Sunday, 9 December 2012

Challenge Number 25 – Visit Somewhere German-Speaking

The outcome of this challenge reminds me very much of Hale and Pace’s Yorkshire Airlines sketch. “Departing Leeds International Airstrip, touching down 20 minutes later at Leeds International Airstrip. Because if it’s outside Yorkshire, it’s not worth bloody visiting.” I absolutely love this sketch. If only because the air stewardesses serve out the mushy peas in exactly the same way that my mother – Leeds born and bred – used to spoon out stew.

My challenges are now at their compromise end stage, which means sticking to a tight budget. So yes, wherever my “somewhere German-speaking” was, it had to be in Yorkshire. We hope to make a trip to Germany, Austria or Switzerland next year as a proper holiday, but it is unlikely to be before my 40th birthday, which is now getting dangerously close.

Why am I so desperate to visit somewhere German-speaking? German used to be a big part of my life and steered the course it took for a few years. Now it’s a language that I claim to speak well but which in reality is hopelessly out of date and out of practice. So I need to go out and use it if I am ever to reclaim my long-lost knowledge.

My lovely friend Claire suggested I complete the challenge by having a night at the German Christmas market in Leeds, promising me from previous experience that it would be “awash with Germans”. So last Monday night, as soon as Dave got in the door from work, I shoved Charlotte in his direction and hopped off down to the station to meet Claire and get the first train out of York thereafter to Leeds.

What a fun night we had. I would almost say that the Leeds Christmas market had encapsulated more of the features of a German Christmas market into its confined space in Millennium Square than a Christmas market would do in Germany. Because in Yorkshire, they have sort of made it a Christmas market meets Munich Oktoberfest. They have the nice twinkly wooden houses selling scarves, ornaments and toys, and lots of stalls selling Glühwein, Wurst with Sauerkraut, and numerous varieties of Lebkuchen and Schokokuss. And then they have a gigantic in-your-face beer hall. Which was packed to the rafters with revellers. The wall of noise was quite a shock when we entered, as the stalls outside had been largely deserted on a Monday night.

Claire and I bought ourselves a couple of beers and squeezed on to the end of a table. And oh, what beautiful beer. There is plentiful fine real ale brewed locally in York, but nothing is quite so smooth and sweet as a perfect, pure helles Weizenbier bottled in Bavaria. We drank it very quickly. And then had another. This was only going to lead to trouble for two mums who can usually barely manage a swift half without falling asleep. (Though I may just be speaking for myself here.)

Then the oompah music started. A band came on stage dressed in Lederhosen and red waistcoats, claiming that they were “a German band from Austria”. No one in Yorkshire seemed perturbed by this description. They soon had everyone swaying on the benches, bobbing up and down and raising their hefty Krüge, though large signs warned us that dancing on the tables was strictly forbidden. They played well, filling the air with lusty Volksmusik for twenty minutes, before switching to a disappointingly English repertoire. Though they would sing Happy Birthday in German to anyone who asked.

We could have stayed there all night, but some sense had to prevail so we went in search of food to mop up our beer. Next door (of course!) was an Alpine chalet restaurant (there are a few Alps in Germany, I suppose) serving exceedingly hearty German fayre. Claire (who claimed the extent of her German was “Wo ist die Jugendherberge?”) entrusted me to choose from the menu on the proviso that I had to order in German. The beer gave me the confidence to do this without flinching, though not before double-checking that our waitress was actually German and not from Barnsley. And the food was mm-mm-mm! Which is not something I found myself saying very often about German food when I lived there, unless cake was involved. But seriously, these were the best Käsespätzli and Kartoffelknödel I have ever tasted, served with tender roast pork, delicious cabbage and a suitably vinegary salad on the side. And another Krug of beer. The waitress insisted we have dessert and we were unable to resist her recommendation of a raisin and almond pancake that came with a gigantic bowl of Apfelmus baby food. I was in heaven.

We rolled home like barrels, as you only should after a night of Volksmusik, and felt more than slightly the worst for wear the next day. But I had spoken German, and eaten and drunk authentically, which is all I would have asked of a trip abroad. And I hadn't had to take a toddler with me or endure a flight on Ryanair (or Yorkshire Airlines) to get there. Thank you, Claire, for a wonderful idea. And thank you, Leeds, for unexpectedly coming up with the goods. But please, sort out your spelling. As far as I am aware, Christkindlmarkt shouldn’t have an E in it anywhere.

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