Food, Beer, Wine & Germany

Food, Beer, & Wine

The food, the wine, the beer…and Germany!

When we think of Germany, beer, bratwurst, and schnitzel are the first things that come to mind—and for good reason it seems! Beer is serious business here—Dusseldorf makes an alt beer while other parts of Germany specialize in other beers; Cologne offers a very mild, pale beer that I almost enjoyed!) While not a beer drinker I was determined to try—good thing too as my first host family was shocked when I said I didn’t drink beer (by then I already had a taste and decided to stick with wine or applescholle) and she replied that she couldn’t think of not drinking beer as indulging in a beer was a great way to unwind after a hard days work, or for that matter. Others enjoyed a cool beer after a bike ride, with lunch, with a cigarette, while watching soccer—well, and our team got into the swing of things. In fact Cory and Andrea, and to a lesser extent, Lindsey took pictures of themselves each time they had a beer for the first time at a place—that is not an insignificant number of photographs for their albums! Highlights of our trip included visits to pubs and a tour of a brewery in Dusseldorf. Sadly (okay, not so sadly, I remained unconvinced when it comes to beer despite sampling a mouthful of many different types.)

Now when it comes to white wine, Germany produces a range of excellent vintages and I had great pleasure sampling various options throughout the trip. The Rhine cruise took us through wine country where rolling hills are filled with grape vines galore! German wines go beyond the sweet Rieslings of yester-year…they have very nice dry Rieslings, fabulous Pinot Grigios and other tasty varieties whose names I cannot spell….can’t wait to get home to see what is on offer at our local liquor store!

Cory was enthralled with the meals available here—so thrilled he started taking pictures of his plate both before and after each meal! Since we arrived in asparagus season we had ample opportunity to try white asparagus everywhere! The white variety grows underground and needs peeling before use—the larger stems are quite stringy and therefore require lots of cooking rendering them very soft. These regional favourites are served with hollandaise sauce, potatoes and cold ham slices. We were treated to this fare for the first three weeks of our visit. I appreciated the asparagus salad Martina made while I stayed with her—it was tender crisp and lovely in a salad and balsamic vinegar. Aside from asparagus, meat (usually pork) and potatoes (with very few veggies) as usual—Elizabeth would have been in seventh heaven here! The team kept ordering schnitzel whenever given the chance—we loved it plain, with mushrooms, with cranberries—you get the picture right?! But the most fun the team had with a meal was when we were served a crispy baked pork knuckle! It was a big hunk of meat accompanied with a roll and a small amount of cabbage salad. The team was thrilled—I think everyone wanted their picture holding the huge offering (much like a giant drumstick). Aside from the schnitzel (a favourite at home too) I thoroughly enjoyed the meal Dorthea and Burkhard Gronwald made for us—sauerbraten, spaetzle, red cabbage, and potatoes (another home favourite for me!)

The bread was fabulous—ryes, whole wheat, white and multi-grain options, all crispy, and available fresh each day. Anyone who knows me knows that fresh bread (not that sliced stuff available in N.A.) is a personal weakness. Had it not been for the bread I do believe I would not need to up my exercise routine when I get home! As a team we certainly enjoyed the food and libations on offer in Germany!


Just posing–after one sip, Cory volunteered to help me out by finishing it!

White asparagus, potatoes and schnitzel.

Yummy-baked pork knuckle!


Market veggies

More schnitzel!


June 18, 2012 at 12:09 am 1 comment

District 1870 Conference-Rheine

District 1870 Conference

We ended our official GSE duties at the annual Rotary District 1870’s conference, under the leadership of Mr. Reichert, District Governor, that was held in the town of Rhine in Munsterland, a two hour drive north of Dusseldorf. Our journey northward started early—most of us left “home” before 6:30 am to meet the team bus, and we arrived in the quiet town of Rheine close to 9 am so our Rotary guide could help set up for the jazz fellowship presentation. (Our host district has been working on attaining a Rotary Jazz Fellowship for the past two years & they celebrated their success at the event with a performance by Rosemary Phillips and her band.)

