Driving through the first gatehouse in Dinkelsbühl was like entering another world. The perfect little Bavaria town. Cobbled streets, colourful timber framed buildings with medieval walls wrapped around the outside protecting it from battles long past. I knew, as soon as we crossed the threshold, that this was going to be my favourite place of the whole trip; and I wasn’t wrong!
It was only by chance that we had actually decided to stay in Dinkel. When we planned the trip we had plotted all the major sights and it happened to be in the middle of Augsburg and Würzburg so it seemed like a good place to stop. It’s funny how an off-hand decision like that can take you to the most magical places isn’t it?
As you probably know by now, our first thoughts are usually of our stomachs and where we will be filling them next. So, once we had checked in at the hotel and found a restaurant to try, which opened in just over an hour, we decided to take a walk around the town to pass the time. Stadtplan (Literally City Map) in hand we started to make our way around the outskirts of town.
As we approached the gate nearest the hotel, I found my favourite road sign of the trip. Definitely not a sentence I ever imagined myself writing before the trip. The signage in Germany was so nice that I quickly developed an appreciation for it that I haven’t had before. This particular beauty was an old WW2 sign with a picture of an army truck and a tank. I’m not sure about you but it is very reassuring to know that when I next take my tank to Germany I will be clear on the rules of the road. Simple things amuse simple minds I guess…
What I found really interesting, as we made our way around the town walls, were the little houses that were bolted to the outside; like a barnacle on a rock. Each little “house”, although the size wasn’t bigger than most sheds, had a little garden that ended at the moat; which was still flowing with water. If you want a nice view, something a little different and you aren’t too worried about space these would be perfect for you. This method of using the space without compromising on the history of the place is the true meaning of preservation in my opinion.
By the time we had walked almost every street in town dinner time had finally arrived. Our destination was Hotel Haus Appelberg Restaurant. It just so happened the owners of the restaurant were the son and daughter-in-law of the hotel’s owners. It was like a little piece of home. You always know (or are related to) someone in the village…
As nice as the recommendation was, they were way too organised for my liking. I had spent the previous night preparing the phrase Können Sie mir ein Restaurant empfehlen? (Can you recommend me a restaurant?) so I could test it out on them, but before I even had chance they passed me the Stadtplan with the restaurant already circled. Lovely service. Terrible language practice. Ah well… maybe next time I guess!
We stepped through the door and were warmly greeted by a smiling woman who told us to sit anywhere. Choosing the table in the corner by the door, for the best view, we took in the room around us. It was small, with only around 8 tables. There were dark wooden beams and shelves on every wall which were then covered in an assortment of ornaments and decorations. Some of them were ceramic pieces that were made by the owner of the hotel. We knew that because she greeted us, when we arrived, with hands covered in clay and showed us the pieces she was working on.
Tonight it was a fairly easy decision for dinner. Whenever there is something with a big arrow on it pointing to “Local Speciality” I will always go for that. It was actually a Franconian specialty of sausages, bread, mustard and Sauerkraut. It sounds simple, which is was, but it was really tasty. Franconia, in case you didn’t know, is a region in the northern part of Bavaria.
My fiancèe, on the other hand, chose a joint of roasted pork shoulder, potato dumpling and pickled red cabbage. We didn’t know it was shoulder at the time but saw Schwein… (Pig) and hoped for the best. We weren’t disappointed. Two plates of hot food were quickly delivered to our table, covered in blue and white checkered cloth, and we quickly got stuck in. Lucky for me the portions were big so I managed to get some of the pork and pickled cabbage too. I hadn’t had the cabbage before but it was surprisingly good. Definitely give it a try if you see it on the menu!
While we were tucking into the wonderful food, a lovely old couple walked in with a swagger and a quick Guten Appetit (Enjoy your meal) to everyone they saw as they passed. This is where the night took a very different turn. We had finished our food and and I was trying to decide what beer to have next. As I looked over at the old couple across from us, I noticed that the wife was drinking a dark beer that looked very tasty. Or what I mean to say is that she was drinking it so quickly it must have been pretty good. So I mustered up all my courage and did something very out of character. I actually turn around and asked (in German) what beer she was drinking because I wanted to try it. The husband happily told me the name of the beer and even helped me when I was ordering it to explain which one I wanted (as there were two different types of the same beer). My little gesture then led to an evening full of conversation and new things.
Then the husband stood up and came to join us at our table, asking what languages we both speak, where we came from and what we were doing in Bavaria. After finding out we were from England he told us all about a coach trip they had gone on years ago; all the way from Bavaria/Franconia to Scotland. He laughed when he told us that for some, unknown reason the British police didn’t appreciate the coach having a huge trailer tied to the back while they were speeding up the motorway. Luckily they only got a slap on the wrist and they were back on their way; trailer still wobbling along behind them.
When I was younger, I always went on holiday with my grandparents and would regularly see my Grandad somehow strike up a conversation with a stranger and end up talking for hours about everything and anything. I never thought that I was that sort of person but clearly as I have got older I have developed the chatterbox gene that had stayed dormant for so long.
Once he told us all about his little English adventure he bid us farewell and returned to his table. However, that wasn’t the end of it. The husband and I continued to chat throughout the night, until he said it was silly to talk across the tables and invited us both over to his table to join them; which we gratefully accepted. Beer in hand, we sat down and begun to have a very strange English-German conversation. The husband and I spoke both English and German while our partners only spoke our respective languages. What happened next was quite amusing. The husband would speak to my fiancèe in English and then translate what he had said to his wife, so she could keep up with the conversation. I then did the same to my fiancèe. As the night wore on, we found out all about this lovely couple. How he had been born in a small village in Germany in 1933, which had then been bombed in WW2 and had been evacuated to Dinkelsbühl where he had met his wife in school. They then both moved away for 55 years before retiring and returning to Dinkel 8 years ago. He was a teacher in secondary school and his wife was a switchboard operator. She thought it was very funny when I told her that we have only ever seen that in films. I then tried my best, in German (with lots of hand signals), to explain that I am a designer and my fiancèe makes ceramic lighting. Not the standard conversation you learn in class is it?
After a long while, we left them to their meal and returned to our table to finish off a lovely apple strudel before stumbling back to the hotel to get ready for another exciting day on the road. I was a little worse for wear as I had tried my best to keep up with the German wife, which I soon learnt was a rookie mistake. She clearly had many years of practice under her belt. That was also very clear when she explained that German beer can keep your warm and cure any common cold. Obviously her home remedies come out of a bottle and into a pint glass.
This night in particular, is the one I will remember most when I think back on our time in Germany. Meeting that lovely old couple is the reason that I learn languages. To truly experience the places that we visit and get to know the people who live there. The stories that they told us were wonderful and entertaining. I would never have had the chance to hear them, or tell you all about them, without the little bit of German that I had learnt before we left. Whenever I start to lose motivation for learning a language, this will be the memory that spurs me on.
This post ended up being a little longer than I had expected so if you have survived to this point I thank you for your patience and hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Next time will be all about our time wandering the walls and streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Until next time…
Ciao for now!