Sunday, 6 June 2010

Service: desert or dessert? Wie bitte?

Germans are reliable, is one of the myths that we foreigners have. And on a hot early summer Saturday in June, they have once more shown themselves more reliable than I actually wished them to be.
In my book on Germany I have lamented the fact that service as we know it in the Anglo-Saxon world is not a word understood in the same context or intent by people here.  To make things worse we live in a border area where the locals have unfortunately adopted the worst of the German idea of no service and the absolute top of the French concept of bad service:  a toxic combination.
So on this hot summer’s long-weekend Saturday, my husband and I decide to take the scenic route through the hills and woods of the Hunsrueck area to fetch our daughter  in Idar Oberstein from the Youth Camp 2010 of the Evangelical Church in Rhineland.

Idar Oberstein is famous for its precious stones and a mere 80 kilometres from our home. So we set the GPS system to take the minor roads, dreaming that we will stumble across some secluded beer garden on the edge of a forest with views going on forever over the hills. As the temperatures soared,  the first beer garden we saw in Reinsfeld was closed.

After about 45 kilometres of only seeing  ugly 1950’s buildings to eat indoors, we saw a sign for Erbeskopf, high in the hills of the Hunsrueck: the highest point in our state of Rhineland Palatinate. It is a winter a ski area. In summer there are challenging children playgrounds and a summer tobbagon run. The parking lot was fairly deserted for a long weekend Saturday afternoon, but my optimistic husband saw the sign for a Waldgaststätte (a forest restaurant) and so high in the hills there was a pleasant, cool breeze. Alas through the windows I saw the chairs were on the tables. He trusted the other side would still be open - nope it was very much closed and there was no tobbagon run on this perfect day for outdoor activities. Not taken aback we saw some people on a sun deck and wandered over to the Hunsrück House, where the café owner was happy to serve coffee and cake. At 12h30 in the afternoon it was not quite what we had in mind.
So we continued on the scenic precious stone route, through small villages and thick woods. I enjoyed the beauty, asking myself why people go to the much more touristic Black Forest, if  they can have it all here. Woods as far as the eye can see plus precious stones.
In the next village we saw a sign for a beer garden called Hühnerstall (chicken coop) and a quick drive over the parking lot confirmed that held true to its name; nothing to entice us to eat there. We followed and lost signs for another Waldhotel (Forest hotel). On the outskirts of Idar Oberstein we pulled into a lovely beer garden, under some big oak trees. "Third time lucky," I  proclaimed. However the outdoor terrace was deserted and twe were quickly told they only opened at 6 pm.
A few kilometres further we saw another sign for a beer garden.  Again no luck as the original beer garden was now used for second hand sales, but a few metres further on, next to a small pond, we settled at a pleasant-looking outdoor restaurant called Zur Weiherschleife.
The waitress came quickly. We ordered the  two specialities of the house; a Chili bread with a chicken salad and a schnitzel. The bottle of water also came quickly. The place was not full, only about every second table was occupied. We talked; I tried to better my tan, after my botched self-tan attempt. We drank water. We phoned our daughter to say we will be a bit late; we were still waiting for our food.

After 45 minutes our glasses were empty and my husband politely enquired where the food was - we are used to bad service, but by now we were going past 14h00.
The waitress did not know what we ordered, she came back to say the order got lost and the cook is refusing to let our order jump the queue. My small muesli and yoghurt breakfast was now seven hours earlier.
We were feeling sorry for ourselves, why us? Why do we time and again get hit by German lack of service? She disappeared and came back after a while, offering us a quick meal of fried egg and “Bratkartoffeln” – fried potatoes. No apology – she blamed the cook. Sorry is certainly not a word that exists in service here. By now the temperatures were heading for 30°C and I could not face gobbling down a heavy winter’s meal. I said a curt “Nein”; my irate husband joined my boycott.

Nothing in this city could please us, anymore. “McDonalds,” I whispered. “At least I know the service is quick and I know I will get what I ordered.” But alas this third-rate provincial town does not even possess a McDonalds. So three hours after we started looking for a location to eat, we headed to the town centre of

Idar Oberstein stopping off at a Turkish street food stall where my husband got himself a sausage roll and I opted for a potato salad. We ate in the car. A cheap outing costing us just over three Euros. 
Luckily we did not try the town centre as my daughter told me there 2,000 youths were trying to eat in 13 restaurants!

So yes the area is beautiful and yes it is even  worth a day-trip. But take your own picnic basket! By the way it is a poor area of Germany and people DO live off tourism: every second shop sells gem stones. Just don't try to eat there!

(c) Text & photos - Anli Serfontein 2010