Monday, September 15, 2014

Bamberg beer forever: Schlenkerla revisited (Part Two).

Matthias more recently. Photo credit and fine story here: Schlenkerla tavern taps 609-year-old tradition, by Kerry J. Byrne (Boston Herald)

It can be seen that a proper respect for tradition is the norm in the Schlenkerla pub and brewery, but Matthias prepared for his career with thoroughly modern diligence after assuring his parents at an early age that he fully intended to go into the family business.

The same grandmother who rejected public lip-locking contact out of wedlock and shunned the tourist’s flowery Bermudas heartily encouraged the notion that Matthias should first attend university for a degree in business and economics before immersion in beer and brewing.

Afterwards, Matthias studied at the prestigious Weihenstephan brewing institute near Munich and served an apprenticeship at Zum Uerige, the most traditional of Dusseldorf’s Altbier brewpubs. He then worked the family brewery from top to bottom alongside the maltster, brewer and forklift operator.

When German Trum passed the baton to his son Matthias and retired from the business that he had directed for three decades, he did so without qualification, and has not visited the brewery since. It would appear that capable hands run in the family.

Meanwhile, Bamberg’s remaining breweries cope. Contemporary Germany is no different from any other Western consumer society. Its citizens are forever being offered “new and improved” beverages, foods, entertainment options and lifestyle choices.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, beer consumption has been on the decline in Germany for many years, and in Franconia, home to 500 or more breweries as recently as the 1980’s, the number has dropped to just above 300 now.

British beer writer John Conen, a close observer of the Bamberg brewing scene, says that the hemorrhaging has slowed of late, but to return to the analogy of disappearing species in the Amazon, the continued attrition of these small, distinctive breweries bodes ill for the future of German brewing.

I’m not speaking of German brewing in the sense of it functioning on its largest level as a multi-national business enterprise, for there are no shortage of large brewing companies actively pursuing acquisition, consolidation and the transformation of beer into a standardized supermarket commodity in Germany just as in the rest of the world.

Rather, I’m lamenting the inevitable decline of brewing in the artistic and cultural senses, for it is in these milieus that individualistic, highly localized attitudes and methods, once lost, can never be regained.

Bamberg’s nine breweries deal with problems of survival in varying, generally complementary ways.

Kaiserdom, the largest and least interesting to me, seeks to maintain a niche export market and positions itself as up-market “premium” at home. By contrast, the late Maisel (closed in 2008) brewed the local working man’s Pils and Weizen.

In the neighborhood known as Wunderberg, arguably Bamberg’s Brooklyn, Mahr’s and Keesman occupy opposite sides of the street and both make great beer. It is alleged by certain observers that the workers patronize Mahr’s and the bosses visit Keesman, but despite long hours spent at both establishments, I cannot verify it. However, I can attest to the lip-smacking beers that both produce.

Close to the Rhine-Main-Danube canal on Obere-Konigstrasse, Fassla is a brewpub and guesthouse that unashamedly caters to the working man. It I more “real” than Anheuser-Busch ever will be. Directly across the street, Spezial brews the city’s gentler, delicious smoked lager and operates the finest beer garden (Spezial Keller, located a few kilometers away on Stephansberg hill) in Bamberg, and maybe all of Germany.

Klosterbrau parlays its Old Town location, monastic religious connotations and rich textbook dark lagers into a steady trade with tourist and local alike. Greifenklau possesses yet another lovely hilltop garden with a view, and runs a big hotel that is favored by tour groups.

And then, there’s Schlenkerla. The Trum family resides above their pub, so there are no overnight rooms, but an outdoor garden for warm weather seating has been added, and the historic pub itself is jewel enough. It oozes history. Half of its current floor plan originally was part of an adjacent monastery, and the location deep in the epicenter of Bamberg’s old town is exemplary. Insofar as tourists can stomach real, unalloyed beer, Schlenkerla draws them, but at the Stammtisch (i.e., reserved table) are clustered with regulars who have been drinking in the same spot since long before Matthias’s birth.

Small amounts of Schlenkerla’s beer reach aficionados throughout the world, and there are off-premise accounts in Bamberg and its environs, but by far most of it is consumed at the bustling tavern, lovingly drawn one pint at a time from the real wooden barrel perched atop a venerable metal-topped counter, and consumed alongside smoked ham, horseradish and pungent beer cheese.

Time spent with Matthias Trum convinces me that Schlenkerla will remain a safe house amidst the destructive tsunamis of the warring multinational brewing conglomerates, and for this alone I keep going back to Bamberg.

How I manage to convince myself to return to Indiana remains a mystery to me … but somehow, each time, I do.

Maybe someday this will change, and I won't.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bamberg beer forever: Schlenkerla revisited (Part One).

Matthias Trum, me, Kim Andersen and Craig Somers in 2003

I've returned to Bamberg (Franconia, Bavaria, Germany) several times since this article was written in 2004, and I’m there right now. The city never ceases to amaze me. Of course, some things change in a decade, even in Bamberg. I’ve tried to make revisions only where merited by changes on the ground. 

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On April 1, 2003, Matthias Trum assumed control of his family’s business, becoming the sixth male in his family to take the reins since the mid-1800’s.

Stories involving dynastic succession are potentially interesting regardless of the time or place, but when the setting is Bamberg, Germany, a city that is home to nine breweries, and when the Trum family business is one of them – Brauerei Heller Trum, more commonly known as Schlenkerla, a classic brewery and pub enterprise - then special attention is warranted.

Especially if the observer is a beer lover hopelessly smitten with the lovely city in general and its fine beer in particular.

