Herborn-Seelbach: Lessons on German Culture and People

By Greg B.  I can probably stop you from reading this entire post if you want, the basic summary is going to be ‘German people are exceedingly generous, friendly, funny and energetic’.  And of course as you might expect, our time in Germany involved hiking, beer, dancing, smoking and amazing food.. and parades, which I have never liked since childhood, but in Germany, they were awesome.  But there we were in the thick of it all, and I’ve gotta say, it was awesome. (story is a continuation of this multi-week European trip in fall of 2009)

Breakfast in Germany is no small thing.  While I’ve enjoyed the cafe and croissant or small pastry of France, Belgium, Holland and such (in Amsterdam omelets were absurdly expensive.. but I’ll get to that in a few months), or the occasional double espresso with a small cracker or bit of chocolate, there’s something about being in Germany and being very active that works up an appetite.  Of course, the ‘being active’ I’m talking about now was the first night of the Kermisfest, which involved drinking a bunch of Licher pils and doing shots of schnapps from the small bottles while dancing for hours.  Upon waking up the next day, Jer and I headed downstairs to find that, not only was everyone else up (I didn’t think we overslept!) but they had gone to the market and purchased copious amounts of food.  I mean what a spread!  There were hardboiled eggs, likely from some happy chickens nearby, slices super fresh and tasty tomatoes with onions, a plate of sausagized meats that held at least 5 types of sausage (one was liverwurst and one was blutwurst… awesome!  I love blutwurst!) another plate of deli meats, a tray of slices cheeses, a deli meat with cheese in it, a cheese with chunks of deli meat in it, headcheese (delicious!) and brotchen, freshly baked and bought from the bakery.  Honestly, French bread, hearty Dutch breads, whole wheat boules and San Fransisco sourdoughs are great.  But fresh brotchen…. warm on the inside, crispy thin layer on the outside with super fluffy interiors.  The way to eat it is to open it up, pull out the inside (eat that, obviously) and fill it with whatever you’d like…. butter, sausage and mustard (from a tube! By Thomy), anything.  My mouth is salivating right now thinking of it.  Delicious.  But the way, this is how we ate breakfast every day, and this photo still makes me hungry for it whenever I see it.

Of course, being Europe, everything everywhere is edible.  The house had an apple tree in the backyard which was fully loaded with delicious apples. But that’s not the only apple tree we saw, by far.  Apple trees were common in the area, along the walk and through the local town garden.  And there weren’t just apples, people grew peaches, pears, grapes and plums everywhere.  Of course, people cant let anything go to waste, so while we were there we had the great pleasure of being served some homemade schnapps from a fruit (I don’t recall which, I think it was pear?).  It may have been 9am, but that didn’t matter, the town was in festival mode.  We spent a good part of the rest of the day hiking.  There are some wonderful trails that go up through the woods around the town.  Everyone was on the lookout for wild boar, which roam around these woods (we did see evidence of them, fecal matter, fresh tracks and some rooting that had occurred in some lightly muddy areas of the train) but we didn’t see any or hear them.  On the way back towards town we passed an old US Army base, a large soccer field and the town’s garden, which had a substantial acreage of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and other foods, growing in small plots.  It was a wonderful way to set aside land for people in a town to use for growing their own produce, something we could benefit from here in the US I think (at least, more of that mentality).  We also spent some time in the cemetery, which is very different from our traditional American views of them.  Rather than being a wide field of stark landscape with headstones dotting the view at regular intervals, this was a much smaller plot, of ornate and beautifully done graves.  Also differently, rather than buy a plot and have someone buried there indefinitely, a family essentially ‘rents’ a spot, and as long as hey pay a fee to inter the body there, it may remain.  But if they are unable, the body is removed.  I’m not sure what happens to it all at that point, I assume some sort of cremation, but I can see this developing in places where space is at a premium.

Upon arriving back at the home, word had spread around town that Mike’s mother had some guests from America, and the town, once again, showed their generosity.  We were greeted with a large quantity of delicious pastries, my favorite of which were the homemade plum tart/cakes from plums that someone had picked off their tree to make for this.  Amazing.  Of course, there was some good coffee to go along with this afternoon cake and coffee session!

Soon after this, Jer and I ventured back to Herborn to see the nearby town.  It looks like Herborn was the much older and original town, and it has since spilled over to include a smaller neighboring town that has more housing than commercial venues (Herborn has a nice town center with cafes, shops, etc).  Classic German architecture lines the small river, and ancient cobblestone streets provide that rustic European feeling.  Jer and I had a seat and relaxed, enjoying  some German beers in a quiet German street.

Returning home, we were again met by the incredible generosity of the Germans, to find that Mike’s aunt had prepared for us a good dinner of pfifferlinge mushrooms (German for Chanterelle) that were lightly sauteed in butter with some parsley, salt and pepper, served with brotchen.  Outstanding,and still one of the finest simple meals I’ve ever eaten.  Freshly picked mushrooms (someone apparently ventured up into the wild boar infested woods to get them) and beautifully cooked, it’s no wonder Mike knows so much about good food… he was raised on it!

