Heidelberg: Throughout German city, there are signs of French connection
January 28, 2010
Jacques Brel croons in the background. The chalkboard menu features coq au vin, bouillabaisse and mousse au chocolat. Worn Bentwood chairs hug the metal-based bistro tables topped with crisp paper placemats.
A brasserie in La Belle France? Oui to the brasserie, non to France. This is Heidelberg, Germany. Tucked into nooks and crannies in this venerable university town are establishments — restaurants, cultural and sports centers, even a school — with a distinctive French flair that will make you feel like you’ve crossed the border.
Your passport to France in Heidelberg begins at Montpellier Haus, a cultural center supported by one of Heidelberg’s sister cities, Montpellier, France. Located near Heidelberg’s landmark Hotel Ritter (commissioned by the French Huguenot Charles Belier), the center boasts a wine cellar and offers a broad spectrum of services, including a French conversation class, newspapers and Montpellier tourist information.
The knowledgeable director, Soumia Baha, is eager to provide details on French cultural events taking place in venues all around Heidelberg, such as the Bastille Day Ball, French Week, French Cinema and the Cercle de Rencontres, a casual discussion group that meets monthly.
High above Heidelberg Castle (restored by Frenchman Charles de Grainberg after a devastating lightning strike in 1764), sits the restaurant La Belle Vie. Its owner, Charly Djivanides, prides himself on his fish dishes that recall his life on the Corsican coast and on his ability to make guests feel at home.
The warm greeting and the hearty cuisine aren’t the only reasons to go the restaurant. Once a month the owner with his band, C’est si bon, stages a Chansonabend (a French song evening), featuring classics by Brel, Louis Aznavour and Edith Piaf.
Down the hill in a quiet residential district stands the culinary gem, Jaeger’s, which recently marked its seventh year in Heidelberg. The décor is cool minimalist, with stark, bare walls and placemat menus, but the welcome by the gentle and gracious owner, Valerie Gully, is big and warm.
Her husband, Joel Cazimajou, from France’s Bordeaux region, presides over the kitchen. The core menu changes twice a year but there are always seasonal specials. Madame Gully explains that the menu is adapted a little to suit the local clientele (namely schnitzel fans), but boeuf bourguignon and daube provençal (braised beef stew) are constant French stars.
You might have to dodge an errant rugby ball to reach the restaurant La Vie en Rose, but it’s worth it. Plunked down beside a sport field, this brasserie offers
an inviting ambience and French staples such as coq au vin, bouillabaisse and raclette (an Alpine cheese dish). Fittingly, the restaurant motto is "Feast like God in France."
Heaven — that’s where one bite of Emine Temiz’s pastries from Paris Boulangerie and Patisserie takes you. Born and reared in Heidelberg, Temiz studied in Paris and is fiercely proud of her expertise in creating French delicacies. Everything is fresh and made by hand, including standard fare such as baguettes, pain au chocolat and croissants, and specialties such as apricot and pistachio tarts, chocolate éclairs and a chocolate mousse housed in a dark chocolate shell.
The moment you walk into Bar-Restaurant Tati, you think, "France." Tati has that illusive je-ne-sais-quoi quality: You can’t put your finger on it, but it feels real. Tati, named after the French film director, Jacques Tati, creates a laid-back artsy ambience, with framed photos from the French entertainment scene, original art and a vintage piano, snug in a corner.
Robert Luthringhausen, whose father is French, provides a Mediterranean menu but includes classic French dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and pot au feu, which reflect his enduring affection for French comfort cuisine. "It’s cuisine from Mama," he says." But Tati is not just about wholesome, heartfelt food; it occasionally doubles as a venue for art expositions and concerts.
On the north side of Heidelberg, across the Neckar River, lies the heart of Heidelberg’s French quarter. Within a three-block area there are a half-dozen establishments with beaucoup French cachet, including Restaurant Le Coq, Bar D’Aix en Provence, Markstube, Fromagerie La Flamm, Patisserie La Flamm and Jules Café Bistro Bar à Vin.
Le Coq offers an extensive menu, Bar D’Aix is a favorite for apéritifs and nightlife and the Markstube showcases traditional Alsatian fare such as classic tarte flambées (Flammküchen in German). The other three locales are run by the personable and energetic Jean-Thierry Schott, who grew up near Strasbourg.
