Today I’ve got a handful of interesting facts to share with you. Mind you, I’ve learned all of this while on a simple quest to buy the ingredients to make cookies. Our apartment has a full-but-tiny kitchen, and I thought I’d make a few dozen cookies to send with Dave for his class.
My first thought was chocolate chip cookies. But I learned that you can’t buy chocolate chips in Germany. What? you say. Isn’t this the land of chocolate? I think that’s the point. I think they’ve so perfected chocolate-making that they can’t bring themselves to package up little bits of lesser chocolate cut with paraffin. If you want to make chocolate chip cookies in this country, you get yourself a big bar of the real stuff and set to chopping. The problem is, we are both pretty attached to our big bars of chocolate. Dave has a big bar of the plain variety on his study desk; I have a bar with hazelnuts near my computer. You never know when a famine might strike. It’s good to be prepared.
So I went to plan B, which, of course, is peanut butter cookies. In the dream world in which I live, no one has peanut allergies, and everyone loves peanut butter cookies. But guess what? Germans have a great dislike for peanut butter. Apparently, because the peanut bush grows near the ground, it is considered a sub-standard crop. But Nutella? They’re wild for the gunk. Nutella is a breakfast staple in these parts.
So no chocolate chips and no peanut butter. I felt certain I could make a go of Plan C, which is Snickerdoodles. But I hadn’t counted on walking the mile to the grocery store and forgetting my little English-to-German, what-to-say-in-a-pinch booklet. So after accosting a woman and her son, I pantomimed my way through an explanation of all the many wonderful cinnamon-based products one could make if they could just find the elusive spice. My biscuit and cookie miming yielded no looks of recognition. Not even the giant cinnamon roll I teased and tugged and sprinkled and rolled up and cut right in mid-air garnered any sudden understanding. It wasn’t until I spied a jar of Chinese 5 Spice on the shelf and pointed to a picture of a cinnamon stick that the woman lit up. “Ah! Zimt!” she said. So a packet of Zimt got tossed in my cart.
And the cart brings up another interesting detail about Europe. In order to use a shopping cart, you must first insert a euro (or pound, if you’re in England) in a little slot near the handle of the cart. When I first saw that, I didn’t realize you got the coin back at the end of the trip when you returned the cart. And I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the store $2 for a twenty-minute use of their cart. So for awhile, I just lugged around a basket, into which I crammed a heaping mound of goods. But I’m cart-savvy now. You should see how adept I am at shoving that coin in the slot. And if you happened to be walking by as I was returning the cart, and you saw how quickly I inserted the key in the back lock and retrieved my euro, you’d think I was a right proper Fraulein.
So … what else … ah. Baking soda. You can’t buy it at the grocery store. Because it’s “bisodium carbonate,” (or words to that effect), you have to get it at the pharmacy. And no vanilla extract–they only have vanilla powder. Also, don’t be thinking you’re going to use shortening while in Deutschland. They haven’t heard of it.
But do you want to hear something truly fabulous, fantastic and brilliant? (I don’t think they use those words here, but indulge me. A bit of England followed me here.) They have REAL gummi bears! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a bag at Edeka, my new favorite grocery store. The first gummi bear I ever tasted, back about 25 years ago, was a real, honest-to-goodness German gummi bear. But somehow, America ruined it. They decided consumers didn’t want candy that is the equivalent of tiny jaw-dumbbells. Because truly, a handful of these little jellies will put some muscle on your jaw. But in the name of squishiness, we sacrificed all that is glorious about the gummi bear. It’s not supposed to be a glob of gelatinous fructose. It’s suppose to have heft and weight and substance.
So I’ve got my bag of real German gummi bears sitting next to my giant bar of hazelnut-studded German chocolate. Like I said, those famines can sneak up on you.