Weekend Roam: Little Germany

May 5, 2013

Helen Holmes for WSN

 

So, we all know what the East Village is now: a sprawling grotto of coffee joints, tattoo parlors, leafy green trees and tortured-soul type undergrads stomping around with multiple chips on their shoulders. However, I bet you anything you didn’t know (unless you’re some kind of NYC history whiz, in which case, bravo) that in the mid-1800s, the East Village was home to as many as 400,000 Germans, so many that the area was referred to as Little Germany. Thanks to an article from East Village blog The Local, I was enlightened by this fascinating nugget of information this morning, and so I set out to find any and all remnants of the long-gone days when the streets were teeming with barrels of freshly pickled sauerkraut. Additionally, sauerkraut may just be the greatest word of all time.

My first stop was at the authentic German eatery Wechsler’s — although it has been here since 2009 and not 1850, it certainly provided what it advesrtised: delicious, definitively Deutschland fare and atmosphere. The small space was appropriately dark and wood-paneled, complete with chandeliers and old photographs of impressively mustachioed men pouring massive flagons of beer. I ordered the only thing that you really can order at a German retaurant — bratwurst. Essentially a German hot dog but way better, bratwurst is a sausage comprised of either veal, pork or beef, served with a white bread bun and hot mustard.

I went to Munich in seventh grade with my parents and I basically lived on this sausage for a week and a half. It is infinitely better than the American mystery meat we’re usually treated to by dining halls and street vendors, so if you’ve never had it then get yourself over to First Avenue and Seventh Street right this minute. Bring your friends — they’ll think you’re super-cultured.

Also, because this column has basically disintegrated into a space where I talk about stuff I ate, I also found myself at Butter Lane, where I devoured the most deliciously spongy, light, moist vanilla cupcake with coconut frosting ever to grace my taste buds. How I didn’t know about this place before is beyond me, but for real, cupcakes are a surprisingly fitting palate cleanser after a rich and meaty bratwurst. Or maybe that’s gross. I’m not really sure. Back to Germany.

The most surprising evidence of the remnants of a once German-packed area was to be found in a place both familiar and striking — St. Marks Place. Thought it was just a haven for gaggles of drunk bros and trucks hawking suspicious cannabis lollipops? Well, you’re right, but it also turns out that a building between Third and Second avenues still — amazingly — boasts the words “Deutsch-Amerikanische Schützen-Gesellschaft Halle” and “Einigkeit macht Stark” (“unity is strength”) on the awning. Specifically, this is the building that now houses Yoga to the People. As intellectually and very personally involved college students, it’s hard to think of areas that we traipse every day as anything other than that place where we got that regrettable tramp stamp or spilled broth on our jeans during a first date. It’s lovely and transformative to remember that history is all around us. Sometimes all we need to do to see it is look up.

Helen Holmes is a deputy features editor. Email her at hholmes@nyunews.com.

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