Traveling Through Time: Down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey

Weltenburg Abbey was more than four centuries old before the monks first began brewing ale—or at least ale worth noting–in 1050. Now vying for the title of the oldest monastic brewery in the world (Weihenstephan Abbey also claims the honor), they set their claim on maintaining the original brewing process. Like the beer, much is as it was remains at the Abbey, the somewhat plain exterior of the cathedral opens onto an elaborately ornate and gilded interior. Services are still held regularly, and monks still live and work on the premises. And just as abbeys were places for gatherings for a millennium and more, Weltenburg also remains a destination. Located 25 miles west of the charming Bavarian city of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage City and just three miles from Kelheim, it is accessible by car. But I totally like immersing myself in history and my goal today is to replicate—as much as I can—the 1050 experience.


Long Wall and St. Nepomuk

On the ferry from Kelheim, I watch as the boat’s wake cuts through waters reflecting the dark greens of dense woods and whites of limestone rocks of the Fränkische Alb mountains, some rising 300-feet high. Winds, water and time have carved caves and nooks in the limestone and in one of these crannies on an expansive stretch of stone called the Long Wall someone has tucked a statue of St. Nepomuk, the patron saint of water and bridges who was drowned when he refused to reveal the confessions made to him by the Queen of Bavaria. Her husband must have really wanted to know what she was up to.

The Danube Narrows

Today it will take 40 minutes to travel the Danube Narrows, an ancient waterway to and from Weltenburg Abbey or if you want to be really German about it, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei, a sprawling complex of Baroque stone buildings surrounded by the lush rural beauty of Southern Bavaria.

There are times when the river is a lively place with small boats passing by and bicyclists and hikers making their way along the riverbank. Then suddenly, navigating a bend, it’s all calm waters and quiet.  I imagine this is how it was when pilgrims and tradesmen (and hopefully tradeswomen as well) came to the abbey to retreat from the world, rest or conduct business. It was a time when travel was mainly by water as roads barely existed and their trip would have taken much longer without our gas powered engines. But the sight they saw when making the final curve is much the same as today—Weltenburg’s blue tower roof and the washed pink walls.

Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei

The abbey sits on a bend of the river and in front is a small sandy beach and shallow waters where people play. It’s hot today—a heat wave is moving across Europe—and I envy them as the water looks cool and refreshing. But history calls and instead I move up the walk leading from the dock to the entrance already awed by the size and beauty of the place.

There are always hard choices and today I need to decide whether to tour first (there are self-guided and guided tours available) or take a seat in the sun at the biergarten, It appears that most people have chosen the latter and rather than wait for a table or sit inside the restaurant, I enter the church.

St. Georg Church

We’re talking seriously rococo inside, an overdrive of theatrical flourishes mixed with more Gothic elements. Paintings date back to the 1300s, a statue of the church’s namesake St. George or St. Georg as its spelled here, sculpted in smooth, sleek marble, rides his horse most likely on his way to slay the dragon. The main room, its ceiling 65-feet high, has alcoves off to the sides, each one just as ornate. It’s hard to take in everything at once, the artistry, pageantry and craftsmanship are so amazing.  Standing near a group tour, I hear phrases like “eight ionic columns, Weltenburg marble and gold fresco” and hurriedly write the words down as it helps sort out this wonderment of riches.

Bavarian Fare

Back outside, I spot an empty table and grab it. Addicted to German fare (yes, really), I order pigs’ knuckle known as schweinshaxe, schnitzel and even though I’m in Bavarian and not the Black Forest (hey, it’s nearby) the famous cake from that region. Of course, I need a glass of their Kloster Barock Dunkel—an almost black in color ale which is still made on site in a rock cave and then sent by pipeline to the monastery taps. Also available—to drink or take home, there is a gift store of course–are other brews and such medicinal spirits as their Weltenburg monastery bitters and liqueurs. And if you want to go full abbey, there’s their klosterkas and monastery sausage both based on ancient Weltenburg recipes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last schnitzel and definitely not the cake. To assuage my conscience, I climb the mountain path as it winds past the Stations of the Cross. It’s steep but the gaps in the woods offer commanding views of the valley, abbey and gorge below. I briefly contemplate spending the night at the St. Georg Guest House to be able to walk the abbey grounds late at night when all the visitors are gone but I don’t have a reservation. Next time for sure.

