19 July 2010

German Festivals: Johannisnacht

OK, it's been almost a month since Johannisnacht, but I couldn't let these posts slip away from me. I consider it my responsibility to share my experiences out here with those less fortunate. After all, not everyone gets to travel (and people who do, well, if you're like me, you like to have some idea of what these festivals are like so you know what to expect). Plus, my family probably reads my blog on occasion, and they need to know I'm getting away from the computer now and then!

A Little History

There are three big festivals here in Mainz: Fastnacht (a.k.a. Carnival/Mardi Gras, etc) in February, the Weinmarkt in August (huge wine festival), and Johannisnacht in June. Johannisnacht is a Mainzer celebration (i.e. it's celebrated here in lovely Mainz, Germany) to honor their prodigal son, Johannis Gutenberg. You may have heard of him; he invented the world's first moveable-type printing press, revolutionizing the way we produce and distribute books and periodicals, and basically making it possible to bring reading material to the masses (as opposed to a few rich scholars).

Basically, it's a huge folk festival, with entertainment, sights, and lots of German street food - inevitably my favorite part. I realized about halfway through processing my photos of this awesome party that it was WAY too much for one post. So today, I'm going to focus on the food (since it's my favorite part).

My Decadent Obsession

I love fairs and festivals. My hometown, Sterling MA, has a great town fair every September. From the time I was 13 and all through college, I never missed it. It helps that my parents' house is less than a half mile from the "airport" where they've held it for the past decade. I even managed to come back for the fair after living in NC for a year. Sadly, I have missed the fair for the past couple of years. If you don't count all of the ribbon-bearing local competition (I'm the proud holder of the 2nd place ribbon for my chocolate chip cookies the last year I entered - I beat my mom, just had to throw that out there). Boy do I miss the food! Most importantly, I miss the apple crisp and chesesteak. Ohhhh....

Living in NC, I had the pleasure of eating my way through the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh for the past 2 Autumns. NC fair food is a whole different beast: grilled corn on the cob, turkey legs, deep-fried Coca Cola (don't ask - just understand it's delicious), frozen chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick, deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried cheeseburgers - you name it, you can probably find it fried, hot apple cider, the list is ginormous.

So now I'm in Mainz. I was lucky enough to come over a period of time that includes every major (and minor) festival outside of the Christmas Markets that take over every town for the month of December. Johannisfest is a big one.

The Foods

One of the best street foods they offer out here: crepes. OK, I'll admit, they are French in origin, but I'm only about an hour and a half's drive from the French border, and they're delicious, so whatever. Germans are obsessed with the things. The favorite filling? Nutella, pretty much across the board. A friend of mine goes nuts over Nutella and fresh strawberries in hers; I think if she were offered a job where she was paid ONLY in strawberry-Nutella crepes, she'd leap at the chance.

They offer a ridiculous amount of combinations: sweet, savory, you name it. I tend to gravitate toward savory fillings like tomato and cheese, or very simple fillings, like a drizzle of Amaretto (SO delicious - great light Summer snack).

But no, that day,  we chose to mix it up a bit. We (yeah, the hubs makes me share) went with a very German filling: Nutella (for obvious reasons) and Eierlik├Âr - a German spirit similar to eggnog, but without the spices, and with the booze built in. It's absolutely wonderful on ice cream, or in crepes with Nutella! ;)

If you've never seen a crepe in the works (and amazingly, before living here, I hadn't!) here's how it works:

First the crepe-maker... person ladles some batter onto a special crepe pan, and spread it out with a dowel-like device. After about 30 seconds, they run a spatula or other flat device under the crepe to loosen it, and flip it, allowing the other side to cook. Then, they add the fillings (as you can see, they drizzle a healthy amount of Nutella first, then follow it up with the Eierlik├Âr, straight from the bottle).

Next, they fold two opposite sides in, score the ends, and fold in the ends, making a nice little rectangular packet of thin, eggy pancake encasing whatever fillings you've choosen.


Yeah, that's my hubby. Doesn't he look happy with that crepe in his hand?

Some other very German offerings:

Ham on a spit... (sadly, we didn't make it to this stand for an actual meal)

Chocolate-dipped chilis - funny considering the German palette tends to shy away from anything too spicy. Missed out on this too; I took a picture to remind myself to go back, and still forgot...

Craving something a little lighter? How about a fish sandwich from Kapt'n Seyer?

This one we DID try - they were basically making something akin to a German Flammkuchen, or flatbread pizza (only sans tomato sauce). The menu:

Don't let the menu fool you. This particular stand was popular enough to have a perpetual line for their Dinnelen. Essentially, you would get into line, pay, and receive a number. Once a tray of various Dinnelen was finished (yeah, they were actually using that wood-burning oven you see above - no backup, that's it), you would be called up by number to choose form whatever the people ahead of you DIDN'T want.

We ended up with a potato-onion one (honestly, that was my second choice, so I was pretty happy), and it was worth the wait. The bread was crispy, and slightly charred from the wood-burning oven, the potatoes were a little on the al-dente side, but once you get to the cream cheese-garlic spread underneath, everything gets very OK very quickly!

Some other foods I didn't manage to get a picture of (I was hesitant to take out my Nikon in the BIG crowds later in the weekend):

  • 1/2 meter bratwurst (not bad for 3 Euro, they even gave us an extra roll at no charge so the hubs and I could share, even though we DID ask to BUY it)
  • Champignons - Yeah, another French-inspired fair food, they caramelize mushrooms (sometimes with onions) and serve them hot with garlic sauce, similar to tzatziki.
  • Bratkartoffeln - similar to homefries; thin slices of potatoes cooked on a huge griddle with bacon and onions.
  • Asian noodle stands - complete with take-out box
  • The "Kaffeehaus" serving homemade cake slices for ridiculously cheap - also ridiculously tasty! Brought the hubs a slice since he was working night shift the last day of the festival and missed the fireworks.
  • "American" treats - don't ask me how they come up with this stuff. "American" donuts in flavors like Tiramisu, and Choco-cherry.  Easily our favorite: "California style" ice cream. One friend of ours put it best when she said "Yeah, because everyone knows California is famous for their ice cream!"

The Drinks

Of course, verious foods are common to any festival, be it in Texas, Massachusetts, or here in Mainz. The main thing that stand out to me here is the propensity of alcoholic beverages offered across the festival. Now, to be frank, there isn't really an "open container" law here anyway - unless you're walking down the street with a bottle of liquor. You can walk around drinking a beer anywhere you feel like. You can bring a flask to a club. They're really very open about the whole thing here.

This extends to fairs and festivals. Beer booths, wine booths, cocktails, you name it. The best part is it's not overpriced! Seriously, you'll pay about the same for a glass of wine as you will for a bottle of Coke out here. But the wine is all peddled by local wineries, which is like a dream come true for me. It pairs my love of the fair experience with my love of wine and all things local. I'm a big believer that we should focus more on locally made products versus big-business junk you can find anywhere. It's better economically, and allows you to truly immerse yourself in local culture.

This was only one plaza filled with Mainzer Wintzer (Mainz Vintners). Our favorite drink of this festival though?

The Sommerwind

Here's what you need:

2 parts sparkling white wine
1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

Here's what you do:

OK, it's a glorified Mimosa (but oh my god, SO much better). Simply fill a glass 2/3 of the way with your sparkling wine (here the wine of choice is a dry Riesling Sekt), then top off with your juice. Well-chilled it's easily the most refreshing drink I've had, like, ever.

Next time, I'll cover the attractions that made this such a great festival (including explaining the first photo in this post). Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fun event. I would be happy with that crepe in my hand too.


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