Archive for the ‘German Traditions’ Category

Germany’s traditional wines under threat

On our Rhine and Romans tour  you have a chance to see some of Germany’s oldest wine growing areas located on some of the world’s steepest slopes. These vineyards are in danger of being abandoned due to the hard manual labour and their maintenance costs. While one hectare on flat ground requires around 180 hours of labour, the equivalent slope hectare requires up to 1500 hours AND abseiling knowledge. Since 1970 the area of commercially used vineyards on “true” slopes (> 60% incline) has decreased from 12,000 hectares down to less than 8,000 hectares. The costs will be even harder to justify once the European Union stops the restrictions on the size of wine growing areas for each country. Each country will be able to increase its area by one percent per year, which will create more competition for the already pricey specialty wines.

Romantic views succumb to wilderness

But this is not just a problem for the wine growing industry, the tourism industry would suffer heavily as well. As readers of our tour blogs might remember, the Moselle and Rhine region are particularly picturesque and on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The description mentions “…the vineyard terraces that define this prosperous and picturesque stretch of the Rhine valley and encompass all the key views that influenced writers and artists.”

Traditional wine makers given a helping hand with modern technology

So, for the past ten years a dedicated team of researchers and technicians of the Geisenheim University have been working on a solution: “Geisi”. Looking like a cross between Fred Flintstone’s family car and NASA’s Mars rover the prototype has been making its way around some of the steeper slopes (>80%) and trying it’s “hands” at viticulture. Even though its current size is not quite right yet for the old fashioned narrow rows of the vineyards, the team is confident that the next model will be a bit skinnier and still be able to do all the necessary jobs of pruning and harvesting.Geisi03_1023

Market potential

At a recent trade show in Stuttgart they could have sold at least 10 models already, which is encouraging for the developers.  But, they’re not just working on a mechanical help for these vineyards, they are also developing new growing strategies, which would reduce the necessary labour and still produce good to excellent quality wines. One of these strategies comes from Australia and has already produced interesting results: smaller grapes, but less loss from mould damage. And the bottled wine, a tangy dry Riesling “Kauber Rauschely”, will be evaluated by the concerned and interested vineyard owners. Nothing proves a point like a perfect product.

On that note, Prost!


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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800px-Das_kleine_Museum_Eckkneipe_Grotestraße_10_Hannover_Ecke_Ahlemer_StraßeThe German word ‘Kneipe’ has its origin in the 18th century term for a place where people had to squeeze together for drink and food. ‘Kneipschenke’ denotes the place, and “kneipen” is the verb for squeezing in! So be aware, a lot of Eckkneipen – corner pubs – will be tiny!

The practice of drinking, and drinking heavily, was tolerated, as long as it was conducted within the carefully structured cultural norms and didn’t interfere with a man’s responsibilities for his household. If it got too much for him to work or he started abusing the wife, she could deploy public powers to impose and enforce limits! As the cities and the neighbourhoods have grown since the 18th century, this aspect has unfortunately disappeared. But quite often you will still find the regular patrons of a Kneipe to be protective of its reputation and curb any antisocial behaviour!

Local brews

While some pubs are locked to one brewing company, others can offer the local brews. Most street signs indicate which beers are served, on tap of course. Ask your tour guide while travelling through Germany with us and they will advise you if a pub serves the local brew. So, while you’re here, get down to the Eckkneipe, enjoy a cool draft and get to know some of the locals!Sven Lambert

For our first time visitors who might like to find out more about beer and its history, check out our other blog entries here, here and here!


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Kneipen – Taverns – local watering holes

Mendel_I_088_vThe tradition of going to your local watering hole after a hard day’s work goes back a long way. In the Middle Ages beer was brewed in monasteries and convents and served to traveling pilgrims. As this practice evolved into serving the beer to the local peasants as well, taverns and inns sprang up all over the countryside. In the olden days taverns served only beer and food, while lodgings, food and rather wine were provided in inns. Even though nowadays these differences have disappeared, the local watering hole is still a place for the members of a neighbourhood to get together and discuss all sorts of local gossip and politics!

