Image credit: Foto Design Ernst Wrba"Ein, zwei, drei... funf?" We're counting out the train tickets, midway through the latest of this week's many language disasters. It's strange being so lost in a foreign tongue. This summer I swapped my usual stamping ground -Italy- for a week in southern Germany, around the Schwarzwald and Swabian Jura. From Frühstuck to Abendessen, I'm completely clueless.But language aside, the two countries are not so different. Centuries of history are intertwined. The Guelph-Ghibelline conflict, which left blood on the medieval streets of Florence and Siena, began with a squabble between two German families, the Hohenstaufens and the Welfs. German Emperor Frederick II extended the family reach, building castles across Puglia and southern Italy. There's cultural overhang, too. Like Italy, southern Germany is predominately Catholic. Traditional spätzle ("noodles") are handmade with flour and egg... pasta, in other words. Yet I'll confess to pre-booking jitters. Alongside the linguistic gymnastics, my main worry was the food. Italy is world renowned for its variety of regional cooking. It's the home of tortelloni and ravioli and gelato; of spiky seafood stews like cacciucco and brodetto all'anconetana; of gastronomic cities including Parma and Bologna.
Germany has sausage and cabbage... or so the cliché goes
Image credit: Brunner, RalfSchwarzwalder food is certainly rustic--just like almost every good Italian meal I've ever eaten: excellent Flammkuchen (pizza-like cheesy flatbread) and pork with wild chanterelle mushrooms at Salenhof; bockwurst and a tart gherkin at Freiburg's market. It's fair to say pork lovers have a culinary advantage here. (And which other country does that remind you of?)
Of forests, hills and castles
Image credit: Donald StrachanTrains are spotless and punctual, of course. From a carriage window I examine neat rows of low-rise houses, each with a carefully tended lawn. There are few things less Italian than a lawn. Stretches of the Hochschwarzwald, the Black Forest's uplands, resemble one giant lawn. Hamlets nestle in shallow vales, or bob to the surface among vast tracts of emerald pasture. Gable ends hang from traditional houses like a bob-cut with a sharp, straight fringe.
Image credit: Keute, JochenDo we need to talk about the weather? It's certainly comparable... with the Alps and Dolomites, not Tuscany or Puglia. One morning, I wake to find it's sluicing it down so hard even upland cows are sheltering under a tree. Thankfully the 18 water slides at Galaxy Schwarzwald are encased in a giant glasshouse. It's a wet summer day, so the place is packed, and there's a wait for all the best slides. But queuing is, as Italians sometimes phrase it, "Anglo-Saxon"--efficient and pretty ordered. The kids have a blast. Granted, I'm not ready to swap my Gazzetta dello Sport for a Süddeutsche Zeitung. Not quite yet. But I may just invest a decent German phrasebook.
Beer glass image credit: Donald Strachan.
Cuckoo clock image credit: Marth Gundhard.Donald Strachan is a travel and technology journalist, as well as a guide writer who specialises in Italy.