You might think a suitcase coming from Germany would be filled to the brim with porky products and pilsner, and perhaps some horseradish-laced mustard and a Bavarian pretzel or two. Not so for me. When I come back from Deutschland, my bag is filled with sweet treats.
I grew up traveling to Germany. My mother was born there, in a tiny village in the Rhineland near the French border. My dad, who is American, joined the army and was posted in her small town. They fell in love, married, and moved to the United States. The rest of her family — three brothers, Sepi, Horst, and Dominic — stayed in Contwig (population < 5,000) or in the nearby only slightly larger town of Zweibrucken. And so we would go back with some regularity, flying into Frankfurt, then driving two hours west to this charming hamlet, which defined my impression of Germany for most of my life.
As a young child and even as a teenager, meals were challenging. My American palate wasn't used to all that wurst! So my siblings and I subsisted primarily on Nutella smeared on slices of brown bread. As far as I can recall, we ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (likely to the amusement of our cousins, who tucked into plates of schnitzel mit noodles). We also put away our fair share of Haribo Goldbären, and our drink of choice was Orangina. Soda of any kind was a rare treat, and we especially loved this citrusy beverage (even if it is French, not German).
If we ventured into German cuisine at all, it was still in the realm of sweets. In the afternoon, my Oma would have us over for coffee, and coffee was always accompanied by kuchen of some kind — käsekuchen or kruemelkuchen or apfelkuchen. The last one, a buttery bundt cake with cubed apples baked inside, was my favorite.
These days, I'm far more adventurous in my eating. I have grown into my German heritage and when I go back to visit my family, I look forward to the savory side of the cuisine — sausage and sauerkraut and spaetzle — as much as, if not more than, the sugary side. But when I'm packing for home, these are the things I stash in my carry-on, as gifts for my nephews and niece and in remembrance of my very sweet childhood visits.
I'm not making this up: The Goldbären you find in Germany are definitely different from their Gold-Bear brethren. For starters, the gummies from Deutschland are made using only natural coloring (compared to the more vibrant-hued American bears, which use artificial colors). They also taste more like real fruit and have a slightly more toothsome texture.
This is a newer find for me — and one that suits my adult tastes. Sweet, but not too sweet, crunchy, and chocolatey with little flecks of hazelnut, these wafer cookies check all the right boxes for me. I have yet to find them stateside, so I make sure to load up. Happily, they come in packs of 10 (or two for snacking on the long plane ride home).
Nutella, more than anything else, is the taste of my childhood in Germany. When I was growing up, it was much harder to find; now, the chocolate-hazelnut spread is in basically every grocery store in the United States. And while the ingredients in the stuff you can buy in Germany are basically identical to those in the domestic spread, I still prefer the foreign version. Plus, you can often find it in handy little individual-sized packets.
To say that my nephews (7, 5, 1) and niece (5) have a fondness for chocolate is an understatement. They are bona fide chocoholics. In fact, the only thing better than chocolate is a combination of chocolate with toys. So you can bet I'm bringing home some of these chocolate eggs with a surprise toy inside. If only I could find one with a Star Wars figurine!