Pillars of Society

800px-Jan_Steen_-_Revelry_at_an_Inn_-_WGA21761The different cultures on the European Continent and elsewhere had developed different standards of acceptable drinking behaviour. While some places became synonymous with illicit trade, gang meetings and all sorts of rough dealings, others developed a reputation for orderly citizen meetings, political activities like voting and promoting social life within a community.

If you have just joined us and would like to read more about the history of beer just follow this link and indulge!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Liquid Gold

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a considerable amount of time beer brewing remained a homemaker’s activity, performed by the women of the household. Even though the monks in the monasteries had perfected the processes, it was up to the women of a household to have a steady supply available at home.  But very quickly those in power realised there was money to be made with this popular drink and started shifting the process out of the home into commercial production facilities.

By the 14th and 15th centuries it had become an artisan product, with monasteries and pubs making their own special brews. Historische_BierkruegeOne of these monasteries, the benedictine Weihenstephan Abbey, puts claim to being the oldest and still operating monastery turned brewery in the world: a document regarding the tithing of hops dating 768 AD indicates the use of hops for beer brewing by the local monastery. In 1040 the monastery was official licensed to brew beer by the neighbouring city of Freising, which makes it the official date.


During the industrial revolution in the 18th century the introduction of the thermometer and the invention of the hydrometer enabled the makers of beer to increase the efficiency and reliability of the process. But even then there was a lot of improvement, as the production of the malt left a very smoky taste in the beers, which was universally thought to be unpalatable. Except by the extremely desperate or the locals! The invention of the drum roaster in 1817 and the discovery of yeasts by Louis Pasteur in 1857  finally paved the way for thousands of litres of liquid gold to be produced and sent out into the world.

800px-Fermentadores-Pilsen-01Local over Global?

Despite the advances in technology and transportation, locally made beers still make up for the majority of beer sold in the local pubs. The pubs moved from making their own brews to being tied to the local brewery, selling only their range of beers. Your trips around Germany will give you a chance to compare them and find out whether it’s true that northern beers tend to be drier and hoppier, while maltier, sweeter beers are found in the south. That leaves midrange beers in the middle.

And how and where do the Germans take their favourite drink? Stay tuned to find out about the German way to imbibe!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Sweet Treats

Having presented a range of savoury specialities to enjoy, you might like to know what sweet little delicacies await you in Berlin’s cafes, restaurants and bakeries.berliner

Let’s start with a Berliner. Short for Berliner Pfannkuchen, Berlin pancake, it is a yeast dough donut without the hole and a scrumptious jam filling. Traditionally they were served on New Year’s Eve as well as on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. While you might safely eat them from a bakery, beware of friends offering gifts: a practical joke during carnival time involves a donut filled with mustard served on a plate with ‘normal’ ones. The German version of Russian Roulette!

1024px-SchweineohrenAnother treat are pig’s ears! Schweineohren, made from puff pastry layered with sugar and cut into thin slices which bake into a heart shape. Well, that’s the romantic view of it, originally it was called Schweineohren because the baked product resembled the outer ear cup of a pig! Anyway, sprinkled with coarse sugar or one half coated in chocolate they are a delicate treat to have with your cup of tea.

And while we’re on the topic of light sweets, nothing lighter than a sugar coated kiss: Baiser, a single serve of meringue! Perfectly baked it will melt in your mouth leaving you sated and craving more at the same time.

And that’s on top of the dozens of specialist shops selling you truffles and fancy chocolates.

So, if you feel your energy waning on your tour through Berlin, drop into any of the local bakeries, enjoy the treats and get your sugar-fix. And if you know of any other German specialty you’d like to find out more about, send us a message and we’ll get on to it as soon as possible.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Dampfbierbrauerei Oberstdorf

Oberstdorf is not only home to a huge range of summer and winter outdoor activities, but also a restaurant called Dampfbierbrauerei. Literally translated it means steam beer brewery.

