The best thing about vacations are those unexpected surprises. Zum goldenen Einhorn in Aachen tonight was that moment.
Our tour group arrived in this German city near the Belgium border a little before dinner time and dinner was on us to find. Donald Miller, the historian for the “Writing the War: Following the Footsteps of WWIi Correspondents” tour organized by the National World War II Museum, suggested Mike Bush and I find a restaurant with a deer’s head on the front of the building. He said it was near the cathedral in the city center. He couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant.
Mike, an emergency room physician in Billings, Montana, and I walked from the Hotel Pullman Quellhoef to the city center. We circled the Gothic cathedral, distinctive with its dome, but found no deer head.
Our fallback position was two restaurants flanking a Starbucks. A young Starbucks employee cleaning up tables outside confirmed our first choice, the Golden Unicorn, when we asked which of the two she would recommend.
With no room in the restaurant, we were seated in one of two wooden booths in the small, front bar. We later learned our seats were formerly benches in a Belgium train station. The bar area featured white tiles with blue artwork of a bygone era.
Melanie was an attentive bartender. She seemed to have another beer poured and ready for Mike before he had finished his first. She also was singing along to the music – incongruously America’s “Horse with No Name.”
Turns out she’s a fan of 70s and 80s American music because her parents operated a disco in the small German town where she grew up. Sorry, I didn’t catch the name but it’s located somewhere between Aachen and Frankfort. Melanie was the reason we were listening to America while sitting in a bar housed in what was a home built in the 1700s after the original structure was consumed in the city’s great fire of 1659. The previous building was first mentioned in records of the 1300s as a “public house,” the equivalent of today’s hotel and tavern.
Melanie said the disco music was how she learned to speak English as a child.
Our waiter, not as outgoing as Melanie, said the Schnitzel was “fine” when I asked how good was it – lacking enthusiasm behind his recommendation. I ordered it anyway – it came with fried potatoes and mushrooms in a brown sauce and sounded like a good German change of pace after a week in France. Mike ordered a meal including Nuremberg sausages, a pork loin, mashed potatoes and black pudding, I still don’t know what that is.
While appetizers – meatballs with mustard and minced pork with onions on French bread – and more beer came, we learned that Melanie came to Aachen because “she could” although the plan had been to go to Rotterdam because she was “tired of speaking German.”
The food was as excellent as the ambiance. My serving size was large, so I drank my dark beer slowly to let the food settle.
Melanie then convinced us to try a special, chilled liqueur made in Düsseldorf, called Killepitsch. It’s flavored with herbs and fruits and has a sweet, but strong taste. She then told the tale behind the name.
Supposedly, soldiers would say, “let’s pitch this down before we get killed – hence Killepitsch.
When she poured our two shot glasses, she also poured one for herself and two for the two men from Bremen in the other booth. She then sat in the booth with us to tell the story of the liqueur. With a toast to new friends, that’s how we met Uwe and Matthew.
Matthew is in the renewable energy field and Uwe is an engineer for Lurssen, which builds those gigantic yachts that only the very rich can afford. The crew for these ships number a dozen, but the majority are there to serve the owner and guests because the ship practically sails itself.
There were smiles and handshakes all around as we left for our hotel.
You won’t find the Golden Unicorn on a trip itinerary, but it’ll be a major memory from the trip.