Saturday, July 4, 2009

Supermarket whisky bargains in the former DDR...

...and other bits and pieces. Am checking out the influence of Gaelic culture (also called a holiday) in the former DDR - the once socialist republic of East Germany. It's pretty scarce, though to date, i've seen posters for Highland Games in Leipzig, heard some punk music with bagpipes in a pub and of course, spotted whisky in many a local 'kneipe' and supermarket.

Am currently in the large town of Zittau which is cemented to both Poland and the Czech Republic. This is where - if you are a linguistic pedant like me - you can find Sasannaich who are not English. 'Sasannaich' in the Gaelic originally means 'Saxon' and the 'land of the Saxons' is Sasainn, better known as Engurlannd. Co-dhiú... it amuses me no end that you can cycle from the 'Freistaat' of Saxony to Poland to the Poblachd Czech in about 3 minutes and still be on the same road. You pass two old checkpoints on the way as well as a few huts selling cheap fags and haircuts to the ‘rich’ Germans.

It's all relative though as Zittau and the surrounding countryside is very poor. It’s fairly hoachin with beautiful fairytale villages and hundreds of old factories, left over from the days when there was work for all. Wages in Zittau are as low as €400 per month for a shop worker and men think themselves fortunate if they take home a grand. Little wonder that many locals of 30 years or older still remember fondly the days of socialism and curse 'Kapitalismus'. Aye, they have the freedom to travel and study whatever they wish, but if you can barely afford the rent then what use is 'freedom'? Since the fall of the old regime, the population of Zittau has fallen from around 40k to 20k. Of 80 of Frau Katja's old schoolmates, only 2 remain in their hometown.

The mark of old regimes is still to be seen in and around the Oberlausitz region of Saxony. In the village of Hainewalde, close to Zittau, you can still see Socialist murals for their old youth groups. The mural seeks to unite the youth of all cultures from the world over. Sounds a lot better than the saluting of the Union Jack and the imperialist Brit Empire mentality that i got in the Cub Scouts. Along the road though is an 18th century palace/castle kind of thing known as Schloss Hainewalde. This was used by the Keepers of the Quaich, er, sorry Nazis as a base and small concentration camp holding 200 or so unfortunate and 'impure' prisoners. You swear that you have seen it in a film. After the war though, the idealistic Commies turned it into flats for ordinary locals. How idealistic, eh? Had they not heard of realpolitik??? Interestingly, the delapadated schloss is now being restored. A shiny new sign tells of it's history but with both the Nazi and Socialist eras missing.

Needless to say, 'Keepers of the Quaich' are thin on the ground here. In the absence of a Malt Whisky Society or some kind of 'Scots Club', a good malt is hard to find. Beer, on the other hand, is everywhere. It's cheap but miles better than almost anything we have in Scotland - Innis and Gunn excluded. But, whereas a 'local' beer such as I&G will cost the best part of two quid, here in Zittau, one of the local beers, Landskron, from nearby Görlitz will set you back a mere 50 cents odd. Alcoholism does not seem to be a problem and there are no neds to be seen, though many guys have the kind of huge gut that makes Andy Gorum seem like Kate Moss.

Wo ist der whisky? Well, in Kaufland, you can find a bewildering and meagre supply. Glenfiddich 12 is universal and you can buy it here for €23.Glen Grant and Loch Lomond malts, with no ages stated, are €14ish. Also on show though is 'Sir Connery' and 'Glen Forrest' single malts. Any info on these is appreciated! Are they Trabant fuel? And, are they still vastly superior to Ledaig?

Zittau also has an Irish pub - The Real Ones (???)- with a fair few Scotch malts like all the Diageo classics as well as Glenrothes, Edradour, Glen Grant, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Balvenie Signature and Port Cask. I had a Bowmore 18 for €5. There was barely one dram left in the bottle though and i think it had been sitting a while. Tasted a bit like spicy air.

The real delight lay across the borders though - that's over into Poland and then another 2 minutes or so into the Czech Republic and onto the edge of town called Hrádek nad Nissau. There you will find Top Shop. It's different to our Top Shop as there are no large posters of yon guy from Spandau Ballet and Eastenders modelling hair laquer and cheap suits. There are no clothes even but a kind of duty free with many litre sized bottles including Ardbeg, Laphroaig QC, Auchentoshan - standard and triple wood - Balblair, 4 varieties of Bowmore, Highland Park 12 and.... what's that? A 70cl Highland Park 18yo for only €44? I dropped my 20 packets of dutyfree pierogi and cha b'e ruith ach leum to the counter with the HP.

Final thoughts....ditch the pound and go Euro. Oh, and it's still sickening to find Scots' whisky cheaper abroad. Ditch the taxes on malt.

1 comment:

naldo said...

I'm diggin yer thinkin. Ban the pound:

and drop taxes on whisky. Crazy that it's cheaper aborad than it is here.