Culture / Things I Like / Travel

The meaning of marzipan

The northern Germans probably don’t realize they share a food passion in common with the southern Europeans. Long ago and far away, intrepid seafarers discovered new (to them) lands and brought home with them all sorts of goodies (and baddies, really). In Lübeck, a trading port in the Hanseatic League, merchants found good use for stores of almonds and sugar in the form of marzipan. While there is not good agreement about how the food got its name or where it ultimately originated (Persia, Greece, etc.), it is well known that marzipan from Lübeck is highly regarded. And one type in particular has sailed through more than 200 years of purveyance to remain on top. Kind of wild to be able to celebrate 200 years in business, but then again, the city recently celebrated its 700th, so the candy manufacturer is young in comparison.

Marzipan, like the northern Germany state of Schleswig-Holstein, pronounced “shlice-wig-hole-shtine,” is sweet, attractively presented and full of interesting dimensions.

Sugar on display at the Marzipan Museum

Take, for example, the conundrum faced by the national health system in this area of the country. Its reimbursements for procedures are the lowest in the country but yet it produces some of the best intensive medical care.

Almonds on display at the Marzipan Museum

Look at the complexity of the immigration, migration and integration issues faced by community here. There are linguistic differences – did you know that there are Danish-speaking Germans? They have their own political party and are a protected minority.

View of Kiel's waterway from Schleswig-Holstein Parliament.

View of Kiel’s waterway from Schleswig-Holstein Parliament.

Consider Kiel, the huge port town and home to the Schleswig-Holstein parliament. We met with many bigwigs there today and they were kind enough to share their views on several issues. Kiel feels very different from Lübeck and is a gateway to Scandinavia. A city of 200,000, this weekend it will host Kieler Woche, wherein up to three million people will swarm into the city for its sailing regatta.

View of the Baltic from Scharbeuz

View of the Baltic from Scharbeuz

Taste the sweetness of the Ostsee, known to Americans as the Baltic Sea. An inland ocean, much like the Great Lakes, it’s home to Scharbeutz, a seaside town that you can’t find much written about in English, that feels like a tony resort. It’s where we had dinner tonight, at the Wichtig Café, guests of the very generous Ralf Casagrande and his family.

The confection, the conundrum, the complexity, the port and the sea. I enjoyed all today. Tomorrow we tackle culture.

p.s. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for marzipan almond joy.

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