What our role was to be at the conference was a little less clear and nobody, including the GSE Committee chair knew what was expected of us (other than be available for 2 hours at the Fellowship Marketplace from 3-5pm) so we went exploring! The walk into town was short and town center was easy to locate (got to love those church steeples!) and bakeries that serve breakfasts are abundant here. After sampling an array of breads and sweet treats (no donuts here—yippee!), we, okay to be more accurate, I was ready to deal with the lack of information and late hotel check-in issues awaiting us at the conference center. The hotel folk were helpful—we were given access to a small room off the lobby to change in and they even provided us with an iron—everything was looking up!

All decked out in our official uniform, the Team was ready to go. In short order our “booth” was looking good—well, nowhere as good as the slick booths set up by the Rotary Motorcycle Fellowship (they had fabulous calendars and photos) or the Rotary Wine & Food Fellowships (they had samples!) jazz musician Rosemary Phillips had a musical booth where she greeted and signed DVDs. Well, what our booth lacked in sparkle and swag was made up by our eagerness to chat and share our experiences with those who stopped by. First came the waves of exchange students who quickly snapped up a variety of pins we had put out making them very happy indeed! Then came Rotarian friends from our earlier clubs and we were thrilled to see them! We shared stories, laughed and took more pictures. We met with District Governor Jane Helten—it was fabulous to spend time sharing experiences with her! It was the first time for our District that the District Governors of the exchanging GSE teams attended each other’s conferences (perhaps a new tradition has been born) All in all, a very fine event.

The evening gala—we were met at the door with a sparkling gift and an endless supply of champagne. This was topped by more visits with Rotary friends from our earlier host clubs (I was even surprised to see someone from District 5050) and to Cory and Andrea’s delight, an endless supply of beer! We were thrilled that Hildy and David (from Germany’s Team to our District) brought their partners to the event and shared our table with us. Great company, excellent food, wine, champagne, and then the band played (and played until 5 am—not that I was there until that time, although Cory & Andrea tried to shut the place down but even they petered out somewhere around 3 am.)  And then came morning—for some, morning and breakfast were not appealing! After a very quiet ride back into Dusseldorf, we said farewell to Andrea, Lindsey, and Laura who were off to meet their partners and another two weeks of exploring Europe’s wonders. Cory & I leave mid-day Monday.


We were thrilled that Gregor Bothe attended the conference with us! (Without his help we would have sat through hours of speeches!)

David & Hildy from the German GSE Team attended the conference too.

Hildy, her husband Christian, and Christianna–ready to party!

District Governor Jane Helten & the Team at the Marketplace.

The Green Room–getting ready for the conference!

GSE Team 1870 & GSE Team 5050 together with D.G. Jane Helten.

Team, together with Peter & Carmen Pohl, at the conference gala.

Wandering the streets of Rheine.

Saying farewell to jazz singer, Rosemary Phillips at Dusseldorf airport.

Last team picture of the event!



June 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm 2 comments

Dusseldorf Experiences!

Duesseldorf Experiences!

Wow, a week can go by so quickly. For that matter, a month can fly by when you have been as busy as we have been. I feel like I have been on a university course with an intense curriculum to be absorbed in a short period of time.

Each week our team has been privileged to experience a totally different aspect of German life, culture, and events. There have been no repetitions—each club has designed experience to illustrate a different aspect of NRW life. In Dusseldorf we were able to experience the arts and culture side of this part of NRW. We traversed upscale city life on Konig’s Alley—the shoppers were often decked out to the nines as they strutted their stuff on the Alley. Luckily, window shopping excursions provided me sufficient evidence that I would, most likely, be asked to demonstrate I could afford to purchase the exquisite items within the glittering stores. Be happy Bert that I did not put it to the test as I am sure my credit card would be quaking at the mere idea of being used in any of these establishments.

