Switzerland Part Three--St. Gallen
When I was about to embark on my first trip to Europe at 16, my mother, who had never traveled abroad, suggested that I visit her first cousin Will Horwitt who was a sculptor and widely traveled. I still remember the embarrassing moment when he asked me what was the focus of my travel. Seeing my panic frozen face he made some suggestions: art? architecture? ruins (definitely not)? he might have mentioned people, but when he got to food I knew that was it and wasn’t about to admit it. It turns out that food is one of the wonderful windows on culture and civilization. My great aunt Polly later taught me the Brillat-Savarin quote “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.” But in those days food had less dignity in our country, in fact, I thought I would have to live in Europe to follow my bliss! Inevitably, my interest in food opened my eyes to many other things of culture, and beauty and this posting will start with those, but if it’s food you are after I can assure you that when it comes to me and my first love, it’s always there waiting—this time toward the end of this posting!
Reluctant though I was to leave the beautiful Ticino, where I was able to enjoy using my smattering of Italian, I was richly rewarded by our stay in St. Gallen and Schaffhausen that will be in the following posting. St. Gallen has some of the most amazing architecture and fascinating sacred history in all of Switzerland. A synagogue dating back to 1881 is the oldest in the Lake Constance area. The gorgeous 1755 baroque style cathedral has two old organs and a huge newer organ that was added in 1970 so there are over 200 pipes and when all are played for special concerts the effect is awe inspiring. (In June 7pm every Sat. organists from all over the world offer free concerts.) When I stepped into the cathedral the organist was playing and it was magical—like entering heaven--I didn’t want to leave for the rest of the tour of the city! Make sure to put this town on your itinerary when you visit Switzerland. It is a less know wonder though 10-25-08 marked 25 years since it was designated a Unesco World Site. And when you visit the cathedral, be sure to check out the confessionals. They are carved in walnut and each is unique.
The town of St. Gallen was founded in 6012 when Irish monk Gallus came into what was then the wilderness, looking for “unfriendly spots to do penance so that he would fare better in paradise.” He experienced the “Miracle of the Bear” when he encountered a bear that didn’t harm him and that is why the image of the bear is on the town’s flags.
Gallus brought Christianity, culture, and education, so St. Gallen became a great knowledge center. The monastery library has the original writing of the new testament--160,000 books from the middle ages 10000 of which are exquisitely handwritten. On a short walk from the library one can still see remnants of the “dividing wall” which was built in1567 to divide the town between the Benedictine Monastery and the protestant reformed city.
The architecture of St. Galley is a mixture of styles: Baroque, renaissance, and many half timbered. The expression “stone rich” was used for people who could afford to build houses all of stone.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the bay window--111 in all.
They are wood carved and painted grey to look like stone. Interestingly, the motifs are never Swiss but rather international as they intended to show that the business man knew the world. Showing the tongue sticking out is a motif designed to tease the neighbor that the owner of the enterprise is richer. Many of them such as the ones below date back to the16th century building
This collapsible entrance ressembling a shark’s jaws is an example of modern day design! Modern day St. Gallen is a cross between traditional and modern technology. In 1900 it was the center of the world’s textile industry and 50% of the world’s embroidery is still produced here. Buildings everywhere are in the Jugunstile (Art Nouveau).
The bas relief on these two photos of the Oceanic building represents the golden life thread of mankind. It begins on the right with a woman and child starting to spin the golden thread. It ends at the very left with an old woman cutting the golden thread. The first floor of these buildings was called the belle étage (beautiful floor) where the wealthy merchants received gifts. Many of these buildings have “statues” of Hermes (Mercury) God of trade—all symbolically facing west toward the railroad station. After WWI luxury tax destroyed the textile industry. They still, however, produce fabric for haut couture and 0.5% of the world’s textiles. St. Gallen textiles win awards for new technology such as the undershirt that dispenses vitamin C every hour even after washing!
Now to the food: St. Gallen is known for its bratwurst sausage.
Since the16th century each manufacturer has his own secret recipe employing different herbs. It is never eaten with mustard as it would destroy the subtle flavor. More than 50% of the bratwurst must be veal, and it can contain some pork. Special low fat cow skin casings imported from Brazil stand up to grilling. It is served with an onion gravy and often with the ubiquitous crisp rosti potatoes. And what goes more perfectly with bratwurst than beer. We actually got to try our hand at making Oktoberfest beer
On a walk through the center of town, I was delighted to discover that Mastroani kosher chocolate, which I have listed in all my books, has a boutique in St. Gallen. I was amazed to learn that it was Mastroani that first brought chocolate to Switzerland from Italy! (But let’s not forget that it was the Swiss who invented milk chocolate.
Someone teasingly pointed out that this bank was made for me!
One of the top culinary experiences of the entire trip, second only to the one at the organic farm—posting to come--was lunch at the nearby Culinarium Restaurant.
The Cuilinarium was created to represent and promote local high quality food items--700 products from Zurich to Grisson (no more than 30 km. The Culinarium seal of approval, a yellow crown, guarantees the authenticity of regional products. It is made up of 40 restaurants and 230 producers, processing and trading companies. The Culinarium restaurant was given the three crown designation which requires having seven different menus each season.
1. veal tartar with white truffle oil, salmon trout from the mountains (firm texture, slightly smoky), 2003 pino
2. soup with hay, sweet breads, fantastic pinot from oldest vineyard in the region from the Roman times—highest elevation.
3. calf with bread crumbs, lamb which was fantastic—summered on nearby mountains—I traded my calf for more lamb!
4. Silvano eiswein
Our final dinner at St. Gallen was something simple, traditional, and absolutely delicious: Fondue. Both cheese (my favorite) and beef with different dipping sauces were offered and also the traditional salad of lambs tongue lettuce/aka mache.
Walking back to the hotel we happened upon this amusing advertisement poster
Someone had to explain to me that the normal looking guy, on the left, who was Switzerland’s top model of the year, was saying that he eats butter and anything else is unnatural. At first glance I thought it was the body builder who was the proponent of butter but evidentially not and his bulging muscles were not being billed as attractive or natural!
On to Appenzell and Schaffhausen though we had fallen thoroughly in love with St. Gallen and wanted more.