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Monday, November 19, 2018

Sankt Martin's Fest









Sankt Martin’s Fest

Travel is an interesting concept and fairly new.   Used to take months to get to Europe from the New World. Three generations ago, as a young man, my grandfather rode from Florida to South Carolina on a mule.  The U.S. was mostly rural.  Travel meant going to the closest big city, only ten or twenty miles at the most.

Now we hop on a jet and go from the heart of the United States to London in about seven hours. Another hour and a half gets us to Berlin or Rome.

Somehow, local travel has become less attractive, or maybe we just take it for granted.  A shopping trip.  A local museum that’s not as grand as the Louvre or the Prado.  Bragging rights to how far we've been and sights that eclipse the local venues.

For me, living and traveling in Germany is different.  I don’t feel the need to go far. Maybe it’s because I’m an American and everything is new. A fest that’s been going on for centuries is a fresh flower in my traveling garden.  It may be only an hour away, but it’s an adventure.  Which brings me to the village of Sankt Martin and their yearly festival honoring the saint.




A lovely old town.  Solid stone buildings.  Flowers decorating every window ledge. Cobblestone streets. Sights that make your camera click every few paces.  Streets clogged with smiling people and baby strollers, the scent of roasting chestnuts and grilled Bratwürst permeating the air.  Vintners, with doors thrown wide, serving half liters of their best, at prices less than you’d pay for a small glass of vin ordinaire in the States.  But, all is not just Brats and street food.  Wide doors of old hewn oak open to sprawling arrays of foods, from potato dumplings to wild boar goulash and fried schnitzel and heaps of vinegary potato salad.





But, it’s not just a festival of plentiful food and drink.  There’s a deeper reason the town opens up every year and with a name with ‘saint’ in front of it, of course it has its roots in the Catholic faith.  Germans are not ashamed their open faith may offend. No prohibitions on whole towns celebrating this saint or that.

But, now, let’s get more specific.

Martin was a Roman soldier who ripped his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm. While he slept, he dreamt of Jesus and later became a bishop.  In the past, on 11 November, the tradition used to signify the end of the seeding of wheat and the killing of fatted cattle for  Martinmas beef.  Didn’t see any cattle being slaughtered, so it wasn’t the Christian version of Ramadan.  But, each year the celebration continues.

People flocked for the food and librations and at the local Catholic Church, riders came for the blessing of their horses.




Although the town of Sankt Martin carries his name, the celebration carries through many parts of Germany and France.

Of course for me, it’s always the people.  We sat at a long plank table to enjoy Würst und Schnitzel, potatoes in many forms, and luscious green salads, along with pint sized glasses of red wine.  Our table neighbors heard us speaking English and thus ensued a long conversation of their son who lives in the U.S. and questions about what brings us to Germany.  My wife is a teacher and so was his wife, seated across from him.  Her husband and I sat in silence as teacher-talk took over.

Then it was time for another conversation with the folks on the other side of us and when they left, yet another conversation, all the while switching between German and English and a smattering of both when one of us lacked the vocab.

Often, when friends come from the States to visit, they have their hearts set on visiting the whole of Europe.  “How long do you plan to stay?” we ask.

“Oh, about a week and we want to go to London and Berlin and Rome and Madrid.”

“How about we drive an hour down the road?”

They look disappointed. But, wait until they taste the wine and meet some Germans and suddenly their thirst for travel blossoms and that photo op in a slew of big cities will never again quench their thirst.


Under the green lights of a Weinstube, here's a famous sweet and soft St Martin's pretzel.

Yes, the grapes are already harvested, but this is still wine country!



Monday, October 29, 2018

Edmund's Oast Brewing Company


Charleston is just above the name, Atlantic Ocean

Lots more to do in Charleston than drink beer....at least I think so.


Edmond Oast's Brewing Company

Breweries used to be huge conglomerations of steamy buildings, that cast the odor of hops and barley like a thin fog.  Picture trucks rolling in and out laden with aluminum kegs, brick walls and heavy metal gates. It’s still that way for the big boys.  Want a beer, don’t knock on a brewery door; go find a bar or a pub. Still true for the largest brewers.

But these days a city may have a half dozen or more micro brewers and brew pubs, that brew and sell right on the premises.   I’ve been to a dozen or more and never found a bad one, unless you count those few who insist on blasting music, with a backbeat loud enough to rearrange your circadian rhythm.

This is the golden age of beer!  Step into a micro brewery or brewpub and you’ll find ten to twenty (or more) different kinds of beer, all of them on tap.  I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) is the current fav of the youthful multitudes. Not mine.  I’m a solid friend of the smooth, the subtle, the tasty, without the bitter grind of hops found in the I.P.A.s.  Where to find such a brew.  Short answer:  England.


