What about now? How about now?

Fotoeins Friday: Bremerhaven’s Neuer Hafen (New Harbour)

Leipzig’s Auerbachs Keller: devilishly comfortable

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Goethe’s Faust meets Saxon comfort

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was giving away my soul for a good warm Saxon meal.

In the city of Leipzig, Germany, the name and influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe doesn’t stray far from conversation. Three more words are at the tip of the tongue: Faust. Pact. Devil.

Near the city’s central square at Markt, the Mädler-Passage beckons with bright lights and the promises of goods and riches within the shopping arcade. At the arcade’s north entrance, all are greeted by statues representing figures from “Faust”, the most famous published work by Goethe.

Signs to Auerbach’s Cellar lead downstairs on either side of the main passage. One thought remains as I walk into the basement. Am I sealing my own deal with the devil, setting foot in the Cellar’s chambers to sign away my freedom for some food, drink, and hospitality?

I’m sure the evening won’t be that dramatic. But the moment I walk in the door, I’m in the midst of culinary and literary tradition spanning many centuries.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Scene in Auerbach’s Cellar from Goethe’s Faust: Mephistopheles casts a spell on the students.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Scene in Auerbach’s Cellar from Goethe’s Faust: students bewitched by Mephistopheles.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Entering the ‘Großer Keller': what could possibly go wrong?

Dr. Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach began to sell wine secretly to students from the cellar of his home in 1525. Leipzig University professor, doctor, and philosopher, Dr. Stromer was known in the city as “Doctor Auerbach” for his origins from the town of Auerbach in the Oberpfalz (northeast of Nürnberg). Between 1530 and 1538, he gathered enough funds to begin construction of his new home, Auerbach’s Hof, which housed a much larger basement for a tavern. Paintings included the legend of Faust riding out of the cellar on a wine cask:

Doctor Faustus zu dieser Frist
Aus Auerbachs Keller geritten ist,
Auf einem Fass mit Wein geschwind,
Welches gesehen viel Mutter Kind.
Solches durch seine subtilne Kunst hat gethan,
Und des Teufels Lohn empfangen davon. (1525)

Doctor Faustus at this tide
Out of Auerbach’s cellar did ride;
Upon a wine-cask up sped he,
As many a mother’s son did see.
This by his subtle art he did,
And the Devil’s wages got for it.

– “Faust: A Tragedy”, by J. W. von Goethe (Translated 1880)

As a student of Leipzig University, Goethe began visiting the cellar in the middle of the 18th-century and seeing the 16th-century paintings of the barrel ride in the tavern inspired him to write his version of “Faust” based on the life and times of late 15th- to early-16th century German magician Dr. Georg Faust (Faustus). Goethe included a scene within Auerbach’s Cellar, memorializing the tavern for posterity.

In 1911, merchant Anton Mädler purchased the entire Auerbachs Hof building to construct his own functional building for the trade fair. His original plans to demolish the historic building were met with worldwide outrage and protest; he compromised by retaining and enlarging Auerbachs Keller. The present-day shopping arcade bears the name of Mädler-Passage.

Grosser Keller: Sächsisch köstlich

Translated directly, “Sächsisch köstlich” is “Saxon delicious”, but the phrase sounds much better in German with the hard consonants and rhyming syllables. The online description of the Grosser Keller is:

Built in 1912/14 together with the Mädler-Passage, meals served within the “Großer Keller”are primarily simple dishes & Saxon specialities, as well as dishes accompanied by beer.

I’m very happy to see that the traditional tavern – pub – restaurant tonight is busy but not rowdy. Inside the front door, I announce my arrival, and soon Mr. Rothenberger arrives to greet me, welcoming me to their restaurant. He leads me towards a table at the back of the restaurant. While I’m seated for the next ninety minutes, Mr. Rothenberger is on the floor tonight for the first part of the dinner hour, greeting the evening’s guests and escorting them to their tables. Mr. Rothenberger and his wife have operated Auerbachs Keller Leipzig Rothenberger Betriebs GmbH since 2006.

