Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | 3:50 p.m.
Just across the street that runs along the river Neckar in Heidelberg and behind a bus stop shelter sits the Heidelberg Schnitzelhaus. The restaurant is nestled in an unassuming strip of irregular, adjoined buildings.
Those who guess that the Schnitzelhaus is an eatery dedicated to the serving of schnitzel win one of Les Nessman's Silver Sow Awards. The joint is notable for offering over 100 varieties of the breaded and fried pork cutlet.
My wife Erica and I learned of this place from Sven and Selina, who we met on our first night in Europe this month. Sven suggested that one of us try the schnitzel stuffed with Roquefort cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn't open when he told us about it at about 3 a.m.
Living in Las Vegas can create some unrealistic expectations, after all.
That night in Germany, admittedly, turned into a virtual all-nighter. In a cramped bar in the nook of a cramped alleyway, three stories below dimly lit gables and inches above a cobblestone street, we stood in a smoky bar in which not one light fixture matched another and the barkeepers worked tirelessly to keep the number of full glasses higher than those that were empty.
People spilled through the door, over the skinny sidewalk outside and into the roadway until the approaching sound of tires rumbling over the cobblestone caused an apathetic chain reaction of flicked cigarette ashes and casual movements from the roadway, and then back again once the car had cleared.
Sven, an academic at the University of Heidelberg, and his lady-friend Selina are rewards of travel, as is taste-testing local beverages at bars like this.
Sven told me what it was like growing up here. Of many things, he told that in schools his generation was drilled to feel shame for a history of which no one born after that unspeakable time could hold responsibility. But shame, still, was taught and Sven and I philosophized on how we could create a more harmonious mankind if we ruled the world.
There's nothing quite like a little problem solving over a hefeweizen.
But the conversation remained as light as it was insightful, and after a beer or four, and as often happens when a local learns that this tourist lives in Las Vegas, the topic of conversation quickly pivoted to the tourist, contrary to the tourist's desire that the topic remain on the local.
Sven revealed he had recently visited Las Vegas while attending a conference. And so, in a selfish effort to turn the conversation back to being about the local, I asked the local what he thought of the tourist's local city since he had been a tourist there before.
It made sense to me, anyway.
I listened and asked and heard and asked some more, and Sven answered. And, as the sky began to turn from black to purple, I asked Sven if he enjoyed Las Vegas.
After Sven's conference had ended and the gambling portion of his visit had run its course, Sven had a couple days to see what else Las Vegas had to offer. Shows were beyond his price point and so he walked, he said, gazing at the buildings along Las Vegas Boulevard. He was particularly struck by the Bellagio fountains and the music that accompanied them.
But primarily, he looked for places to share a drink with locals, which was not to be. All the locals were working, he noted. And so to the street he returned, and eventually home to Germany.
Seeing no redeeming value of our town in his answers, I asked him if he would come back or send his friends. "Yes," he said enthusiastically. Selina wants to see it, he told me. And he has told his friends that Las Vegas was a place for them to see, it was worth the trip.
"It's artificial," he said, as if that was Las Vegas' main tourist attraction.
Context is everything.
Heidelberg Castle, built sometime before 1214, clung to the hillside just meters away. If there were no obstructions there was a good chance we would have been covered in the fortress's moon shadow. So, since our Las Vegas castles will likely melt or be imploded before they crumble and their existence in the year 2810 is unlikely, I can accept his verbiage.
"It is a place to see," said the local who lives a short train ride from many of the places that our buildings imitate.
Sven and Selina strolled with us through the town until they ran to board their tram. Erica and I trekked back to our room as the sun began to rise and I made a vow that on Sven's next Las Vegas visit he'll see a show and drink with a local.
Later we awoke to point our rental car towards Zurich for my pilgrimage to see Bruce Springsteen. But on the way out of Heidelberg we stopped at the Schnitzelhaus along the river Neckar. After shopping a menu that described more than 100 schnitzels, I chose No. 59, I think. It's the one stuffed with Roquefort cheese.
Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers.