Monday, 23 November 2009

Eating Noodles in the Former Soviet Bloc

Very early on Wednesday morning, I landed in Munich. My coccyx was numb. Barely had the blood oozed back into my nethers than I was flying to Hannover, en route (i) noting that Munich's nuclear reactor resembles Springfield's, (ii) successfully negotiating, in German, the flight attendant's enquiry as to my tea/coffee preferences, and (iii) receiving a free newspaper, Bild, from Lufthansa, whereon were published Hot! Previously unseen! Photos! of Jackie Onassis! Nude! Thus initiated in the ways of the northern hemisphere, I caught the intercity speedzug to Göttingen, where I parked myself for four days.

You want to know how I survived? Ritter Sport chocolate is how I survived. As the advertisements will tell you (and who am I to disagree?), "Quadratisch, practisch, gut." Also, Ritter Sport chocolate comes with a variety of nuts.

So, here is Göttingen.

If you're keen on eighteenth-century observatories, canals, bakeries, statues of early Enlightenment scientists, or dauntingly multilingual German people, Göttingen is the town for you. It's also excellent if you like bicycles. There are many bicycles.

Here is a small selection of the bicycles to be seen cavorting outside Göttingen railway station.

And what was a nice chap like me doing in a place like that, you ask. Well, as it happens, I was getting all conferential on my ass. Best darn conference I've ever been to, in fact. On Mr Charles Darwin, M.A., and what the peops down in the humanities are doing with him. I could, of course, tell you more about that, but instead I will talk about cheese.

On account of how Germania seems to be the most carnivorous country in the world

Exhibit A: Extrawurst sausage shop sign, proves that Germany is the most carnivorous country in the world

and the breakfast buffet is a sea of fleisch, in which are scattered islands of cheese, and the conference lunch is trays and trays of breadrolls slathered with dead pig, dead cow, dead chook, dead salmon, plus one tray of breadrolls slathered with dead cheese, und so weiter, I have eaten So Much Cheese, I am now SICK of cheese. I've had predictable ethical reservations about cheese for a while now, but as of the sixth consecutive cheese-based meal in a row (with cheese), I have aesthetic reservations to boot. To stinky old comes-from-an-udder boot. (N.B. these reservations do not apply to haloumi.)

Which brings me to today's lunch, Nüdeln mit Gemüse. Today I forsook Göttingen for a joint called Jena, which joint, unlike Göttingen, sits in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik. You can tell that you're entering the former DDR, because, whereas two minutes ago, your train was easing its way through little dorfs with higgedly-piggedly wattle-and-daub houses - I'd call them Tudor, only it's the wrong country - now there are quadratisch, practisch, multi-storeyed grey erections squatting in geometric clusters. They're the same regulation apartment blocks you used to see in documentaries about Chernobyl or Ceauşescu. I'm more of a higgedly-piggedly oak-beamed ramshackle-o-phile, myself, but there's something sort of sublime about these apartment blocks. They subordinate the individual to the hive. You can feel your sense of self dissolving before something bigger, something unflinching in the face of individual difference or preference.

Here in this joint called Jena is another joint called Wok-Gourmet. Both those words sound pretty appealing to an overcheesed cheesephobe such as myself. Woks and I have enjoyed a long and rich relationship. Even typing this, I recall with affection the tofu green curry of May 2004.


Turns out there are only two vegetarian things in Jena Wok-Gourmet. The Coca-Cola and the Nüdeln mit Gemüse. Everything else looks like chicken schnitzel fried in a wok. The Gemüse, for those of you as interested in my lunch as I, turn out to be a handful of bean sprouts and some julienned carrot. Not exactly tofu green curry, but 100% cheese-free.

So what's a chap like me doing in a place like Jena? I'm here for Ernst Haeckel, evolutionary theorist, eugenicist, scientific fraud, and erstwhile Jenanite. Jena is Haeckel city. Someone at some stage has loved Ernst Haeckel so much they've named a street after him.

It's called Ernst Haeckel Straße.

And a place. There is also a place named after him. Ernst Haeckel Place.

And behind the sign pointing to Ernst Haeckel Platz there is an apartment block festooned with gen-u-ine pre-Soviet caryatids.

A gen-u-ine pre-Soviet caryatid.

Jena is home to Ernst Haeckel's former house, known today as Ernst Haeckel Haus, but in his day as the Villa Medusa. It's also home to Ernst Haeckel's phyletic museum, an institution he founded as propaganda for his theory (that ontogeny, the development of the embryo from fertilisation to maturity, recapitulates phylogeny, the evolution of the species). A huge ceramic oak is built into the museum's façade. This oak is Haeckel's tree of life, a sturdy symmetrical thing with humans at its apex. Darwin's tree of life is more like a tangle of seaweed. Humans are no more at its apex than ants.

I hadn't thought about this until today, but to have streets & stuff named after him, Haeckel must have been canonised by the DDR. There's a chocolate frog on the table for the first person to explain how this eugenicist (a member of Germany's - the world's - first Society for Race Hygiene), committed to biological hierarchy, gets himself turned into a socialist hero.

Meanwhile, back in Preston, Comrad Timsky is valiantly bestowing pats and Iams Kitten Growth Formula on Harriet and Beatrice. Thank you, Comrade Timsky. You're the bestest best besty ever.


Jayne said...

So, I can expect my postcard in the mail...? :P
And how did Jackie O shape up?

TimT said...

Please send through all the Extrawurst you can manage. I have the mustard. I will arrange an urgent flight of freshly-hunted tofu straight away.

vague said...

That Extrawurst looks extra strange. What is that coming from its back end? Yikes!

I sympathize with your cheese-based woes. It's like that where I live, too, but maybe not quite so bad. They're really wild about their pork products here, though. REALLY wild.

Mitzi G Burger said...

I certainly am into older men, but grey erections? There's too much dissolving of one's sense of self for me in that kind of artchitexture.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

J: postcard is in the mail, figuratively speaking. As for Frau Onassis, she looked sort of smoked salmon coloured, and blurry, for neither of which I blame her.

T: absolutelement. Five kilos of extrawurst, wrapped in cheesecloth, stowed in my hand luggage. Customs won't bat an eyelid.

V: I saw a butcher's window today announcing haunches of "wildschwein", and I almost started the revolution there and then. Piggies do not deserve to be et.

MGB: You should see the nuclear reactor stack. Or maybe not.

Fyodor said...

Heh, prima: eine Vegetarierin in Neu Pork.

Ms Rachy said...

"They subordinate the individual to the hive. You can feel your sense of self dissolving before something bigger, something unflinching in the face of individual difference or preference."

Best. Description. Ever.

(and I once lived in the former Soviet Union)