Later this evening we attended our first parade and, in stereotypical German style, they lit torches, dressed in traditional clothes, lined up the band and marched down the street with much fanfare!  Once they passed, people followed behind, and walked around the town to the music, eventually ending up at the giant tent up in the town center, filling the tent to the brim with music, dancing, smoke and beer.  We Americans seriously don’t know what merriment is, until you’ve been to a tent like this in Germany.  But before heading back to drink more, we went home for a delicious German dinner, potato salad, hot dogs, brotchen, and a pasta and pepper curry sauce dish, designed to soak up the beer for what we were about to enjoy!  It was a great night of loud music and dancing, as was now standard!

Early the next morning we were up and ready.  This was going to be the really big day of the Kermis, and so we had to walk ourselves down (or up?  I think we walked up a hill to get here) to end up in a tavern.  The picture I took of my watch is blurry, but I think it reads 8:25 when the first round of beer started flowing, tall pints of Licher pils were continuously poured, and everyone sat and squished around tables, singing songs and clapping or standing, sitting and pounding on the table in beat with the lyrics.  Of course, I had no idea what we were singing about, but it was damn fun anyway!  Again, there’s something decidedly German about squishing together with you fellow friends and letting loose to sing and have a good time.  Something we Americans could probably also benefit from.  Of course, shot of schnapps were introduced from time to time as well!  But this morning was unbelievably entertaining, and the camaraderie to be felt was very strong, despite the language barrier and hardly knowing anyone.  What a great time.

From here: Brunch.  A super hearty brunch of boiled potatoes and a beef and mushroom stew with a side of green beans.  You need food like this to keep you going through these strenuous days of drinking, singing and dancing!  And whole we prepared for the rest of the day’s festivities, Mike’s mother headed over to her friend’s home to prepare for the next parade.  People dressed up as all sorts of things, group of cowboy and indians, gypsies, union workers, there were giant pretzels, a marching band in traditional German garb, all sorts of things.  After the parade, everyone once again retired to the large tent for music, dancing, drinking and eating.  But this time, outside and around the tent were rides, games and other carnival type events.  Beer came in 10 packs, freshly poured from the kegs and straight to the table.

After a few hours of drinking and dancing, we left the tent to explore the outside events.  Let me tell you, drunk bumper cars is amazing… I mean, regular bumper cars are kind of boring really, but when drunk, it’s hilarious.  Again, we drank, sang, pounded the tables for songs and enjoyed ourselves.

The next day was more of the same, but began in a more low-key manner.  We all were seated in the tent again, but this time the main event was the Kiga Goes to Hollywood Kirmesgarten, where people dressed up as famous Hollywood actors and actresses, did skits, sang songs and musicals and just ran comedy routines.  Among my favorite was a “Sister Act’ number, with people dressed as Nuns… and the leader in blackface paint.  Not the sort of thing you’d get away with in the US, but actually the song and skit was pretty good.  The day went on as usual, drinking, dancing, singing, eat spaced between occasional breaks outside the smoke and the noise to play some carnival games.

Later that night, Mike’s aunt prepared a traditional German dish for us, schnitzel with mushroom gravy, potato dumplings and a side of red cabbage.  The food was excellent, and as the picture indicates, it was amazingly filling.  To give you some idea of portion sizes, those potato dumplings were roughly the size of a Baseball… each.  Awesome.    This was to be our last night in Herborn-Seelbach (and Germany) for a few days, and the send off was excellent.  Time spent sitting around the kitchen table talking, sipping beer, snacking on delicious food (we made some applesauce from the apples in the backyard, delicious) and just hanging out and chatting with a group of seriously funny and interesting people.  Somehow, it didn’t matter that only 4 people spoke English at the table, we understood the conversation even without translation.  And we had a great time.

The following morning we got up, showered, packed and prepared ourselves for our commute out of town.  I’ll admit, the car ride to the train station was a little sad, I had enjoyed the company and the events immensely, but I also have to admit that I was exhausted.  I had been pushing my body to the limit now for a few days and needed a break, something that a day’s worth of train rides could account for.  But the openness with which Jer and I were greeted by the town of Herborn-Seelbach will not soon be forgotten.  An the generosity of Mike’s mother and his family was over the top, though that’s to be expected from someone as generous as Mike himself!  So while sad to go, I do plan on heading back in the future, you cannot make those sorts of friends and not return!

So we headed off on a commuter train to Frankfurt and while waiting for the next train out of the country, we grabbed a quick meal and a drink  Of course, once in Frankfurt we had to try Binding, another German beer.  It was a great change from the Licher pils from the past few days straight (though I think we decided that we preferred Licher to Binding).  For food, we actually went an unorthodox and a little nostalgic route, and ate some Mcdonald’s burgers.  But soon we were on another train, luggage stored away and headed south to our next stop, Switzerland!

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