In personal terms, my experience with Bamberg dates to 1991, when I visited the Franconian city for the first time. Even before that, there was unmistakable infatuation. I’d read accounts of the city’s beer culture written by British beer writer Michael Jackson, and fairly salivated over his written descriptions of Schlenkerla’s trademark smoked lager.

Long before I tasted it, I knew that Schlenkerla would be an unquestioned, enduring favorite, and my first sip amply confirmed it.

Subsequent encounters with Schlenkerla have not failed to entice and impress, and these many trips since 1991 have confirmed not only that Bamberg is the place to go for smoked lager, an elegant retro-rarity in the world of beer, but furthermore, that the city simply has no serious competition as the finest setting for beer drinking in all of Germany.

The beer is sublime, and available in as many styles and variations as there are taste buds, but the truly priceless aspect of any visit to Bamberg emanates from the opportunity, one unfortunately threatened by the pace of modern life, to comprehensively experience a culture seemingly crafted from only the very best of beer’s numerous virtues.

From the savory and always reasonably priced German cuisine accompanying and complementing my beverage of choice to the city’s many traditional indoor and outdoor drinking and dining venues, Bamberg affords the enhancement of gustatory and olfactory pleasures in a way that larger cities cannot match.

Bamberg’s 70,000 residents enjoy the products of the city’s nine remaining breweries (down from as many as two dozen a century ago), and also have the opportunity to sample the selected wares of more than a few of the 100-plus breweries in a fifty-mile radius. Many of these breweries are located in charming small towns tucked away in wooded hills and pastoral valleys radiating outward from Bamberg.

Bamberg and its outlying Franconian environs are to German beer what the Amazon Basin is to species of flora and fauna: A diverse and unfathomable “zymurgo-system,” and a treasure trove of species, many of which are doomed to extinction owing to the relentless march of consumerism and mass-marketing.

In truth, few of these beers equal the mighty Schlenkerla Marzen, the Trum family’s everyday flagship beer. It is a full-bodied amber lager, and it would be delicious even if it did not burst upon the palate with an assertively smoky flavor deriving from beechwood kilning in the brewery’s micro-malting – a traditional method itself now largely extinct.

---

The very survival and continued prosperity of Bamberg’s beer and brewing culture are best viewed as questions of tradition versus modernity, and all those who are exploring the equation, from brewer to tavern keeper to drinking customer, are answering the question in their own way by the choices they make.

Not least among them is Matthias Trum, who comes down squarely on the side of tradition … most of the time.

Matthias tells the story of his grandmother’s tenure stewarding the family’s lively, well-trodden pub and restaurant, and of her ironclad view of propriety. There was to be no kissing between unmarried men and women customers (her reaction to openly gay couples can be inferred), and men wearing short pants (other than lederhosen) were to be neither acknowledged nor served.

“That part of tradition can be relaxed,” laughed Matthias in 2003 as we savored Marzens and a platter of sausages in the section of the tavern known as God’s Corner, where a statue of Jesus looks out on the usually crowded room.

Other time-tested rules have not changed: The three “C’s” of Coca-Cola, coffee, and chips (French fries) are not available. “You can buy them anywhere in Bamberg,” noted Matthias, “but not when you come to Schlenkerla. Here, we offer a traditional menu.”

In similar fashion, the brewery (located several beautiful hillside blocks away from the tavern), observes old methods whenever possible. Almost no breweries have retained their maltings, but Schlenkerla continues to employ a maltster, who smokes the barley and prepares it for brewing.

Beer destined for the tavern is kegged in wooden barrels, themselves crafted by one of the last remaining coopers in Bavaria. The barrels must be kept in a damp environment to preserve the wood. When they are hoisted onto the counter and tapped, the beer flows straight out by gravity feed, almost like cask ale except that the yeast isn’t still alive.

Two sizes of barrel are filled, because when closing time draws near, the smaller barrel can be tapped so that no beer goes flat and is wasted overnight.

During our tour of the brewery, Matthias led my friends Kim Andersen, Craig Somers, Pavel Borovich and I into lagering cellars beneath the brewery. The cellars are part of a network of underground passageways extending throughout hill-studded Bamberg.

We were offered samples of cool, delicious Urbock, the rich, higher-gravity seasonal variant of smoked lager, and instructed in the uses of the mysterious Spundetapparat.

How Matthias managed to convince us to return to the earth’s surface remains a mystery to me.

(Part Two tomorrow)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pilsners with Putin: 1989 Revisited (Part Four).

In 1989, Dresden was the sort of destination that merited two days of sightseeing before rejoining the train for Prague or Berlin. Before World War II, the city’s history, architecture and position astride the Elbe prompted frequent comparisons with the Czech capital. These comments largely ceased following the still controversial Allied bombings in February, 1945, which killed perhaps 40,000 residents, reduced the city’s center to kindling, and were witnessed by Hoosier soldier Kurt Vonnegut, who incorporated his experience in his 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.

To this very day, feelings are hard. In 1989, the East German the sluggish regime was lightning fast when it came to exploiting the past for political purposes.

It should suffice to say that with the exception of the Zwinger Palace and Opera House, the GDR didn’t make a truly serious effort to restore Dresden’s grandeur during the Communists’ 40-year run. Bits and pieces of pre-war Dresden, most of them pockmarked by unrepaired bombing damage, survived, resting uneasily alongside shoddy Communist-built, high-rise buildings built from unpainted, pre-fabricated concrete.

Culturally, the city was in a time warp even by the GDR’s standards, situated such that it was popularly reckoned to be the only part of East Germany unable to receive West German television transmissions – and in Communist countries, it wasn’t possible to stroll to the neighborhood Engels-Mart and buy a satellite dish.

But … there were certain advantages.

Maybe just one.

