Farm fresh: Can you dig it? Yes, you can!

Fresh berries in Herzogenaurach, Germany

It’s a cliché that one of the best parts of summer is the fresh produce, but it also happens to be true. We had planned to visit a nearby village to get some post-dinner ice cream, but decided to kill some time and amble down a different road.

Dairy cows in Herzogenaurach, Germany

We should have known we were headed for something special when we passed this scene, just a few feet from the car.

As we passed through a small string of tiny villages, we got the sense that we might be in for a treat. And there it was: Rising out of the corn and wheat fields, a clearing with picnic tables, play tractors, hay bales, a small store and acres of produce. The Neidermann farm of pick-your-own produce!

The store was our first stop and it was sensory overload in the most wonderful way. Literally bursting with fresh produce and baked goods, the smell of fresh strawberries permeated the air. Customers were lined up with buckets and containers full of their just-picked choices. We bought some ice cream and sorbet and scouted the area.

strawberry sorbet in Germany

Sorbet made with fresh-picked strawberries? Yes please!

 

Bread and jams at German farm store

Fresh bread and home-made goodness. So hard to choose….

Around back were signs directing you to all the fruits and vegetables that were ready to be picked. The evening we were there the strawberries, lettuces, garlic, mini-cucumbers, radishes, and rhubarb were ready. They even had a chicken coop so you could gather your own fresh eggs!

Pick your own produce in Herzogenaurach Germany

Grab a wheelbarrow and head out to the field!

I expect a mid-summer dance-off between these vegetable divas.

I expect a mid-summer dance-off between these vegetable divas.

Next to the farm store was a park-like area filled with families enjoying picnics and playing games. There was a petting zoo, a fort of stacked hay bales to climb on, a corn crib to play in and open space for soccer and general running around.

playing at the farm stand in Germany

King of the hay-bale castle.

As expected we needed a large box to bring home everything we bought. But in this case, our eyes were not bigger than our stomachs. When it comes to fresh berries and cherries, gluttony is the only option.

Produce from farm store in Herzogenaurach Germany

Our take-home box included berries, cherries, honey, walnut bread, tomatoes and fresh milk.

 

 

 

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4 Quirky German Discoveries

I know, I know. Quirky and German are not words usually seen side-by-side. But as I spend more time here, small details and differences take on great importance. I have designated them as “German Quirks.”

German Radio

Jokes about David Hasselhoff aside, I thought Germany would have an interesting music scene. And I’m sure it does…but not over the airwaves. A quick scan up and down the dial during weekday drive-time revealed the following random playlist:

What Are You Waiting for: Nickleback

Abracadabra: The Steve Miller Band

When Smokey Sings: ABC

Budapest: George Ezra

Total Eclipse of the Heart: Bonnie Tyler

Geronimo: Shepard (A song I have heard AT LEAST once a day since I’ve been here. Seriously. I think it’s a Bavarian anthem or something.)

Walk of Life: Dire Straits

The Days: Avicii

She’s Like the Wind: Eric Carmen

Jesus He Knows Me: Genesis

Red, Red Wine: UB40

Forget You: C Lo Green

So basically every drive in the car triggers a weird middle school/high school flashback sprinkled with just enough current stuff to keep me from thinking I’ve accidentally entered a hole in the space-time continuum. Also, notice what’s missing? German artists singing German songs! I’d say 95% of the music on the radio is American/British. Which is familiar and fine, but not the cultural immersion I hoped for. Thankfully I have streaming radio and some good playlists made by cool friends.

Decorator Toilet Seats

Perhaps it’s the all that industrial grey tile. Perhaps it’s some sort of Freudian complex. But Germany seems to think that the best place for self-expression and visual meditation is the lid of the toilet. When we were looking for a place to live, every house–and every bathroom in every house–had a decorated toilet lid. Beach scenes, cityscapes, God help me inspirational messages are all common.

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A sample of the selection available at the local hardware store. The one on the lower right is my favorite–because apparently I have the humor of a 12 year old. “Departures” Hee Hee!

