For those of you who have followed my sorry little passport saga, I finally have one. In obtaining it I learned a lesson; don't wait until the last minute. We missed New Year's Eve in Vienna because I kept putting it off. The day you decide you need a passport in a hurry, you may, as I did last December, find your government has shut down and simply isn't issuing them. And even if they are open, your local passport office wants an extra $30 on top of the regular $55 fee to give you one on short notice.
Last month, contributing editor, Bruce Woelfel, took a swipe at the Hamburg restaurant, Peter Lembke. He wrote that he and his wife, Sally, got the "cold shoulder" from a waiter who was indifferent to their requests. Bruce praised the restaurant's decor but judged the prices too high in relation to the quality of the food. He concluded by saying the Lembcke's attitude toward tourists needs a "major tune-up."
Now we hear from Mrs. Paul Wildman, a subscriber and native of Germany who lives with her husband in San Francisco. She writes.
When reading last month's article on Hamburg restaurants, I was partly amused and partly surprised at the writers review of Peter Lembcke restaurant. Amused, because any German, Parisian, Swede and other Northern European who knows typical American travelers, could have predicted the scene at Peter Lembcke's. Surprised, because it still remains a riddle to Northern Europeans - as well as fashionable Romans - why Americans, traveling in Europe, have not caught on with dress code, local customs, distinction between tourist spots and non-tourist spots, as well as overall etiquette. The writer was taken aback by the waiter's attitude and indifference towards his wishes and his mere existence as a customer at all, it seems.
First of all, elegant Peter Lembcke is not a typical tourist spot and, thus, does require - if only in unwritten terms because of today's "political correctness" rules - that customers do wear elegant clothes and no typical American tourist attire; in other words, no windbreakers, no hiking shoes, no open-neck shirts for men, and certainly no rucksacks!
Secondly, the customers should have common sense and notice at entering a restaurant whether he or she fits in given the atmosphere of the place. Americans, for some unknown reason, seem to be oblivious to this and, thus, ask for it when treated shabbily.
The writer's attitude: Peter Lembcke "needs a major tune-up" in its attitude towards tourists is therefore totally unwarranted and unfortunately, typical for the majority of Americans traveling abroad. The way it should be is quite the opposite, i.e., the attitude of the writer "needs a major tune-up" towards customs in other lands! After all: When in Rome...!
(Mrs. Wildman goes on in her letter to offer her services as a certified German language instructor to San Francisco Bay Area readers. She can be reached at 415-921-3489).
Mrs. Wildman also phoned me at Gemütlichkeit and enlarged upon the theme of her letter, saying that most northern Germans are "cool" to Americans and the treatment the Woelfels received at Peter Lembcke would be the same at other "elegant" restaurants in the north of Germany.
The letter is a little disturbing. It implies Americans are blundering, under-dressed, insensitive boobs incurring the haughty disdain of sophisticated Europeans. But what do you think? What have your experiences been particularly in northern Germany? Please let me know by letter or fax.
In the meantime we ought to tie up a couple of loose ends regarding Bruce Woelfel and the restaurant, Peter Lembke.
First, of all Bruce wasn't dressed in hiking shoes or carrying a rucksack. He was wearing a sportcoat, no tie. Sally was appropriately dressed. Bruce and Sally Woelfel are hardly rubes; both have doctoral degrees and are retired college professors.
Now, how about the "elegant" Peter Lembke? It gets no stars from Michelin for its cuisine but does rate two crossed forks and spoons, denoting "comfortable," below the three higher categories; "Luxury in the traditional style," "Top class comfort" and "Very comfortable."
The English version of Europe's respected Gault Millau guide for Germany has this to say about Peter Lembke:
The cuisine of this restaurant plods along old, well-worn paths without looking either to the right or left. Time-tested products prepared without motivation result in pure boredom. For excitement, we suggest the chef take a look at the prices of his competition. Who's paying 71 DM ($49) for turbot or a 110 DM ($76) for 56 grams of caviar anymore? And that's not all, the side dishes all cost extra! There isn't a more expensive restaurant in Germany. But we'd gladly pay the extra five marks for those memorable fried potatoes again!
Swiss Rental Resource
Lately, Gemütlichkeit has placed more emphasis on apartment, condo and house rental as a way of beating the high cost of hotels, particularly in Switzerland, where the strength of the franc makes prices very high for North Americans. Recently I came across a great resource for anyone considering such accommodations in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland.
The booklet Vacances a la Campagne (Country Holidays) is just what you need. Covering most of southwest Switzerland, including the Vaud, the Jura, Neuchâtel and parts of Fribourg and the Valais, the 52-page book gives details and an exterior photo of more than 150 furnished rentals. The per week prices range from 100 Sfr. ($87) for a "simple mountain pasture chalet" with five rooms including kitchen and WC in Buttes (southwestern corner of Neuchâtel), to 850 Sfr ($740) for a villa with six beds in Les Charbonnieres on the west shore of Lake Neuchâtel.
Want to spend a week in the Lake Geneva area but are discouraged by hotel prices that start at about 160 Sfr. ($139) per night for a simple two or three-star hotel in Geneva, Lausanne or Montreux? How about a three-room apartment for 560 Sfr. ($479) per week in the town of Puidoux, in the hills above the lake between Montreux and Vevey? Or, in Echichens, just outside Morges, a cottage for 450 Sfr. ($385) per week.
Prices listed are net and include such charges as water, gas, electricity, heating and taxes. A 30% deposit confirms reservations and bedding is included in the price. Rentals are to be cleaned by departing renters or there is a cleaning charge of 60 Sfr. ($51).
To book, simply phone or write the property owner listed under your chosen rental unit.
If the Switzerland Tourism offices in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles don't have Vacances a la Campagne contact Federation du Tourisme Rural de Suisse Romande, p.a. Office du Tourisme, CH-1530 Payerne, Switzerland, phone 037/616161, fax 037/617126.
I'm Outa Here
I'm taking my shiny new passport with the lousy photo and heading for the mountains of Austria. See you next month. RHB