Traditional beers

The term ‘Dampfbier’ was used for beers brewed at higher ambient temperatures than normal, around 18° – 20°Celsius. Fermentation would be so violent and frequent, that the popped bubbles create a gaseous layer above the fermenting liquid. Hence the term ‘Dampf’, steam. As it was a so called poor people’s beer and used  by-products of the wheat beer process, it’s production had declined by the 20th century. But, in the general movement of reviving old traditions, some breweries have started making it again, but using high quality base products and achieving remarkable results.

As far as can be deduced from the restaurant’s web site, their beers are brewed at lower temperatures, around 8° Celsius. Therefore not strictly Dampfbier as such, but it might pay to ask them in person. But, as they note at the bottom, they are still brewing them according to the Bavarian Purity requirements from 1516.


Translation: The mayor herewith gives notice that beer shall be brewed on Tuesday, therefore it’s forbidden to shite in the river from Sunday on!

Experience the local traditions

The restaurant not only offers traditionally made beer, but regional specialities sourced as far as possible locally and has music entertainment on most evenings of the week. They seem to enjoy a reasonable popularity and request table reservations if interested in coming on a particular day. If you’d be interested to view the brewery and restaurant, get in contact with us and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.

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Edible Berlin!

Throughout the centuries, as the largest city in Germany, Berlin has enjoyed continued popularity amongst visitors and immigrants to Germany. Immigrants brought their traditions, culturally and culinary, with them and have created a multi-faceted society that nowadays offers world cuisine on a plate.

Photo by Andreas Fucke

Photo by Andreas Fucke

During your stay in the city on your Cosmopolitan North tour you will have plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine.Spreewald cucumbers

That may be classic Prussian delicacies of Eisbein auf Sauerkraut (pork knuckle on sauerkraut) and Spreewälder Gurken (gherkins from the Spreewald region south of Berlin) with a glass of Berliner Weisse mit Schuss (wheat beer with a shot of either raspberry, lemon or woodruff syrup).

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOr go to the local beer garden and enjoy some bites of Rollmops and Buletten with a Molle! Marinated Herring, chunky hamburgers without the bun but with hot mustard and a glass of pilsener made by one of the local breweries!

Strolling through the city you will also find lots of hot dog and kebab stalls selling you hot food to go! Deutsches Currywurstmuseum

While the hot dog stalls will serve you a range of variations on the classic Currywurst, the kebab or döner ones will tempt you with the full range of their Turkish delicacies! As the Turkish community in Berlin is the largest one outside of Turkey, you will find that there are about 1300 Döner/Kebab stalls registered in Berlin, more than in Istanbul, and more likely to be one on every corner!

Whichever way your taste buds are inclined, you can be sure never to go hungry in Berlin. If you have any concerns during your tour with us regarding allergies or preferences, please make sure to let us know.

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What a bizarre title you might rightly exclaim!

Wait til you will see a picture of what this is about. While pondering past hiking tours a memory resurfaced: when we were children, as a reward after a successful hike, we would buy a medallion showing a favourite view or landmark of the park we had just wandered through and nail it to our walking sticks.

Researching the German term and looking for pictures this delightful blog appeared, where this picture comes from.

If on your travels through Europe with Sidetracks Tours you worry what kind of souvenir to take home, because you’re bored with postcards, or want something different, consider these little gems. They’re a variation on the collectible tea spoons, but nailed to a ‘practical’ walking stick less intrusive. Not too sure about buying a traditional wooden walking stick though, you might have problems getting it back home on the plane. Also, these little medallions take up less space than books or t-shirts and will show everyone: Been there, done that, didn’t get the t-shirt but the nail instead.


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Tipping & Paying the Bill

If you have read through part 1 of this article – Do’s and Don’ts in German Restaurants and Cafés – you will already know what to expect when you go out for a meal in Germany.  But what happens when it’s time to settle the bill?