But, now I have another answer:  Charleston, South Carolina at the Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company.   Under South Carolina law brewpubs cannot sell beer outside their four walls.  But breweries fall under a different law that allows for more expansion. I saw cans of Edmond’s Oast, Lord Proprietors Mild at Whole Foods, which is what first led me to The E.O Brewery.  Edmund’s Oast does both, with two two locations, a restaurant and the brewery. The restaurant (called simply Edmund’s Oast) wasn’t open when we schemed to slake our thirst, but Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company opened at 11 o’clock and what’s brunch without a brew?  Off we went to 1505 King Street Extension and stepped into a high ceilinged warehouse of a brewery, with at least 30 to 40 taps and Old Puffery, a 4% English style ale that’s poured straight from the cask. At 4%, it’s smooth as glass and something any Englishman would be proud of.  Cool. Clean. Very little fizz.



Speaking of Englishmen, the first name of the brewery (and restaurant) comes from Edmund Egan, an English brewer who came to America in the 1760s and continued to ply his trade successfully to the extent that he gave monetary support to those who fought the British.  He became known as “The Rebel Brewer.”

How about the second part of the name?  Oast is evidently an old English word for an oven used to dry hops.  I say ‘evidently’ because I outlandishly plagiarized without doing my own research.

The Mild is more than mildly addictive

So what other brews do they offer?  The Lord Proprietor’s Mild is my favorite and I admit to downing a full pint, then coming back the next day for a pint and a third day as well.  Rich and deeply golden, Mild is 3.5% alcohol and goes down as smoothly as a newlywed’s negligee.  Here’s another secret about The L. P.’s Mild.  It’s brewed with tea from Charleston’s (and the nation’s) only tea plantation.



But even with fine beers and an atmosphere that makes you stamp your feet and scream like a wildcat for another pint, a pub is not a pub without barkeeps that know their stuff and can chat for hours about brewing and flavors.    Let me drop a few names:  Jocelyn (above left), a dark haired lass who can quote scripture and verse on every aspect of the brewer’s art, and David who knows as much as Jocelyn but doesn’t have her smile, which could sell a thousand kegs before you finish your first pint. Nicole (behind David) is also right in there, a cute sprite of a lass, whose smile and demeanor catches your attention immediately. These three, along with some others, will answer your questions, taking shoptalk to the level of an art form.

It’s no wonder my companion (also an Anglophile) and I came back three days in a row.



The dress is casual and yet, even in this industrial style venue, it’s definitely a ladies’ and gentlemen’s place to come and converse and tip a wonderful pint or two.  The selection of brews is so enormous I will show you a photo of the chalkboard menu, without even attempting to name each brew.





Does Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company also serve food.  Yes indeed. A stone pizza oven sits in the background and I know first hand the fries are crunchily delicious!  But, boys and girls, I came for the beer.  Three times.





And the next time I’m in Charleston….


Monday, October 15, 2018

Airport Conversations.





Airport Conversations.

I like to meet people.  Interesting people. And when you fly across the Atlantic, you can meet plenty of them.  Easy to ask a question or two and instantly know if the conversation is going to flame on or just flicker and go out with a wisp of curling gray smoke.  Most of the time they flame on, bright and brilliant.  You meet people you never would have met and new worlds open up. Happens to me all the time. Today was no different.

I step into the bus to take us to the aircraft that will fly us to Paris.  Two other guys and I are pressed together like best buddies at a keg party.  A tall white guy, an Englishman in a t-shirt and leather jacket, and a black guy my size, but with biceps he can flex to crack walnuts.  The black guy is from Atlanta, but not really from Atlanta. Born in Florida. We talk football, which he played in high school.  We talk about linemen who are so big they won’t make it through the next ice age.

The Englishman smiles.  He likes football, he says.   That’s pretty much it for his part of the conversation.  Usually, with an English person, I go through the routine of what part of Britain are you from, etc.  But, neither the black guy nor I are ready to give up the pigskin just yet.

I lose them when we get stuffed on the flight, but an hour later when disembarking, I see the black guy again.  His name is Rickey and ex-Army.  I ask if I can buy him a beer.  Foolish question.

Near our gate, there’s a nice, bright, modern bar.  We order Fischer beers. The thin, well-dressed, very French looking bartender, brings us the icy bottles and hands us the drink menu, which is stylishly displayed on an iPad.  I consider an Armagnac to go with our beers, but sticker shock and an upcoming house payment make me settle for the bière.

Just in case you want  to try it, Fischer beer is French, from the Alsace region.  Light, fruity. A good beer for good conversation.



As with so many people I meet, Rickey has an interesting story to tell.  Ten years in the Army, then medically discharged after his arm met a bullet in Afghanistan.  “I’m lucky,” he says, “You wouldn’t believe what I saw over there.  I’d still be in uniform if it weren’t for this.” He’s wearing a dark t-shirt and shows me a scar that rides up from just above his right bicep and over his shoulder.

Rickey is in computer software solutions these days and it takes him all over the world, which he admits is tough on his families.  Yep, that’s plural.  His ex is German.  His current wife is Russian.  He has children from both marriages.  His eyes light up when he tells me about his kids and shows me photos.  His says it tore him up to have to leave again so soon, but his kids, even though they don’t like it, have gained confidence that he’ll be home again soon.  Talented kids.  Artistic. Musical. Multi-lingual. The things we must give up in the pursuit of cold, impersonal cash.

