I am full-on in the weeds in my professional life these days and have no idea what time zone I am in right now. But I didn’t want to wait too much longer to write about some of our experiences in Germany and Poland last week as jet lag has a wretched effect on memory. So to get this done I will revert back to my New York disposition and give it to you quick, to the point, and without all of the niceties that get in the way of efficiency. That is, after all, also the German way.
Should you ever need to fly through Frankfurt, stop there instead and rent a car for the weekend. Drive the hour and a half to the quaint little town of Bacharach on the Rhine River and stay in a charming hotel built onto a Medieval wall where your window view includes a castle and the remains of a cathedral.
Walk through on the cobblestone streets and hike up into the vineyards and have a cup of coffee in that castle and enjoy the view of the river valley early in the morning. Should you take a boat up the Rhine to see the Rheinsfels Castle in St. Goar, be sure to confirm the return times. If you don’t and the boat doesn’t arrive, take the train and don’t worry if the ticket machine doesn’t work- the conductor is cool.
Ignore all of the restaurant suggestions online and in the guide books and instead go to Münze restaurant. Make friends with Lutz the owner (because of course that’s his name) and let him choose everything that you are going to eat and pair everything with local wine. Hear about his years living and cooking in Ibiza and his business interests in Morocco. Make friends with Otto the chef, and if you’re lucky maybe he’ll take off his hat for you. I won’t ruin the surprise. When an American soldier from Illinois wanders in with his backback looking for an ATM, invite him to your table and buy him a beer. Eat more of Lutz’s food and drink more of the local wine with Lutz and Otto and buy the soldier some more beer and meet a grumpy man named Dimitri from Moscow whose role is fittingly mysterious.
Play with a dog named Snob, smoke cigarettes and talk food and wine and international politics long after all of the other customers leave. Celebrate Lutz’s lady’s birthday and then stumble out all together well after midnight with a couple of bottles of wine, selected and packed up by Lutz, to take home for your next dinner party (you may start lobbying for invites now).
Cure your hangover the next morning by hiking through the woods in the freezing cold up to Burg Eltz in the Mosel Valley and feel like fairytale characters when the castle suddenly appears on the horizon. Defrost with a a hot bowl of potato soup at the bottom of the hill after you’ve hiked back down. Drive cross-country to Berlin.
In East Berlin eat at Cafe Einstein. In West Berlin eat at Gendarmerie surrounded by art, or Felix in the Hotel Adlon next to the Brandenburg Gate. If an Austrian suggests that you and your friends go to a “really posh bar” at midnight, don’t listen to him. But if he asks you to drink beer with him, don’t hesitate for a minute. But brush up on your drinking games skills before you do. And be advised that the German phrases that you learned in junior high school may have rather crude alternative meanings while at a table of Dutch, German, and Austrian men. Follow dinner by going with a group of friends to Hotel du Rome and charge your drinks to your friend’s room at his insistence. Cure that hangover with Chinese food prepared at a counter on the gourmet floor at the top of KaDeWe..
Fly Niki to Krakow and laugh through a crash course in Polish phrases. Butcher said phrases once on the ground but make friends with the locals each time you try. Wander around Old Town Krakow and be overjoyed with the knowledge that you’re in on the secret- it is one of the coolest and most beautiful cities in Europe.
Eat too much, drink too much, and walk everywhere. Try everything. Go into St. Mary’s Basilica and let yourself gasp when you look up. Eat at a milk bar. Eat in an outside cafe. Climb up ancient staircases and take photos; climb down ancient stone staircases and listen to the live music in an underground jazz club. But do not order the Hungarian wine. Smoke more cigarettes in Rynek Główny, the Main Market Square, as you listen to street musicians and the hourly bugle song from the top of the tower. Run through the rain in the Jewish Quarter Kazimierz and watch a pre-taped hockey finals game at a Soviet-themed bar called Propaganda. Do shots of flavored Polish vodka with the locals but then slink out after reading on your phone that the favored team will soon lose.
Take a day trip to Auschwitz even if you’re not sure you want to. Cry and be angry, but don’t forget what you see. Come back to Krakow and warm up with hot borscht and pierogi. But save room for one of the best meals of your life in a contemporary restaurant called Ancora, complete with a cucumber sorbet and bison grass vodka intermezzo that you won’t forget about for weeks.
Try to get home without 4 layovers. Fly business class when possible. Be in love. Vow to return to Poland.