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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Potatoes and Chestnuts? Hey, a Fest is a Fest!


At the Potato Fest!
Lots of photos in this post.  Keep scrolling!

The Germans celebrate in the old style, harvests, new wine, beer, seasons.  Most of the fests are in small, picturesque villages whose histories run back centuries.  If it weren’t for the fests, you might forget they were there.  This weekend, with the promise of beer, wurst, and other amusements, we headed out to a Kartoffel (Potato) Fest in Wallhalben, and a Kastanie(chestnut) Fest in Annweiler.

You see, when you picture fests in Germany, expand your mind, learn to think outside the bottle.  Wine and beer, sure, but everything that comes out of the earth, including pumpkins, gets their festival days.  I like it.  Why limit yourself to drinking when there are so many things to do and to eat WHILE you’re drinking.  Listen to live music.  Watch cooks at work over blazing fires.  Gander at musicians and other entertainers in medieval costumes!  No matter the time of year, Germans practically beg you to join in the fun!

What do I mean by picturesque villages?  Small. Rural.  Ancient.  Wallhalben looks like a Disney set for Snow White.  Cobblestone streets.  Stone houses.  Window boxes bursting with colorful blooms.  Grapevines growing over doors and up the sides of buildings.  Then you get to the main square and wonder why you don’t even have to pay admission.  Food stands.  Beer stands. Open faced tents selling everything from stuffed animals to fragrant herbs, cheeses, stone oven breads, and bottles of some of the best wine in the world.  None of these are at rip-off prices, I hastily add.

Potato-Spinach dumplings

Gotta have some cake!

Who could ever forget the beer?

Crowds are smiling and friendly.  I know Germans must get drunk. It’s impossible to live on beer and not have those unfortunate occurrences.  BUT, I have yet to see a sloppy drunk, or an obnoxious drunk, or a combative drunk.  At a fest, everything is done in good fun.  All you have to do is loosen up.

Beauty in every little detail

Told you these are rural villages!

The village well with a crown of wheat

Try some honey wine

Cooking the wurst

Time to move down the road to one of my favorite villages, Annweiller.  Picturesque does not do the town justice.  If Wallhalben was a Disney set, Annweiller is a Disney movie!  A stream runs through a town lined with half-timbered houses, punctuated with old mill wheels that still turn after centuries of use.  The stone streets wind this way and that.  Flowers are on profuse display.  In some places the streets are so narrow, the Tent-shops almost meet in the middle.  Smell the chestnuts roasting, the wood fires, the perfume of grilled meats, and baking flammkucken.   Want a special treat?  Try one of the locally brewed chestnut beers.  Oh, the dark amber goodness that you can only savor once a year!

Annweiler is one of the prettiest villages anywhere!

A river runs down the middle

Local bread dumpling with chestnut dip

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire!

Charred, split, and delicious

Tending the spiesbraten grill 

Local produce

We found a seat among the multitudes and slugged down chestnut beers while munching on flammkuchen.  Know what that is?  It has flat crust, as thin and crispy as a cracker, and it’s topped with a thin cheese and bits of whatever you want.  We chose pepperoni, those hot little green Italian peppers.

As we sat, chewing away, a German couple from Stuttgart sat down in front of us.  Fests are like that.  Sit wherever there’s a seat.  The man sipped a beer and the wife (Frau) garrulously began chatting with the usual questions:  where are you from, are you on holiday in Germany, what kind of beer are you drinking, I don’t like beer, may I have a sip???? In this case, garrulous was not a pejorative term.  Utterly charming.  Germans have not lost the art of friendly conversation.  I tried out my German. She insisted on using English.  Her husband laughed at both of us.  Typical of a fest.  You go to meet people, chat, drink, and have a great time.  We did!

Don’t waste another moment!  Grab your significant other, whom in my case I swear is my wife, and get your thick-skinned rump to a fest!  Prost!

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