We began our week in Dusseldorf by taking in an opera, Turning the Screw, by Benjamin Britten written in the 1950s. This dark and despairing piece was sung in English (or so we were told—much of it was not recognizable as English due to various accents of the singers.) Subtitles would have been helpful (but Google helped clarify the story after the fact!) What I found intriguing was how the audience acted—they were thoroughly engrossed in the performance; there were shouts of Bravo! Bravo! And three full scale curtain calls that went on for more than 20 minutes!  The audience was comprised of old and young alike and they all seemed to appreciate the performance, despite the dark, despairing content. This appreciation for the arts by those living or frequenting Dusseldorf, was a theme that would emerge over our week in the city.

Prior to arriving in the “Df” I had been advised by Rotarinas in Willich that there were many “must see” art galleries in the city. They were correct—unfortunately they are all closed on Mondays and I had two Mondays to explore the city on my own!  Luckily, the Rotary Club had arranged for us to tour the Museum of Arts Dusseldorf, (Kunstsammlung.) We had a guided tour, by the way, that is THE best way to visit a museum! Our guide highlighted various artists and their movements (ie Cubist, Impressionalism, Surrealism, etc) We got to experience the works of  Picasso, Dali, Max Ernst, Pollack Jackson, and the list goes on….WOW! She had me so interested in one story behind the paintings of Max Ernest that I had to know how it turned out—perhaps I will have to sign up for art history courses!   Absolutely an exceptional afternoon!

We ended the day with a classical concert – baroque music from Italy at Benrath Castle – what a feast for the senses! Pink marble & green – giant cherubs – baroque setting – everything on a grand scale – exceptional setting! Strains of Vivaldi; George Muffat; Schickardt; filled the castle’s rooms engulfing us in music.  While our Team was some of the very few under the age of 65, all of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We were also the only ones, (well, perhaps that was mostly me!) who was wandering the castle interior around taking pictures of everything from cherubs to ceilings to garden views. Experiencing the concert in a castle also provided us an opportunity to polish the marble floors as we had to wear big felt slippers as we slid along from room to room to hear the various musical pieces. Since we were only able to see 4 rooms, I will have to return to this are just to visit the castle!

Dusseldorf is also renowned for its fashion industry. We toured an excellent castle, the Linn Castle that was situated in an area known for textile production throughout the ages (I just love those castles!) Later, back in Dusseldor, we were lucky enough to meet with the talent behind the Academy for Fashion & Communications, where we learned about the educational system as it applies to the areas of art, design, fashion and communications. We followed these visits up with our own fashion showing at Rita Lagune, a designer of repute in Dusseldorf who offers limited edition fashions that could be customized to each client. Once again, while difficult we all resisted pulling out our credit cards!

My Dusseldorf vocational experiences here focused on schooling beyond basic high school graduation and included visits to the Ministry of Education, where I met and discussed systems and issues facing both of our systems. I also spent time at Kaiserwerther Diakonie, a very large non-profit educational system, mostly funded by the city and state governments, that offers training at less cost than it would be for government to provide. They have numerous departments including a large nursing school, vocational training in numerous fields, an in-service training facility for employees seeking short courses to upgrade skills, and the list goes on. I appreciated the time Astrid Hofmeister and Monica Schult spent meeting, sharing, and answering questions.

A busy and rewarding week! Thanks to Thomas Berger and to the Rotary Club of Dusseldorf-Schlossturn!


Benrath Schloss-a feast for the senses!

The distinguished Academy of Design & Communications

The Team at Linn Castle.

The Team after exploring and learning at one of Dusseldorf’s many museums.




June 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm 1 comment

Cologne & its Cathedral

Cologne – an out of Rotary District Visit…and what a visit it was! Whoever planned this visit (and the one to Aachen, and the Rhine tour, and…) surely had me in mind! It was as if these excursions had been planned for me and my interests alone (thanks!! and sorry Team! but I, once again, was in my element!)