I’m suddenly hungry, once I’m enveloped by the warmth of the underground restaurant. The many choices on the menu paralyze me with indecision. Conscious deliberation leads to decision, and a server responsible for my area arrives to take my order.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Rear table with a view

Thirsty and Cold: Beer and Soup, But Not All At Once Because That’d Be Wrong

A short time later, the server returns with a tall glass of cold Ur-Krostitzer Schwarzbier dark beer. There’s a chill in the air tonight, but truth is, I really like dark beer. (The Krostitzer brewery is located 20 km north of Leipzig.)

But it is a cold evening, and I’ve been craving soup while I’ve been wandering the streets of Leipzig’s Old Town over the last couple of hours. From the description, I’m confident the mushroom soup will be a dark creamy mix.

Arrival of a white porcelain bowl confirms my educated guess.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Wildrahmsuppe mit Champignons und Kräterschmand, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Wildrahmsuppe mit Champignons und Kräterschmand | Wild cream soup with mushrooms & herb cream

Rich, creamy, earthy and chunky with a generous portion of mushrooms and fresh herbs, I make quick work of the soup. The soup deserves a portion of bread, although bread and butter are clearly listed as an extra. That’s too bad, because I think soup this good should come with a good chunk of bread.

I take a big quaff of my Schwarzbier to clean my palate. Down down the dark liquid goes, and a third of my beer is gone. Aaaaaah, refreshing.

Main (entrée): Chicken & Noodles, Just What I Needed

The soup has filled and warmed my belly, and the beer’s giving me a good small buzz. Something hearty must be followed by something equally filling …

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Panierte Hähnchenbrust auf Pilz-Zwiebel-Gurkenragout mit Gemüsenudeln in Kräuter-Sahnesosse, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Panierte Hähnchenbrust auf Pilz-Zwiebel-Gurkenragout mit Gemüsenudeln in Kräuter-Sahnesosse | Breaded chicken breast on mushroom, onion, & cucumber ragout, with noodles in herb cream sauce

The chicken breast is lightly breaded, but I find the breading oversalted, even though I’m very familiar with how much salt fits the German palate. Fortunately, the thin crispy crust gives way to tender and juicy white meat within. The vegetable ragout and noodles provide a “lighter” counterpoint to the meat. The breading, ragout, and herb cream sauce could also do with more black pepper, but that’s not traditionally German. I had expected this main dish or entrée to be too “heavy”, but a typical “meat and starch” done up Saxon-style with my plate of “chicken and noodles” does its job well.

“Typische Sächsische Gemütlichkeit” (Typical Saxon Coziness)

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

There’s crowd noise but it’s not obnoxiously loud. People seated in adjacent tables are clearly having meaningful conversations without having to bellow at the top of their lungs. Behind me are round tables surrounded by many in lively yet hushed conversations, accompanied by the sounds of glass mugs “klinking” and “klunking” against wood tables. I ask my server about these people, and he confirms my hunch. One last sip of my beer summons up a bit of courage. I stand up, walk over to one of the tables, and I ask in passable German whether these tables are reserved for long-time regulars (“Stammtisch”).

A woman in her sixties kindly answers some have been coming for years, others over decades. We chat for a little and when she asks about me, I tell her about my first time in both Leipzig and the Keller. With a smile, she wishes me well, and that she hopes I find my way back to Leipzig sometime soon. “I’d like that very much” is my parting reply.

At the front door, I tell the night manager the evening has been an excellent experience: “leckeres Essen aber etwa zu salzig, bequem und gemütich, gute Stimmung.” (“good food though a little too salty, comfortable and cozy, great mood”). The night manager nods and smiles, and hopes I return to the Keller soon.

