Four hours north of us (or a few more if you have to wait for the Autobahn to be declared safe again after a massive fire destroys a semi) sleeps the town of Scheemda in the Netherlands. It’s little more than a skip across the northern border of Germany, but both of the countries forming this region by the North Sea are a world apart from home in Mainz.
We pulled into the hotel close to 10 p.m. on Friday – a stately old house with a high-peaked roof within a neighborhood of similar but smaller houses, all old-fashioned in style but modernly built (many with solar-paneled roofs). Next door napped a cat in the sunny driveway surrounded by chickens meandering in the yard. I thought gardens were well-kept in Germany, but every house in this Dutch village boasted a garden more impeccable than the last.
Every restaurant in town was closed by this time, despite the fact that there were still a few customers and/or owners lingering with drinks on the patios outside in the warm late evening sun. We were finally pointed toward a pizzeria/grill and split a chicken shawarma calzone on top of paper placemats representing Dutch artist Pieter Breugel’s famous painting “The Peasant Wedding.” Villagers milled around on bicycles as the sun set around 11 at night.
We spent most of the weekend in Germany in a heath town near the North Sea, visiting an aunt. While the common greeting in Germany is “Hallo,” up north it’s “Moin moin” or just “Moin.” This was as foreign for us as hearing “Grüβ Gott” in Bavaria and Austria. We automatically returned the florist’s greeting with “Hallo,” as we’re used to doing in our area.
And the northern particularities didn’t stop there, for this is a seafaring region. We stopped for dinner on the way back to the hotel in the port town of Emden, Germany. After getting a close-up of the large black locomotive that hid a miniature train display (maybe not so mini, as children and employees could ride on top of the trains), we chose a docked firefighter ship restaurant to eat in.
Of course we ordered the local specialty, Matjes, which we could tell from the menu was a fish dish served with pan-fried potatoes. What we hadn’t realized was that it was a smoked fish (read: seemingly raw) wrapped around a “housewife” sauce that was both creamy and chunky, containing chopped apples and pickles or some such mix.
I was so hungry that I ate most of the Matjes, but luckily (and perhaps inevitably), there was a festival in town going on as well. Immediately afterward we found an ice cream stand and walked around to the tunes of various rock bands, electronic carnival game music, and the many whirs and dings of the rides.