The Oldest Wheat Beer Brewery in Bavaria

          Returning to Kelheim isn’t exactly like entering the 21st century. In the old town I wander the narrow streets snapping photos of perfectly maintained Medieval-era buildings just a short walk from the docks and on the way to where I parked my car, I let my friends talk me into stopping at Weisses Bauhaus Kelheim.

It’s a beautiful place, all wood, vaulted ceilings and archways leading from room to room. Outside we sit in, yes another beer garden, this one next to a small stream, and order a round of their wheat beer. Really, I had to since they’ve been brewing beer here since 1607, making the Weisses Brauhaus the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.


I’m not typically a beer lover but both the Kloster Barock Dunkel at the abbey and the TAP7 here, made from the original 1872 recipe, are robust and flavorful without bitterness or an overly hoppy taste. I’m driving so instead of more beer, I listen to the live music, enjoy the myriad of colorful blooms cascading from window boxes, baskets and containers and contemplate how I’ve spent the day moving through history and only now have reached the 17th century.

German Sweets for the Holidays and Beyond

          Though right now I can’t even travel to Chicago to do some holiday shopping because of the pandemic, I did manage a trip to Southwest German to visit several of their beautiful Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Markets) and take a holiday cookie making class.

          Well, kind of. The trip was a virtual cooking class and I’ve been doing a lot of those lately. It is, of course, nowhere close to being there but still when you get to the point where going to the grocery store becomes a big adventure, it’s really a great way to explore—and plan for the time when we might be able to journey again.

          And even though the holiday is long past, making the cookies and thinking of the beauty of the Christkindlesmarkts is a fine thing to do in gloomy February when all the excitement leading up to Christmas is long past and winter seems forever.

          Southwest Germany is comprised for the most part of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and is bordered on the west by France, Switzerland to the south, Bavaria to the east and Hesse to the north. It encompasses the Black Forest, large cities like Heidelberg, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart and a plethora of towns and villages that are so neatly kept and so very beautiful like Schwetzingen where there’s the Schwetzingen Palace & Gardens and Wiblingen, the home to an 11th century abbey. One thing you quickly realize about Germany is that almost every village no matter how small has a castle. And abbeys and monasteries dating back a millennium are common. New to them is anything built less than 400 years ago.

          Before COVID-19, late November and December is the time for the fantastic Christmas markets that have been part of the German holiday season since the 1300s. But of course, this is the age of COVID-19, so not only is my cooking class virtual but so are my visits to the Christmas markets. One plus, I save a lot of money by not being able to actually shop.

          Wendy Jo Peterson who, between military moves and following her husband’s career around the world, racked up a lot of miles working with children and adults across the spectrum from populations with special needs to elite athletes. Culinary nutrition and reaching optimal wellness through the foods we eat is one of her main drivers and she’s clocked in a lot of hours teaching, at hospital, working a computer and presenting the latest in nutritional science. When she lived in Stuttgart, Peterson immersed herself in cooking traditions and techniques and is bringing all that to our virtual classroom.

          We can either cook along with Peterson or just watch and I’ve decided I want to cook along with.

          To save time, Peterson has prepared her dough ahead of the class and so did those of us who are going to be cooking with her. Our first cookie is a yeast dough shaped into the form of the little tan man, known  In North Baden and the Electoral Palatinate, as Dambedei, in South Baden as Grätti or Baselmann and in other regions as Weck or Klausenmann. I hope I’m not going to be quizzed on the names of the cookies because I just won’t be able to do it.

But no matter the name, Dambedei’s instantly recognizable to children—and adults—because of his characteristic appearances. All little tan men have a pointed head, raisin eyes, almond mouth and a button jacket made of nuts.

Dambedei’s origins go back to when people were excluded for whatever reason from worshipping in the church on Bishop Nikolaus von Myra’s remembrance day. Instead the blessed bread is served to them in the shape of a man.

“The other cookies we’ll be making are Spitzbuben, also known as Hildabrötchen which are named after the Grand Duchess Hilda von Nassau, the last Grand Duchess of Baden,” says Peterson. “Supposedly, the popular Grand Duchess enjoyed eating Hilda rolls and often baked them herself. She was buried at the side of her husband, Grand Duke Friedrich II in the grand ducal grave chapel in Karlsruhe. Her ornate coffin can be viewed there.”

We’re also will make Hutzelbrot. If we were in Germany, we’d use dried Hutzel pears but alas I’ll be using  the dried pears sold in the grocery store. The term hutzelig in Swabia translates into wrinkled and that also describes the fruit. As for Swabia, it’s a historic region in southwest Germany. Someone a long time ago told me a Swabian joke. It isn’t very funny but it’s the only one I’ve ever heard. I tell it to the class, but they don’t think it’s funny at all.