Analogous to West Germany, where the beer always seemed better in the southern region of Bavaria, the beer brewed in and around Dresden tasted better, and none more so than Radeberger Pilsner, brewed just outside Dresden, and served in the city’s most user friendly beer drinking venue, the Radeberger Keller. It was a below-ground restaurant downtown, and we went there every night of our stay to cool our heels, kill time and drink what for us was extremely cheap, good beer.

We had little else to do, although one evening Jeff and I entertained our fellow foreigners, especially the heavy drinking Finn, with a bout of “drinking wine spo-dee-o-dee, which we defined as alternate shots of Cuban dark rum and Bulgarian cabernet.

The service staff at the Radeberger Keller was a shade surly and inefficient in the typical fashion of the Bloc, which didn’t institutionally value such merits of customer service, but traditional beer hall etiquette was honored, and we were allowed to seat ourselves wherever open spaces permitted, with one exception.

One seating area, a gallery off to the side, was perpetually festooned with “Reserviert” signage, and not coincidentally, it was always filled with the privileged caste. In East German terms, this meant the friendly faces, brown uniforms and dingy black suits of the Soviet officers and bureaucrats who liberated Dresden from the Nazis in 1945, and never bothered to leave.

In 1989, there were almost 500,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany, and a sizeable contingent resided near Dresden, where a branch office of the KGB maintained a fraternal presence, and although there’d have been no way of my knowing it then, at least one of those KGB officers assigned to the area had come to develop as much affection for Radeberger Pilsner as my motley group of Western volunteer workers.

None other than Vladimir Putin, in fact.

You may recall that Putin became acting President of Russia on the last day of 1999 and was legally elected to the office a few months later. Around this time, an English language translation of a slim Putin biography appeared, and my friend Jon loaned me his copy. Putin’s first-person testimony about his six years as one of the KGB’s men in Dresden included the frank admission that he found Radeberger delightful, so much so that it threatened the continued viability of his slim, athletic build by distracting him from exercise. Furthermore, when not dieting, he confessed to frequenting the Radeberger Keller.

As an aside, having visited the former Soviet Union on three occasions prior to the 1989 stay in Dresden documented here, I can say with perfect candor that Soviet beer was wretched, indeed, and in general terms didn’t rise to the level even of the bilious beer occasionally brewed in East Germany. But Radberger was a famous export label, and there was profit to be derived from it, so the brand was not degraded. Presumably the hoarded hops were going in the Radeberger instead of the people’s lager.

In retrospect, Putin’s fascination with Radeberger seems quite reasonable to me in the context of the time and place. After all, I was right there in the same beer hall, equally fascinated, though not only by the merits of the beer, also by the denizens of that perpetually reserved gallery off to the side, with the officers and bureaucrats of what in effect was an occupying power, albeit in one with a steadily ticking shelf life, drinking beer and having it all in a captive foreign land.

And so, in the final, authorized version of my five days in Dresden in 1989, there can be no confirmation that Putin was ever among those fellow Russians in the Radeberger Keller’s reserved seating area, much less that he and I drank beer together. I still believe it, anyway. The only famous person I ever met was Alvin Dark, manager of the 1974 Oakland A’s world championship club, and laying claim to beers with the future president of Russia is both more interesting and validates the way I spent the late summer of 1989.

Along with the rest of his statue, Lenin’s shoes were removed from the Volkspark entrance after unification. I’d have liked to have them as souvenirs of one of the most unforgettable times ever.

I wonder what Putin remembers?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pilsners with Putin: 1989 Revisited (Part Three).

Once the volunteer brigade was billeted at the Planterwald quasi-M*A*S*H camp in East Berlin, we began an unforgettable three weeks of daily work. It wasn’t tremendously difficult, if occasionally dirty, and followed invariably by nightly beer drinking, both at the camp and various other pubs both near and far.

After a few evenings, our favorite became an underground Keller near Alexanderplatz that served Wernesgruner, one of the few East German beers brewed to West German standards.

Granted, cheap beer was plentiful in grocery stores, which were well provisioned by the prevailing standards of the Bloc. These simple lagers were palatable at minimum levels of price, flavor and alcoholic content, but it was revealed later (after unification) that those East German brewers responsible for producing everyday beers often were forced to substitute other bitter substances in place of sometimes unavailable or too expensive hops.

Like bile from the stomachs of cattle.

Yes, really.

Each weekday morning at around 6:00 a.m., I’d rise from the top bunk, usually bleary-eyed and hung over, and watch the girls in our co-ed tent get dressed. Afterwards I’d freshen myself at the shower tent, splashing some water on my face and brushing my teeth, and then adjourn to the mess tent for rolls and coffee or tea. Some days I’d buy a bottle of local “Maracuja” soft drink for refreshment. After that, it was a ten minute walk to the S-Bahn station, and then another 10 minutes aboard the train before the changing point. The second S-Bahn train deposited us somewhat near the job site, but too far to walk, so we always took a street car for the final mile.

My friend Jeff Price was in my group, along with an Italian, a Finn (both of them male), and a woman from Northern Ireland. There was another woman from West Germany, and then two guys and two gals from the FDJ. We worked alongside veteran employees of the East Berlin parks department, and I noticed early on that none of them seemed eager to abandon socialism for the enticements of the capitalist world. In short, they pretended to work, and their bosses pretended to pay them. To most, especially one named Wolfgang, this was an excellent arrangement indeed.

At first, I resolved to play it straight and at least try to put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, but from the beginning there was much to warn against the futility of such an honest approach.

At an orientation of sorts prior to being handed shovels, we’d been lectured by the volunteer brigade’s Communist party functionary (an older man with ludicrously black-dyed hair) about the importance of the labor, and the East German student assigned to translate the man’s utterances couldn’t help mocking them aloud, safe in the knowledge that the functionary couldn’t speak a word of English.

