Blogger Abroad: Conducting a Research Interview in German
View from the Train between Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany
In this final installment of “Your Story on the Rails” blogger Andy’s chocolate-inspired research adventures, he conducts an entire interview in German with a German chocolatier and reflects on the value language skills have brought to his project and travels. In his words:
Today I wanted to explore a bit of Frankfurt before my meeting with the chocolatier. I went down to the U-Bahn station that is close to my Airbnb and it was surprisingly quiet. I heard no trains, the escalator wasn’t running and I saw and heard no people. I walked down the stairs and onto the platform and no one was there. I read the sign that usually displays the train times and it said that the U7 train is being operated on. It referred people to use a bus line instead. I am thankful that I know German and could understand the sign. If this happened back in Belgium, I would have been lost.
So I decided to walk to the city which took about 30 minutes. The walk was quite peaceful. I am living in a very residential area. The apartments are very nice, there are few people, little traffic, and everything is clean. I got to the city and went shopping on the main shopping street. The clothes are so nice here and they have such good deals.
I soon located Römerberg which is a public square that sits in front of the Römer, the seat of the Frankfurt administration. This square is the heart of the Altstadt, or Old City—a popular tourist destination. The Altstadt is quite beautiful but there was not much to see or do there.
One thing quite interesting about Frankfurt is the difference in architecture. Standing in the Altstadt, I see old architecture and typical German homes. When you look up in the distance, you see skyscrapers. Frankfurt is a nice mesh of old and modern. You can be walking down an old cobblestone street and come out at a huge intersection for a mall that has the longest escalator out of any mall in the world. Yes, this mall is the MyZiel mall in Frankfurt. It was absolutely huge. I did not even get around to going on all the floors.
So after exploring Frankfurt for a bit, I walked back to my Airbnb to prepare for my meeting with Michael Kitz, the owner of Michi’s Schokolatier.
His store was only a 10 minute walk from my house. I arrived at the shop and asked for Mr. Kitz.
This interview was most exciting and rewarding for me because I conducted it entirely in German.
Mr. Kitz speaks only a little English so we talked only in German. This was great practice for me. I have been wanting to speak with a German speaking native my entire trip. I had about a 30 minute conversation with him. Without knowing German, this interview would not have been possible.
Many believe that everyone speaks English. This is not true. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning a foreign language.
I am able to order food, read signs and labels, listen to the directions on trains, and have a conversation with the natives here. I have had a much easier time getting around in Germany than I did in Belgium. Knowledge of a foreign language can provide you with so many benefits and these benefits are so rewarding.
I am much better at conversational German, so parts of this interview were difficult for me. The German I used was more detailed since we are talking about chocolate. The vocabulary for the specifics of chocolate making is not generally taught in high schools or colleges. I believe I got the main points of what he was saying and I hope I do not publish any incorrect information. Here is what I learned:
Michi’s Schokolatier was started by Michael Kitz 11 years ago. Mr. Kitz trained to be a Konditor Meister which is a master pastry chef. He studied in Stuttgart and passed the Master examination. He lived at home for a while and eventually bought his own shop, Michi’s Schokolatier.
Michi’s uses the chocolate morsels, just like Du Rhone and Dumon did. However, 5% of their products are made directly from the cocoa beans. Mr. Kitz showed me a bag of the cocoa beans and then showed me the grinding machine that would turn these beans into cocoa powder. This cocoa powder would eventually be transformed into chocolate. The whole bean to bar process takes 3 days. That is why 95% of their chocolate is made with the morsels. Their cocoa beans mainly come from Ecuador. I asked if he added any ingredients to these morsels and he said that only for pralines. This was the same answer that Dumon had in Bruges. Du Rhone in Geneva was the only company I met with that added ingredients to the chocolate morsels. Michi’s uses milk powder in their chocolate, and they use a different kind of sugar. The sugar is called Rohrzucker and comes from Manduvira. Rohrzurcker is essentially a dark cane sugar.
I was curious to see what was his best-selling product. He gave me a piece of chocolate that was in the shape of a ball. He said these are similar to Mozart balls which are quite popular in Austria. However, his are a bit different. This praline is 4 layers: a large marzipan inside, a mandarin nougat layer, dark chocolate, and then milk chocolate. I did not understand some of this when he was explaining so I am hoping these layers are correct.
Germany is definitely more known for their industrial side of chocolate. They have large companies such as Milka, Ritter Sport, and Ferrero that mass produce colorful eggs, bars, and foiled-wrapped items. Besides Michi’s, I have not seen a German chocolate shop. I was walking through the market today in the city, and I found it amusing that they had a stand with Belgian chocolate. I asked why Germany did not have that many little shops, and Mr. Kitz said that it costs a lot of money to open your shop and work all by hand. He prides himself on making all his chocolates by hand and stated his chocolate tastes fresher and is much higher in quality. Therefore, there is little competition from other chocolate shops.
I asked him to compare German, Swiss, and Belgian chocolates. His response was quite accurate and honest. He said that the Swiss produce a very creamy milk chocolate. They put more milk in their chocolates and the grazing cows in Switzerland yield a high quality milk to use in chocolate. Belgium’s chocolate is sweeter than German and Swiss chocolate and they focus more on the praline there. Germany is not as creamy as Swiss chocolate and not as sweet as Belgian chocolate. It is a nice blend. The small shops also have a nice mixture of chocolates and pralines.
Well that is all for my chocolate exploring in Europe. I feel as though I have a solid answer to my question of why European chocolate is considered to be better than American chocolate and knowledge of the difference between Swiss, Belgian, and German chocolate. I will publish a final report that will be much more detailed.
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This post is adapted from Andy’s own blog: Chocolate Empires in Europe. Check it out for even more information about his Magellan Project and his study abroad experience. Also see our Lead with German page for blogs by other students, information on college programs, and scholarship opportunities.