiers during The War.

In the morning Ed and I sit down to a German breakfast. Bread, yes of course. And cheese and boiled eggs. And meats and salamis and all the rest of it, the part that was to be expected.

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After, as Ed and Oskar meet over machines, Mrs. Oskar and I walk through the town, out of town, around town. Best to keep moving. It’s 3 degrees C outside and the umbrella needs a raise every now and then.

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Shit weather. Those were Oskar’s first words to us at the train station. Agreed. But a golden day nonetheless sparked by the amazing generosity of our hosts. Down to the very last golden spear of pale asparagus that we eat for lunch, along with boiled potatoes and wine. Beer for the boys. Cakes at the cafĂ© for all of us.

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