We also have recipes for Springerle and Lebkuchen so if I do all the cooking, I’ll have a great assortment of German cookies.

Spitzbuben or Hildabrötchen

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup of cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/3 cups of flour

½ cup of raspberry jam for the center

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Cream together sugar and butter. Add vanilla extract and egg until combined. Add flour to form a dough. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap or cover well and put in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Roll out the dough very thinly and cut into circles. Then cut out the shape you like in every other cookie. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool. Heat the jam, spread over the cookies without  cutouts, then place the cutout half on top of the cookie with the jam. Dust with powdered sugar.


4 eggs

2 ¼ cups powdered sugar

2 ¼ cup white wheat flour

1 tablespoon of whole anise seed or, if you want, substitute with gingerbread, cardamom, or ginger

Lightly toast the anise beforehand in a pan and then mix it into the batter. This treatment dissolves the essential oils and unfolds its full taste.

All ingredients are placed in a warm room for several hours before starting.

Beat the eggs until frothy, then add the sifted powdered sugar and the tablespoon of anise seed.

Stir this mixture in the food processor for at least 10 minutes.

Then stir in the sifted flour, one tablespoon at a time.

The dough is now a bit soft and needs to rest to have time to shape.

Put the dough in a bowl with a tightly fitting lid and covered with cling wrap, leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12-24 hours.

When you are ready to make the cookies, you cut off a small portion of the dough and immediately cover the rest of the dough again, otherwise it will dry out.

Roll out the dough on the floured baking board 8-10 mm thick. Press the Springerle mold into the lightly powdered dough and cut out the springerle with a dough scraper, pastry wheel or a cookie cutter.

Place the springerle on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and leave to dry for 24 hours in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 285 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the Springerle for approx. 15-18 minutes.

After baking, let the springerle cool, remove from the aluminum foil and store in a cardboard box in a damp place.


2/3 cup each of dried pears plums and figs

¼ cup dried apricots

½ cup raisins

1 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or chopped almonds

1 tablespoons anise seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups rye flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

6 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2 to 4 teaspoons of vanilla

Soak the dried plums, pears, and figs in water overnight or 8 to12 hours. Drain the fruit and roughly chop it. Finely dice the dried apricots. Put all the fruit with raisins, hazelnuts and almonds in a bowl, season with aniseed, cinnamon and cloves, drizzle with lemon juice and mix well.

Mix the flours with baking powder. Beat the eggs with the sugar until frothy. Add the vanilla extract and the fruit and nut mixture. Finally, gradually knead in the flour mixture and knead the mixture well.

Shape the dough into two loaves of bread. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 70-80 minutes. After baking, let cool on a wire rack.


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Ground lemon peel

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 packet (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tbsp canola oil

1 egg yolk


Mix wheat flour with lemon zest in a bowl. Warm the milk slightly, add honey and fresh yeast and stir. Add vanilla to the milk and add, along with the canola oil to the flour and mix to form a soft dough, about 5 minutes. Let the dough rise to double its volume in a warm place, knead again by hand and roll out to1/3 of an inch thick.

Cut out 4 Dambedeis each eight inches long, place on two baking sheets lined with baking paper and brush with the egg yolk. Press the golden raisins into the dough as eyes and jacket buttons. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 12 minutes at 395° Fahrenheit.


If I get the chance I want to follow the Lebkuchen trail that runs through the Black Forest. Until then, I’ll have to settle for making them at home.  

¾ cup honey

2 cups cane sugar

1 cup orange candied peel

¾ cup lemon candied peel

2/3 cup raisins

1 cup + 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts

5 cups whole meal rye flour

2 ½ cups whole meal spelt flour (can substitute whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

4 to 5 teaspoons gingerbread spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves (ground)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter

Juice and zest of an organic lemon

For painting: 2 egg yolks,  3 tbsp milk

For decorating and cutting: whole peeled almonds and cookie cutters

The day before, heat the honey and cane sugar in a saucepan while stirring. Finely chop the orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and hazelnuts.

Mix rye and whole meal spelt flour, baking soda, gingerbread spice, cinnamon, ground cloves, cocoa powder and the finely chopped orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and finely chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Knead the heated honey with cane sugar, softened butter, lemon zest, juice, and eggs with the flour mixture until it is a very firm, brown dough.

Shape the dough into an elongated roll and let rest in a cold room overnight, in an airtight container.

