My image of Bamberg began before I ever went there — starting with the black-and-white photo of the rivers and bridges and medieval buildings hanging in our New York City apartment during my childhood, and continuing with my father’s tales of the glories of his native city (and my birthplace) – all memories wrapped in lushness.

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[reproduction of medieval map of Bamberg]

 Close to the old medieval center of town is the Hain, a neighborhood of late 19th century mansions of light-colored stone, square and stolid. I saw it for the first time in 1973, when my father guided us to the places he had always talked about. He showed us the building on Hainstrasse where the Jewish social club (Ressource) had been located. In 1973, it was an insurance building. We actually went to the door to see if there was any indication of its previous incarnation. Nothing. Many of the builders and original owners of these homes were Jewish; they were hop merchants and factory owners. The Dessauer family was one of those and number 4a Hainstrasse is the address of the Villa Dessauer, which today houses the  Municipal Museum of Bamberg.

When Hitler came to power the Villa was inhabited by the Pretzfelders, Jewish descendants of the Dessauers. In 1939, while the Pretzfelders were still living there, #4a became a “Jew House” (Judenhaus).  The Jews of Germany no longer had any rights as citizens. They were removed from their own homes into group quarters. My grandparents were relocated there from their own long-time residence, as well as numerous other Jewish people. They had been friends with the Pretzfelders and one can only imagine the psychic and physical impact of such a dislocation. By late 1942, all these people had been deported to their various fates in ghettos and death camps and none of them survived. After the War, the Villa became the America House, a part of the U.S. Government whose job it was to re-educate German citizens with democratic principles. After the Americans gave it up, the Villa became the Municipal Museum.                                                           IMG_0481  IMG_3202

 [left and right, interior of Villa Dessauer, Bamberg, 2013]

In 1991, I had an exhibit of my artwork there, along with three other American artists. My work was titled “In Search of the Lost Object”. It was a multi-media installation in several rooms of the Museum, and it was about the fate of our Jewish Bamberg family — those of us who survived, and those who didn’t. Since my grandparents, who were deported to a camp east of Lublin in April, 1942, had resided and suffered in this building, my show was full of ghosts and my mind was filled with imagined scenarios. It was the most powerful experience of my life as an artist.

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[left, Chriss Fiebig and Gaby in Bamberg, 1990; right, Chriss' bookplate]

During a trip to Bamberg in 1990 to prepare for the exhibit, Sonya and I met Chriss Fiebig. She was a striking woman with blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun, piercing blue eyes set in an angular face and a deep laugh. Chriss was a fierce advocate of all things Jewish in Bamberg. She felt certain that her grandmother had been Jewish and she adopted Judaism as her identity. She learned Hebrew and married a religious Jewish man in Paris, where she had gone to become a model. When the marriage failed, she returned to Bamberg. Chriss was active in more ways than I can say: in restoring the Jewish cemetery; in giving tours to visiting Jews and gentiles alike; in teaching about Judaism to seminarians; in leading interfaith services, and on and on. She became my guide and mentor in Bamberg and I will always be grateful to her for her combination of warmth and shrewdness. When an expanded version of my show was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1994, we invited Chriss to join a panel that also included Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and the Reverend James Morton, then Dean of the Cathedral, to talk about Jews in Germany today. For me, Chriss was a cheerleader, guide, and a dear friend.

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[Gaby, with art work at Villa Dessauer, 2013. Top, "White Dove"; all others, details of "Document Wall"] 

 In November, 2013, the two pieces from the 1991 show that the Museum had acquired were to be exhibited again as part of a large historic exhibit called “Jüdisches in Bamberg” (Jewish Life in Bamberg). (the exhibit is up until June 1, 2014.) It was very sad that Chriss was not there for this show — she died quite suddenly in 2004. She is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Bamberg. Regina Hanemann, the Director of the museum, guided the process of this show over a period of years. She is sensitive to all aspects and she was a generous and caring guide to Sonya and me during our one-week stay in Bamberg. Among other things, Regina is aware of our interest in the food history of German-Jews. She pointed out the berches       (bear-ches) bakeries in Bamberg and had fresh berches from one of those bakeries at the reception, in our honor. It was very moist and chewy, the way it used to be in New York when I was growing up.

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 [Berches served at opening reception of "Juedisches in Bamberg", Villa Dessauer, Bamberg, November, 2013]

The new exhibit traces the history of Jews in that city. Included are artifacts, photographs, portraits, written material, art work and videos. Looking at the intervening 19 years, there has been a massive change.  The show curated by a young historian, Timo Saalmann , reflects the amount of academic interest there is today in all things Jewish in Germany. The preservation of memories and historical information is a driving motivation. I was pleased to be able to speak at the opening to a packed audience, in bad German, about the changes I have witnessed, and about my family’s ongoing connection to Bamberg.

