A hot dog by any other name

THE contestant on the quiz show said there is no difference 'twixt a weenie and a hot dog, so they gave him a lot of money. What a hollow mockery to be rich from your knowledge, but to go through life not knowing one sausage from another! After I turned off the program, abruptly, my cook said, ``Did that put you in mind of Heistermann's store?'' I said it did, and also of the bridge at Regensburg. When we married and I brought my bride to the old hometown, I made a project of taking her to the village to meet all the storekeepers. We began at one end of Main Street and came back the other, so she knew where to find things. She also met some important people, for those were the mom-and-pop days and storekeepers were personal friends. We bided a little extra time in the Heistermann market. Fred and Karl Heistermann were brothers from Essen, and they catered to the considerable German community in our town. Karl handled the groceries and Fred was the meatman in his own department out back. Only Karl ever called Fred ``Fritz'' and nobody in our town ever called him ``Friedrich.''

When we came into the store that morning, Karl greeted my bride with the extreme gentility only Germans seem able to give a bow and a handshake, and after the social amenities he dutifully said, ``Und vat can I do for you now?'' Karl had sewed up our grocery business. He introduced my wife to Fred, and on his arm she entered the meat room and disappeared with him into the walk-in cold-box. She got the full lecture and came out knowing all a housewife needs to know about cuts of meat and their purposes.

At that time Fred could get, and he kept in stock, every sausage his German-born customers might want. He told my wife the differences. Veal in this one, pork in that, some smoked, big ones, long ones - and he dwelt on the origins; weenies came from Wien, which is Vienna. Frankfurters from Frankfurt. White sausage, he told her, he got all the way from Munich.

So as she went to housekeeping, she served good German sausage from Heis-termann's, and we always ate it by the right name and knew what was in it. (I parenthesize that the chain stores drove Heistermann's to the wall long ago, and that since chain stores weenies and hot dogs seem to come from the same box.)

The bridge at Regensburg tells something of the same story. Regensburg is old Ratisbon, not far from Munich but on the Danube River. Of Celtic origins, it was Romanized in the second century and it makes a dandy place for the tourist to lose himself in antiquity.

In the 1100s, a bridge was built across the Danube, and when I used it, the bridge seemed substantial enough for some time yet. The contractor who built the bridge set up a lunchroom to feed his workmen, and today that lunchroom is a restaurant proud of its history and serving exactly the same menus it had in the 1100s. Not menus really, but a menu - every customer gets the same, a platter of sauerkraut surmounted by Regensburger sausages, with bread and beverage. The only choice comes on the number of sausages - four will suffice unless one is hungry, when he asks for six.

The Regensburgerwurst is delicious, made exclusively for this restaurant (they tell you), and it runs about middle-finger length and girth. The restaurant sits on the riverbank under one of the approaches to the bridge, so a meal there is enjoyed quite apart from the business of the city. Any visitor to Regensburg who has had his Regensburg sausage under the Regensburg bridge will come away knowing absolutely that a weenie and a hot dog are not necessarily sisters under the skin.

A friend of ours made a grievous mistake in that respect. He was up in north Germany, Wilhelmshaven, and he mis-read the printed bill of fare so he thought it offered Regensburg sausage. He remembered from Regensburg, so he eagerly ordered by pointing at the menu. The waiter (no other nation even comes close to the German Herr Ober) looked, nodded, and started to the kitchen. My friend, realizing he was hungry, decided to have six. ``Sechs St"uck, bitte!'' he called after the waiter. Quite so - four or six; the only choice.

The waiter stopped, turned, and said, in disbelief and in German, ``Six!'' A wish is a command. My friend got his platter of kraut topped by six huge sausages - a good two inches through and 10 inches long. He had, indeed, misread the menu.

In the end, he had trouble communicating ``doggie bag'' to the waiter, but he came away well aware that sausages come in many kinds and sizes. Unless you want a weenie or a hot dog.

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