Preheat the oven to 320° F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Knead the dough well, roll it out on a floured work surface to approximately ¼-inch thick, cut out the gingerbread and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Mix the egg yolk and milk, brush the gingerbread cookies with the egg yolk and milk mixture, decorate with an almond and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

 Place the baked gingerbread cookies on a wire rack to cool, then store in a tin or container. The longer they are stored, for approximately one to two weeks, the better they are.

SouthWest Germany’s Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets in SouthWest Germany are particularly charming as they are often nestled in small towns with cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings, palace courtyards while former cloisters also provide romantic backdrops. Each Christmas market is different than the next with gifts and goods varying from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. On Lake Constance, the many Christmas markets lure visitors lakeside and to tour the islands between the snowy mountain peaks of Switzerland and Germany’s baroque castles.

The lake that carries the sugary scents of waffles and cinnamon is the same on which ferries sail back and forth connecting visitors to different Christmas markets around the Bodensee. Schupfnudeln (finger-shaped potato dumplings), Dinnele (thin-crust flatbreads with different savory toppings) and Winzerglühwein (hot mulled wine) make the perfect outing also delicious. From Baden-Baden to the Black Forest Highlands, Christmas markets offer unending satisfaction – browse, buy and marvel!

Lakeside and Island Christmas Markets Offer Special Experiences Around the BodenSee

In the town of Constance, the Christmas ship with its 360° panoramic bar, a two-story Christmas tavern, the breathtaking lake and alpine panorama characterize the Constance Christmas Market. Take a stroll along the Advent village of 170 stalls set up between the medieval city center to the harbor.

Almost 100,000 twinkling lights reflect off the lake and the fragrant scents of hot mulled wine and gingerbread bring the holidays to life for the whole family. You can also enjoy the wintry landscape of the island of Mainau on a leisurely stroll through the sleeping gardens. After exploring the island, two warm places invite you to linger: the Butterfly House and the Palm House. In addition to the winter exhibition, come and explore the new boutique winter market in the Baroque castle courtyard. Many of the regional hotels around the lake offer Christmas specials. 

 >>  Christmas on Lake Constance

Chocol’ART in Tuebingen in December Lures Chocolatiers and Chocolate Lovers around the World

Tübingen famous for its university, the River Neckar and its old town is particularly fun during the Advent season. Tübingen’s particular flair can be experienced in the small, owner-managed shops that offer exceptional goods and personal advice. From the 3rd to the 8th of December 2019, the city of Tübingen once again turns into a city filled with chocolate.

Karlsruhe Christmas Market. Photo © KME / ONUK.

Throughout the city’s main squares, vendors offer some of the most extraordinary chocolate experiences. Chocol’ART is one of Germany biggest chocolate festivals and offers a unique chocolate odyssey in a magnificent historic town.  All different shapes, sizes, and flavors are on offer with handmade chocolate bars, chocolate figurines, chocolate cream, chocolate tools, chocolate drinks, chocolate beers, pralines, truffles, nougat, and even dragees. From sweet and bitter to mild and spicy, exotic and bio-chocolate to fair trade, vegan to sugar free chocolate are on the stands. The cheerful window shopping and the white chocolate tents in the city square and the magical lighting across the historical city square turn this experience into a fairy tale adventure.  

>>  Chocol’ART

Stuttgart’s Special City Illuminations Create a One of a Kind Holiday Experience

With some 290 stalls and a tradition of more than 300 years, Stuttgart’s Christmas market is one of the loveliest in Germany and one of the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe. It was first documented in 1692, though its roots go back much further. From November 27 to December 23, the stalls of the Christmas Market will stretch from the New Palace and the Königsbau across Schiller Square, the Old Palace and the Collegiate Church to the Marketplace.

Stuttgart Christmas Market. Photo© Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH

Special to Stuttgart is the incredible light display highlighting Stuttgart’s top destinations. For example, a Porsche, a Mercedes or the TV tower bring the city center together with an atmospheric illumination that runs from the Schlossplatz, the heart of the city, down the 1.2 km long pedestrian shopping street. Only 20 minutes outside of Stuttgart is the exciting medieval Christmas market of Esslingen where felters, dyers, jugglers and musicians take visitors back in time. The elegant baroque Christmas market at Ludwigsburg is also close to Stuttgart and offers beautiful handicrafts and delicious foods next to the palace. 