– Gaby

 

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On our recent trip to Bamberg, I stopped by the ObstMarkt in the middle of a plaza in the heart of the Old City (the literal translation is “fruit market”, though vegetables are sold there as well). I wanted to see what types of products might be available in the winter months. There was a wider variety than I expected (at least compared with the farmers’ markets I am accustomed to in my neck of the woods), and I realized that this type of outdoor food market is a combination of a farmers’ market as I know it (one which only sells locally-grown products) and a good-quality produce shop (which sells imported items). As seems to be the norm at German markets, every item had its origin noted on the little price card that sticks out of its crate, and much of the produce seemed to come from other European countries – France, Spain, etc. But in late November, some of the only local items available were these tiny potatoes. They’re so local, in fact, that they are from Bamberg itself!

The Bamberger Hörnla (Bamberg Potato) is a tiny potato with a long history.  A small, slender, finger-shaped potato with a thin skin and a waxy, yellow interior, it has been registered by the European Union as a “regional specialty” (the plant, as well as the potato!). In the same way that the name “Champagne” may not be applied to sparkling wine unless the grapes were grown in a specific region of France, in order for a potato to be named a Bamberger Hörnla it must be grown in the Franconian region of Germany. Because it is a low-yield crop, as well as a delicate one, it is not lucrative for farmers to grow. Thus, it is only produced on a small scale, often in home gardens for personal use. This potato is not exported and is generally only available for purchase at local markets.

Bam Potato (81)Bam Potato (89)

While Bamberg has a very long agricultural tradition, I only learned recently the full extent of its history as an urban farming city. According to the Slow Food organization — which created a presidium in Bamberg dedicated in 2009 to the Bamberger Hörnla potato (meaning it’s a protected species) — there was a “garden quarter” (Gärtnerviertel) in the Old City dating back to the 14th century. By the middle of the 19th century, there were about 500 urban farmhouses (one third of all the buildings in the city). Each of these had a garden plot of about 1,000 square meters (approximately 1/4 acre) in their backyard where vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and grape vines were grown.  Considering my own involvement with, and passion for, supporting local agriculture I am kind of amazed to learn of this agricultural tradition in one of my familial hometowns — the one where both my grandfather and mother were born. It gives me a feeling of continuity. It also throws a different light on imagining the types of fruits and vegetables my great-grandmother may have used in her cooking — both those purchased on her regular shopping trips to this same market that I visited (which perhaps was selling some items that had been growing only a few blocks from her home!), as well as things that grew in her own backyard. While our family were not farmers (they owned a factory that manufactured men’s clothing in Bamberg), they had a large yard that lay between the factory and their apartment building. The garden was a point of pride for the family, a place where they grew fruit trees and roses, among other things.

Bam Potato in steamer (97)I purchased a small sackful of Bamberger Hörnla from a stand at the market. The purveyor made a special point of telling me to cook them with their skins on, and if I wanted to peel them to do so after they were cool enough to handle. It is traditional to use these tasty little potatoes for a potato salad that is dressed with broth and vinaigrette. But since I only had a small amount of them, I decided to make a simple dish of steamed potatoes with butter and parsley.

Bam Potato cooked (14)Bam Potato cooked (06)

A recipe is hardly needed for this dish, but here are the simple steps. The amounts are variable, but figure on approximately one pound of potatoes for four people, with about one tablespoon of butter, one or two handfuls of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Steamed Potatoes with Butter + Parsley  

Potatoes (any will do, but waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold, red skinned, or new potatoes work well)

Butter, cut into thin pats (at room temperature)

Parsley, chopped

Salt and Pepper

1) Scrub the potatoes. Leave whole, or, if large, cut in half or quarters (trying to keep the pieces the same size).

2) Steam the potatoes in a steamer basket for 10-15 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh.

3) (Optional: If desired, peel potatoes when they are cool enough to handle, but still warm.)

3) Put potatoes in a serving dish. Add pats of butter, salt, pepper, and parsley. Toss gently. Serve

Bam Potato cooked (17)

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Herta Bloch, 2013, NYC

Herta Bloch — who we wrote about in our last post HERE – knew practically everyone in the German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in NYC between the 1940s through the mid-1990s, because during those years so many people shopped at Bloch & Falk, the store she owned with her husband Alfred. They came to buy the German-style cold cuts and sausages (Aufschnitt and Wurst) that were made exclusively of beef or veal (as opposed to the de rigueur pork of most German meat products). All of their products were made and smoked on-site in the back room: kosher salami, ring sausage, pastrami, smoked tongue, corned beef, the ubiquitous cervelat (a hard salami) and many other assorted meats.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

