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Hear the words “culinary tour” and taste buds automatically start dancing. Such was the case when I signed up for the recent German Travel Mart’s food tour of Frankfurt and Cologne. I got a jumpstart on sampling the edible side of Germany upon checking into the Steigenberger Hotel Bad Homburg, located in a spa town of the same name, just outside of Frankfurt. Waiting on my pillow were gummy bears and, with that, the feasting had begun. Throwing a few into my mouth, I chomped with relish, only to notice something odd rolling around amidst the bears — a porcelain crown.
I made a quick call to the front desk and manager Ed Eberle arranged a dental appointment. Going above and beyond his front desk duties, Eberle escorted me across the street to the dentist office, translated medical forms and offered to stay for moral support. Declining his kind offer, I put myself in the capable hands of Dr. Frank Bebenroth. Would the incident deter me from diving into the succulent delights of Germany? Heck, no. Crown promptly back intact, I joined my group of American tourists and set out on our food tour.
First Course: Frankfurt
The bus trip into town was a visual delight with fields of yellow rapeseed adding pops of sunshine to the cloudy day and overpasses with scrawled graffiti messages declaring “Hope.” Our first destination was Romerberg Square in Frankfurt’s old town. Equipped with umbrellas, we took in the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen, otherwise known as the Fountain of Justice, an apropos starting point for a tour of what’s been the center of Frankfurt’s government since the 15th century. The square takes its name from the Romer, an iconic row of 15th- to 18th-century houses rebuilt after World War II on one edge of the square. Yet another part of the square leads past Roman bath ruins.
From here, the walking tour led to Kleinmarkthalle. A stop at Schreiber’s had our group sampling various flavors of the vendor’s acclaimed sausages. Those of us with appetites were in the right place, as most booths had samples to offer of everything from produce and spices to ginger tea and pastries.
Back on the bus, we headed to Klappergasse, a quarter named after Germany’s beloved drink, apple wine. A stroll down cobblestone streets and hidden alleyways led to my favorite area attraction — the formidable Frau Rauscher fountain. Note to those entranced by this bronze memorial lauding the health benefits of apple wine: Be ready to duck (she spits).
As the sun dipped behind the skyscrapers of Germany’s financial capital, we visited Steinberger Frankfurter Hof, the sister property of our accommodations in Bad Homburg. A tour of the grand dame showcased ongoing renovations taking place in four phases that are set to conclude mid-2013. In keeping with its guests’ diverse tastes, some of the new decor is hip and masculine, while other rooms are more traditional. Forthcoming is the addition of a day spa.
While roving the halls of the Frankfurter Hof, this writer’s mind was busy fantasizing about the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair (Oct. 10-14) when 7,400 exhibitors from 106 countries descend upon the city. During this time, the hotel is buzzing with enterprising authors and agents grabbing seats on the steps of the grand staircase to broker deals over bottles of wine. Another hot spot in the hotel for the literary set is Autorenbar, the Authors’ Bar. Guests who want to check out the bounty of such negotiations need merely visit Frankfurter Hof’s library, stocked with books the hotel receives as tips.
Artistry of another sort takes place in the Frankfurter Hof kitchens. Here, James Beard-winning, Chef de Cuisine Patrick Bittner creates gourmet, culinary masterpieces for the Michelin-starred Restaurant Francais. After sampling some of Bittner’s flavors, our group adjourned to Oscar’s for dinner. Lucky for us, it was spargel (white asparagus) season in Germany, and the spargel served as a great complement to our schnitzel entrees.
Second Course: Cologne
Our explorations took us to the Cologne Central Train Station and its neighbor, one of Germany’s prime attractions, the high gothic, Cologne Cathedral. Construction on this UNESCO World Heritage Site began in 1248 but was not completed until 1880. Scaffolding on its exterior is a testament to the ongoing work necessary to maintain the cathedral.
Within walking distance of the cathedral was a wealth of sights. The Alter Markt, said to be the oldest square in Cologne, was quiet this particular day. The Alters Markt ideal spot to enjoy a gelato and people watch.
Especially luring to our crew were the banks of the Rhine, where locals and tourists alike were taking advantage of the beautiful weather by sipping kolsch beer biergartens whilst listening to accordion music or cycling on the bike path.
To cap off an ideal day in Cologne, we headed to one of the city’s finest dining establishments – the two Michelin-starred La Vision. A sense of anticipation built upon arriving at the former water tower that houses both the restaurant and Hotel im Wasserturm. An elevator delivered us to the 11th floor rooftop. Here, chef de cuisine Hans Horberth had created a personalized menu with our group in mind. Highlighted courses were sepia with whitefish caviar and a salad of wild broccoli and crispy suckling pig haunch with marinated rhubarb and chickpea fritters. To finish, a dessert arrived at the table with flavors as distinct and diverse as the country from which they are derived — frozen Ivoire chocolate with lime caviar.
La Vision also offered a picturesque rooftop view of the sun setting over the Cologne Cathedral spires. I’ll admit it, I emitted a sigh. My thought at that moment? After a mere taste of Frankfurt and Cologne’s outstanding landmarks, attractions, accommodations and cuisine — I’d like to take seconds.