Cologne Cathedral is built upon a area sacred to Christians since Roman times.  The Cathedral, is imposing in size and significance for the region now and in by-gone times.  Charles the Great was primarily responsible for ensuring that Cologne and its cathedral established. He negotiated (I am using that term loosely) with leaders in Jeruselem to obtain important relics for the cathedral so that it would be a draw for pilgrims—with pilgrims comes trade and commerce, all necessary for a township to thrive. The relics of the 3 Magi were brought into Cologne Cathedral and it promptly became one of the top four most important pilgrimage sites of its time. So many pilgrims arrived that the Archbishop decided a bigger more spectacular cathedral was necessary to venerate God and the relics.

At this time, Hugo St. Victor was developing a spiritual theoretical construct needed to help the people believe in things they cannot see or experience and many were having difficulty accepting the concept of God. God as light emerged as a metaphor that would help bridge between what could not be seen but was real. As with light, that can only be seen through reflection, God too could only be seen through reflection through the good works of others and through smiles offered to strangers. Religious leaders of the time needed a way to link between the earthly reality and the heavenly world of God—a church that would present God as light in a very concrete way for the believers. The Gothic style emerged. Cologne Cathedral, like other cathedrals built in this style, were magnificently huge with its arches overhead supported by massive columns that rose so high as if to link earth with the heaven above. There are no interior walls to block the light, the Light of God, and the external walls did not exceed 4 meters in height and were crowned with splendid stained glass works of art depicting biblical stories and religious symbolism, alive with vivid colour that seems to shimmer with light.

The outside façade contains a myriad of intricately sculpted statues and decorative structures reaching heavenward.  The interior is adorned with statues, paintings, mosaics lining the floor, an imposing, intricately decorated pulpit, and the amazing shrine of the 3 Magi in a place of prominence behind the alter. The shrine, with its golden cover, is a work of art. Scenes, all hammered and shaped out of very thin gold sheeting, depict scenes relating to the 3 Magi, Christ, and all those who view can only be awed by its splendor. I can understand why pilgrims came away from Cologne renewed in their faith as surely anything as beautiful as the cathedral and its golden treasures had to come from God! The cathedral is also home to a large crucifix that was created in 970—this is a very unique depiction as it shows Christ as he would have looked like upon being crucified—no crown of thorns, no signs of torture, his stomach distended, lifeless, and very dead looking. Later crucifixes, ones we see in many churches, show a Christ who has suffered—he has wounds, he

The size and scope of the cathedral is beyond imagination especially when considering when it was first conceptualized and built—construction began in 1248 and it was completed 632 years later! If not for the Reformation, which interfered with the number of faithful who went on pilgrimage, the cathedral would have been completed much earlier. With the advent of the 18th century and the resurgence of all things old, the cathedral was completed utilizing the original gothic plan and just like that, the neogothic era was born! Thank goodness, otherwise we would have this fantastic structure to behold!

Cologne is more than its cathedral. There are dozens of other churches, many Romanesque, and I did my best to photograph and enter as many as I could find while traipsing around the city with Thomas Berger acting as my shadow and interpreter (the rest of the GSE team decided to climb the 533 steps to the top of the cathedral—I declined that opportunity in favour of walking the city, using a few hundred more steps to be sure!)

When the team re-united, we took a jaunt down to the Rhine where we saw a replica arch and were tempted to explore the chocolate museum, but we opted instead to locate a local pub reputed to house hundreds of political photographs of events and peoples representative of modern German history (post WWII). The Staendige Vertretung, located in the Hotel St. Martins, right on the Rhine, was a shrine to modern German history—and it had great food, Koelsch beer (not to be confused with alt beer served in Duesseldorf!), and history lining its walls.

It was a great day (thanks Thomas!) I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cologne (unfortunately it was too short!) and I can hardly wait to return!


Once I caught a glimpse of the cathedral, it was picture time!

Me again–at the side of the Cathedral!

Just one example of the medieval stained glass gracing Cologne Cathedral.

Making new friends at Cologne Cathedral.

June 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

Dusseldorf and final thoughts

What a busy week we have had here in Dusseldorf or as I affectionately call it “the Dorf.” so busy in fact that I have had a hard time making time to catch up on some blogging. Here it goes…

We arrived last Sunday and went straight to a modern Opera in the center of town. That evenign i was introduced to my wonderful host family for the week, Mr. And Mrs. von Schmettow. They are kind and welcoming hosts, who also have 5 great kids!