My grandparents, as well as most of their friends and family, shopped at Bloch & Falk. After Oma and Opa moved to New Jersey in the 1950s, they continued to make the short journey back over the Hudson River to shop at Bloch & Falk on a regular basis for the provisions they ate on a daily basis. The store was on Broadway and 173rd Street and was an easy stop en route to or from New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge. I don’t think their refrigerator was often without a stash of cured meats wrapped in white, waxy butcher’s paper. After Opa died, my uncle Andy would often stop in there to shop for Oma, until the store went out of business in the 1990s.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC. Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

Today the type of food Bloch & Falk produced has almost completely disappeared. Sausages and cold cuts with that unique blend of both German and Jewish qualities barely exist anymore — and if so, probably not with the superior quality of B&F, where everything was made by hand, in-house and in small batches. We were surprised to discover, quite by accident, a beef ring sausage for sale at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt (a large, indoor market with many stalls of food purveyors) in 2011. My mother spotted it first: Rindwurst (beef sausage) written in blue writing on a package in the glass case of a meat vendor we were walking past. Since it is unusual to see beef, instead of the usual pork, sausages in Germany, she inquired of the purveyor and learned that the company — Gref Völsings,  a local sausage company in Frankfurt that has been in business since 1894 — originally made these sausages specifically for their Jewish customers starting about 100 years ago, and has continued making them ever since. My mom bought a vacuum sealed package of the Rindwurst to bring home to Boston. There, she made the same traditional lentil soup that both her mother and grandmother made when she was a kid, using the smoked Ringwurst from Bloch & Falk to impart a smoky, meaty flavor to the soup. To her great surprise, she said it tasted very, very much the same as the Ringwurst from her childhood!

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People who remember the store and their products still lament the loss of Bloch & Falk. To this day, people write comments on blogs and internet chat rooms about their Wurst and Aufschnitt in yearning tones. Herta shrugs off the suggestion that someone, somewhere might make a similar product. “Ah, it would be much too expensive to do it the way Alfred made it. And besides, no one knows how to do it.” Yet, Herta perhaps isn’t fully aware of the growing artisanal food movement, one where people are willing to seek out — and spend more — for quality, hand-made products. Perhaps this is the type of product that would allow two seemingly distant food worlds — one of Old World traditions and the other of modern tastes rediscovering those same Old World traditions, to successfully meet up.

We wonder: would there be a market today for these types of sausages and cold cuts that have all but become extinct? What are your thoughts? We would like to hear from you!

–Sonya

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Krokerle 

Ours is a story of continuity and discontinuity – a story of community and people within that community. For me (Gaby), the story takes place in a visually stunning setting, one in which the cliffs of the Palisades of New Jersey tumble straight down to the Hudson River with the iconic George Washington Bridge spanning the scene. In my mind’s eye, I can also see the blue lights of Bill Miller’s Riviera, a nightclub that clung to the top of the cliff directly across from my apartment building in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, until it closed in 1953. The lights screamed out (it is easy to get dramatic with memory) and illuminated the night sky. My apartment building was a few doors down the hill from Herta’s — though I didn’t meet her until many years later — and I walked this hill twice a day every day of my childhood, because we came home for lunch from grammar school in those days. That view is burned into my brain so much so that the imagery has entered my artwork. It is always a wild trip to return here, where all the buildings and streets remain the same.

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Gaby visiting Washington Heights, 2013

In the here-and-now we cling to the mundane, and yet our tale is far from mundane.  We are visiting Herta Bloch, who had her 92nd birthday in June. She is almost a generation older than me (even though I am starting to feel like I belong to the oldest generation).  “What can you do about age? Accept it” she says. Charging around her beautiful apartment with a majestic view of the Hudson and George Washington Bridge, Herta is bright-eyed, cheerful and vibrant. Time has been good to her. We are here to learn how to bake Krokerle – a cookie that is unique to her German-Jewish family. It was baked by her mother and exists in Herta’s archive of family recipes.

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Herta Bloch, 2013

We are surprised – and find it hilarious – when Herta says: ‘I have never made these cookies before.” We came to learn from an old master, only to discover that it is her first time! In fact, we learn that the recipe skipped a generation, passing from grandmother to granddaughter — and it is Marion, Herta’s daughter, who bakes the Krokerle in the family. On second thought, we decide that this is great! It adds to the “living quality” of the food, that the old-timer is learning to bake her mother’s recipe for the first time.

