Thinking about Germany the other day, I headed down a trail of research as twisted and twirly as a knotted pastry. I learned a bit about European dairy products, something of the history of pretzels and not much at all about physics.
Nope, it wasn’t that the start of October reminded me of Oktoberfest, that seems so obvious. (Plus, while I like beer and have consumed plenty of it, something about the phrase “the biggest beer festival in the world” just sounds messy).
Instead, Germany came to my mind because I happened to be seeking a quick snack and stumbled upon The Brezel Bäckerei. They serve all sorts of German delights, including some fat salty “brezels” (aka pretzels) which come in a cigar shape, rather than the traditional knot. In addition to the pretzels, which are very popular in our house, I scored a portion of poppy seed and quark cake that can only be described as a slab. It was a creamy, indulgent treat and I wondered: what on earth is ‘quark’?
Quark, it turns out, is an unfermented cream cheese, sort of like crème freche or ricotta, which is obviously ideal for desserts. It is unrelated to the building block of universal matter which physicists call by the same name.
And pretzels have been around for hundreds of years, having originally been a reward offered by monks to Sunday-school students who turned in their homework. Apparently it’s the holes that are symbolically relevant in the traditional shape: they represent the Christian holy trinity.
Since Oktoberfest is wrapping up in Munich today, if you do choose to indulge in much beer I recommend some plump salty pretzels as an accompaniment. You can be sure that even if the beer leads to bad things, that the pretzels will be good (in the godly sense) as well as tasty.
(The image at top can be found at the Morgan Library and Museum).