>>  Stuttgart Christmas Market

Baden-Baden’s Elegant Christmas Market Delights Visitors with a Fairy Tale Allee through Jan 6

Baden-Baden. Photo© Baden-Baden Kur & Tourismus GmbH

Surrounded by the mountains of the Black Forest, visitors to Baden-Baden’s traditional Christmas market will experience the feeling of strolling through a scene from a winter fairy tale. The enchanting atmosphere begins at the start of the world-famous Lichtentaler Allee: flickering candles and lights in front of the Kurhaus and festively decorated stands next to the exclusive boutiques in the Kurhaus Colonnade while in the air the aroma of mulled wine and gingerbread follow you around as you amble past the wooden yuletide cabins. 

Stuttgart Lighting Installation. Photo © Sevencity GmbH/ Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH.

Arts and crafts, Christmas jewelry at the over 100 stalls are on offer and a nativity scene also greets visitors. Younger visitors can look forward to tasty Christmas treats, a children’s bakery, a merry-go-round and a varied program of Christmas entertainment performed on the open-air stage. The Christmas market is open November 28 to January 6 so you can actually experience this festive display into the new year. 

Baden-Baden Christmas Market

Christmas Markets of the Black Forest Highlands are Charming and Unique

Christmas markets in the Black Forest Highlands offer a special experience and the little towns are so close together that it is easy to visit two and maybe three in one late afternoon and early evening. These romantic towns, including St. Blasien, Breitnau, St. Maergen, Todtmoos and many more, are sprinkled throughout the Black Forest Highlands and around the city of Freiburg so you can stay in Freiburg which has its own special Christmas market and a variety of hotels or you can overnight in one of these charming towns. Just above the Lake Titisee in Hinterzarten for example is a very special four star boutique hotel, the Alemannenhof which provides wonderful views of the lake, beautiful rooms, and delicious meals.

The Christmas markets in the Black Forest towns are charming and the cheery atmosphere is highlighted with the scent of hot mulled wine, baked goods and beautiful huts decorated for the season. Handicrafts and gifts and local products are for sale and each town has its unique offerings. In the Ravenna Gorge, there is a very popular Christmas market that is nestled underneath the 120 foot high train overpass. Guests can also stay overnight at the Hofgut Sternen which offers glass blowing and Black Forest cake demonstrations and great gifts. The Christmas markets offer a real escape and capture visitors with their atmosphere, delicious food and holiday spirit. 

>>  Black Forest Christmas Markets

For interactive maps and more information on cultural events and destinations in SouthWest Germany and to start planning your trip, please go to  SouthWest Germany 

SouthWest Germany Showcases its Six UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The State Tourist Board of Baden-Württemberg, also known as SouthWest Germany, is marking the 75th
anniversary of the UNESCO with a reminder about its extraordinary UNESCO world heritage sites. SouthWest Germany proudly maintains its six UNESCO world heritage sites, including the distinguished and perfectly preserved Cistercian monastery of Maulbronn which was the first in SouthWest Germany‘s UNESCO crown in 1993.

Today SouthWest Germany’s UNESCO range from the oldest cave art in the world to iconic twentieth
century architecture. SouthWest Germany, officially the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, is a beautiful part of Germany that offers green hills and valleys, caves of ancient art and forests, large and small rivers and lakes, as well as great cities,palaces, castles, medieval monasteries and delicious food and wine. What many people do not know is that SouthWest Germany is also home to no less than six of Germany’s 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We present these sites in the order of their own history from oldest to the most modern.

The state’s most recent UNESCO award was made in 2017 but interestingly, it went to one of the oldest
monuments: the caves and art of the ice age in the Swabian Alb, southwest of Stuttgart. When the first modern humans settled in Europe during the last Ice Age about 40,000 years ago, some of them settled in the numerous caves of the Swabian Alb that offered protection. In the caves, they left behind the oldest works of art in the world, whose significance for the understanding of human history and the development of the arts is unique worldwide. After decades of research, archaeologists presented around 50 small mammoth ivory sculptures and eight flutes from the six caves in the Ach and Lone valleys. These are the oldest musical instruments known worldwide. You can visit some of the caves and see the art in nearby museums.

In the south on Lake Constance is the collection of the Pfahlbauten or prehistoric lake dwellings from the Late Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age. In 2011, 111 places with pile dwellings in six European countries became UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including nine on Lake Constance. There is a museum on the shores of Lake Constance as well as a village, or a network of thatched huts built on pilings (said to be for transportation or security) and the huts provide re-enactments of the lives of the pile dwellers, including a show of their tools, such as the oldest wheel and textiles in Europe, which date from around 3000 BC. The museum shows the results of the excavations from 3,000 to 900 BC. It was the preservation of archaeological finds in the mud that enabled this unique reconstruction for early life at the lake. They provide fantastic tours in English for all ages.