Our translator’s greatest scorn was reserved for the bureaucrat’s admonition against consuming alcohol on the job. In fact, virtually all the East German students in attendance raised their eyebrows and giggled, and for the next three weeks, my own group made daily lunchtime visits to the secluded park Imbiss for one or two half-liters of low-alcohol Berliner Weiss emit Schuss (with a shot of non-alcoholic raspberry syrup added).

Sometimes we even ate lunch.

Weekends were for exploration. Sometimes Jeff would accompany me, but most often I’d wander off alone to walk through the neighborhoods and try to get a feel for life in the capital of the GDR. Both halves of Berlin were subsidized by their respective sovereign nations to serve as showplaces of the economic systems espoused by each, and accordingly, West Berlin was hyper-Western and East Berlin just as over the top in the other direction, yet they shared the characteristics that preceded the forced division of the city.

The Wall was omnipresent, yet seldom seen during my ramblings. You just felt it.

The entire city had been laid waste during WWII, and while West Berlin retained almost no discernable scars of the conflict, bullet holes could still be seen amid the crumbling brownish-gray, coal smoke stained stucco of the surviving housing stock in East Berlin.

Newsstands touting “news of the world” instead stocked only East Bloc papers and the broadsheets of Communist parties abroad.

Time itself was a variable concept. One Sunday morning I was strolling down a deserted street when I heard familiar music coming from an opened third-story window. It was Country Joe & the Fish, circa 1968: “One, two, three, what are we fighting for?”

I’d buy a greasy sausage, watch people walk through the parks, and a Trabant would rumble past. All of it was grist for an earnest contemplation of the meaning of geopolitical life.

It would require thousands of words to retell all the stories, and perhaps someday there’ll be time to rewrite this narrative and tell a few more of them. However, the point today is to explain the Baylor-Putin beer-drinking symmetry, and to do so, I must now fast-forward to the end of the three-week active work segment, the harvesting of my final weekly pay packet of a crisp 100 Ostmark note bearing the visage of Karl Marx, and the delivery of the stated bonus owed the Western contingent in exchange for our labor.

From the beginning, we volunteers had been promised an extra payout at the conclusion of work. Presumably, we’d be rewarded with a week as pampered guests of the FDJ, time spent touring the GDR outside East Berlin. We’d stay in cluttered university dorms, eat in minimalist university cafeterias, and meet committed socialist university students from different parts of the country.

The reality of this reward proved far less comprehensive than what had been promised. Something was up, and apparently we had become afterthoughts. Our escorts, practicing leftists from West Germany and Switzerland who were demonstrating the art and science of the junket, weren’t shy in expressing their annoyance at the absence of preparations and unexplained changes in the schedule.

In the end, and with some difficulty, we were able to transfer from East Berlin by train to Rostock on the Baltic coastline for two rainy nights before being shifted all the way back through East Berlin southward to Dresden, close by the Czechoslovak border, where we were warehoused for five days – roughly three too many.

Yes, there was the Zwinger palace and Opera House, and an excursion by Elbe steamer to the castle at Konigstein proved quite fascinating. But, honestly, it became boring after two days, and we began examining options, of which there were few.

Among the cities we were supposed to have visited was Leipzig. The visit was summarily cancelled, and when a small group of us tried to buy tickets to make the journey ourselves by train from Dresden, the officials at the ticket window literally shut it in our faces. Why couldn’t we go to Leipzig? We didn’t know it then, but the rumbling of protests was beginning to be heard there, and by September, rallies were a weekly occurrence. Undoubtedly the East German authorities didn’t want us to know, and didn’t want us to go.

We were stuck inside of Dresden, with the Leipzig blues again.

(Part 4 is tomorrow)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pilsners with Putin: 1989 Revisited (Part Two).

My miniscule role in the GDR’s final socialist summer came about because of a stubborn determination to be different from the rest of the backpacking tourists, and to spend as much time as possible in the Soviet Bloc during my months-long European sojourn in 1989. I’d become fascinated with the countries behind the Iron Curtain, and ideology was no consideration for me.

In fact, as an abortive attempt to visit North Korea earlier in the year proved, none of their Parties would have me as a member – but I never felt safer than when wandering through a police state as a simple onlooker.

For budget travelers like me, the GDR was one of the tougher Communist nuts to crack. With the sole exception of turncoat Yugoslavia, a passport alone usually was not sufficient to gain entry to the countries comprising the Bloc. Official permission in the form of a visa, either obtained stateside prior to departure or approved at an embassy somewhere in Europe, also was required.

However, merely possessing a valid passport and official visa still did not constitute final approval. Upon arrival, the traveler customarily was required to register with the governmental authorities, and the most common way of doing so was to report to the state bank and engage in the ritual of the mandatory currency exchange.

A specified number of dollars per day of one’s approved duration of stay was swapped for useless local currency, which was even more worthless – literally not worth the paper it was printed on – if carried out of the country afterwards, and which could not be exchanged back into dollars before leaving unless the minimum required exchange had been exceeded. That’s assuming someone could be located to perform the exchange function while a train was parked at the border being inspected by angular uniformed soldiers carrying machine guns.

In effect, the entire territory of the East Bloc was tantamount to the company store, and you had to use company scrip to buy most items. In large measure, eating and drinking proved fabulously cheap, as were hostels and home stays in “private” rooms available in slightly more liberal Bloc locales like Hungary (I use the “L” word with due caution).

