Photo of the day: SCHALLER & WEBER’S GERMAN DELICATESSEN in YORKVILLE FOR CHRISTMAS & NEW YEARS – At the turn of the century from 1890 – 1910 one third on New York City spoke German, today hardly anyone does and instead you hear Spanish, Russian and Chinese. I was born in 1955 and as a child we would go to the German section of the city named Yorkville. Yorkville’s center street was East 86th Street and it’s surrounding streets. In this area you could still here strains of “wunderbar” and ooom-pah-pah ♫♪ all around you. You could buy everything from back home: Mecki books, Salamander shoes, Zarah Leander and Heino records, Teewurst, Loden coats, Tyrolian hats, beer steins, wooden nut crackers, Lübeck Marzipan, German magazines and newspapers and all the wiener schnitzel and beer you wanted.
That was then, today there are only 2 establishments left that I know of. The Heidelberg Restaurant (1648 Second Avenue) where today the little dark haired Guatemalan waiters wearing (much too big) lederhosen tell you the day’s specials in a heavy Spanish accent. But…there is one staple that has remained – Schaller and Weber, opened in 1937 at 1654 Second Avenue/86th Street, a German delicatessen where the white haired old German butchers with German accents still politely slice the fresh deli meats daily.
When I was a little boy, this place was heaven to me and still is. You can just lock me up behind the deli counter and leave me in there for a week. Ahhh! The smoked hams, the dozens of salamis, the stuffed peppers, stuffed veal, weiß wurst, Westphalian ham and my obsession – rouladen! Rouladen are very thin slices of beef, rolled up with spices, bacon and onion inside, pan fried with a rich dark gravy, add boiled potatoes and you’re set. Then there are also the wonderful chocolates and marzipans, sauces, white asparagus, smoked fish, hearty breads, Bahlsen cookies, Maggi and Knorr spices and a fine assortment of cheeses.
For Christmas and New Year in 2013, Schaller and Weber is that one place I can still retreat to and relive my childhood, inhale deeply and feel at home. I’m ready to order all the meats, cold cuts and cookies for New Years Eve and Day. The store, (thank god) has hardly changed. I go inside and it is Christmas/Weihnachten 1962 and I’m standing in line with my numbered ticket to be called as I am fixating on all the goodies I hope my mother will buy for the Christmas holidays, always topped off with the treat of a Lübecker marzipan bar. Some kids dreamed of being locked up in toys stores and candy shops – I dreamed of being locked up in Schaller and Weber! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Frohes neues Jahr!
Here is a partial list of their goodies and a link to their web site: http://www.schallerweber.com/find-buy/original-store/
Spaetzle (German Noodle)
Spaetzle (German Noodle)
Imported Brands Maggi, Panni, Bechtle, Riehle (Manager’s Favorite)
Pickles & Sauerkraut Gundelsheim, Hengstenberg, Pickled Herring
Mustard & Ketcup Lowensene, Handlmaier & Thomy, Feisner & Hela (Ketchup)
Honey (Honig) Bihophar & Langnese (Assorted Flavors)
Soup & Gravy Mixes Knorr, Maggi Potato Dumplings & Pancake Mixes
Jams /Jellies Darbo (Austrian), Vavel (Polish), Landsberg (Germany)
Breads Landsberg, Mestemacher
German Cheeses Limberger, Harzer Kase, Tilsit
Coffees Jacobs, Tchibo, Dallmayer
Syrups Darbo (Austrian), Marco Polo (Hungarian), Adro, (Many more & assorted flavors) Assorted Cosmetics 4711, The oldest brand in Germany, Fa, Nivia, Kamille
Sweets & Treats Haribo: Gummy Bears (Large Variety), Swedish Fish: Abba (Assorted Flavors),
Bahlsen Cookies: Kipderl, Waffelette, Butter Leibniz, Kopper’s Chocolates,
Marzipan: Lübeck, Maker, Mozart Kugeln: Reber
MY OLD FASHIONED GERMAN CHRISTMAS TREE 2013: Yes – those are real candles. We celebrate with no flashing lights or loud music, our ‘church’ is the tree. The tree is decorated with ornaments dating back several generations, about ninety years. Modern ones are included of course, that way the tree is a living story of the family’s history. The favorite ornaments are hung so that they will catch the candlelight and the whole tree tells a story of the family’s history. Mementos from trips abroad, favorite childhood ornaments, all that tell our likes, hobbies and loves. Tin foil wrapped chocolates and marzipan fill the tree as well. We usually get the biggest tree that will fit in the apartment (we once had a 14 foot tall tree) but now that mom is downsizing, we get a smaller tree and it is placed on a turn of the century old wooden steamer trunk that was used when my great aunt came to visit us in the New York and it is used as a table base to place the tree upon.
Depending on the size of the tree, anywhere from two to four dozen candles are placed in strategic spots in the tree. Each candle illuminates the special ornaments nearby. The candleholders are metal clip-ons in the shape of a pine cone. You can still buy the candles and holders at Schaller and Weber’s, a surviving German delicatessen just off 86th Street on Second Avenue in what was once an entire German neighborhood.
December 24 Christmas eve, we have our traditional Christmas goose dinner with roasted apples (this year we had duck), home made dumplings, white asparagus, red cabbage, string beans with topping and lots of gravy.
After dinner, the elder of the family lights the candles in the room and on the Christmas tree and puts the ‘Christmas record’ on the phonograph. The record is of German church bells and church choirs singing. When all is ready, a golden bell is rung and the rest of the family comes into the glow of the room. We stand quietly side by side, arm in am or holding hands and quietly listen to the beautiful music we have listened to for decades before. That is ‘church’ to us. As the first side of the record ends, we play the other side, sit down and just quietly gaze into the serene candlelight, watching the ornaments glisten. No electric lights are on in the room, just the glow of candlelight, just as it is in Germany, France, and all of Scandinavia. Let your imagination go back to the late 1800′s enjoying a room just simply lit by candlelight.
The second side of the record ends with a jolly children’s song “Der Weihnachtsman ist da!/Santa Claus is here!”, signifying it is time to open presents by the amber glow. We grab some of the marzipan, gingerbread and chocolates that are on the dining table for all to enjoy as we open our treasures. At midnight a bottle of champagne is opened to ring in Christmas day and we all have a helping of mom’s strong rum pot preserves!
At one time it was my whole family enjoying this tradition, now it is just my mother and me left to carry on, and one day it will just be me, but I will always do it, perhaps with a heavy heart. But this is Christmas, a German Christmas, my heritage. My great grandmother’s, grandparent’s, mother’s and my heritage. Fröhliche Weihnachten!