The legacy of the Roman Empire is one of the greatest empires that ever existed and is included in the UNESCO in Germany. Of course you have heard of Hadrian’s Wall in England, well the Limes Route is the Roman’s line of defense in Europe. (Limes means path or boundary in Latin) The Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes is part of the Roman border fortifications with castles, watchtowers, walls and palisades with which the former world power demarcated its empire from free Germania. There are also museum-like facilities such as protective structures covering roman ruins which are explained by plans, photographs and finds as well as archaeological parks located in the neighborhood of boundary wall structures with reconstructed or restored exhibitions. Most of the forts were founded at the beginning or middle of the 2nd century and existed until the end of the Roman occupation 260/270 A.D. It is actually a perfect site to visit while practicing social distancing as you can walk or bike the entire route – there is a walking trail and a cycling route – and most of it is located in two nature parks.

German Dishes My Grandma Would Have Taught Me

            Growing up, a number of my friends had omas and opas (German grandmothers and grandfathers) and though my paternal grandmother was eligible to be an oma, after all she had married my very German grandfather, once he died, she dropped all oma-pretentions.

            The mother of six, she grew a garden and raised das kaninchen or rabbits in the backyard of their big city house. The rabbits always mysteriously ran away the very day the family had rabbit for dinner, something my aunts and uncles figured out as they grew older. Dinner, my mother said, was always at 5 p.m., the time my grandfather returned home from his job as a civil engineer where he designed big equipment for making tankers. My grandfather sat down to eat, not at 4:59 p.m. or 5:01 p.m. Dinner was at 5 and that’s when he sat down and she put the food in front of him He fulfilled the typical German stereotype for rigidity.

            All this is probably the reason why my grandmother never fulfilled the typical role of oma after her children were grown and my grandfather had died. Instead of cooking Sunday dinners for all the grandkids (and there were a ton of us) my grandmother went on cruises and she took up smoking and beer something I learned when I walked into her living room one day and discovered her with a can of beer and a lit cigarette. And she was 85!

When I ran next door (she had moved from the big house with two floors and large backyard–you know the one where all the rabbits were able to escape from after grandfather died next door to where our family lived) to tell my mom the audacious news.

My mother just shrugged. “Your grandfather was very strict,” she said. “She’s just enjoying things she never got to do.”

            I had a Romanian grandmother who could have been an oma, but she was instead a bunicuta (think booncutah when trying to pronounce it) who taught me how to cook. But it was all Romanian food, not German.

            So when I came across “Just Like Oma’s,” Gerhil Fulson’s website about German cookery and her cookbook German Meals at Oma’s: Traditional Dishes for the Home, it seemed like the perfect way to learn to cook the dishes that my oma would have if my grandmother was a real oma not one waiting to board a cruise ship to take another trip.

            Fulson’s cookbook is divided into regions of Germany and I’ve included recipes from Baden-Wurttemberg where krustenbraten or roast pig is a popular dish, Schleswig-Holstein for Gestovte Kartoffeln (creamed potatoes) and Bayern for Krautflecken mit Speck–cabbage, noodles and bacon. The book also has Fulson’s takes on each of recipes, photos of all the recipes and Oma’s Ecke or Grandma’s Corner where she shares tips on cooking each dish.

            These are the dishes my Grandmother Briska would have taught me to make if she hadn’t traded in cooking for a different golden years’ life.

Krautflecken mit Speck

(Cabbage, Noodles and Bacon)

For some people, including me, combining cabbage and noodles may seem strange. However, mix in some onion, butter, seasonings and perhaps some bacon, and that strange combination becomes a wonderful meal. Smoked sausage is a natural accompaniment for this.

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups diced onions

3 ounces lean bacon, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

2 pounds green cabbage, coarsely shredded

1 cup beef or vegetable broth, plus more as needed

8-ounce package wide egg noodles

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

1 to 2 tablespoons pure white vinegar, optional

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon fat is rendered and the onions
are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cabbage. Sauté for about
5 minutes, letting some of the cabbage brown. Stir in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure that the liquid has not evaporated, adding extra broth or water if needed.

While the cabbage is cooking, prepare the egg noodles in a medium saucepan according to the package instructions, until just tender. Drain the noodles, cover the saucepan and set it aside.

When the cabbage is tender, add the caraway seeds and season the cabbage with salt and pepper. Stir in the vinegar (if using). Add the noodles and gently stir the mixture together.

