Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Small shops under the medieval vaults, cobbled streets and traditional pubs on the corners, glorious gothic churches and unexpected warmth and Gemütlichkeit of the people; all of this awaits a traveller in Münster, town in the German north-western state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW), a large university and ecclesiastical centre known also for its cloudy and rainy weather. It is the centre of Westphalia or Westfalen, a historical region and specifically of Münsterland. The cuisine of North Rhine-Westphalia is known above all for its hearty meat and sausage dishes. Vegetarians are likely to despair when they look at the menu of a brewery pub or a rustic inn – while meat-lovers on the other hand will be in their element. Westphalian cooking also has its speciality in the form of Pfefferpotthast. This is a peppery stew prepared with chunks of meat, usually beef, cooked in a large pot with lard and a good amount of onion. Everyone wishing to visit a German town with a German food that we all think about, they should visit Münster.
I sit at the bar in the Köpi Stuben, in the very heart of the Old Town. A classic Münster place offers excellent Westfalen homemade dishes in a traditional ambient. An old and friendly local drinks house beer and speaks to the bartender who happens to live in Münster for the last 35 years. He is Tamil from Sri Lanka, but enjoys life in Germany. The German guy speaks relentlessly and speaks as usual drunk people do, but without any aggression. A sheer smile for anyone who comes in and the talk begins… From the definition of a Münster soul to the disappointment of local football club, every topic asks for another glass of beer and of Sasse.
The latter is prime drink for posh alcoholics who want to taste something really local from Münsterland. In Köpi Stuben, but also in other places round Münster, one is especially attracted to the Sasse Lagerkorn or simply a grain brandy or grain spirit (Kornbrand), a German colorless distilled beverage produced from fermented cereal grain seed. In the production of Kornbrand only the cereal grain types rye, wheat, barley, oat and buckwheat are permissible. Sasse produces Lagerkorn with VSOP label, standing for the Very Superior Old Pale, a grade label for brandy. There is a reason why. The Sasse distillery exists over 300 years. The family Sasse continuously produces hard drinks in Schöppingen since 1707, and since then it is rising to the global levels of quality. For three years in a row they receive medals and awards as the World-Class Distillery. In Köpi Stuben we had several rounds of theirs Kräterwacholder, the herb brandy.
When you step out from the pub, be careful not to be overrun by a bike. Münster is cycling town, with hundreds upon hundreds of bicycles all around the place. You don’t have your own? Don’t worry, the town provides with cheap bikes in every corner. Most of the bikes you will come across are quite old or half-broken. Don’t worry, it is not that Münsteners love only antiques. Simply, new bikes would be broken soon on the cobbled streets of the Old Town, place where almost everything in Münster happens. So, hop on your nearest one and ride round the famous cathedrals and historically important sites.
One of these is the historical town hall on the Prinzipalmarkt. It was one of the theatres of the negotiations of the Peace of Westphalia which concluded the Thirty Years' War in Europe and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Many will not really stare at the building itself, as the Prinzipalmarkt is the main shopping street in the city centre. It is shaped by historic buildings with picturesque pediments attached to one another. It extends from St. Lambert's Church (Lambertikirche) in the north to the Townhouse Tower (Stadthausturm) in the south and is home to luxurious shops and cafés. Decision is yours: shop until you drop, or go for a brunch. Like we did, in the traditional inn Töddenhoek.
This place may not be the most known or often cited, but it is one where Münstener go for brunches and jolly evenings. A waitress welcomes me with a broad smile and genuine hospitality. This place may not have elaborate dishes in an upgrade restaurant but it still fascinates with its wooden interior and great “Eintopf” dishes, typical for Westfalen lunches. Eintopf is a traditional type of German stew which can consist of a great number of ingredients. Technically, the term refers to a way of cooking the ingredients in one pot, not to any specific recipe. It has a long tradition in Westfalen as a lunch dish; its quantity was always good thing for large and hungry families. In Töddenhoek one can find these Eintofs in abundance, especially turnip, savoy, beans, peas, carrot, lenses, and cabbage stews. Despite its name, the inn has nothing to do with dead men. Tödden means a draper and Hoek is a word for corner. Before the Second World War a butcher shop was here, which was then increased and rebuilt as a restaurant. Anton Allard and his sister Adele, the first owners, decorated it in detail with antiques and set up the inn on three levels as it is shaped today. While waiting for your meal, you can look around and enjoy the collections of old pictures and home utensils from all over Germany and Holland. Now, the Ringer family runs the inn, a pleasant place with a distinctive Westfalen atmosphere. And if you’re not into the Eintopf things, you can always order something from the daily menu, a Schnitzel or some other typically German meat experience.
Münster is a town of churches; its name itself means “monastery”. Wherever you are in this city, you may find a church tower nearby or see it in a distance. The central point for all the tourist cameras is the Domplatz. Münster Cathedral or St.-Paulus-Dom is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Münster in Germany and is dedicated to St Paul. It is counted among the most significant church buildings in Münster and, along with the City Hall, is one of the symbols of the city. The cathedral stands in the heart of the city, on a small hill called Horsteberg, which is encircled by the Roggenmarkt, Prinzipalmarkt und Rothenburg streets and by the Münstersche Aa river. This area, which also contains the Domplatz and surrounding buildings, was the old Domburg. Today the cathedral is the parish church for this area. West of the cathedral lies the bishop's palace and part of the old curia complex along with the current cathedral chapter. Strangely enough, Münsteners don’t really consider the cathedral as their main church. Closer to their heart is the St. Lambert’s Church located on the Prinzipalmarkt. It is not famous because of its Gothic appearance and awe that struck every visitor, but also with three cages hanging from its tower above the clock face. In 1535 these cages were used to display the corpses of Jan van Leiden and other leaders of the Münster Rebellion, who promoted polygamy and renunciation of all property.
