After a year of family adventures, culinary explorations and the making of some very good friends, we were sad to leave Washington, D.C. and the life we had built there in such a short time. The pull of our home in Germany was strong, however, with three of the four of us having regularly communicated over the course of the year that our hearts belonged to the Rheingau (the fourth family member’s vocabulary isn’t much past “cheese”, “shoes” and “sit down”), so despite an emotional departure from the U.S., our return to Wiesbaden was anticipated with great excitement.
A Shambolic Homecoming
Stumbling into our apartment after an 8-hour sleepless night flight (oh ok I got 11 MINUTES) with a quartet of overweight suitcases, our home felt the same but quite different after 12 months away. The rooms felt familiar but not quite ours, though that was largely because our subletter had apparently passed his year here chain-smoking on the balcony whilst his son doodled on the furniture. (Nothing a good clean and four days of rigorous Durchlüftung hasn’t solved.) But the ceilings seem higher, the dishwasher smaller, the bed harder; my cast iron pans have seen some interesting use without me; and no-one can remember how to put the heating on.
My mother-in-law (known these days Omi) was waiting for us, a box of groceries kindly stowed in the kitchen so that we wouldn’t go hungry over the next couple of days – in Germany, all the shops are shut on Sundays. There was Käsekuchen and Fleischwurst, plus Nürnburger Würstchen and potatoes for Saturday night and sufficient provisions for breakfast on Sunday: German bread and hams, local eggs and French cheese – I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.
On Sunday afternoon, we wandered happily into town and found Wiesbaden, as expected, to be virtually unchanged. Having tolerated five months of extremely hot and humid weather this year, I revelled in the cool, damp air and patchy blue-grey skies. The four of us spent an hour or so sitting at the Marktplatz, chatting with friends we’d bumped into, before turning our thoughts to dinner.
Dinner at the Bäckerbrunnen, Wiesbaden
My favourite German restaurant in Wiesbaden sadly closed during our absence (and has been replaced by the third restaurant in the region from Rumiko Tokuoka of Weingut Biffar, offering Japanese cuisine and the Biffar wines alongside). We strolled around the corner onto Grabenstrasse instead, to enjoy some proper German pub grub at the Bäckerbrunnen.
The Bäckerbrunnen has been going in its current form for 30 years. The walls are panelled with dark wood, and the tables lined with forest green banquettes and lit from above with old ceramic lamps. A short bar runs between the tiny front dining area and the back, one or two seats often taken by grumbly old men. If you’re after a spot of Gemütlichkeit (the German equivalent of Hygge), this is where you’ll find it. The cooking is good and solid, the food hearty and comforting, and my dining companions each enjoyed a Wiener Schnitzel (made with pork instead of veal), whilst I ordered from the blackboard of daily specials. Pork medallions were tender and full of flavour, but their toppings – thick straggles of onions, crispy bacon and a fried egg with a bright orange yolk – felt a little excessive.
Refilling the cupboards. And our stomachs.
On Monday, I went for a wander round our neighbourhood, visiting the butcher and the farmshop and, in the interest of full disclosure, the discount supermarket Netto, because once you’ve spent all your money on good meat and organic potatoes, you want to save on the tea and tomato paste. And gawp at cult tinned products from the DDR.
And then, Tuesday. Oh, Tuesday. We took the train to Mainz, somehow avoiding the chaos of Chancellor Angela Merkel being in town for the Tag der Deutsche Einheit* celebrations, to spend the afternoon with my in-laws. Black tea, Käsekuchen and a vast pile of chocolate biscuits awaited our arrival, and following a leisurely stroll along the perimeter of the orchards to the playground and back, we came home to Omi’s meatloaf.
I’ve been trying to get the recipe for Omi’s Hackbraten for a very long time. Unfortunately, like most, if not all of her generation, she cooks traditional German dishes by heart, swapping in various ingredients to her fancy and/or the contents of her larder. Watching over her shoulder as she mixes ground beef with herbs and breadcrumbs, and on occasion keeping notes, I can never quite keep up with what’s going on. And I have absolutely never had the same meatloaf from her twice. But Tuesday’s was the best yet, the thick slices of juicy, pleasingly wobbly beef mottled with diced onion, Speck and gherkins, and fresh thyme picked that afternoon from her garden. I am determined to replicate it this time, and will of course share the recipe here should I manage a version that lives even vaguely up to hers.
The Hackbraten was served with boiled potatoes and carrots, and what was honestly the most moreish green salad I’ve ever tasted – torn Romaine lettuce leaves dressed with a casual swirl of olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar and fig mustard. My father-in-law treated us to two excellent wines, a Riesling Kabinett from Weingut Schloss Reinhartshausen in the Rheingau, and a sweet, nectar-coloured Huxelrebe Beerenauslese from Rheinhessen’s Weingut Wetzler.
These stories of our homecoming probably all sound rather romantic, but of course it hasn’t been idyllic at all (see: readjusting to German time with two very small, jet lagged children). Life will continue to present many of the same challenges we faced on the other Atlantic, and those we embraced in our life here before that. But this week, we’ve been very much enjoying wriggling back into our lives here. And I’m so happy to be able to get back to blogging again (and tweeting, and instagramming) – I’ve got some exciting plans in the works for A Sausage Has Two – and boy, is it good to be home.
* Day of German Unity, a national holiday commemorating German reunification in 1990.