Serve garnished with the parsley.

Oma’s Ecke

Originally, this was considered arme-leute-essen (poor people’s food) —a simple dish that was inexpensive and super simple to make. You can elevate this dish to an elegant status by mixing in 1 cup of full-fat sour cream just before the noodles are stirred into the cabbage mixture.

The recipe as written is all that is needed for a nice light lunch. However, there are many variations you can make. Use savoy cabbage for a milder flavor. Add diced ham and grated cheese to make this a more substantial meal. Include marjoram as a seasoning. Garnish with caramelized onion rings. Add some diced tomatoes. Toss in some smoked sausage. So many variations are possible.

Gestovte Kartoffeln

(Creamed Potatoes)

Serves 4

For the Schleswig-Holsteiners, gestovte implies a sauce made with butter and flour. This recipe, however, uses cream—and not just plain cream, but heavy cream! There’s no need for flour to thicken the potatoes, since they provide their own starch, making this a really easy dish to prepare. It’s a perfect accompaniment for a simple meal of sausage, hamburgers or schnitzel. Actually, it’s perfect for any meat that doesn’t have gravy, since the cream in this one is rich enough.

13⁄4 pounds red or Yukon gold potatoes

11⁄4 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Freshly grated nutmeg, optional

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover them with water and bring them to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on their size. Do not overcook the potatoes. Drain and cool the potatoes slightly under cold running water.

Once they are just cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1⁄2-inch thick slices. Put the slices into the saucepan and add the cream. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the cream to a simmer, stirring gently to keep it from settling on the bottom and burning. While you’re stirring, the starch from the potatoes is released and mixes with the cream, making a wonderfully creamy sauce. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Once the sauce is thick enough, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the chopped parsley.

Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and nutmeg (if using). Pour the potatoes into a serving dish and serve.

Oma’s Ecke

It’s important that you do not use starchy potatoes, such as russets. They’ll fall apart during the cooking process and you will end up with mashed potatoes. That’s not the texture you want here.


(Roast Pork)

There are several ways to achieve crackling on a pork roast, but I find this one the easiest. It yields perfectly crisp crackling gracing the top of each slice of this wonderfully moist roast accompanied by a savory gravy. Best of all, this is actually quite a simple method for an extraordinary meal. Another name for this is schweinsbraten, simply meaning “pork roast,” but the krustenbraten is more descriptive with the crispy kruste, or crust, that really is one of the reasons this dish is so loved.

Precooking the rind in the liquid for the first hour makes the rind soft and easy to cut through. When it’s cut parallel to the grain and then in the opposite direction, it provides an easy guide for cutting the slices once it’s roasted. Each piece ends up with a row of crispy crackling

2 large carrots, thickly sliced

1 large leek, thickly sliced

2 large onions, thickly sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 cups hot beef broth, plus more as needed

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder with rind/fat cap (see Oma’s Ecke)

1 tablespoon oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with

2 tablespoons cold water

2 tablespoons sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the carrots, leek, onions and garlic in a 9 x 13–inch roasting pan. Pour the broth into the roasting pan and stir to mix in the garlic. Rub the pork shoulder with the oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Place it in the roasting pan rind-side down so that the rind is submerged in the broth. Roast in the oven for 1 hour.

Remove the roast from the oven and reduce the heat to 325°F. Using
a sharp knife, score through the rind (being careful not to cut into the meat) in 1-inch wide strips, in both directions. Place the meat, rind-side up, in the roasting pan so that the rind is not submerged in the liquid. Sprinkle the rind with additional salt and roast for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat is at least 160°F, adding water as needed to keep the veggies from burning. If the rind is not crispy after this time, raise the temperature to 450°F and roast for about 10 minutes. If needed, put it under the broiler to speed up the crisping, watching carefully that it does not burn.

Remove the pork shoulder from the roasting pan and set it aside to rest. Strain the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, pressing out as much liquid as possible from the veggies. Use a gravy separator if you wish to remove the fat. Add extra beef broth or water to make 2 cups of liquid. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and thicken with just enough cornstarch slurry to make a gravy. Cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the roast pork, sliced, with the gravy on the side.

