One of the many things I love about Stuttgart is that there seems to be no shortage of fall celebrations around. And although the pumpkin festival is still my favorite, I had a great time celebrating a different kind of vegetable last weekend at the Filderkrautfest in Leinfelden-Echterdingen.
Even though the weather was rather gray last Sunday, there was a very festive atmosphere in Leinfelden. We were first greeted by a colorful row of vintage cars and tractors, followed by several carnival-style booths featuring classic games like darts and ring-toss, and even a rotating ride or two. I'm not sure if these carnival games are "native" to Germany, but I suspect there's a bit of American import going on given that most of the signs on the booths said things like "Welcome to Las Vegas!" and "The American Adventure!".
Gradually the carnival stands gave way to food stands as we made our way towards the market square. Although I had my heart set on trying some of the famous Filderkraut, I have a weakness for foods on sticks and decided to pick up a "Spiral Potato" as we walked (yum!). The potato was beautifully curled around the stick and perfectly cooked with crispy edges, a soft center, and plenty of that special Pommes Salz that they sell here in Germany. With my snack in hand, we continued to the market square in search of the perfect Filderkraut dish for our first experience at the festival.
At this point you might be wondering what exactly is so special about Filderkraut. According to the Stuttgart Tourism site, Filderkraut is a pointed cabbage that only grows in the local Fildern district because of the fertile loess-loam of the Filder plateau. Though the website says it's an endangered regional species, I saw plenty of Filderkraut to go around. They had it featured on bread and pizza (Flammkuchen), cooked up and in cans, and even prepared fresh for you. At one vegetable stall that we came across, they had mountains of them piled high in a truck from which festival goers where purchasing them, only to have the whole cabbage tossed into a machine like a giant mixing bowl that shredded the cabbage for use at home. (I like to think that the people buying them were taking the shredded cabbage home to ferment it into Sauerkraut using their grandmother's secret family recipe, though this might just be my imagination.)
In the center of the market square, I found my perfect dish: Filderkraut mit Schupfnudeln. I love this dish of cooked, fermented cabbage tossed with bacon and large noodles. We buy it every year at the Christmas market and make it from time-to-time at home. Though I can't say I noticed a difference in taste with the Filderkraut, the dish was very tasty. And luckily, just like at the Christmas market, I was able to get some Glühwein (mulled wine) with my cabbage. Even though I know it's a bit early in the season, it was super cold and my hands needed the warmth.
As I ate, Matt and I watched some announcers with very impressive mustaches introduce the Cabbage King and Queen on the main stage. Apparently the queen had been reigning for nine years straight! I didn't understand enough to hear what the qualifications are, but I was impressed, nonetheless. After their introduction, the announcer invited five young women in Dirndls to come up on stage. He explained that they had been crowned as Bierprinzessinnen (beer princesses) by Stuttgarter Hofbräu at this year's Volksfest.
Then, the funniest thing happened. They gave each of the women on stage two Filderkraut, one in each hand. At the sound of a buzzer, the girls held their arms out and stood still while trying to balance the cabbages! From what I could understand, Filderkraut can weigh anywhere from 3-5 kilograms, so it was no small feat for the women to be holding the cabbages as they were. After about two minutes, they started dropping out one by one, unable to hold the heavy cabbages any longer. The last Prinzessin held on until five minutes and twenty six seconds, for which she was awarded a mini-keg of beer from Stuttgarter Hofbräu.
After the show, we walked around some more and saw many more cabbage-related foods, including some beautiful Kuchen (savory cakes like quiches) and stuffed cabbage leaves. Even the trash cans were in the shape of giant Filderkraut. When we got to the far end, we found a shuttle running up to Echterdingen where there was another half to the festival. Needing to get home soon, we decided not to venture out this year, though we did stop for a time to watch the Red Cross put on a show of their rescue dogs on our way out. One sandy-colored, long-haired dog made an impressive rescue across a ladder, while another yellow labrador found one specific person in the crowd by scent alone. I like to imagine that Leo could do these things if he had to, but he usually seems more interested in finding apple cores than anything.
Although we didn't say long, I really enjoyed the food, atmosphere, and show of it all. If you're looking for a unique, local experience, then it doesn't get much better than this! The festival is, sadly, over for this year, but it'll be back again in 2016 for another weekend of cabbages and the cabbage king and queen.
Did you make it to the Filderkrautfest this year? What did you think?