As you might expect, the notoriously hardline GDR was little interested in budget travelers, backpackers, hippies and other forms of decadent Western life, even if it desired the hard currency we carried in our money belts. Prepayment of expensive hotel rooms was the norm in East Germany. The question for me was this: How to spend time in the GDR without breaking the bank?

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The answer came from Vermont.

Volunteers for Peace was, and remains, an organization dedicated to the principle of international volunteer exchanges between all willing nations, and generally speaking, among people of all ages. During the Cold War, VFP provided numerous opportunities to evade the restrictive entry requirements outlined above in return for a modest registration fee and two or three weeks of volunteer work toward a specified project, which might be assisting at an archeological site, or helping rebuild a house for use as a daycare center, or agricultural work.

Problem solved. A $100 registration fee was mailed to VFP, the requisite visa paperwork completed, and the GDR was penciled into a summer’s itinerary that included June in Czechoslovakia with my friend Jiri’s family and three July weeks in Moscow dedicated to studying the Russian language -- although as it turned out, used primarily to roam the streets in search of glasnost-level excitement.

With almost two months of adventures behind me, the last week of July offered a few recuperative days of decadent R & R in West Berlin, but first I had to get from the last stop on the East Berlin side to my destination in West Berlin. I was encumbered with booty gleaned from the USSR, which proved to be a challenge getting past East German border control; having succeeded, it subsequently cost far more to mail all of it home from West Berlin than it had required to amass through swapping Marlboros and logoed university t-shirts.

A few bureaucratic prerequisites later, the S-Bahn train rolled into Zoo Station on the west side of the Wall. I was keeping company with several Americans who’d been in the Russian language program with me. Collectively we met Professor Donald Barry, my cousin, and quickly embarked upon a five-day alcoholic binge, with my new friends gradually peeling off for their own adventures elsewhere until only Don and I remained for a final evening at Dickie Wirtin’s for goulash and lager.

The next day, still in West Berlin, I followed instructions to a cold-water flat where several of the Western volunteers had been asked to meet, including my Louisville friend Jeff. We prepared a communal meal, drank a few bottled beers that I’d packed, and chatted about the month to come. The evening was spent curled up on the wooden floor, with occasional interruptions as our hostess tended to her baby. Bread, jam and tea was for breakfast, and then we rode the subway back to Zoo Station, and over the Wall to Friedrichstrasse station, itself located in East Berlin, but also serving as a West Berlin public transportation stop and the control point to East Germany.

Later that afternoon, joined by others who’d come from different directions, we had our first glimpse of the place that would serve as home for the coming three weeks. Some distance from the epicenter of East Berlin, in a wooded park by a lake, and only a short distance from Treptower, location of the grandiose Soviet WWII memorial, was a fenced compound not unlike the M*A*S*H encampment on television. It was constructed entirely from surplus East Germany military tents and equipment, and there were showers, latrines, a commissary, a stage and a shop. We were divided eight to a co-ed tent, in which there were bunk beds, blankets and little else.

Roughly two thirds of the campers were East German college students, members of the Frei Deutsche Jugend – FDJ – in effect, the Communist youth organization, and the pathway to career advancement. Each summer, the FDJ’s stalwarts “volunteered” to do socially useful work for the Fatherland. I was among roughly one hundred Westerners permitted to do the same, and naturally, we were deemed useful for propaganda purposes, although I must say that the impending exhaustion of the GDR’s ideals probably should have been evident from the absence of intensive propaganda instruction. They seemed positively bored with the whole idea.

Had I considered it, there was another clue as to the disintegrating state of the East Bloc. Whereas the FDJ’s annual Planterwald international volunteer brigade was supposed to include representation from the entire Soviet-controlled expanse, there were conspicuous absences in the summer of 1989. The Poles, infected with the contagion of Solidarity, had not been invited. Neither were the Hungarians, who unbeknownst to us had opened their border with Austria earlier that same summer – enabling the belching Trabants to stream through.

Granted, there were Bulgarians, Czechs and Romanians, and quite a few Cubans, the latter being among the most sought after targets on the part of unattached East German girls, of which there were many.

Me? Lie always, I was just happy to have a bunk and a beer.

(Part Three is tomorrow)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ON THE AVENUES: Law-abiding by weenie was never this viral.

ON THE AVENUES: Law-abiding by weenie was never this viral.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

This week's column is a day early, and next week I'm taking a vacation day. 

Those of you who are reading locally, or are familiar with the recent history of the New Albanian Brewing Company, already know that in May we suspended the kitchen at Bank Street Brewhouse for purely financial reasons. We couldn't figure out a way to make money from a menu we all loved, and so we stopped to consider other possibilities.

It wasn't easy, but of course good things seldom are. We're trying to reboot BSB as a brewery taproom, freely borrowing ideas from other places near and far, and it will take time for the new concept to take shape. One of the central pillars of this evolving plan is to determine ways to encourage our customers to continue eating -- just not food we're preparing on site (with occasional exception, like the two pop-up dinners to date).

The possibilities are endless, and they reflect the multitude of options within minutes of our building:

Carry-in from nearby eateries
Takeout Taxi (see below)
Delivery from those who do so
Vendors cooking in the beer garden
Picnic baskets
Food trucks, at least as they begin arriving in New Albany

But here's the rub: Even with all of these options, it is impossible for us to continue serving alcoholic beverages by the glass without complying with an Indiana state law dating from the time before color television that defines bars as restaurants serving drinks.

From the moment the kitchen change at BSB was announced, I was well aware of this fact; after all, the law is 13 years older than me. I spoke with the regional Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and made sure we had the materials necessary to comply with the rule (note that this is not uncommon): Frozen weenies, buns, cans of soup, instant coffee, powdered milk and soft drinks enough to serve 25 persons.