All around the Domplatz are small streets, circulating near the beautiful small river Aa. Close to the Buddenturm, the oldest existing part of former city walls, is popular inn Drübbelken. You cannot miss it. Its outdoor appearance is of a typical German wooden house and inside it is even better. Locals and tourists alike appreciate the cosy rustic atmosphere and homemade Westfalen delicacies, especially various dishes served in the hot pan. And you will be served by waitresses dressed in typical Westfalen costume! Yes, it is kitschy touristic, but the place is really enjoyable with its wooden interior and a very German atmosphere. The menu is even better! Chicken, pork and sausages hot pots are specialties of the house, but you can also try real Münsterland recipes. These include Westfalen Sauerbraten, Westfalen crust, liver bread and sausage bread, or Westfalen Pfefferpotthast. All of these is a showcase of Westfalian cuisine; it is rich in meats, vegetables, and grains. Seafood plays only a minor role in the Westphalian cuisine. Historically, fish and seafood wasn't readily available within Westphalia due to its inland location. Westphalia is a rustic region. It is home of the Ruhrgebiet, a region historically known for its machine, coal, iron, and metal industries. These labor-intensive industries required its workers to have good health and energy to be able to work hard. For this reason, the Westphalian cuisine developed hearty, robust, and energy-rich dishes, which is still what the cuisine is known for today. And Drübbelken is just a nice introduction to this tradition.
Just a rock-throw away is the single still standing Münster’s brewery. The Pinkus-Müller brewery traces its origins to the arrival of Johannes Müller (1792–1870) in Münster from his home town of Hildebrandshausen in 1816. After marrying Friederika Cramer they opened a bakery and a brewery. In 1866 the bakery was closed and a malthouse was opened instead. In the following hundred years the brewery and the pub were expanded. In 1993 a bottling plant was opened in the neighbouring city of Laer. It is the only brewery left in Münster from original 150 breweries. Naturally, when in Münster you should drink Pinkus in all its varieties – from Pils, Alt and other traditional German beer varieties to somewhat strange sweet beers and beer with syrups. But to have a real experience, you should definitely visit the Gaststätte Pinkus Müller – Altbierküche in the very heart of the Old Town.
Finally, I paid a visit to the Gasthaus Großer Kiepenkerl. The inn in the shadow of the cathedral is named after the former profession of roving traders in Northern Germany, the Kiepenkerlen. In 1896 the Kiepenkerl at the Spiekerhof, just a few meters in front of the inn, erected a monument as a souvenir of 'Westphalian commercialism'. It is one of the most famous landmarks of the city of Münster today. Well known far beyond the borders of Westphalia, the Gasthaus Großer Kiepenkerl, exists since 1340 as a former brewery at this location and bears its present name since the time of the construction of the monument. After a careful, but noticeable renovation in January 2012, his current owner, Mr. Helmrich, affectionately puts his stamp on the house - no pewter plates, no crochet doilies, no bells and whistles, but plain-chipped oak tables, pillar candles and a linen cloth next to the plate. Just beautiful.
'Heimatküche und Gasthauskultur under Münster's most famous monument' describes the advertisement of the house whose efforts to the guest and his well-being is seen from the very moment one enters the inn. The printed products, such as the menu, advertise with honest ingredients that are cooked with love and served warmly; that is why this is one of the Slow Food destinations. Regardless of whether you want to be hungry or hungry, eat meaty or warm meat, eat meaty or Westphalian hearty, classic regional or modern interpretation, or just enjoy a well-kept drink in a historic atmosphere - here everyone feels well. Rarely you will find a menu of an inn with such elaborative dishes, such as the famous Münsterländer Kalbstöttchen, a ragout with Worcestershire and farmhouse bread served. But other of the approximately 30 daily freshly prepared dishes deserve to be mentioned here: home-strewed salmon trout from small breeds in the Teutoburg Forest, goat cheese from the region in Münsterschem honey caramelized, Westphalian peasant corn chickens, heaven and earth and the Münsterland Hunting Bowl. Special mention should be made of the crumbs, which are raised by pigs raised from a Munsterland farm and reared on the seasonal lamb dishes. Incidentally, not only the main ingredients of a dish from the region, but also the ingredients that are necessary for the preparation of the food come: potatoes from Freckenhorst, dairy products from the farm on the outskirts of Münster, etc.
I enjoyed here something very Münster-ish, the Münstener Töttchen. It is one traditional Rhenish-Westphalian dish that makes use of butchers’ left-overs. It was originally considered "poor people food". Originally for Töttchen a calf's head and offal such as lungs, heart from beef and onions and vinegar are used to make a sweet and sour ragout. Töttchen is offered in many restaurants of the Münsterland a little modified today. Instead of offal, veal and veal tongue are used predominantly. And if you’re not so adventurous, do try homemade desserts. These include a particularly delicious Westphalian Gentlemen’s cream with old rum, pumpernickel dessert with sour cherries and buttermilk ice cream made from milk from happy cows.
Gastronomically, Münster is indeed a revelation of homemade, heavy interior German cooking with lots of tradition and historical heritages. For a visitor, who can cherish old architecture and beautiful Aasee Lake, Münster is definitely Germany we all dream about.
Photos by: Vedran Obućina & the respected gastronomy establishments