Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Eisenach


Eisenach is a town which will always have a special place in my heart, for a multiplicity of reasons. For one, it's where I was married (and the authorities thoughtfully sent along someone to photograph the proceedings, without us even having to ask). It's also a rather charming old place, which despite its many important historical associations, is oddly unknown in the English-speaking world.

Here's a quick crash course in the town's significance:

  • Bach was born here
  • it has one of Germany's most impressive medieval castles, Wartburg
  • it's here (in Wartburg castle) that Martin Luther first translated the bible
    into German
  • it was home to the world-renowned Wartburg car factory (it wasn't exactly
    well-known for the right reasons)
The old town is a significant size and mostly quite well preserved. A few bits on the edge were left to rot then replaced by Plattenbau, but the rest hasn't been fiddled with too much in the last century. Sadly, some of the villas on the Wartburg side of town have been standing empty for years as arguments rage as to who exactly the legal owner is. It has, ironically, caused many similar problems to the ones arising from lack of investment from the DDR authorities - fine buildings crumbling slowly to rubble.

On the west east side of town there's a chunk of the old city wall slicing across Georgenstrasse. But it's nothing that would keep out an agile 5-year old, let alone rampaging Austian/Bavarian/Prussian armies. The only even vaguely convincing section is Karlstor (Karl's Tower), gateway to the town's first significant square, Karlsplatz (formerly Platz der Deutsch-Sowjetischen Freundschaft). The square is one of many spots in Eisenach of which I have eternal recollections. Not many wedding parties leave the reception by bus, but it was a pleasure accorded us. Our own very special wedding bendy-bus left from Platz DSF.

You can criticise the DDR regime for many things, but their stance on drink-driving couldn't be faulted. The legal limit for alcohol in the blood was effectively nil and the penalties (jail sentences in many cases) certainly acted as a deterrent to irresponsible behaviour. No drunken guest stupid enough to drive us home, no taxi to be found (check out the difference now - whole caravans at every taxi stand); what else can you do but take the bus? It looks very romantic in "The Graduate", bride in wedding dress (to be perfectly accurate, jilting bride in the film). Standing amongst the shoppers in our ill-fitting suits (in my wife's case, beautiful white dress) was a far more prosaic experience. Well, it would have been, if Dave hadn't spotted the kiosk just by the busstop.

You can criticise the DDR regime for many things, but the general availability of alcoholic drinks, of all strengths, under their governent couldn't be faulted. Quicker than you could say "we're a bunch of alcoholics" we were all supplied with miniatures, proper Nordhäuser, I think. The journey was an event for my British guests, not only because of the novelty of riding in an articulated bus.


Lindenhof

To the left you can see the Lindenhof, which is currently on the market and I am sure will be attracting the attention of astute investors everywhere. Here is one of the many locations in Eisenach that conjure up very personal memories.

It may look a wreck now, but in 1988 it was totally different - all the windows had glass and there was draught beer. Inspirational design and sophistication weren't words that cropped up the HO's mission statement. Lindenhof took this corporate philosophy to the absolute limit. Today it's possible to peep at the bar inside through some of the smashed boards and, despite the vandalism, it's not looking that much worse than when I last had a beer there in 1988. The outside hasn't deteriorated considerably, either. It looks as if someone might have even tidied up the garden since the old days.

If you're thinking that's the grip this pub has on my throat and mind, then you're very wrong. The memory that will never fade is from my wedding feast. Over the road at my in-laws house, we were having an after-reception party. A half dozen of my friends and family were staying there for a few days around the wedding. My father-in-law had bought in a barrel of Wartburg Pils, but was worried that we would never get through it. Early in the evening of the wedding day, we had just finished off the second barrel of Wartburg (an emergency order when the first ran out after two days).

(I've drunk beer from the Eisenacher Brauerei since 1987. In the early days, it was OK. The Helles was a bit thin. Wartburg Pils was drinkable, but very unstable. If properly (and quickly) tapped, it was quite a reasonable beer. Bottled, you needed to buy it and drink it straight away. If you walked slowly, it could go sour before you got home. Perhaps hygiene wasn't all it could have been inside the brewery. )

Lindenhof was just over the road and the only pub in the district open at that time of day. Great idea - we nip over there and buy a couple of crates of beer. After all, this is the DDR and the price of a crate in a pub is the same as in a supermarket. Even in a country where I had learnt to love the charming drabness of of the surroundings, Lindenhof was drably charmless. The landlord - a scruffy, miserable git in the best tradition of publicans totally unsuited for their profession - soon disappointed us: they had no bottled beer. About the only drinks available were draught pils and doppelkorn (and I suppose tap water, though I wouldn't have bet my left shoe on them having running water that was drinkable). What a dilemna: beer a mere 50 metres away from a happy group of revellers, but nothing to transport it in. Suddenly someone - I can't remember who, but he was a man of genius - suggested we fetch a bucket and put 10 litres of draught beer in it.

Now, bar staff could be a fickle bunch in the DDR. Moving a chair from one table to another could be considered as a capital offence. I was once scolded by a waitress for reading a book at the table. Yet being asked to pull 20 beers and tip them into a bucket was seen as a perfectly reasonable request. If you want to appreciate what I mean by this, try doing the same in your local pub. Go in with a bucket and ask them to fill it with beer. I bet you that they won't act as nonchalantly as this bloke did.

1 comment:

GenX at 40 said...

That is your best bit of writing yet.