To make a long and annoying story shorter, we failed our first test of this new "menu," and so I went back to the drawing board. In order to keep ourselves aware of the responsibility not just to store these foodstuffs, but to serve them, I decided to incorporate them in a real, tactile menu and to price them based on the surreal nature of the law itself, which does not stipulate mark-ups. Moreover, we needed to collate the carry-in and delivery information in one place. Perhaps one well aimed stone would do the trick.

Hence, the menu reprinted below. Much to my surprise, it landed on the front page of Reddit on Tuesday, generating more than 1,700 often amusing comments, and since then it has been picked up by a dozen other internet sites.


Knock me over with the proverbial feather.

There's an undeniable element of Chicken Little (nuggets?) to all this. For once, I've not sought the notoriety, and I have absolutely no beef (teriyaki, perhaps) with the ATC. They're the police, and the police enforce laws; end of story.

However, in perfect sincerity, I feel as though we're doing our level best to honor the obvious intent of the 1947 statute by offering ways for our customers to eat while they drink. Dragon King's Daughter keeps longer hours than BSB, and its kitchen is closer to the BSB front door than many service bars are to their patio seats.

Isn't the law somewhat archaic? It doesn't mention pizza, and both the sandwiches and the soup must be "hot," ruling out chicken salad on rye and gazpacho. Is a taco a sandwich? We now know that coffee plays no sobering role, and perhaps the Dairy Council inserted the milk provision as a sop to Indiana milk cows. Today's service industry realities are light years removed from a shots 'n' beer roadhouse in 1947, and the law does not take these realities into account.

The BSB kitchen remains licensed, and we continue to sift through ideas to restore a cost-effective food service to the limited space we have to utilize. The options are countless, and as they are considered, it is my hope that the following "compliance" menu suffices as proper statutory observance, as we've always prided ourselves on adhering to the rules defining our daily business.

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Yes, There Is Food at Bank Street Brewhouse, and Here Is the Menu.
Updated August 10, 2014

As of May, 2014, Bank Street Brewhouse is a brewery taproom dedicated to providing creative edible options to our patrons, ranging from carry-in to delivery every day, to periodic pop-up dinners, special catering and mobile “food truck” appearances as the latter become available. Menus for local eateries are kept at the bar. Please note: Outside alcoholic beverages cannot be brought into Bank Street Brewhouse.

Our Top Choices of Eateries … Close By for Carry Out or Delivery
WICK’S PIZZA
225 State Street
Pizza, Sandwiches, Pasta
Delivery:  812-945-9425
Wick’s takes 20% off deliveries to Bank Street Brewhouse

MANDARIN CAFÉ
 2602 Charlestown Road
Traditional Chinese
Delivery: 812-945-6789

DRAGON KING’S DAUGHTER
Japanese-Mexican Fusion
Bank Street
Carry-out: 812-725-8600
DKD is 75 yds from BSB

Pair the city's best food with the city's best beer. Multi-Restaurant Meal Delivery & Drop Off Catering Service Serving Southern Indiana
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TAKEOUT TAXI
Food from local restaurants, delivered
http://www.takeouttaxiindiana.com/
Call (502) 895-8808
Takeout Taxi brings restaurant meals directly to you at your office, home or More Variety and Choices than anyone while giving you more time to take care of family, friends or business.
Delivery is $5.99 plus 5% of the order.

ALADDIN'S CAFE
Mediterranean/Greek
111 W. MARKET STREET

BELLA ROMA
ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Italian
134 EAST MARKET STREET

HABANA BLUES
Cuban/Spanish
148 EAST MARKET STREET

LOUIS LE FRANCAIS
French
133 EAST MARKET STREET

MIMO'S
NEW YORK STYLE PIZZERIA
Italian, Pizza, Pasta, Subs
2708 PAOLI PIKE

MUSCLE MONKEY GRILL
Smoothies, Wraps & Coffee
147 EAST MARKET STREET

PRIMO’S DELICATESSEN
Sandwiches, Salads & Soups
155 EAST MAIN STREET

SHAWN'S SOUTHERN BBQ
Barbecue
822 STATE STREET

More local eateries - call them to order carry-out.

CAFÉ 27 (Modern American) … 149 E. Main … 812-948-9999
COMFY COW (Ice Cream Parlor) … 109 E. Market … 812-924-7197
EXCHANGE PUB + KITCHEN (Gastropub)  … 118 W. Main … 812-948-6501
FEAST BBQ (Barbecue) … 116 W. Main … 812-920-0454
JR’S PUB (Pub Grub/Fish Sandwiches) … 826 W. Main … 812-920-0030
RIVER CITY WINERY (Bistro/Pizza) … 321 Pearl Street … 812-945-9463
TUCKER’S (Sports Bar) … 2441 State Street … 812-944-9999

NABC’S Pizzeria & Public House is located 3.5 miles away from Bank Street Brewhouse at 3312 Plaza Drive, phone 812-944-2577

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Bank Street Brewhouse's Indiana Statutory Compliance Restaurant Menu.

Statutory Overview:

Permit premises where alcoholic beverages are consumed by the "drink" are required to have food service available, at all times, for at least 25 persons. Minimum food service required consists of hot soups, hot sandwiches, coffee, milk, and soft drinks (see attached rule). (IC 7.1-3-20-9 & 905 IAC 1-20-1) see complete and unexpurgated statutory language on page 4 of this menu.

Our Famous Hotdog Sandwich
Microwaved to perfection, including both weenie and bun, sans condiments.
$10.00

Chef Campbell’s Soup of the Day
Served in a bowl. Your choice of whichever can is on top of the stack.
$10.00

Instant Coffee
Caffeinated only. Available black, or black.
$5.00

Powdered Milk
With or without water.
$5.00

Sprecher Craft Soft Drinks
Different flavors … market pricing

This menu is available all of the time.