Windows

Open, closed, how quirky can it be? But here in Germany there are, of course, many unspoken rules for proper window usage. In most homes and businesses there is a metal outer shade that needs to be ritually opened and closed each day. Each night, it is lowered (and since it is made from sheets of interlocking metal, your neighbors will hear the exact time you do it and know that you are in for the night) giving your home the look of hurricane protection from the outside and a war-time bunker on the inside. Then each morning, the outer shade is raised (alerting the neighbors that you are now awake). While new construction has motorized this function, in homes more than 10 years old, the mechanism for all this raising and lowering is a canvas strap connected to a pulley system inside your wall. So every window has its own strap. Meaning your wall is striped with straps. They kind of remind me of those old-fashioned cloth towel dispensers in public restrooms, but without the ability to take them out for cleaning. It also means painting your walls gets an extra challenge, but that’s not my problem. Yay for renting!

The metal shade on every German window does feature the option for pinholes of light when closed. You know, to make the place more homey. And to accent the charming pull strap to the right.

The metal shade on every German window does feature the option for pinholes of light when closed. You know, to make the place more homey. And to accent the charming pull strap to the right.

Recycling

Oh how I miss the lazy American ways of single-sort recycling! Even Germans admit their method can be confusing. On the plus side, this country is fantastic at recycling. Almost everything can be recycled in some way. But on the minus side, I have EIGHT areas under my sink for waste. Let’s count: There is a bin for paper, a bin for compost, a bin for recyclable packaging (which can only go in special yellow bags provided by the city), a bin for “garbage”, an area for glass bottles, an area for cans, an area for plastic drink bottles and an area for refundable-deposit bottles. There is another layer to this, and that’s the pick-up schedule. Paper and recyclable packaging are picked up once a month and compost and “garbage” are picked up twice a month. Glass bottles and cans need to be taken to public bins by the consumer (but not on Sundays! That’s illegal!) and refundable drink bottles can sometimes only be returned to their exact store of purchase–but sometimes you can take them to other stores. It depends on…something. I haven’t cracked the code on that one yet.

Recycling is complicated in Germany. Luckily, I have this very easy-to-understand cheat sheet. Oy.

Recycling is complicated in Germany. Luckily, I have this very easy-to-understand cheat sheet. Oy.

I’m sure as we are here longer, some quirks will become second nature and new ones will reveal themselves. What quirks have you discovered as you’ve traveled?

Our first Furth Fest: Michaelis Kirchweih

Entrance to the Michaeliskirchweih

The entrance to the Kirchweih–where delights for all the senses await you.

Only a 15 minute drive from Herzogenaurach, we decided to check out the fest in Furth. This long-established festival takes place right in the heart of the city and takes over several blocks for more than a week. During that time, the streets are full of food tents and beer gardens, carnival rides, vendors selling everything from leather belts to kitchen tools and an ever-evolving cast of characters worthy of hours of people watching. In short, this was heaven for a State Fair-loving girl like myself.

Beer gardens in Furth during the Kirchweih

Dozens of beer gardens pouring local brews line the streets and invite you in for a mug (or two.)

One of the most curious parts of the festival? The carnival rides. Much more than mere bumper cars and mini-coasters, they were also a time capsule of recent Americana. Each one was decorated with airbrushed pictures of celebrities, movies and TV shows from the 80s and 90s. A carousel featured scenes from Kindergarten Cop. Seriously. Another one included a 10-foot-tall Jennie Garth. And then there was my personal favorite:

Home Improvement-themed carnival ride in Germany

Old TV shows–and their stars–never die. They live on in Germany. Because nothing says excitement and frivolity like remembering episodes of Home Improvement. Also, is he giving her bunny ears?

It was also an opportunity to reinforce stereotypes. Because there, in all his glory, was David Hasselhoff, larger than life and greeting all from the street. I guess he really *is* big in Germany.

David Hasselhoff

Don’t hassle the Hoff, indeed.

The following weekend, we headed back to the festival to watch the parade. Apparently it’s kind of a big deal and is shown on television with (they say) hundreds of thousands of people tuning in. Not knowing what to expect, we arrived very early. We didn’t really know the route, but had a general guess. So we staked out a spot that seemed to have good viewing and waited. And waited.

We stood there for quite some time, second-guessing ourselves for choosing a spot that seemed far closer to the end of the route than the beginning. But finally our instincts were rewarded with the perfect place to view the giant balloon release.

Balloon release

Furth’s official colors of green and white take to the sky to kick off the parade.

So here’s the most important thing I learned about (hopefully all) German parades. While in the U.S. it is common for the parade walkers to throw candy to the children watching, we got other better things. Our outstretched hands were filled with  balloons, sausages, beer and soup! It was like Costco on a Saturday morning out there!

Parade soup

The soup, handed out by one of the parade walkers. It was chickeny with little crunchy croutons floating in it. Delicious.

