March 16, 2010

What I Learned, Düsseldorf

Last night I came across a sight that proposed: What are 5 secrets about your city?
Nothing flew to mind immediately, which is kind of bad, considering I've been here for seven months now.

1. Just outside my bedroom window are two of the few remaining mementos of a not-so-distant past. That’s right, I'm talking about Nazis. Nazi statues, to be exact. Düsseldorf was leveled by the good old USA during WWII, but before that happened, a pair of four-story tall horse and rider statues must have been taken apart stone by stone. All the one-legged pigeons rest on the horses noses, which point toward the heavens. The statues mark the entrance of the Aqua Zoo, a popular kiddy attraction. The old SS headquarters was rebuilt next to the statues, and the long, narrow park surrounding the Aqua Zoo is the old Nazi marching grounds.

2. Three kilometers north of Düsseldorf sits Barbarossa’s castle. Well, perhaps ‘castle’ is too strong a word these days. Lets just say, there‘s enough stones around to keep the tourists happy. Beautiful place, now overlooking the Rhine. Back in the 9th century, the castle was an island (and tollbooth) unto itself in the middle of the Rhine. The Romans actually dammed the Rhine and sacked the stronghold. Is that right? Our guide told us more, but it was lost on me after the Uerige Alt brewpub.

3. Alt is THE beer of Düsseldorf. And why not? The first Alt brewery opened here in 1838. If the brew masters spoke English, they would say, “Alt beer has some of the lean dryness of a lager, with the fruity notes of an ale.” Then again, maybe they wouldn’t. They’d be more likely to say, “Piss off.” The beer servers at Uerige are notoriously curt, but every time I ask someone why, I get a different response. Personally, I think a lot of Germans are just gluttons for pain. Need proof? Uerige serves mett, or raw pork, spread on a bun and topped with raw onions. Goes great with Alt beer, but not so great with intimate conversations.

4. A group of us met at Mongo's last weekend for brunch. It's a Mongolian grill downriver from the Altstadt, or old town. How Mongolia fits into this establishment is beyond me, but the cuisine is certainly…unique. Can’t remember the last time you had a good bowl of zebra meat? Neither could I. It tasted a bit like beef, perhaps tougher. Kangaroo was a little gamy for my taste, but the Aussies in our crew were right at home. There was kudu and ostrich as well, but I didn’t get around to them. Two hours later, the group of us had to walk it off. As we dipped down the alleyway toward the Altstadt, I thought, we’re the only people in this alley with bellies full of African wildlife.

5. Perhaps Düsseldorf's best secret is the mythical powers of the Pork Knuckle. Allow me to elaborate: The pork knuckle, or schweinshaxe, is a ham hock roasted over an open flame. I had my first pork knuckle in China at Dan’s Old Farmhouse. German immigrants ran the place, but nobody but expats ate there. In a word, my wife and I were hooked. “Pork knuckle,” or “knuck” as we came to call it, became a household word.

The word has many uses that cover multiple categories:

Noun: Hand me that knuck, would ya?

As part of a noun: Did I eat it? Abso-knucking-lutely!

Transitive verb: Bruce knucked dinner.

Intransitive verb: Andrew knucks.

As an Adverb enhancing an adjective: Crispy golden skin is knucking beautiful.

Situations involving dinner: “What would you like to eat?“ “Let’s get knucked up.”

Traveling to non-knuckle countries: Absence makes the knuck grow fonder.

In times of bad economy: "Don’t put all your knucks in one basket" or "A knuck in the hand is worth two in the bush."

In fact, our love of the knuck, became so strong that it set precise events in motion, which led us from China to the great little city of Düsseldorf.

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