It surprised me to learn that there are very few German restaurants in Brussels. The one in my neighbourhood seems to have closed down. The German restaurant that people know of, the one that Colin Powell and Joshua Fischer visited, is the Maxburg, in Schuman. Understandably the German owners are still rather proud of that.
From the outside the bar is white-washed and looks German enough. Inside there are roughly painted white walls, and people (Commission folk, probably) are even speaking German. I take my place at the bar next to a guy with a pony tail and a leather waistcoat. He looks like he's been parachuted in from a bar in deepest Bavaria. But he is the only one. The others have had any national appearance traits morphed into a generic style: the Eurocrat! How many Germans are there here really? I cannot tell. Anyway, ponytail man looks me up and down approvingly and raises his glass. Perhaps he thinks I'm German too?
I order a Bitburger (on tap), but the server doesn't understand my German, and answers in English. My German conversation partner arrives and we take our place upstairs to look down over assorted people watching Stuttgart play Bayern Munich. It takes a long time for the server to remember us, and we try and summon him using the languages at our disposal. Finally we discover that he prefers French.
And so, the Maxburg turns out to be a not-so-German German bar! This probably makes it a really typical Brussels restaurant experience, because whatever cuisine you are eating, you can get by with speaking English or French. There really was no need for me to dust off my German and inflict it on anybody. What a truly international city this is!
Still, there is plenty of time to talk while the servers forget us again. I'm happy to find a German friend who doesn't speak English so perfectly that I am ashamed to utter a single word of his mother tongue in his presence. And he is from near Dresden, a city I visited on a solo inter-railing trip in 2004. Our conversation covers football vocabulary, the German for red and white cabbage (rot und weiß Kraut, predictably!), German political parties and fairy tales, and the fact that Nigel Farage memorably called Herman Van Rompuy a nasser Waschlappen (a damp facecloth).....
Despite the indifferent, lazy service, the food when it arrives is just what we needed: meat in a rich sauce with bratkartoffeln and kraut. I have Rinderroulade and my friend has hausgemachter Rindergullasch; the former being a beef roll and the latter a German version of the carbonnade. Both are apparently eaten in the Dresden area. I'm interested enough to know I'll return another cold day for Thuringer sausages or to try one of the long list of Schnitzel on the menu. And did I say that there is a shop next door selling German products?
Bitte ein Bit.
rue Stevin 108