Thursday, April 26, 2012

Swabian Noodles in Ulm Germany

Most visitors to the pretty city of Ulm are drawn there to see the world’s tallest church spire, a staggering piece of Gothic architecture that demonstrates the city’s prosperity in medieval times. But this city – the birthplace of Albert Einstein – is full of surprises, not least the fine cuisine of the Swabian Alp region and its Italianate little egg noodles known as Spätzle.

On the banks of the Danube River sits Ulm, a sleepy old city that was first mentioned as a royal domain in 854 and became rich in the Middle Ages through the linen trade. Its magnificent church dates back to 1377, though its ambitious spire wasn’t completed for another 500 years. On clear days even the Alps are visible from the top, making it well worth the long climb. The streets leading downhill from the minster to the Danube are scattered with fascinating buildings, from the attractive jumble of half-timbered 15th-century houses in the Fishermen’s Quarter to the Rathaus (town hall) with its historic frescoes. The Eagle’s Bastion, a nondescript 17th-century building by the river, is worthy of a visit in memory of the “tailor of Ulm,” who attempted the first recorded (unsuccessful) flight from here in 1811.
The soaring spire of Ulm Minster rises above the city to an astonishing height of 530 ft (161 m)

The city’s symbol is the sparrow. The legendary tale relates that while building the church, workmen were unable to get one of the huge wooden beams through the city gates, until they were inspired by the sight of a sparrow carrying a twig vertically in its beak.
The legend of the Ulmer Spätze (sparrow of Ulm) was born. Interestingly, the city’s best-loved dish, Spätzle, means “little sparrow,” although no one is quite sure why; it may refer to the legend or to the Spätzle’s original hand-pressed shapes, evident in medieval drawings.
Spätzle are served at most of Ulm’s restaurants and at all of its many, boisterous festivals. Shaped like tiny dumplings or thin ragged fingers of pasta, Spätzle are made from white wheat flour, egg, and milk dough, to which minced pork liver is sometimes added to make Leberspätzle. This dough is then either finely chopped, forced though holes in a strainer, or grated into boiling salted water where it is cooked until it surfaces.
As a standalone dish, Spätzle most commonly appear as Käsespätzle (in a cheese sauce) or as Krautspätzle, which includes sauerkraut, onion, butter, marjoram, and caraway. Spätzle also make an important appearance in the regional beef stew Gaisburger Marsch, along with chopped potatoes and butter-fried onions, but most often they simply take the place of potatoes or dumplings in traditional German meat dishes such as sauerbraten .
Best Places to Eat Spätzle
Zunfthaus der Schiffleute
Once the local guild headquarters for fishermen, this 15th-century half-timbered house is home to one of Ulm’s oldest restaurants. Inside, stone floors with timeless, heavy wooden furniture set the perfect scene for traditional Swabian foods, many of which involve outstanding homemade Spätzle. Virtually the whole range of possibilities are here; among them the standard Käsespätzle, in its rich cheese sauce, and the fairly common Linsen (lentils) mit Spätzle and Krautspätzle. More unusual meal options include the Zunfthaustöpfle, with its creamy herb-heavy mushroom sauce; and the robust Ulmer Pfännle, in which pork kebabs are smothered in fiery pepper sauce. Often the most interesting choices are on the restaurant’s seasonal menu, where delicious ingredients such as asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms, and venison are served with Spätzle. A good selection of local beers is on hand to provide the perfect accompaniment to this rustic fare. But be sure not to overindulge on the main courses, as the vanilla ice cream with hot figs is well worth leaving space for.
Fischergasse 31, Ulm; open 11 AM–midnight
Right : The roughly shaped pieces of handmade Spätzle are often mixed with cheese and herbs for a simple meal
Also in Ulm
If you’d rather have your Spätzle served with a gourmet twist, try charming Zur Forelle (; expensive), which is also based in a 15th-century Fishermen’s Quarter house. Its Gaisburger Marsch (Swabian beef stew) is particularly wonderful.
Also in Germany
Elsewhere in Swabia, in the venerable university town of Thübingen, the Hotel am Schloss (; moderate) is largely famous for its Maultaschen (Swabian ravioli) and fine views of the city, but it always serves great Spätzle too and isn’t afraid to experiment with dishes such as venison pot roast with hazelnut Spätzle. While it’s easy to find good Spätzle in Swabia, it’s much harder elsewhere in Germany, particularly in the north, which makes Berlin’s s’Brätle (+49 30 8862 7138; moderate) all the more valuable. Its range of southern German specialties include superb Spätzle.
Around the World
With many Swabians emigrating to North America, it’s also possible to find good Spätzle there too. In Alameda, California, the Speisekammer (; moderate) provides San Francisco’s Bay Area with a Käsespätzle to be proud of.
A Day in Ulm
Central Ulm is easily explored on foot: most places of interest lie between the Danube and Ulm Minster, which are just minutes apart.
Climb the 768 tight stairs of the minster spire while you are fresh, then admire the church’s 15th-century choir stalls and its fine stained glass. Head downhill to the Fishermen’s Quarter on the banks of the Danube and the 1443 Schiefes Haus, or crooked house, which leans alarmingly over a stream.
Walk along the medieval riverside city wall to the equally crooked Metzgerturm, a 14th-century defensive tower uphill of which lies the Rathaus. It contains a replica of the world’s first hang-glider and is decorated with frescoes of Ulm’s medieval heyday. Cross the square to enter the striking modern Kunsthalle Weishaupt and enjoy its contemporary and modern art, then visit the adjoining Ulmer Museum for an overview of city history.
When there’s no festival in town, travel ½ mile (1 km) south of downtown to the Roxy, a huge, happening cultural venue.


Stuttgart International Airport lies an hour’s train journey from Ulm. The rail station is within walking distance of all central attractions.


Pension Rösch (inexpensive) offers basic but clean and quiet rooms in the riverside Fishermen’s Quarter. +49 7316 5718 Hotel Bäumle (moderate) is a welcoming hotel with good-value standard rooms in a 500-year-old building by the minster.
Hotel Schiefes Haus (expensive) is an eccentric Ulm landmark – a half-timbered 1443 house that is “the most crooked hotel in the world.”
Ulm Bread Museum
Bread had religious importance in Germany for many centuries as an offering in pagan rites. This explains the many shapes still available today: round flat loaves once represented the sun, while braided loaves symbolized shorn hair. A tradition also developed of shaping bread into nature’s creations, such as horses, birds, deer, fish, or sheaves of wheat for special occasions.
Ulm’s Museum der Brotkultur (bread museum) confirms bread’s historical importance with its staggering 25,000 related objects and books.
Most Ulm bakeries offer a wonderful range of breads to admire and buy, spanning from coarse, dark, and slightly sweet rye pumpernickel to multigrain loaves sprinkled with poppy or sunflower seeds. Many end up in a simple evening meal; the German word for dinner, Abendbrot, literally means “evening bread.”
The elaborately painted walls of the 14th-century Rathaus

No comments:

Post a Comment