Schott opened his first shop, Patisserie La Flamm, in Heidelberg in 1996 and proceeded to develop a mini-dynasty. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings while the market is bustling, you can observe the action from a quiet perch in the pint-sized Jules cafe while sipping a cappuccino and enjoying a delectable croissant or quiche courtesy of Patisserie La Flamm.
The dinner menu, though limited, is scrumptious. Schott makes weekly treks to France, where he buys nearly all ingredients for his flavorful, yet unpretentious dishes. "The French image is not only foie gras," he says. "It’s simple things, not too sophisticated."
To work off your boeuf bourguignon and butter-laden baguettes, head to the Heidelberg Boule club. There, on a few gravelly courts, folks young and old meet to play boules, traditional French ball games that are similar to Italian bocce ball. It is played by rolling a metal ball the size of a large orange toward a small wooden ball. The basic game is straightforward, but expert players have an arsenal of techniques and strategies that can quickly make it compelling.
So proceed cautiously or you’ll end up like Renate Elsbroeck, who plays four times a week. As she explains her attachment to boules, her face breaks into a wide smile. "I have boules fever," she says.
If you should catch the French boules bug, you might need to "treat" it with a glass or two of pastis, a French licorice-flavored liquor. In France, it’s said to improve your game. It will undoubtedly do the same in Heidelberg.
Gayle Padgett lives in Heidelberg, Germany.
Know and GoEateries and edibles
• Bar D’Aix en Provence, Bergstrasse 1; 06221-419895.
• La Belle Vie, Elisabethenweg 1; 06221 6500582, www.restaurant-la-belle-vie.de.
• Le Coq, Brueckenstr. 17; 06221-411133.
• Fromagerie Flamm (cheese and wine store), Ladenburger Str. 6, Heidelberg-Neuenheim; 06221-4717-46, www.laflamm.de.
• Jaeger’s, Gaisbergstrasse 24, Heidelberg; 06221-162305.
• Jules Café Bistrot et Bar du Vin, Ladenburger Str. 19, Heidelberg-Neuenheim; 06221-5880-551.
• Markstube, Markplatz 4; 06221-183852.
• Paris Boulangerie & Patisserie, Poststrasse 17/1; 06221-874-0056.
• Patisserie Flamm, Ladenburger Str. 12, Heidelberg-Neuenheim; 06221-470825, www.laflamm.de.
• Tati Bar-Restaurant, Bergheimer Str 151; 06221-182704, www.restaurant-tati.de;
• La Vie en Rose, Carl-Bosch-Str. 10; 06221-6500527, www.lver.de.
• Heidelberg Boule Club, Ortstr. 6, Schriesheim; 06220-1409, www.heidelberger-boule-spieler- ev.de.
Culture and schools
• Montpellier Haus, 19 Kettengasse; 6221-162969.
• Institut Français: Only school in Heidelberg offering foreigners the diplomas required for French university admission. Sofie Str. 9, 06221-912025. www.institutdefrancaisif2.com.
• Deutsch-Franzoeischer Kulturkreis: Sponsors French lectures/films. Rummerweg 12; 06221-412240, www.deutsch-franzoesischer-kulturkreis.de.
• École Française Pierre et Marie Curie: French-German elementary school. Im Schuhmachergewann 11/1; 06221-840983, www.ecole.de.
• L’Occitane de Provence: Natural bath and beauty products from Provence. Hauptstrasse 54; 06221-8936837, http://de.loccitane.com.
• Pylones: Paris-based design house wares. Hauptstrasse 80; 06221-7782626, www.pylones.com.
• Tabakwaren Neuenheim: French newspapers/magazines. Brueckenstr. 7.
• Mod’s Hair Paris: French-owned all-service hair salon. Brueckenstr. 41; 06221-470448, www.modshair.de.
French Week 2010
• The fifth French Week will be held at the end of November (date has not been set, watch www.franzoeische-heidelberg.de for updates) and will include music, theater, dance, art, films, culinary/gastronomy arts, lectures and, for the first time, a poetry slam. Some events are free, some have small fee, and most are conducted in German or French or both.