Coffee or tea?..


You remember how Germans amalgamate words? Well, try this for size: the Volkerschlachtdenkmal Monument, in Leipzig.

Fancy asking directions for this mouthful while travelling by bicycle. You’d get as far as Volkersch, then choke and have to apologise for covering somebody in spittle.

Fortunately, it is also known as the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, and it is Europe’s largest monument at that.

In 1898, the first turf was dug and 82,000 cubic metres of earth were removed for the foundations – they alone took five years to complete. Why was it built? To commemorate the Battle of the Nations, obviously.

In 1813, Napoleon was given a sound thrashing at last; Russians, Prussians, Austrians and Swedes fought the biggest battle EVER in world history – it involved 500,000 soldiers and marked the decisive turning point in the war of liberation from Napoleonic rule. There is an excellent view from the top.

Cycling back into the city, I make a beeline for Coffee Baum, one of the oldest coffee houses in the world – apparently, Cafe Procope in Paris pips it at the post. The cafe is described as a ‘coffee temple’, and has been in operation since the first half of the eighteenth century, a period when Leipzig was Germany’s biggest producer of coffee grinders.

Coffee, the last gift of culture from the Orient, came to Europe via Arabia – though the origins of how the Arabs got it are a bit sketchy.

When coffee did arrive, however, the Muslims went mad for it, welcoming a non-alcoholic stimulant with open arms. Thus, in the mid-sixteenth century, the coffee house, or ‘tavern without wine‘, was born. And did you know that coffee is the most important world trade product after mineral oil, and grown in more than 70 countries around the equator?

Yet, as you well know, there are times when only a cup of tea will hit the spot. In an English crisis – say, a death in the family – you will still to this day hear a rallying cry of, ‘now, we’d better all have a nice cup of tea.’..