Eine Kleine Nacht in Frankfurt
Yes, Germany has a cider industry; actually, they refer to it as apple wine – or “Ebbelwoi”, but it amounts to the same
thing. I have tasted plenty of German cider in my time but most of that has not been in Germany. In fact, I struggle to remember
the last time I drank a cider in Germany that wasn’t Aspall, and that’s not due to fierce family loyalty, but due to the fact
that outside the vicinity of this part of Germany, it’s pretty hard to find. But here, in Frankfurt, it flows like water. Or so I
As for Frankfurt itself, a 24 hour stopover doesn’t offer much in the way of cultural immersion; like many German cities, it suffered terribly in World War II. As we flew in to the airport, I spotted what looked like a giant slag heap roughly 30km outside the city. There’s one like that outside Munich, which our importer informed me was the remains of the pre-war city, cleared away after hostilities had ceased so the city could be rebuilt. Based on the architecture of 21st century Frankfurt, it is fairly obvious to the naked eye that the same thing happened here, only the re-build doesn’t in this instance appear to have been as sensitively undertaken as in Munich. Apparently, Frankfurt had one of the finest mediaeval city centres in Germany pre 1939 – most German kings were crowned here in days gone by, so it’s a shame there appears not to have been a co-ordinated effort to restore it to its former glory.
Always an important trading place due to its geography, Frankfurt maintains its history of commerce by being Germany’s financial capital. Plenty of high rise city bank buildings on the skyline, all shiny stainless and glass, but every now and then a relic of the past pokes its turret or gateway out from behind the modernity to hint of glories past.
So, where on the scale of ‘from history to modernity’ does the long and fine Ebbelwoi tradition sit? Well, pretty firmly in the past tense from what I could see, and that’s not necessarily in a bad way. German cider and the culture associated with it, reminds me of the farmhouse tradition that you see in parts of the West Country. The cider served here is, by and large, still, cloudy and unadulterated. Show a Frankfurt resident a pint of mainstream English Cider and he will puzzle as to what exactly it is that you have given him. Or her.
Frankfurt is so renowned for its ciders, it is sometimes referred to as "Big Ebbel", a nod to New York’s Big Apple nickname.
And whilst most bars and restaurants in Frankfurt have a cider on their list, you need to head to the Sachsenhausen region, or
"Ebbelwoi district" as it is known colloquially, to really have the full German Cider experience.
And THE place to do that is Die 3 Steubern. Run by octogenarian Wolfgang Wagner and his daughter, this is one of my more memorable recent drinking experiences anywhere. It’s been running since the 1950’s, and they still produce all their cider “out the back”. Pictures on the wall from the early days testify to the fact that absolutely nothing has changed since it started trading.
Cider is served at the bar from a “Bembel”, a large earthenware jar in a hinged harness for ease of pour. Wolfgang dispenses cider into 30cl glasses called "Geripptes"; these have lozenges cut into the sides that improve grip, apparently dating back to days when meals were eaten without cutlery. A cider filled Geripptes is called a Schoppen.
Each cider ordered is marked on your beermat with a pen, as is any food you may order. There were some real culinary treats on offer here; eggs pickled in brine – wonderfully tasty; rounds of Frankfurters – I’m afraid I cannot tell you what specific varieties they were, they were just delicious; cold meat platters with suspicious-looking, but delicious, black pudding sausages aboard.
And then my favourite of the evening – Handkäse mit Musik. Handkäse is a speciality of the region, a sour milk cheese traditionally produced by hand, hence the name. Once it’s liberally topped with onions – as here, it becomes "Handkäse mit Musik" (with music) because the onions are supposed to stimulate gas. Well, if that’s the selling tag, I can only say I didn’t get my money’s worth. Delicious though, I had two rounds.
If you haven’t picked this up already, I loved this place. Herr Wagner was the model of a landlord, quietly getting on with business and only interjecting in conversation when appropriate; his daughter, the epitome of German efficiency, producing endless platters of good Frankfurt fare without fuss; and the energetic barman – perhaps a relative of theirs, I don’t know – taking orders, placing them at the bar, removing empty Geripptes and replacing with Schoppens.
The place had a real hum to it; the clientele a healthy balance between old and young. But sadly, where once there were many of
these establishments, Herr Wagner’s is nearly the last, and so we were informed by Falk, our neighbour at the bar and a local,
that once Herr Wagner retires, that will be the end of it for Die 3 Steurbern. And what a great shame that will be.
The Ebbel Bars of Frankfurt may soon be consigned to history in the same way the mediaeval centre of Frankfurt was. For the time being though, they still make their presence felt, peeking as they do from behind the glossy style bars of modern shiny Frankfurt, a reminder of how life was once lived and the gentle pace that went with it. And for this alone, Frankfurt is certainly worth a visit.