Published: May 31st 2012May 31st 2012
Above the front door is a life sized beer tap handle. It has to be good. As I cross the threshold of Wirtshaus Josef I step into another time. Almost. The interior is polished wood and old brick. The modern constructed on top of the aged. It is immediately apparent that the building is old and retains much of its original state. It smells faintly of smoke, overridden by the more dominant smells of beer and slow roasted meat. There is a quiet ambiance of German conversation backed by even quieter American music. The pale yellow lighting granting stark contrast to the dark wood and faded brick. The booths are wood, coated in resin, and built into brick alcoves. The table is large, a single piece of similarly fashioned wood. There is little space between the table and bench, making sliding in a bit tricky. I settle into a cushion between Andre and Gernot and across from Piotr. The silverware and napkins rest communally in large tin buckets. The brick wall across from me has a rectangular space carved out, granting view into the neighboring alcove and creating a mutable border between privacy and community. The menu is wood bound, its pages thick and glossy. It’s printed in the local dialect, making it’s translation that much more difficult. I’m able to recognize many of the same roots however and can decipher enough to get me by.Besides, if I get stuck, the other five people here can all read it just fine.
The waiter wants drink orders. He starts with the obviously German members of our party. I flip to the back pages, see recognizable beer logos, begin scanning. I see a Dunkel, brewed by the establishment. Perfect. I’ll have one of those. He doesn’t ask which size. I assume he’ll bring me a big one. I’m fine with that. A few minutes later the beers arrive. “Prost!” I forget to make eye contact with Andre. Everyone laughs. They ask me if I’m aware of the horror which I have just brought down on myself. I assume they borrowed a page from the French book and reply, “Seven years of bad sex.” Andre chuckles and nods. Yeah, right.
Unfazed, I return my attention back to the menu. Andre apparently ate here the previous evening and was thoroughly impressed by the soup. Saure Supp’m. I order it. By this time the head of my beer has settled and I take my first sip. Better than most of the stuff I’ve had so far, but still bland and simple compared to good American beer. I’m beginning to get despondent that the beer here won’t improve much. The soup arrives. It’s off white, cream based, very similar to a chowder. I stir it. At the bottom rest bits of meat and dough stuffed with…something. Not even Andre knows. Irrelevant really. It’s delicious. Dinner is a long time in arriving. It gives me plenty of time to savor my soup and sip my beer.
I notice the waiter returning with plates. My mouth waters in anticipation. I ordered Cordon Bleu. Chicken, pounded and rolled around ham and melted mozzarella cheese, then battered and fried. Served with French fries. And ketchup. What the hell? This is Europe. I don’t even eat ketchup in America. (sigh) Might as well. Dinner is good, but I have to say, their breading leaves much to be desired. The interior is delicious however. A+. My fresh beer arrives. I’m going to need it to wash down all this starch. The pile of fries is a mile high.
The conversation ranges far and wide and is, largely, unmemorable. After 2 hours of eating, drinking, and talking it’s time to depart. Gernot graciously picks up the tab for his esteemed colleagues (and me) and we make our way home. Piling into Gernot’s car, he returns us to Andre and Piotr’s accomodations where we all met. Farewells all around. 10:30 p.m. Suddenly, I’m standing alone under a single, faint, pale light. I hope this bike I borrowed has a light. Quick inspection. It does! Success. Now how does it work? Another quick inspection. Ingenious. It’s mechanism locks against the wheel, using the revolutions to generate a current and power the light. Very self sufficient. I make my way home, retracing my steps and following my mental map.
The road dips down the hill and passes by the edge of Magdalener See. The air is dead and the lake is glassy smooth, quietly reflecting the occasional yellow window light from its inky blackness. Picturesque. I climb the hill, winding under the train tracks and back to the edge of town. A short trip down a rustic street and I’m back at the university. Behind the university is a bike path that runs along the river. It’s dark. Very dark. Visibility is 10 meters straight ahead. The trees along the river block any potential light from the moon. It’s like riding into a wall of pitch only to find the road keeps going and the wall keeps moving back. Taking your eyes off the path is dangerous because it twists and you don’t have enough time to correct. So you keep your focus straight ahead and rely on your peripheral. Up ahead, the bridge. Lit up like a carnival, lights reflecting off the Drau. Visibility increases as civilization springs up. My pace slows, as I navigate the sharp turns that take me over the tributary and then across to the other side of the Drau.
As I cross the bridge, I descend once again into darkness. The gibbous moon floats, suspended in a patchy sky, dancing behind dark clouds. Ahead in the distance, over the mountains to the west, lightning flashes, momentarily illuminating the murky night. I begin to race against the rain. To my right, the river, bordered by a wall of tall trees. The occasional street light on the opposing bank visible through the palisade reflecting off the river’s black, glassy surface. To my left, a wide open field of waist high grass extending in all directions. Straight ahead, a path, continuously disintegrating into the inky darkness. The night is dead. No noise except for the quiet whirring of my light’s generator, rubbing against the tire walls. The light, trying valiantly to beat away the darkness. Failing. The pedals churning, trying to eat the distance. From the darkness to my left a large building springs up. A barn. Sheds adjoining, all in need of repair. Black interiors. Firewood stacked behind a failing fence along the path. As quickly as it came, it descends into open fields, populated by the occasional tree. The path stretches on.
Ahead, a single light comes into view, suspended above the surface. A street light. Its brother and sister emerge from the inky gloom, a trio of beacons to light the way. The path branches up, and from the dappled sky, shrouded in shadow directly overhead, the moon watches. Quiet. Around the bend, the twin spires of the church emerge, lit as if afire to hold the dark at bay. The bells peal. Lightning flashes again. This is where the ghosts and monsters strike. The edge of darkness. Just as you begin to think you are safe.
Fortunately, no such things exist and I climb the ramp, leaving behind the river and entering into the city. Ghosts and monsters are replaced by erratic drivers and lonely wanderers. Perhaps slightly more dangerous, though much less imaginative. I navigate home by landmarks. The street names are unpronounceable and unmemorable. Uneventful.
It seems I beat the rain.
Word of the Blog: Fleisch.
It means meat (or flesh).