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Herta’s German measuring cup that converts weight to volume

Herta carries within her the traditions and the food of the culture we are exploring, yet she is a thoroughly modern woman. As a young immigrant in New York City, she worked as a nanny for many years, often being exploited and overworked. She met her man, who then went off to war for three years. When he returned and they married, she worked in the kosher butcher and sausage shop they owned, Bloch & Falk, while also raising three children. More on the shop and sausages to come in another post, coming soon.                                                                                                                -Gaby

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Krokerle  Makes 45-65 cookies (adapted from Herta and Marion Bloch)

This recipe produces confections with a wonderful combination of chocolate, spice and a rich nutty flavor, but they are not overly rich as they don’t contain dairy or oil. The clove may be substituted with another spice if desired, such as nutmeg or cinnamon. One other note, the size of  the cookies is variable as desired, dropped either by the teaspoonful or tablespoonful. The Bloch family traditionally made Krokerle for Channukah, but they are delightful any time of year.

For Krokerle:

4 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground clove

¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brandy (or whiskey)

8 ounces hazelnuts, skinned* and coarsely chopped *(see note below for instructions on skinning hazelnuts)

For Lemon Glaze:

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1)   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light and foamy.

2)   In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together and add to egg and sugar mixture. Stir to combine. Add liquor and nuts, stir to combine.

3)   Drop by the spoonful (either teaspoon or tablespoon) onto greased cookie sheets and place about 2” apart.

4)   Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

5)   While the Krokerle are baking, make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice and stir until smooth. Add a drop of water if it is too thick.

6)   While the Krokerle are still warm, drizzle each one with a small spoonful of lemon glaze. Let cool.

Note: To skin hazelnuts: Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in a 350° F for about 10 minutes, or until you start to smell them. Be careful not to let them burn. Immediately remove from oven and spread them on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the corners of the towel over the top and let sit for a few minutes – the steam will help loosen the skins. Roll the nuts around in the towel, unwrap and most of the nuts will be skinless.

 

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image from aufschnitt.net

 

Boston being Boston, the Boston Globe’s food pages last month turned to Irish food traditions, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. In this article, Jane Dornbusch wrote about a butcher shop in the Irish-American neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston. What struck me most profoundly about the piece was how in many ways it could just as easily have been written about German-Jewish food traditions. It included aspects of Irish food that were unfamiliar to me, and the one that struck me first was the topic of sausage.

Dornbusch writes: “…the shop carries as many as 18 house-made varieties. Even on a dreary winter day, there are several types in the case: lamb, curried chicken, chicken with spinach and feta, Buffalo chicken, Italian sweet and hot, Guinness and leek.”

This same description could have been written about the German-Jewish butchers of Washington Heights when I was growing up in terms of the large variety of sausages available.

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image from aufschnitt.net

The butcher, Alan Gibson, is a native of Ireland who opened the Butcher Shop Market in 2009. He acknowledged that the Irish-American tradition of corned beef was unknown to him in Ireland, but that he, being a food purveyor in Boston, learned about corned beef in order to meet the demand of his customers. He prepares it the natural way, without preservatives, with a simple brine. The color of his corned beef is not the commonly seen red (which is chemically induced), but rather greyish.

The prevailing tradition here is not only the food itself, but also its preparation and adherence to historic standards of purity. This story felt familiar. I could relate – not only to the sausage part, but to the principle of simple food preparation without a whole lot of food industry commercializations. I thank Jane Dornbusch for this story which illuminated an aspect of our own story for me.

The pictures of sausages you see above and below are not Irish. In fact, they are not real sausages at all, but rather sewn and stuffed fabric! We recently discovered this shop owned by Silvia Wald, called Aufschnitt, that makes these “cuddly wursts” in Germany – in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin. She makes a variety of meaty stuffed items – from small sausage links to large beanbag chairs in the shape of a ham bone. And since they’re made from fabric and thread, they’re all vegetarian (and kosher)!

-Gaby

image from aufschnitt.net

 

As Bostonians (Sonya grew up here, though now lives in NYC; Gaby grew up in NYC and has lived in Boston most of her adult life), we – and our family and friends – are all safe, and hopefully you and yours are, too. We have been saddened, shocked, and awed by the violent events of the past week, which took place so close to home.

 

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If you would like to make a donation, The One Fund Boston was formed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to assist those most affected by the events of April 15, 2013.

We have been a bit quiet around here recently, but we have several posts coming up very soon on sausages and other things!

[Foto above is of the Boston skyline taken from the T (subway) by Sonya a few months ago.]

-Sonya and Gaby

We would like to let you know that we will be presenting a talk about German-Jewish cuisine in NYC next week, including a tasting of some of our recipes. We would love to see you there if you are in the area!

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What is German-Jewish Cuisine?  

A talk and food tasting 

 with

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman & Sonya Gropman

   Wednesday, March 6th at 6:30

The New School

55 West 13th St., 2nd floor (Dorothy Hirshon Suite)

 

sponsored by The New School Jewish Student Union

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