Monday was a day to explore the city and the famous “Ko” which is a high priced shopping area. But before exploring the town I was able to have a meeting arranged for me by my host family to meet with Christian Rath, a renewable energy market analyst for HSBC bank. Mr. Rath’s focus is on the solar energy sector, and we had a great and informative conversation about the history of Germany’s solar industry, the government subsidies which have made Germany the world largest producer of solar energy, and the future of this industry as government subsidies are reduced. Monday night was a BBQ with our host Rotarians in Dusseldorf.

Tuesday and Wednesday for me were spent with E-ON, which as of a few years ago was the largest private energy utility in the entire world. They have since sold off some assets, including some business they had in the eastern united states, and now they are the 2nd or 3rd largest utility in the world. On Tuesday I met with representatives of their Strategy Department, which helps the company executives beat predict what the future of the energy industry has in store for the company…. Not an easy job, especially with the energy industry so interconnected to political decisions, which are made and un-made on a regular basis. This in addition to market conditions impacting the costs of the energy, and so many other factors to mention on this “brief” blog. The point is that these gentleman have a tremendously difficult yet critical job for E-ON, and it was fascinating talking and learning from them. On Wednesday at E-ON I spent the day with two gentleman from their Technology and Innovation Department. This department has roughly 200 full time employees spending around $150 mil io euros annually researching and testing everything from wind and solar, to electric vehicles, smart grids, large batteries to store energy, and so much more. Very interesting vocational day for me!

on Wednesday evening we were able to watch the Germany vs Holland soccer game, which Germany won 2-1. Incredible atmosphere amongst the fans. The best part for me is when the restaurant started playing the Dusseldorf soccer victory song with about 2 minutes still to play. I love the confidence!

Thursday we had an amazing day in Cologne and visited the world famous Cologne Cathedral, which stands roughly 500 feet tall and takes about 20 minutes to climb to the top. The stone stairway is about 3 feet wide and is made for visitors climbing to the top AND visitors defending back to earth. Made for a tight squeeze all the way up and down. The Cathedral took roughly 600 years to build. Think about that for a second. America is only 236 years old, and this place took roughly 600 years to complete. Wow. Thursday was also a rotary presentation day for us at the Cologne club.

Friday was another Rotary presentation, this time to our Dusseldorf host club. Friday night was a classical music concert inside Barock style castle. It is difficult to describe how beautiful this music and the setting were. Just amazing.

Saturday we got up earlier and drive about 2 hours to the Rotary district conference in Rhiene. This was also our first opportunity to meet the GSE team from Germany who spent nearly 5 weeks back home in our region. It was great to share stories, review each others pictures, and talk about the great things we have had the opportunity to do in each others countries. One of the GSE team members from Germany even stayed with family member of a colleague of mine at Puget Sound Energy, and he took a vocational day tour of our PSE Baker River Hydroelectric Project in Concrete. Their team also visited the Anacortes Rotary Club, and had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, the Rock Fish. the district conference was also a great opportunity to catch up with some of the best friends I have made on this trip. grog or from Munster, Burckhard from Willich, my host family the Brauckmann’s from Willich, and some great friends from Gelsenkirchen as well.

Now it is Sunday and I am trying to repack my suitcase with the addition of several souvenirs. The Rotary Group Study Exchange program is an incredible way to bring peoples and cultures together, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. You cannot buy this experience at a travel agency. We have had the opportunity to truly develop relationships with people, by staying in their homes, seeing their culture, learning from their professional work, and breaking bread together. I know that at many of these relationships will last a lifetime. I will always be grateful to Rotary for making this program a reality, grateful to my fellow GSE members who I have bonded with and shared hundreds of laughs and memories over the past month, grateful to our German Rotary hosts and host families who have redefined for me the word “hospitality”, grateful to my employer Puget Sound Energy for encouraging and supporting my participation in this program, and most of all grateful to my family who supported me in this once in a lifetime experience. Vielen vielen dank!