First of all, it is not typical to pay at the counter as you order, as you would in most cafés Down Under.  In Germany, you usually order at the table, enjoy your meal/drinks and then call the waiter/waitress to your table to pay (“Die Rechnung bitte” – “the bill please”). While credit cards are accepted in the majority of restaurants, it is much more common to pay with cash, so come prepared with your spending money.


GST is already included in the menu price in restaurants, bars, and cafés all over Germany. Still, it is typical to round up the bill and you would therefore only pay the exact original amount if you were unhappy with the service.  A rule of thumb is to add 5-10% as a tip, generally ending with a full Euro amount.  For example, if the waiter/waitress says “15.60”, you would hand him/her a €20 note and say “Siebzehn bitte” (“17 please”). S/he will then give you €3 in change.

Splitting the Bill

As we usually go out for some meals with our Sidetracks group, you might wonder if we can split the bill.  This is actually quite common.  Simply tell the waiter/waitress when paying what you are paying for and s/he will readily add up your amounts and present you with a personal total, which you should then round up, as explained above.  Unless eating alone, the waiter/waitress is likely to come up at the end of the meal and ask “Zusammen?” (“All together?”).

As always, your Sidetracks tour guide will help you out with any uncertainties that crop up at the time, leaving you free to enjoy your European culinary adventures.

“Guten Appetit” and “Prost” from the Sidetracks Team!


Author: Barbara Panettieri




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Do’s and Don’ts in German Restaurants and Cafés

One of the many pleasures while travelling is that you get to delve into a different culinary world.  No doubt you’ll want to try the various regional specialties, so we make sure you get plenty of opportunities to sample different foods on a Sidetracks Tour.  In the article below we have listed some differences to be aware of when it comes to food services etiquette between Down Under and Germany, so that you can just relax and enjoy the great German food.

On Arrival

Unless it is a fancy restaurant, you don’t usually have to wait to be seated once you arrive: just walk right in and pick the table of your choice. At bars, in cafés and in informal crowded restaurants, it’s also perfectly OK to sit down next to strangers, as long as you get an affirmative response to the question “Ist hier noch frei?” – “Is this seat vacant?”.  It’s also a great way to meet the locals! Many smaller restaurants, however, will have a table reserved for regular customers, such as those from a particular company or society.  These tables will usually be labelled with a sign stating “Stammtisch”.  Don’t sit at these tables without checking with a waiter/waitress first.

Bread and Water

Unlike Down Under, it’s not customary to serve or receive water upon arrival in any restaurant or café in Germany, so you won’t find jugs of water or a water fountain to help yourself to.  Instead, you’ll need to order and pay for water and are likely to be asked whether you would prefer sparkling or still mineral water (“mit oder ohne Kohlensäure”) when doing so.  Although it’s very uncommon to request tap water (“Leitungswasser”) as a drink, requesting a glass of tap water to be served with your coffee is becoming a more commonly accepted practice these days.  Also, if there is a basket of bread and/or pretzels (“Brezeln”) on the table, don’t be surprised if you are charged for what you eat.


When you are ready to order, close the menu or put it face down on the table, and if still no one comes to take your orders, just catch the eye of the waiter/waitress and say “Bestellen bitte!” in a friendly tone.


When eating or drinking together, people ususally say “Guten Appetit” before they start and you might come across people saying “Prost!” (“Cheers!”) or “Zum Wohl!” (“To your health!”) before they briefly clink glasses.  When you join in a toast with others, it’s polite to look the person you are clinking glasses with in the eye.

To Finish

As in Australia and New Zealand, if you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you are just pausing in your meal.  If you lay your knife and fork side by side, however, it means you are finished and the waiter/waitress may come and take your plate away.

Your Sidetracks tour guide is also never far away and is happy to help with any advice or translations that are needed.  So you can just relax and enjoy your culinary experiences in the heart of Europe.

And don’t forget to check out part 2 – Tipping & Paying the Bill.

“Guten Appetit” and “Prost” from the Sidetracks Team!



Author: Barbara Panettieri




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