Wurst Lust

by

04/11/2011

Neighborhood: Featured, Jackson Heights, Uncategorized

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What is it, I wonder, about the German fondness for the flesh of the pig and the Jewish abhorrence of it? Like lust, revulsion too is a visceral thing fueled by the same hunger, only in reverse, a passion linked to the salivary glands that passes down the gullet to tantalize and taunt the gut. For Viennese Jewish refugees like my parents, it was a constant tug of war. My mother would not permit it in our home, but my father had to have his weekly fix.

They and others like them found a felicitous culinary compromise at Bloch and Falk, a short-lived kosher idyll of Wurst run by Berlin émigrés that briefly thrived in the early sixties and then disappeared, as a consequence of changing demographics, on 37th Avenue, near the corner of 74th Street, in Jackson Heights, Queens, an enclave subsequently redubbed Little Bombay where now the Indians, Pakistanis and Sikhs coexist with their conflicting tastes and taboos.

In that Jewish replica of German Wurst-lust, the reprehensible pig-craving was painstakingly and precisely transposed, or rather reformed, into a kosher cow-craving. But even as a boy, I fathomed that, to get the flavors right, or at least to find a fair Kosher approximation for pork sausage, some enterprising Jewish butcher armed with a meat grinder and a willing tongue, had at least temporarily to suspend his Semitic aversion and embrace Teutonic taste whole-hog, applying a Talmudic rigor to isolate and translate porcine products, and beef them up for a Jewish palate.

How well do I remember Bloch and Falk’s the grand opening, with banners unfurled and mountains of Belegte Brötchen (finger sandwiches) stacked tall, free for the picking, stuffed with slabs of sausage and smoked meat of every description, Teewurst, Krakauer, Kopfkäse, Jägerwurst, Leberwurst.

From near and far they came, the strongly accented refugees of my parents’ generation, dressed to a T in ties and jackets or skirted suits, German from head to toe, except for a few recalcitrant curls and a certain sadness that never quite muffled their innate exuberance. Waiting patiently on line, with their little native-born progeny in tow, their mouths watered for a licensed taste of the taboo.»

Wurst Lust
George Grosz's by cliff1066™

One woman, I recall, got so excited approaching the counter she could not control herself and succumbed to a nervous cough that sounded suspiciously like a dog’s bark. “Bitte, Lise! Control yourself!” her mortified husband looked aghast. But she couldn’t help it, and in any case, nobody but me seemed to notice, every other customer consumed by his or her own craving. Was it an involuntary response to the scent of sausage, I wonder, or just a bad case of the hiccups mythologized in my memory?

But on Saturdays, when Bloch and Falk was closed, my understanding mother turned a blind eye. My father, a man of prodigious appetite, took my brother and myself along on his weekly expedition to the City, ostensibly to buy tea from a Palestinian tea and coffee shop downtown, my recollection of which is laced with exotic scents. But afterwards we always ended up at Schaller and Weber, a German deli, now a chain, to sample a thick slab of the real thing, forbidden flesh cut off a fresh hot loaf of Leberkäse, still steaming under the knife. Sliced by a bald-headed counterman with gold-capped teeth and a grotesque grin straight out of a Georg Grosz drawing, it was the incarnation of what my father had fled. I watched him savor every bite.

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§ 13 Responses to “Wurst Lust”

  • Sylvia says:

    fond memories. thank you, Peter.

  • Werner Rauch says:

    “… denn was verboten ist, das macht uns grade scharf!” (Wolf Biermann)

    Auch mir lief das Wasser im Mund zusammen beim Lesen.

    Werner

  • Ivy Frenkel says:

    A clever and beautiful slice of Queens life. I espcially appreciate it since I remember your family and home very well. Thank you.

  • Anke Nolting says:

    Wonderful literary and culinary delight!

  • Mazel tov from another Jew atheist porkophile.

  • Jason Trask says:

    Peter Wortsman is a wicked man. Very funny and well done.

  • Hans Lieber says:

    Your story tells me that the Bloch and Falk was identical for Germans as it was for Austrians.
    You didn’t forget about Landjaeger, or Ringwurst, served hot, did you?