– Cory











June 17, 2012 at 7:18 am 5 comments

Soccer, by any other name is….

Football, (aka Soccer) German Style

As most of you know, North Americans are generally not avid soccer fans. Canadians love their hockey and Americans have NFL football, basketball and baseball mania (though hockey has a bit of a foothold in some States). Soccer is THE sport in most of Europe. And since we are in the midst of the European championship tournament, we were able to experience football German style!

Since our arrival in Germany three weeks ago we have been hearing about soccer and Germany’s rise in the standings over past years. The championships have Germans demonstrating an unusual amount of nationalism (something that has not been that common since the end of WWII). German colours, flags, hats, jerseys, and noisemakers in black, red & yellow, abound. Once again German flags adorn houses, places of business and cars—national pride, and according to our hosts, soccer has allowed them to show their colours in a safe way.

The television commentators speculate and our host children complete performance prediction cards (I suppose there is another term for these forms, but not for the life of me can I think of what it is!) Last Saturday, the day of the “big game” between Germany and Portugal ended with jubilation (yup Germany won). We had the pleasure of experiencing this game with our hosts in a restaurant specializing in food from Portugal—and this tiny eatery was shared by enthusiastic fans for both countries. Great atmosphere! The next “big game” was a few nights ago when Germany met their “arch-rivals” from Holland. Once again we were in a restaurant with Rotary hosts (this time in Dusseldorf) where everyone’s attention (including that of the servers) was on one of the many big screens playing the game. Cheers and celebration resounded when Germany advanced in the standings by winning yet again. Saturday (the same night as the Rotary Conference gala) will be the next “must see game”. Definitely entertaining!

Soccer here is BIG business. The stadiums are massive and they are everywhere. We toured Veltin’s stadium in Gelsenkirchen—at first blush, I doubted this would be very interesting but to my surprise it was! The place is massive and efficient—they can serve tens of thousands of beer in minutes (quite the system of beer delivery behind the scenes). The food service process was equally efficient, but the most interesting features of the stadium involved the playing field. The natural playing field is over 10 tons in weight, over a meter deep, has a complex watering system and is moved in for games and out again after (at a cost of ~8000 Euros for each move in/out) and a process that takes hours to accomplish. We were able to view the chapel (if you love soccer and are a fan of the team, you can get married there). We walked the route players take before the game, spent time play-acting in the pressroom, and posed for pictures everywhere. Naturally, a few days after the tour we had to find the Schalke shop so that we could shop (team colours are blue and white…Bert & Nick look great in blue, so couldn’t resist!)


Lindsey, Laura & I at the game–yes, I am in a jersey & yes I watched the game!

Klara G. showing us what real team spirit looks like!

The Team at Veltin’s Stadium in Gelsenkirchen


June 17, 2012 at 12:35 am 2 comments

Wake Up Calls

Morning Wake Up Calls

Each morning this week I have been called to awake by the birds starting around 4:45 am. A virtual symphony of chirping, cooing, squawking, and gurgles of a guinea hen perform daily. And this performance was often accompanied by steady coo-cooing sounding off and on throughout the very early morn. While a confirmed morning person, I admit that the enthusiastic birds and what I had thought was a broken cuckoo clock sounding from the neighbour’s flat had me grumbling from time to time. Yesterday morning I asked my host, Matthias Dargel, if perhaps someone had a malfunctioning cuckoo clock as it seemed to be sounding off very early each morning. (I had hopes of silencing the clock since I could do nothing about the birds.) Well, he had a great laugh (repeatedly!) and let me know that a very real cuckoo bird lives in the tree outside my room. Guess what folks? Real cuckoo birds sound just like those little birds found in cuckoo clocks! I had been wondering what to buy myself here in Germany—perhaps I will bring that little annoying bird (in its own little house) home with me!

View from host’s home–where is that noisy bird?!!


June 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm 1 comment

Older Posts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.