November 3, 2011

What to drink while reading Heinrich Böll


Let’s start by saying that this is exactly what is incredible about the realm of blogging. No, not the pairing of alcohol with books. That’s schtick at its worst. But THIS is blogging at its most fascinating best.

Two lit-bloggers, Caroline  of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy’s Literary Life have concocted one of the biggest cross-blog celebrations we have ever seen. Planned for months, the two bloggers have involved dozens of bloggers in their inaugural German Literature Month and the month they chose just so happens to be November.

Since these two noble bloggers have chosen a subject very dear to our hearts we decided to join in the fun. And by join in I mean that we plan on pairing our books with German drink.

Now please be aware that we know Octoberfest is over and that this in many ways might seem like an excuse to talk about and drink beer, and well, it is. But please don’t think for a second that we haven’t and won’t be very thoughtful about these posts. Beer is very thought provoking stuff.

So here we go…

Beer and schnapps are on hand with wonderful regularity in the writings of Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll. Scnapps can be a much needed escape for a weary soldier riding the grim rails to the Russian front, as in The Train Was On Time. Drink can be a rarefied and profound psychic sensation, as in that scene found in The Clown where beer is compared to sex, autumnal leaves or a good game of parchesi all in the same beautiful paragraph. But nowhere in the master’s canon does drinking and literature bleed so wonderfully into each other as the following passage from Billiards at Half-Past Nine:

There at the corner was still the Blesseneck where Father had been a waiter. Beer, schnapps, meat balls, beer, schnapps, meat balls, all served with an expression in which mildness and doggedness mingled in a kind of unity, the face of a dreamer to whom it was a matter of indifference whether he served beer, scnapps and meat balls in the Blesseneck or lobsters and champagne in the Prince Heinrich or the kind of breakfasts of beer and chops or chocolate and cherry brandy which the whores ate after a night at the Upper Harbor.

So what do you drink with this?

You’re going to want to drink a Stegmaier Porter while eating German meatballs. It’s a nice German-style porter, and since we’re writing this from the states I’d say it is only fair to go with one of our oldest breweries. Also known as a Pennsylvania porter because of the company’s Wilkes-Barre, PA roots, this beer also fits the working class attitude Böll is going for. Feel free to substitute a Yuengling Porter, which is also a very solid German porter brewed in Pennsylvania. And it doesn’t get more working-class than Yuengling.

I’m going to say, and with good reason, that you should go with a apple scnapps for the heavier drinking portion of this meal. Don’t do the rotgut stuff. You’re better than that and we’re not talking about reading Hamsun’s Hunger. Schoenauer is a decent enough brand. The main reason I suggest apple schnapps is that should you find yourself invited to that breakfast of chops and beer, apple is a complimentary flavor.



Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.