The Final Word

Back up the stairs, I stop by the statue to give the shiny brass shoe a rub for good luck. As I exit the building for the lively streets of the “Weihnachtsmarkt”, I feel a gust of wind at the back of my neck, a short whisper, but a quick turn reveals there’s no one behind me.

“Komm ma’ wieder zurück (come back again) …”

I’ve generally traveled alone over the last twenty years with pursuits reaching far-flung places under the guise of astronomical research and personal writing. Although a few reasons have changed and evolved naturally, I’ve come to terms with how and why I travel. Fact is, I’m “always” coming back home to Germany. And now, I’m already thinking about coming back to Leipzig, even if I have to make a pact and give up my soul in the process.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany, fotoeins.com

“Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist, ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen, der schweige still, denn das beweist: er hat Leipzig nicht gesehen.”

“Whoever goes to the trade fair in Leipzig without visiting Auerbach’s Cellar should remain silent, because this only proves they haven’t seen Leipzig at all.”

Auerbachs Keller is roughly in the middle of Leipzig’s Old Town, near Old City Hall, S-Bahn Markt station, and Augustusplatz. The place is divided into three main areas. On the ground floor is the coffee and cocktail bar, Mephisto Café. In the basement are the Great Cellar (Große Keller) and the Historical Wine Bar Restaurant (Historische Weinstuben). The latter consists of separate rooms: the Cask Cellar (Fasskeller), the Goethe Cellar (Goethe-Keller), the Luther Room (Lutherstübchen), and the Old Leipzig (Alt-Leipzig).

cmp.ly customI made the photos above on 2 December 2014 during my visit which was graciously hosted by Leipzig Tourismus und Marketing GmbH (LTM). My thanks to Auerbachs Keller for the provided food and drink, and to Jane Langforth and Steffi Gretschel at LTM for their help. This unpaid post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6tV.

Fotoeins Friday: Passau, the Bavarian Venice

How to read signage at German rail stations

You’re excited – you’ve finally arrived in Germany.

You’ve decided to travel the country by train, but you’re not familiar with the German language, and you may find the signs puzzling and difficult to read.

The following is a short visual descriptive guide to signage at German rail stations to help get you on your way. Examples below are taken from Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (central or main train station). The general descriptions should apply everywhere throughout the country.

Where’s my train? The departures board (Abfahrtstafel)

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

In most medium- to large-sized German cities, every Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) or central train station will have a large departures board in the central hall and/or over the information booth. The photo above shows the departures board in the middle of Frankfurt’s station with the message:

“Herzlich Willkommen in Frankfurt am Main Hbf – Welcome to Frankfurt am Main Central Station”.

Information on the departures board appears as white block lettering on a dark blue background. From left to right in the photo below, there are six primary columns of information:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train number
  3. Intermediate stops (Über)
  4. Final destination for train (Ziel)
  5. Platform number (Gleis)
  6. Additional information

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The departures board above shows Regional Bahn train RB 15231 leaving at 830pm (2030h) for Aschaffenburg from platform 12, with stops at F-Ost (Frankfurt Ost) and Maintal Ost. There’s no additional information which means the train is scheduled to depart on time.

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The other departures board shows InterCity Express ICE 773 leaving for Stuttgart from platform 6 at 905pm (2105h), with stops at Frankfurt Airport (Flughafen) and the city of Mannheim. There’s an additional note that the train is about 15 minutes late, putting the departure time to about 920pm.

What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), by day

Above every platform are overhead digital signs to confirm what travelers might see on the central board. The signs also appear as white lettering on a blue background. Occasionally, two trains will share the same platform which the signage will also reflect. Highlighted sections will correspond to the appropriate train; take note that you board the correct train.

The following are examples of daytime departures from platforms 8 and 9.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 8, InterCity Express train ICE 76 leaves at 1158am for Kiel Hauptbahnhof (Hbf), with stops in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, Göttingen, Hannover, and Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. There’s a five-minute delay, pushing the departure time to about 1203pm.

