Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
There we were in Nuremberg. It had been a long day. We'd just come from the Albrecht Dürer house (it was closed) and the Christmas Market square (it was April). It was getting late, and we were getting hungry. We started looking for likely restaurants.
We walked past one called Die Hexenküchen, literally “the Witches' Kitchen.” “How about this one?” I say.
In German, the word Hexenküchen implies total chaos: not something one looks for in an eatery. We go in to take a look. A charming place, actually, obviously old: exposed timber beams, very Altbayernisch. No apparent sign of disorder. Turns out it's a potato pancake restaurant; everything on the menu is served with potato pancakes. What's not to like? We sit down and order a beer.
Witches have a special relationship with potatoes. It goes way back.
“Check this out,” they said, “It comes from America, and you can eat it. It's called a potato.”
The non-witches were having none of it. “You must be crazy,” they said, “That's a nightshade. You can't eat those; they'll kill you.”
The witches, however, knew their nightshades. “What? You say you can eat this? Seriously? Let me see that.”
Love at first sight.
We start reading the menu. “Wow,” I say, “this place has been here for 600 years.”
Indeed. The restaurant fronts on the main square, which in the days of the Great Persecution is where they used to build the pyres. The place got its start feeding the tourists who'd come in to watch the witches burn. Hence the name.
Yikes. Would you like a potato pancake with that, sir?
I ordered the potato pancakes with sauerkraut. It was the best meal I had while I was in Germany. The potato pancakes were as good as mine—which is saying something—and the sauerkraut (it was purple) the sweetest and most tender I've ever tasted: there must have been some apple in there, and maybe a little wine too. I've tried since to duplicate it but haven't quite managed it yet.
I still can't quite wrap my head around standing there eating a braut while someone else goes up in smoke before your very eyes.
Breathe in hard, they always used to tell us, inhale the smoke. Better to suffocate than to burn.
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