The parade itself is a celebration of agriculture and the harvest and all the area farms and breweries. Dozens of clubs in traditional attire represented families/clans/towns in Bavaria. Each one had slightly different–but equally beautiful–variations of dress.

Furth parade marchers

Marchers proudly showing their traditional dress.

Furth parade participants

Some even marched with a mobile maypole.

The “Floats” consisted of wagons pulled by horses. The wagons were either 1) full of wooden kegs of beer or 2) full of people showing aspects of traditional farm life or 3) full of seasonal vegetables and fruits, artfully arranged.

Traditional aspects of farm life in the Furth parade

Demonstrating the ways of yore.

The entire parade was just so wholesome. It really made me feel like I had stepped back in time a bit. Well, that and David Hasselhoff. That helped too.

Olde Time bike

And really, what parade is complete without an old-timey-bike guy?

 

Altendorf Pumpkin Festival

Altendorf, Germany pumpkin festival

The pumpkin festival was gourd-eous!

We are happily discovering that you can spend most weekends in Germany visiting various festivals and markets and never hit the same town twice. Our first weekend here–tired, jetlagged and still a little fuzzy, we spent Sunday in Altendorf. (Don’t look for it on a standard map. You probably won’t find it.) Their annual Pumpkin Festival–always held on the first Sunday in October–seems like a great way to spend a warm and sunny fall morning without making us think too hard. A co-worker of Ken’s who grew up in the area told us about it–in the best way possible: “You know Stars Hollow? On Gilmore Girls? It’s like that.” SOLD!

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This really, really small town goes all out for all things pumpkin. It seems that every house, barn and building is decorated with pumpkins and gourds. Some painted and decorated, some stacked like autumnal cairns and some just placed on window sills and steps. But everyone participates. The most amazing part of it is that the festival is only for one day. It must be a ton of work to haul out, decorate and place all these pumpkins, but I’m sure there is an awful lot of town pride attached to it.

Decorated pumpkins in Altendorf

It should be noted that apparently pumpkins are blue-eyed when personified.

The area farms and clubs set up food and drink tents and sell all kinds of seasonal delights, from the tasty Federweiser (I think it’s similar to a vino verde, where the wine is sweetish and slightly bubbly) to pumpkin-infused prosecco to soups, sausages and all manner of pastries.

A delicious glass of Federweiser.

A delicious glass of Federweiser.

The pumpkin display that got the most oohs and ahhs was a diorama of decorated gourds meant to look like an undersea adventure. There was Nemo, turtles and crabs, seahorses and schools of fish, all loving created from gourds and hung by fishing wire against an aquarium-like backdrop. Amazing!

Gourds on display in Altendorf

This Enchantment Under the Sea display stole the show!

We couldn’t leave without picking out at least one pumpkin of our own to take home. The challenge was deciding which one!

Selecting a pumpkin in Altendorf

In retrospect, the choice of pants was a mistake. We almost lost him several times.

Road food in Europe: leave the Corn Nuts and Red Vines behind

It was a 4+ hour drive from our weekend in Germany back to Switzerland. At some point we were going to need food, bathrooms and a coffee. I had planned on just making do with the many highway rest stops along the autobahn and some snacks I had in my bag, but fate intervened.

We pulled in at a gas station that had adjacent restaurants. There was a Burger King, some sort of buffet, and a coffee bar. But this was very different than the truck stops in the U.S.

German gas station dessert buffet

Forget the Twinkies and day-old donuts. These were just some of the choices at the gas station dessert buffet.

We sat in a cozy corner with leather chairs and a gas fireplace (I’m guessing we were in the “coffee shop” area?) Ken had ordered a meal from the buffet for us to share. Good thing. This plate of sausages and spaetzle was enormous. Two adults and a toddler could not finish it.

German gas station dinner

So. Much. Food. But pretty darn tasty!

We also enjoyed some great coffee, served with little almond cookies on the side. It felt very refined considering we were in the shadow of dozens of parked semis and a few tour buses of elderly tourists.

German gas station coffee

A cup of coffee and we were ready to get back on the road.

To really cap off the experience, there were the restrooms. Accessible through a turnstile after paying a small fee, the bathrooms were sparkling clean and it’s no wonder. They have robotics! It took me a few tries to figure out the cleaning vs. flushing thing, but it was so entertaining it hardly mattered. I was so surprised, I forgot to take a picture or a video, but luckily other people have found it equally fascinating.