My new hotel in the Mülheim district of Cologne happened to be near a store called Kaufland (literally “Shopping Land,”) and having heard a little about it from a flyer, I decided to check it out. It was definitely popular: its parking lot was nearly full of the mini-cars German like to drive, and there was a line of jolly Germans steering shopping carts full of empty soda bottles (for deposit return) onto a shopping cart conveyor belt.
I walked in and nearly passed out in glorious shock. It was a ginormous German grocery store that also happened to sell a ton of other stuff at bargain close-out prices. It was kind of like Wal-Mart or Costo without door Nazis, if either chose to focus on German groceries. I walked around that store three times in a daze. It was like a beautiful dream of being in a store that specialized in all the food and flavors I love, no matter how odd.
There was a deli counter but also an entire wall of cold cut varieties. Austria-style baked pork roast; pork bologna with egg white; chicken with herbs. I just stood there and stared as bustling Germans rushed up and grabbed their favorite packages.
There were fresh-baked still-warm broetchen (little rolls) in myriad flavors at 13 eurocents a piece. There was an entire aisle of liverwurst varieties. O.M.G. I’m lucky if I can get a roll of Braunschweiger liverwurst in an American grocery store. In Kaufland, it wasn’t just Braunschweiger, it was not only liverwurst, it was how do you like your liverwurst? There was extra-mild liverwurst, liverwurst with fresh herbs, mini-liverwursts, liverwurst a la Alsace, and on and on. I could cry. Even if I was inclined to put myself on an all-liverwurst diet for the rest of my time in Germany, I could never try it all, and I couldn’t mail or bring it home with me.
And what did I find in the rest of the store? Exotic gourmet cheeses, like Emmentaler and Gouda cheese, treated no differently than Cheddar cheese at home. Banana-flavored milk! I love banana-flavored milk, but I only rarely find it: at Kaufland, I could get different brands of banana-flavored milk, and it large cartons or single-size containers! Carrot juice, mixed with vegetables or fruits. The closest thing we have to that is V8 Splash, which really tries to hide the carrot; otherwise I have to get chunky carrot juice at Whole Foods. But here in Kaufland, I could buy mixed carrot juice with no apologies for the carrot content.
And eggnog? I have to guzzle down my annual eggnog quota between Thanksgiving and New Year’s because apparently outside of that narrow time frame, eggnog is completely and utterly banned in the U.S. But not in Germany! Imagine my utter and complete delight when I found Ritter Sport chocolate with eggnog filling. In February. Cheap. It turned out to be alcoholic eggnog flavor (I prefer it straight, but still, that somewhere on this great green earth someone had something eggnog flavored out of season blew my mind.)
I didn’t even dare ask about the sauerkraut selection. As regular readers know, my local grocery store doesn’t sell sauerkraut, and when I asked the produce guy there about it, he thought it was an unheard-of ethnic food. Maybe it is, sob, since I have to go to the local European grocery store to find people who know what it is. If I’d seen the undoubtedly impressive sauerkraut selection at Kaufland, I might have just keeled over and they’d have had to call the “Not-wagon” to haul me out.
I vaguely remember there being other things. There was a produce corner that was large by German grocery store standards, but smaller than those in any California store. I picked up the German version of the “The Movies” complete with the extension pack for 10 euros. I bought a history magazine in the large newsstand section, which also included toys. And I saw Germans sorting through a Costco-like stack of clothes in a clothing section. It was all I could do to stagger over to the counter with my precious stash of German food which I would be able to eat before I left the country.
Kaufland was one of the rare stores that required you to bring your own bag for groceries or buy one (as I did because I’d left my backpack behind) for 9 eurocents. It was 9 eurocents well spent, but I was amused to see the guy in line behind me was using one of those huge IKEA bags for his groceries. As an aside, while San Francisco and San Jose are banning plastic grocery bags, most German stores gave me one if I needed it, and they were sturdier bags I could (and do) reuse if needed. In fact, I’ve already reused the Kaufland bag for groceries once already.
But, oh, how I wish we just had Kaufland here. I don’t think I’d ever shop anywhere else.