October 21, 2010 | German
German Eats, Upper East Side
Places to eat and drink German-style.
Although this is a mostly food-free language program, I still enjoy visiting places with food and drink related to the languages I am studying. I love seeing containers of rice, or noodles, or soda—just commonplace items like that—plastered with colorful labels in different languages. Food experiences in New York can be very multilingual and visually stimulating.
So, earlier this week I headed off to Heidelberg, a German restaurant and bar on Second Avenue near 86th Street. This was in Yorkville, a neighborhood to which, after the General Slocum disaster of 1904, many Little Germany residents from the Lower East Side moved. Although Yorkville’s precise boundaries may be in dispute (at least according to the quick Internet search I just conducted), the general area runs perhaps from about 96th Street to 79th Street, and from Third Avenue to the East River.
As with the Lower East Side, the German community that was once here is no longer. Heidelberg is one of the obvious remnants. But as I approached the restaurant, I spotted another establishment that also had a very German-sounding name: Schaller & Weber.
Schaller & Weber, Founded in 1937
Owner Ralph Schaller
I went inside and found German food everywhere. I also found Ralph Schaller, owner of the business and son of one of the original founders.
Food with the Same Name As My Husband
Ralph told me that they sell all over the U.S. and gave me permission to take photos. I wandered around admiring sausages and chocolates.
Then I headed to my original destination, Heidelberg, where I ordered a seltzer water at the bar. It was pretty quiet, the pre-dinner hour.
I spoke German with the bartender, Tom, and with two tourists from Germany who had just arrived the day before. I felt my German was sounding a little rocky, but they insisted I was doing well. I find people will pretty much always say that, no matter how little you can say, as though there is a secret pact to avoid making linguistically limited Americans feel too bad about themselves.
Heidelberg Restaurant, Second Avenue
On my left at first were several men from maybe…Albania? I can’t quite remember. Later they were replaced by an Italian-speaking couple. On my right was a friendly Japanese man who had moved here five years ago and whose English (sorry, friendly Japanese man!) was not all that great.
He asked my ethnic background. I said Eastern European, maybe some British, maybe even a little Native American.
The last detail seemed to fascinate him. He started telling me about the common genetic heritage of Asians and Native Americans and then began talking about something that I must have misunderstood, because it sounded as though he was saying Asian baby boys and Native American baby boys all had blue dots on their hips, evidence of their common ancestry.
…Before the German-Food-Craving Crowds Arrive
Now see, this is exactly the kind of thing that always makes me nervous when I try to speak a language I don’t know well: that someone will mistakenly think I am talking about something as strange as blue dots on babies’ bottoms. It is a frightening prospect. I nodded and said something incisive, such as, “Wow.”
Normally I would have gone for clarification, but I didn’t think we were going to be able to travel the long distance from blue dots to actual comprehension. Plus my brain was worn out from speaking German. So I conceded defeat and instead bid bartender and bartendees Auf Wiedersehen.