Friday, January 25, 2013

Cuckoo for Kuchen

“At our cake buffet nobody comes over so simple - in the proverbial and also in the literal sense!” --translation from Café Gnosa's webpage
On the morning of my 29th birthday, I awoke in a hostel in Hamburg, Germany. Folded-like-an-accordion on the too-short top bunk, slumber had proven difficult because my two African-born roommates were attempting, despite distinctly different dialects, to communicate with one another in broken English. Having already planned for an early start, I arose, dressed in my non-cotton clothing, packed my poncho and umbrella, and traveled through the steady drizzle into the city center for the three-hour Hamburg Free Walking Tour. Eventually my tourism turned gastronomic, but before I begin my dessert coverage I must first praise Germany’s glorious second city and share some of what I learned, thanks to the New Europe Walking Tour company.

Like most cities I love, the water has been the major factor in shaping Hamburg’s identity. We’re not talking about your average river city, though; Hamburg had been a major harbor city for as long as recorded time. Nearly all of the stories and history learned on the tour returned to the water (as in the gruesome death of the famed pirate Klaus Störtebeker) or the great fire of 1842. The city’s older buildings and churches are nearly all the products of detailed restoration, as necessitated by both the fire and WWII bombings. Our tour wound all around: across small bridges through the old town (swans in the waterways), the warehouse district (beautiful brick) and HafenCity, the huge inner-urban housing project that will increase the city’s population by 40%!

Three hours of walking may sound like a lot, but it isn’t enough when it’s your birthday and it’s been blasphemously cake-less. Kein Kuchen ist nicht cake is no good. So at the conclusion of the tour I walked back toward the Rathaus (town hall), past the train station and further east along Lange Reihe. My destination was Café Gnosa, revered in my research as the best dessert in Hamburg. I couldn't decide what to order, so I treated myself to what I like to call the birthday special: three slices for take away. They were so tasty, and the tempting options at Café Gnosa so plentiful, that I stopped to get three more before I boarded my train out of Hamburg.

Schoko-Orangen Torte (chocolate-orange torte), Rhabarberstreusel Torte (rhubarb cake), PflaumemMandel Torte (almond plum cake), JohannisbeerQuark Torte (red currant cheesecake), Chocolate Pie (chocolate pie). All of them were delicious, but one reigned supreme: AprikosenNuss Torte (apricot cake with hazelnuts). The tartness of apricot, the roasted flavor of hazelnut, the richness of spiced cake. It was dense, more solid than springy. I'm not sure what spices were added to this cake to make it so good but I have been craving it ever since.

The rain never let up during the three days I spent in the city, but this didn't spoil my trip. My Merrill shoes, however, which have kept me dry since their initial use backpacking in Italy, met their sad end. (RIP) Casualties aside, Hamburg ranks high on my list of cities to revisit and Café Gnosa’s apricot cake with hazelnuts ranks as the best dessert I had in Germany.

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