Rucksack Theory Debunked

I have several interesting facts to add to the debate on Peter Lembcke in particular and German attitudes toward tourists in general.

I thought Mrs. Wildman's letter was hilarious did you make her up??? Anyway:

1. Mrs. Wildman should know that since it was a sub-zero December night, I was wearing my mink coat. So much for the "rucksack" attire theory.
2. Our dining experience at Lembcke was entirely ordinary. My Stroganoff was overcooked and tasted several days old. I am certain that it had been reheated at least once.
3. We have been to lots of "elegant" restaurants in northern Germany and have been beautifully treated. I deeply disagree with Mrs. Wildman's idea that shabby service is typical.
4. Finally, I want Mrs. Wildman to know that I am much more of a snob than she is.

But I try to keep it under control.

Sally Woelfel, PhD.
Aptos CA

(Ed. Note: Dr. Woelfel, of course, was at the dinner in question and is the wife of Bruce Woelfel who wrote the review of Restaurant Peter Lembcke.)

Friendly North Germans

I want to comment on the Peter Lembcke controversy.

Mrs. Wildman strikes me as very ill-informed about German gastronomy and the attitudes of people in Northern Germany in general. Lembcke is not a good restaurant by anyone's standards. All my friends in Hamburg—a sophisticated bunch, including the publisher of Die Zeit—have warned me against it. When I disregarded their comments a year or so ago, I found them to be right. The food is adequate enough, but certainly nothing special, nothing inventive and nothing to seek out. The room is gloomy and a bit shabby. It cannot stand comparison with the dining room at the Hotel Prem, a small gem on the Alster, or the Landhaus Scherrer, which is precisely the kind of sophisticated place that Mrs. Wildman seems (incorrectly) to think that Lembcke is.

I don't want to go on at great lengths, but I really feel that I must challenge the notion that Northern Germans are "cool" to Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is quite true that they are not as exuberant in general as, say, Bavarians, but as an American who has traveled in that area for twenty five years, I can testify to good treatment not only at the two places mentioned above but at many other hotels, restaurants, shops and offices throughout the region.

I was recently in Bremen, Lübeck and Hannover. In each place, at least one person made an extra effort to see to it that I was comfortable, none of them knew that I was a journalist, and to none of them did I speak German. As a small example, I might mention a wonderful lunch in Grashof Bistro in Bremen, where my waitress turned out to be the wife of the proprietor, and where the three of us spent an hour after lunch exchanging ideas about cognac, a common enthusiasm. Or the ticket taker at a garden in Hannover who took fifteen minutes of his lunch time to come with us in our car to make sure that we could find our way to the local museum.

Oh, yes. Gault Millau is right; Lembcke is vastly overpriced.

R.W. Apple, Jr.
Washington DC

(Ed. Note: Mr. Apple is the Washington bureau chief and chief correspondent for the New York Times.)

Friendly Folk Near Hamburg

Today I received my first issue of Gemütlichkeit. I can tell already that it is a good investment.

In regard to the article "Ugly Americans?", in August and September of 1995 my aunt, uncle and I flew into Hamburg and drove from there to Berlin to Wittenberg to Rothenburg Ob der Tauber. to Renchen to Strasbourg, France, up to Untergrumbach to Heidelberg to St. Goar and flew back to the states from Frankfurt.

In northern Germany - a town called Zeven - approximately one hour from Hamburg, we were treated with great care and friendliness at Restaurant Paulsen (phone 04281/5051, fax 04281/8340). There was not one thing they did not help us with. Even supplying my aunt and uncle, who were first-time travelers to Europe, with wash cloths. I brought my own, having been to Europe twice before. They called the museum in town and arranged for us to see some pottery that my great-grandfather made. The museum was even pleased as they had very little information on my great-grandfather. The entire experience was good because the restaurant went out of its way to accommodate us.

The Restaurant Paulsen has good food, good service and was in range price-wise.

Joan S Wood
Horsham PA

More on Lembcke

I was interested to read about the situation regarding the dress of American tourists in Northern Germany, reactions of Northern Germans to said American tourists and the restaurant known as "Peter Lembcke."

In my opinion there is a bit of truth in the statement of Mrs. Wildman. Americans often underdress according to "local custom" and they often have little knowledge of German. The latter fact does more to place American at a disadvantage in Northern Germany than anything else! Additionally, an unspoken "attitude" does not help matters. A real effort to use a few German words combined with a truly pleasant demeanor usually helps a great deal. I think that the typical American informality of attire is being copied in Southern Europe, but that older citizens of the Northern climes resist this change. Northern Germans are much more formal than Southern Germans and we should be aware of this obvious fact. So what? The answer is to act in a reasonable fashion and put ones best foot forward. If this does not satisfy local custom, spend your vacation money elsewhere. "Reasonable" is an extremely subjective term and I imagine your readers know that attire worn at the Colibri is different than while dining at the Atlantic Grill!

Peter Lembcke is most definitely not an "elegant" restaurant. We have eaten there three times in the last twenty years. It is a typical North German restaurant with crowded seating, starched napery and good food. I have been there dressed in a suit, a blazer and tie and also wearing a sweater and chinos. I have never had a bad meal nor have I been treated with anything other than courtesy by the staff. Yes, the prices are now high; this is true everywhere and the only blame is on our weak dollar.

We learned about the great Hamburger love of eel at Peter Lembcke. The famous "Hamburger Aalsuppe" sounds disgusting; it is a thick broth filled with pieces of eel and reconstituted dried apricots, prunes, etc. The fact is it tastes delicious after walking to the restaurant from our hotel on the Alster.

I prefer Bavaria to North Germany, but also enjoy the North. What Americans perceive as standoffishness in Hamburg should often be regarded as respect for the "space" of others and a desire not to intrude. If you try your German, you will more often than not be responded to in excellent English and meet interesting new acquaintances.

Parenthetically, tell your readers to visit the Fischmarkt in St. Pauli on Sunday morning starting at around 5:30 a.m. The "market" takes place on the barricaded main street along the Elbe. Fish, flowers, fruits and sundries are sold at stalls. Have a morning coffee or schnapps with a beer chaser at the "Kapt'n Eck Café." The music and ambiance are wonderful and there is no problem with attire or "elegance."

Victor P. Obninsky
Tiburon CA

Rude Service in Hamburg

As an Argentine-born daughter of German parents who lives in the U.S., one could imagine I would share Mrs. Wildman's opinion on the "quality" of the American tourist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, there are always those tourists—of any nationality—who "don't fit in" anywhere. Nevertheless, I personally received the same cold-shouldered treatment at a different high-priced restaurant in Hamburg last Fall, while dining with an English gentleman, his very proper wife, and my Cuban husband. I am fluent in German, we were all appropriately dressed and did not look typically American. Still, we were served by a haughty waiter, the food was not outstanding and the bill was outrageously high.

According to my personal experience, I would certainly agree with Bruce Woelfel's opinions, and find Mrs. Wildman's comments not just disturbing but a little insulting.

Caroline Capote
Memphis, TN

(U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:

* Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...
* The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)