Oma’s Ecke

The roasting time at 325°F is really dependent on the shape
of the roast. A short and fat roast will take a bit longer than a long and skinny one. Also, every oven is different and may not be showing the proper temperature. That’s why it’s always important to check the internal temperature to make sure the roast is properly cooked.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

A Visit to Julius Renner Weinhaus & Weinkellerei in Historic Oberkirch

Following the Muhlbach Stream as it  gently flows through downtown Oberkirch, a marvelous collection of timber-framed, multi-stories houses, cobblestone streets, brightly painted shutters and window boxes overflowing with cascading blooms, we bounce along in Martin Renner’s topless  Range Rover into the vast orchards and vineyards, climbing the ever narrowing road up the verdant hills of the Black Forest.p1010185.jpg

The journey is Renner’s Weinburg Safari, which in better weather includes both the Range Rover ride and a hike. But today it’s raining and though Renner, who is giving the tour, has handed us layers of warm clothing, I’m guessing that the reason why none of us are complaining about getting pelted by rain are the samples of wine we had earlier at Julius Renner Weinhaus & Weinkellerei, his family’s third generation business founded by his grandfather, Julius, in 1937.

The wines we tasted are made from the classic varieties such as Klingelberger, Muller-Thurgen, Ruländer and Blauer Spätburgunder that thrive in the special climate and topography that makes this part of the Black Forest perfect for growing a cornucopia of luscious fruit. As usual, I’m impressed not only by the quality of German wines but also their low cost. Indeed, their Pinot Rose Brut is 9.99 euros and the dry Oberkircher Blanc de Noir, made from Blue Pinot Noir grapes, goes for 5.99.

To add to the picturesque scene, lovely even in rain, the Renner vineyards are nestled beneath the ruins of Schauenburg Castle, a long abandoned citadel built in the 10th century, part of the dowry that Uta, Duchess of Eberstein, the richest heiress in Germany at the time, brought to her marriage to Duke Welf VI in 1131.  P1010175

But if we’re looking for real history, Martin Renner tells me after we’ve returned to the weinhaus, housed in what was once a butcher shop built in 1708 (you can tell by the sketch of a butcher’s clever along with the date on the building’s corner edge),  you won’t find it here. After all, he says, as if the event just happened a few months ago, French troops sacked Oberkirch, burning the Medieval village to the ground in the late 1600s during one of those interminable European wars—this one lasted 30 years which is much better than the 100 year war waged by the French and British from 1337 to 1453. As an aside, if you’re wondering about the disparity between the dates and the name of that war, they took a few years off to rest before fighting again.

There’s disdain in his voice about the newness of it all and I try to explain how in America, old is anything built before 1950 and that we probably have fewer than fifty or so buildings in the entire country dating back to 1700. But then this is Germany where you can walk into the Kessler Champagne cellar in Esslingen and when you ask the guide how old the place is, there’s a nonchalant shrug accompanied with the year 1200 as if it’s no big deal. So maybe 1708 is a little too nouveau after all.P1010210 Martin Renner and writer Jane Simon Ammeson

Next door to the wine store, the Renner Wine Tavern is all cozy Germanic charm. The menu is intriguing and very reasonably priced and more so when I make the conversion from Euros to dollars for such items as lamb chops with rosemary potatoes and homemade garlic sauce,  Walachian trout with creamy horseradish, Strasbourg sausage salad with Gruyere cheese and spaetzli–those wonderful German dumplings often baked with ham and cheese. There’s also bread served with either butter or Bohnert’s apple lard. Lard is frequently on menus here in southwest Germany and it is amazingly delicious. A quick fact check: Pure lard, rendered from pork, is much healthier—yes, really—than the oleos and processed shortenings we consume here.P1010198

Noticing that the restaurant doesn’t open until 6 p.m., I ask why so late?

“We’re farmers and wine makers,” Martin, a graduate engineer in viticulture and oenology, tells me. “We don’t eat until then.”

Karotten or karotten in bier gedunstet (carrots in beer) and spaetzli are both on the menu at Renner Wine Tavern. Here are Americanized versions of those dishes.

Karotten (Carrots in Beer)

4 large carrots

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup dark beer, any brand

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Peel and slice carrots into long, thin slices.

Melt butter in medium-size frypan; add beer and carrots. Cook slowly until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in salt and sugar.

Cook for another 2 minutes and serve hot.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Making a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the egg-milk mixture. Gradually mix well until the dough should be smooth and thick. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form the spaetzli, hold a large holed colander or slotted spoon over the simmering water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do this in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the spaetzli floats to the surface, stirring gently to prevent sticking. Dump the spaetzli into a colander and rinse quickly in cool water.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the spaetzli and toss to coat. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then sprinkle with the chopped chives.  Season with salt and pepper before serving.

For more information:

Juluis Renner Winery & Winehouse