I’m in Kaiserslautern, in one of my homes away from home. I lived in this city – which is nestled in the Rheinland-Pfalz, not so far from the French border – during my high school days, and the place and the people here have had a profound influence on my life. It was where I first learned to appreciate beer and wine; it’s where I continued my Fussball education and romance, playing for my Department of Defense high school and a German club.
It’s also where I began to expand my culinary horizons beyond the foods of the U.S., learning about a new cuisine and spending time in German kitchens. I tasted my first Saumagen here, and my first Frikadelle, having wandered past a cart selling them on the way up to the Betzenberg.
I had read “The Great Gatsby” before we moved to Germany, but it was in Kaiserslautern that I became a serious reader, through Fitzgerald and wine. My parents and sisters were traveling in the U.S., and I was home alone, so I bought a few bottles of wine and began reading the man from St. Paul, from his first words to his final, unfinished, novel. I am sure there was a Riesling or two in the mix, and I clearly recall an Italian red. (To this day, whenever I taste a great dry Riesling, especially one from the Pfalz, I think of this line of Fitzgerald’s: “I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”)
While in Kaiserslautern, I am a guest in the home of a friend I first met in 1980, Holger Westing. He and his wife, Gudrun, have two sons, Tim and Max, and I am enjoying catching up with all of them. (Holger was my teammate at TSG Kaiserslautern, my German club. He was a very good footballer, and went on to play for 1. FC Kaiserslautern’s amateur squad.) We’ve had a light snowfall, the January days and nights are cold and comforting, and the soup is on.
Of course, it always comes back to the food, wherever I find myself. Food and wine. I was in Germany last year as well, and tasted (and drank) a lot of Rieslings. Holger loves wine, and he and I spent a couple of days driving through the Pfalz and Baden, stopping at as many wineries as possible. Angela and I spent some time in the region as well in the autumn of last year, and I was happy to be able introduce her to the wines and cuisine of the area.
We go to the market on Saturdays, for horse sausage and Bollburgers and vegetables and Frikadellen. We enjoy the slow days, the unblemished carpet of snow, the comforting beginning of a new year. It is a fine thing to cook in a kitchen in the home of a friend, a friend of more than 30 years, in a part of the world that has been bred in my bones and continues to teach me so much.
Looking back, I think it was highly appropriate that my father was transferred to Germany, and to the Rheinland-Pfalz … great wines, great Fussball (I must state that my team, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, was much better back in those days), beautiful land and soil, and oh so close to Paris and Bavaria. And, most dear to me, some of the best people I have ever met. I’ll be back here, again and again.
Welcome home, wherever you find yourself.