Saturday, June 30, 2007



Not the country, the restaurant in the Kreutzberg section of Berlin. It's called "Austria," which is the English version of "Osterreich." B and I made our way there on the U-Bahn our first night in town.

The restaurant features down home Austrian specialties, like schweinbraten (sliced roast pork) and Wiener schnitzel (sliced breaded veal). The portions were definitely "bigger than your head" -- the Wiener schnitzel was spread over the extra-large dinner plate like a medium-pizza sized relief map of a fictional land mass. The leftovers provided dinner at the apartment the next night.

You probably would not hear or say "sauerkraut" and "to die for" in the same breath back in the States, but in "Austria" it was just that. Not really sour at all, but more of a sweetish, oaky flavor emphasizing the caraway. B, who has recently come to be persuaded that sauerkraut carries healthy digestive qualities (something about enzymes that are hard to find in other foods), couldn't get enough of it, and we have agreed to begin a monthlong quest for the world's finest sauerkraut. We're in the right place, I suppose.

Central Europe has an extremely laden, entangled, multi-layered history, and Berlin is very much at the center of that in the past 150 years. When you think about it, Western history in first half of the 20th Century can be understood largely as a series of responses to decisions taken in Berlin. And Berlin was the symbolic center of the Cold War that dominated the century's second half.

Here, in the quaintly old-fashioned, wood paneled restaurant Austria, B and I (a German- and a Jewish- American) wondered aloud what to do with our excess of food while the diners at the next table, who had been conversing in Hebrew, asked the German waiter, in English, for a doggie bag.

"Why did they ask in English?" I wondered outside the restaurant. The woman who spoke seemed old enough to be a Yiddish speaker who could have made herself understood in German.

Later that night, in Alan Furst's Dark Star, I read this passage:
Szara's German was that of someone who'd spoken Yiddish as a child, and the civilian, a security type, made clear that he knew Szara was a Jew, a Polish Jew, a Soviet Boshevik Jew of Polish origin. He probed efficiently through Szara's traveling bag without removing his black gloves, then examined press and travel documents, and when he was done, stamped the passport with a fat swastika in a circle and handed it back politely. Their eyes met for just a moment: this business they had with each other would be seen to in the future, that far they could agree.

OK, I *really* like good sauerkraut. (I was stunned when I had eaten the real thing that those wretched American cans of gunk dared to carry the same name.) There's stuff I've had in the south (Bavaria, Austria) that you'd kill for. But overall, Polish kraut rocks.
"A Quest! A Quest for the Best Kraut in the World!"

.. And you will cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with... A Herring!!!
"Polish kraut" -- seemingly a contradiction in terms, but not in the tangled web of Mittel Europe.

word ver: "karkf" -- Polish kraut
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