Every platform is “divided” into sections, which are also labeled with overhead signage (A, B, C, etc.) indicating where you are along the platform. The electronic sign also shows how the train itself is divided. 1st-class cars are in section A, the dining car is in section B, and the rest of the train consists of 2nd-class cars from sections C through E.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 9, InterCity Express train ICE 595 leaves at 1150am for München (Munich) Hauptbahnhof, with stops in Mannheim, Stuttgart, Ulm, and Augsburg. The sign above shows that first-class cars are along section A, the dining car along section B, and the rest of the train consists of second-class cars from sections C through E.

What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), at night

The following is an example of a nighttime departure from platform 8.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

It’s 917pm, but the 910pm train from platform 8 hasn’t departed. I’ve labeled the train ICE 526, overhead signage indicating platform sections ‘A’ and ‘B’, as well as the familiar red and blue Deutsche Bahn ticket machines. It’s preferable (and often cheaper) to purchase a ticket before boarding the train; the ticket machines have multilingual options and sell tickets for regional and long-distance trains.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

In fact, ICE 526 heading to Dortmund Hauptbahnhof is approximately 5 minutes late, which means this train is about to leave at any moment. The train makes stops at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport and in Köln (Cologne) at Messe/Deutz station. Note that 2nd-class cars are located along sections A and D, dining cars at sections B and E, and 1st-class cars at sections C and F

Where’s my coach? Coach sequence signage (Wagenreihungsplan)

If you’ve purchased a ticket with assigned seating in a specific coach or car, you have to locate the correct coach for the train. Every station platform has a large sign “Wagenreihungsplan” or “Wagenstandsanzeiger”, describing how coaches are sequenced for each train leaving from that platform.

The labeled columns shown left to right in the photo below are for trains leaving from platform 12:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train (Zug)
  3. Information, notes (Hinweis)
  4. Direction, destination (Richtung, Ziel)
  5. Coach sequence (Wagenreihung)
  6. Signage location, “where am I?” (Standort)

Wagenreihungsplan, Gl. 12, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Coaches in green are 2nd-class cars, coaches in yellow are 1st-class cars, and coaches in red are dining cars. Every coach is labeled by a number. The short black arrow next to the train engine indicates the direction leaving the station. In other words, coaches next to platform sections C, D, E are at the “front” of the departing train at Frankfurt station.

Where is this “Wagenreihungsplan” signage located? (“Where am I?”) The red dot and red vertical line indicate the sign’s location between platform sections B and C.

For example, train IC2297 leaves platform 12 at 820pm (2020h) for Stuttgart. However, there are three rows for the same train number, indicating different coach sequences for different days of the week. The train indicated by the white asterisk or star is assigned for departures Monday to Wednesday (Montag bis Mittwoch) inclusive. Where the red vertical line intersects this row shows that the “Wagenreihungsplan” signage shown here would be located opposite 2nd-class coach number 6.

At times, you may hear a public announcement and/or see a notice on the overhead track signage about changes to the coach sequence: namely,

•   “umgekehrte Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is completely reversed.
•   “abweichende Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is different than scheduled.

Schedules for departures & arrivals

You’ll also see printed-paper displays for arrivals and departures. Arrivals are always displayed as black text on a light grey background, and departures are always displayed as black text on a yellow background. The lists of arriving and departing trains are ordered by the time of day.

Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

The Deutsche Bahn website also provides an updated to-the-minute online version of an arrivals and departures board here in German or here in English. Up-to-date information is given two hours in advance from your present time, including information about the assigned platform for arriving/departing trains and whether trains are early or late. Just like the printed-paper displays, arrivals and departures are shown on light grey and yellow backgrounds, respectively.

Questions or comments about trains in Germany? Please leave them below!

I made the photos above at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof on 10 October 2009 and 20 November 2014. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6k7.


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