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The Fine Print: Indiana State Law.

In order to possess an Indiana retail alcoholic beverage sales permit, Bank Street Brewhouse must comply with a 67-year-old state law that compels us to maintain a restaurant located on the premises. 

Rule 20. Food Requirements
905 IAC 1-20-1 Minimum menu requirements
Authority: IC 7.1-2-3-7; IC 7.1-3-24-1
Affected: IC 7.1-3-20-9

Sec. 1. Under the qualification requiring that a retail permittee to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink for consumption on the premises must be the proprietor of a restaurant located, and being operated, on the premises described in the application of the permittee; and under the definition of a "restaurant" as "any establishment provided with special space and accommodations where, in consideration of payment, food without lodging is habitually furnished to travelers,"–and "wherein at least twenty-five (25) persons may be served at one time;" the Commission will, hereafter, require that the retail permittee be prepared to serve a food menu to consist of not less than the following:

Hot soups.
Hot sandwiches.
Coffee and milk.
Soft drinks.

Hereafter, retail permittees will be equipped and prepared to serve the foregoing foods or more in a sanitary manner as required by law.


(Alcohol and Tobacco Commission; Reg 36; filed Jun 27, 1947, 3:00 pm: Rules and Regs. 1948, p. 58; readopted filed Oct 4, 2001, 3:15 p.m.: 25 IR 941; readopted filed Sep 18, 2007, 3:42 p.m.: 20071010-IR-905070191RFA; readopted filed Oct 29, 2013, 3:39 p.m.: 20131127-IR-905130360RFA)

Pilsners with Putin: 1989 Revisited (Part One).

It has been six long years since the last time I shared this story of drinking beer with Vladimir Putin, and given that the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s dismantlement approaches, a “rewind” is in order. First, a mild disclaimer.

This tale from 1989 has unexpectedly taken on a life all its own, with requests for clarification pouring in from near and far, and so readers need to be aware from the outset that my beers with Putin cannot be scientifically verified. It was the pre-selfie era, and there is no photographic evidence to prove our presence together, seated at the same table in the Dresden beer hall on that particular evening.

All of which effectively begs the question: Exactly how did Mr. Putin and I come to be located in the same approximate geographical vicinity in the first place?

Well, it’s all because I spent the first three weeks of August, 1989, buffing and polishing V. I. Lenin’s shoes, and this is where the account begins.

---

More specifically, the footwear in question was attached to a gargantuan statue of Lenin, prominently located at the entrance to the Volkspark Friedrichshain in East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic, henceforth to be referred to here as East Germany or the GDR. The ultimate objective of my voluntarily proffered shoeshine -- and tree planting, and landscaping -- was to make things look tidy and respectable in the Volkspark, which was cleverly reclaimed atop mounds of bombed-out rubble from World War II, and served afterward as the front yard for a hospital that often disgorged armless and legless pensioners into the summer sun for their afternoon constitutionals.

The stodgy and doctrinaire East German officialdom was in a summer deep cleaning mood of sorts that long ago August, because an important celebration was being planned for September, 1989, when the GDR would be throwing a party in honor of its 40th birthday. Among the prestigious guests expected to attend was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, progenitor of many socio-political trends that were not making the East German leadership very happy at the time.

In fact, there had already been embarrassingly public signs that ordinary East Germans were prepared to take Gorbachev’s attempted reforms seriously, and if unable to safely agitate for glasnost and perestroika within the GDR, then to do the next best thing: Vamoose. They were driving their tiny asbestos-laden Trabants to Hungary for sanctioned holidays, then disappearing across the only recently porous Hungarian border into Austria, where transit visas brought them to West Germany, sanctuary and immediate citizenship.

But none of that yet mattered at the beginning of August, at least not in terms of ultimate outcomes, and so there were branches to be pruned, trees to be planted, hedges trimmed and streets swept until they groaned with unfamiliarity. The GDR certainly tried its best to look the way its press clippings always proclaimed it did, although it generally didn’t, and perhaps somewhere in a declassified Stasi file there exists a yellowed photo of me with a shovel in one hand and a mug of raspberry infused Berliner Weisse bier in the other.

And that’s because hidden away in the center of the Volkspark was an Imbiss, a small sausage, snack and beer vending stand – usually with rows of wheelchairs parked in front – and while the recommended workers’ commissary back at the dilapidated main shop was cheaper, it served the same basic meal of sausages and soup every single day.

There wasn’t any beer there, either.

---

Of course, we know today that the GDR’s birthday bash, while smashingly choreographed, didn’t entirely go over as planned. In fact, 40 proved to be as good (and old) as it ever got for Communism, Teuton-style. Behind the scenes, over champagne and cocktail weenies, Gorbachev sternly lectured the hidebound East German nabobs and all but disengaged the USSR from its surrogate’s future, setting crazy wheels into motion that culminated with a not-quite-as-old-Turk party upheaval, lapdog Erich Honecker’s sacking, the fall of the Berlin Wall (Honecker’s own pet project), and the abruptly disintegrated GDR’s unceremonious landing atop history’s scrap heap – all within an incredibly brief four-month period, 25 years ago.

That’s a hellacious hangover by almost any standard, especially for a whole country, but naturally I didn’t know any of this while enduring border pleasantries, and although hindsight affords the clarity to recognize that selected warning flags were beginning to fly, some already quite animatedly, there was no credible reason at the time to believe that substantive change was just around the corner.