“So how many languages do you speak, Rickey?”

He laughs.  “My wives both speak English so well they might as well have been born in America.”

“So, what did you do in the Army?”

“C.I.D.  You know what that is?”

“Yep.  Investigators.  People I never wanted to meet while I was in the Air Force.”

He laughs again.  “Yeah, I know what you mean, but I tried to be more human. Give you an example.  In Germany there are lots of places placed Off Limits.  Some of them are night-spots. When I knew we’d be cruising the bars, looking for violators, I’d tell my buddies not to go to those places.  Sometimes they listened and sometimes not.  When they didn’t listen, I had to bring them in.  Not my fault.  I warned them.  I have to do my job.”

We finished our beers and loaded on the long flight to Atlanta.

But, that wasn't the only interesting conversation I had....no indeed...

On the flight over the big pond, my seat-mate spoke with a southern accent.  “Texas?” I asked.

He smiles. “Nope, South Carolina.”

Tony’s job also takes him around the world.  “I’m gone about two weeks a month,” he says. “I was just in Brazil.  Before you ask, I don’t speak Portuguese, only a little Spanish.  I go to so many places.  Almost all the former Soviets republics.  If it ends in Stan, I’ve been there.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan.”

“What takes you to all those places?”

“Forklifts and other heavy lifting equipment.”  He changes the subject.  “You ever been to India?”

“Never.”

“Interesting place.

“A friend of mine told me the Indians are thieves.”

He cracks a smile.  “Most of the world is basically corrupt.  Bribes are common everywhere.  Some of the countries are ruined by it.  Corruption is a cancer.”

Tony also offered advice about the U.S. and specifically drinking and driving.  “My son was weaving through a road heavily pocked with pot holes.  The cops pulled him over.  Thought he was drunk.  Asked him to blow in a tube.  He said no.”

“If he hadn’t been drinking, why’d he say no?”

“He gave the officer three reasons.  First, he said, ‘I have no idea if your equipment is properly calibrated. And secondly, a lot more things than alcohol can set a Breathalyzer off. Thirdly, if I fail the Breathalyzer, even if it’s bogus, it’s still a matter of record and can be used in court.’”

“So what happened?”

“They gave him a sobriety test….you know, walking a straight line. That sort of thing.”

“And he passed?”

“Sure!  He was clean and sober.”

Letting that information sink in, I had the flight attendant bring me another glass of Armagnac.  Unlike the bar in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, this one was free.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Farmers Market in Homburg





Fall is in the air and that means it’s time for farmers’ markets.  One of the best is, fortunately for me, at a nearby German town, Homburg.

But let’s get this straight!  Homburg (Home-berk) is not Hamburg (a major city in the far north).  A lot of people mispronounce the vibrant little city’s name, unable to get past the more famous location, so they end up with Hum-berg or Hem-berg, or Ham-berg, even without a six pack inside them.

Homburg is small, not tiny, and vibrant.  I’ve written often about the restaurants there and especially the fests.  Italian Fest. Turkish Fest.  Ceramic Fest. Wine Fest.  Beer Fest. Huge monthly flea market. And let’s not forget the Christmas market!

Today, Germany celebrates the reunification of East and West.  No doubt Homburg will have a celebration.  The city fathers and mothers know how to draw the crowds and keep the city bustlingly relevant.  Small and medium sized cities in the U.S. should take a lesson.  Downtowns around the country have dried up and in my opinion it’s not only the malls or the online retailors who made it happen.  To their credit, some smaller American cities have paid attention.  I honor them.  Make the downtowns grow again!!   Oh, if only I were king for a day.  Of course there could be some minor problems with that. Sobriety could work in there somewhere.


But back to Homburg’s Farmers’ Market (Bauernmarkt – Bough-earn-mark-t). The streets teemed with shoppers of all sorts.  Cheeses.  Wines. Beers. Sausages and smoked meats, both domesticated and wild. Hand knitted woolens. Vegetables of every description. Breads.  Hand made brushes for every purpose. Food carts. Outdoor cafes sprawl onto every walking street. I’m sure I’ve left something out. 





Stalls wound through the walking streets and all through the old market area.  As I stress in everything I write about German fests and markets, the crowds were jolly, friendly, courteous, and exceptionally well behaved.  Hey, there weren’t just Germans here, but folks from all across Europe, including those that settled here and visitors and vendors.

Ok, you get the picture.  Now it’s time to save a few thousand words and give you some photos so you can visually wander through the Bauernmarkt yourself!  See what you missed?  Still think that lawn care, laundry, and getting your car washed was so important?












Crêpes weren't the only French contributions!  Both sweet and savory!











Yes, the Italians provided luscious slivers of  Parma Ham

Fear not, autumn is festival time.  Check out the fests near you and leave the laundry for another day!

Another hint:  Next time there’s a fest in Homburg, go! And for goodness sakes learn how to pronounce it!