  • Harold Levy says:

    Bloch & Falk started in Washington Heights and remained a fixture until the clientele moved away. The satellite store in Queens outlasted the mothership, I believe, until it too closed. Abeles & Heyman provides a tea wurst that vaguely resembles the B&F version but I have not found a real substitute. Nor have I passed along these cravings to my children, one of whom is a vegetarian. On the other hand, I’ve found the Korean soupy meat dishes an acceptable substitute for pea soup with fleisch.
    Thanks for the lovely story.

  • This piece reads as though it’s author is a headline writer – Headless Body Found in Topless Bar! – who has tried his hand at memoir. At 600 or so words he collapses in Prussian fatigue. We’ve glimpsed a world but the people in it are tiny. But what about the mother and the father?

    The world being evoked – Viennese refugees relocated to Queens, the larger ethnic tapestry of a bygone New York City, issues of progeny, food, culture, the rapid changes of neighborhood’s flavor (so to speak) could not be more interesting. But it’s only truly interesting if there are people to animate the story. I am not suggesting the author insert lengthy dramatized scenes in which the mother and father argue about the issue of what food is permissible (though maybe I am) but let me point to the high point of the piece which is the one moment when it actually touches down into the realm of a lived moment– “Sliced by a bald-headed counterman with gold-capped teeth and a grotesque grin straight out of a Georg Grosz drawing it was the incarnation of what my father had fled.”

    The larger context of the holocaust, the war, the Great Unsettling, is very interesting, but it only works because of that guy with the gold teeth and George Grosz grin. More of that, please. More of the father– his manner, clothes, pride, money. And the mother. And of all this the younger generation, now nostalgic, was at the time, what? That would be interesting, too. Maybe even a piece of dialog, served steaming.

    Also, I suppose that since this is a piece about food, about a particular kind of food, and about the tastes of Viennese Jews and their conflicts, culinary and otherwise, it is forgivable that there is a constant evocation of body parts. Generally I am not elated to encounter phrases like “salivary glands,” “gullet,” and “gut,” in one paragraph but then I have always been happy to eat sausage without knowing too much about how it was made. This piece feels like it could be subtitled, “a butcher’s tale.” Which is great. But along with the pig/cow disquisition, the sociology and urban history, give us some people–a little Max Beckmann to go along with the George Grosz.

  • Peter Wortsman says:

    First, in response to Mr. Beller’s critique, as the author of the text he skewers, let me point out that it was my understanding that this web site favored brevity and that it is the author’s prerogative to choose his focus. This short text is excerpted from a book titled “Ghost Dance in Berlin,” forthcoming from Travelers Tales/Solas House. Further, Mr. Beller and I appear to have a different aesthetic. In my opinion, Schmaltz clogs the arteries and purples up the prose. I often find the unspoken more powerful than the spoken. As he noted in the last paragraph of his response, the piece is about Wurst, not the Holocaust as such. For more on the Holocaust, please refer to my play “The Tattooed Man Tells All,” my songs “Nursery Rhyme for Dead Children” and “The Ballad of Crystal Night,” both included in “Yes, We Sang!” by Shoshana Kalisch, my essay “Orpheus Raising Hell, Memories of the Late Aleksander Kulisiewicz” on the web site of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. (link to ushmm.org) and the interviews conducted with survivors comprising “The Peter Wortsman Collection of Oral History” at the same museum. Finally, this author prefers fiction for personal disquisitions. See his book of short fiction, “A Modern Way to Die” (Fromm International, 1991) and new stories comprising an ms currently in search of a publisher.

  • Matt P says:

    I grew up in the ’60′s with the Bloch and Falk on Austin St. in Forest Hills. My uncle Jake worked there, and periodically he’d visit us in Kew Gardens Hills, and I can remember trembling with delight as he’d open the truck of his rambler, me standing there…maybe 5 years old…waiting to be handed a slice of bologna. Long after he passed away, as a teen, I’d comb the store which replaced Bloch and Falk…not kosher, but a magic kingdom of products, meats, and all other things German. Thanks for the memory jogger!

  • stan salomon says:

    Is there a store like bloch anf falk today?

  • Peter Wortsman says:

    Hi Stan,

    Not to my knowledge. Alas, there’s no such store I know of. But in case you’d care to taste the book out of which this tasty tidbit was excerpted, you might be interested in Ghost Dance in Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray, just out from Travelers’ Tales:

    link to amazon.com

§ Leave a Reply

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