Earlier that same year, Honecker had maintained the Wall would stand for 50 or perhaps 100 more years, so long as the conditions prefacing it remained unchanged. It seemed so, and we saw no reason to suspend the laggardly formation of an East German-American Friendship Society back in Louisville, and to prematurely renounce the junkets we imagined such an organization would offer us during the glorious proletarian future to come.

It turns out we were mistaken. What’s more, we weren’t the only ones.

(Part Two tomorrow)

My fav-o-rite place in the WHOLE wide world.


No, please Dr. Tom ... anything but the Beer Borne Pathogen Re-education Camp.


Are you sure those water boards are sanitary?

Petty local oligarchs profiting from ORBP? Say it ain't so, Kerry.




ORBP skeptic Daniel B. had this to say about Tom Clevidence's reasoning.

The Bridges Project is driving up the cost of all other construction in the area. I do not remember this being used as a selling point for the project.

It surely was not. But the extraction oligarchs are making a few bucks, aren't they -- and just as surely, this WAS their chief selling point, and the one stuffed down our throats.

Clarksville council increases maximum bonding capacity for project, by Matt Koesters (Huntsville Picayune)

 ... The Clarksville Town Council unanimously voted at an Aug. 18 work session to increase the town’s maximum bonding capacity for its wastewater and stormwater projects from $37.5 million to $40.5 million to accommodate rising prices.

“The reason that it went up from our original, anticipated bond amount, was according to our engineers — and I’ve seen it myself — the cost of construction, due to the [Ohio River] Bridges Project, has gone up tremendously,” said Tom Clevidence, the town’s director of engineering and stormwater operations. “You can’t hardly get a dump truck. You can’t hardly get materials and stuff like that.

“For a contractor to bid a job, he has to figure on having to wait for concrete, wait for rock, wait for trucks, so he has to build that into his project.”

Clevidence said he believes Ohio River Bridges Project is putting a strain on the area’s supply of raw construction materials.

“It does make sense when you’ve got a billion dollars’ worth of work going on on the riverfront in this location, and they’re pulling rock from the local quarries and concrete from the local suppliers,” Clevidence said.

The Harvest Homecoming parade must be drawing near.


How else to explain the annual lip gloss and pedicure?


It's enough to drive a pass-through trucker wild.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

New Albany's new slogan: "Truck Through City" ... Part 38: Have you heard the one about J & J Pallet and the Main Street Deforestation Project?

Okay, listen; it goes like this.

See the pretty J & J Pallet truck roaring down Spring Street, unhindered by feebly enforced ordinance in any respect as it makes for the other interstate as fast as humanly possible?


John "Rasputin of Redevelopment" Rosenbarger and his oblivious handlers in the mayor's office say that when the Main Street Deforestation Project is finished, trucks like the one belonging to J & J Pallet -- currently speeding down Spring Street all day long -- will voluntarily change their routes back to Main Street and pass through openings like this.


HA HA HA. That's a good one, eh? Well, here's another one. This truck ...


... will quickly divert back here HA HA HA HA HA HA.


And this one ...


... can't wait to squeeze through here, on its way to deliver to a Dollar General in East Jesus.


YOU'REMAKINGMYSTOMACHHURTOHGODPLEASENOMOREJOKES And this lovely dump truck would rather be driving half its current speed ...


... right here. HA HA HA HA HA HA


Small wonder the unemployment rate is up. Every city planner, not to mention a goodly number of elected officials, wants to be a stand-up comic.

Declining youth participation in team sports -- more in the 'burbs, less in the city and rural areas.

When I was a kid, I played baseball and basketball in organized leagues, both in and out of school, though never to the saturation level of some children playing today. Being on a team in a team sport can be a fine learning experience, so long as it's an actual team, although I've long held that I learned more about teamwork singing in choir and being in a play than from sports.

Consequently, the most fun I've ever had in "athletics" came from walking, biking and hiking -- often alone. Make the entire city a playground, and it will be used as such. Any other way, and the wealthier kids will get more of the rewards.

First, data suggesting that young people are less interested in team sports than before.

Youth Participation Weakens in Basketball, Football, Baseball, Soccer ... Fewer Children Play Team Sports, by Ryan Wallerson (Wall Street Journal)

... While high-school baseball participation rose 0.3% in the period, some data on the next generation of players presage a decline: Little League baseball—the biggest children's baseball league—reports that U.S. participation in its baseball and softball leagues in 2012 was 6.8% below that in 2008.

Then, following the data all the way to the 'burbs.

"Hey, data data -- swing!": The hidden demographics of youth sports, by Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia (ESPN The Magazine)

 ... Indeed, Sabo's WSF data paints a distinct picture of suburbs where swaths of kids in elementary and middle school, especially boys, play on three, four or five teams, and the culture revolves around their practices, tourneys and getting to their games. In contrast, childhood in cities and rural areas isn't as intensely sports-focused.

Gene Simmons "points the finger at who he suspects is guilty for killing rock."

Irony is the gift that never stops giving. Rolling Stone now bills itself as a source for country music, wherein Gene Simmons can speak about the death of rock. Actually, as often is this case, Simmons has a point. Too bad it's on Paul Stanley's head.

Gene Simmons: 'Rock Is Finally Dead. It Was Murdered', by Daniel Kreps (Rolling Stone)

 ... "The craft is gone, and that is what technology, in part, has brought us," Simmons said. "What is the next Dark Side of the Moon? Now that the record industry barely exists, they wouldn't have a chance to make something like that. There is a reason that, along with the usual top-40 juggernauts, some of the biggest touring bands are half old people, like me."

Simmons then points the finger at who he suspects is guilty for killing rock: "My sense is that file sharing started in predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class young people who were native-born, who felt they were entitled to have something for free, because that's what they were used to.