A dozen little koalas and kangaroos wearing "Australia" jackets dangle from the light-fitting above the dining-room table where I sit enjoying coffee and cake. The gifts from Australian visitors are special keepsakes for Corinna, our German hostess, who's opened her house in Burgstadt for the afternoon.
Corinna is one of a dozen local residents offering home hosting, a shore excursion with a difference, to passengers on Travelmarvel cruises. Our ship, Travelmarvel Sapphire, is moored on the Main River a few kilometres away in Miltenberg, a historic town with charming half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets.
I've seen quite a few medieval towns on my week's cruise through Germany so having a peek into a local home and enjoying afternoon tea and conversation seems like a fun alternative.
Corinna and her 17-year-old son, Robin, invite us into their comfortable, modern buttercup-coloured house. There's a home-made sculpture of upturned wine bottles in the front yard, a nod to Burgstadt's reputation as a premier wine-growing region that produces excellent pinot noir and riesling. After drinks orders are taken, Corinna brings out her Eierlikor Torte or eggnog cake, a rich concoction well known in Germany and often eaten at Easter.
Corinna hosts river cruise guests twice a month (on the southbound journey to Budapest, and on the northbound trip to Amsterdam). She's done this for three years and like the other hosts in the area, is paid for her efforts. Looking at her cake and later reading the recipe, I realise Eierlikor Torte is not something you whip up in a hurry. It consists of two layers. The bottom layer, the cake itself, is laced with eggnog (a mixture of rum or brandy, beaten eggs, milk and cream), and the top layer is a rich frosting that can contain cream cheese or mascarpone and which is only applied once the bottom layer has completely cooled. The top is drizzled with more eggnog and decorated with piped cream and chocolate flakes. There are apparently many versions of the cake, all just as rich I imagine. It's quite delicious.
Our group of six passengers hears about life in this part of north-west Bavaria. Corinna has worked as a bookkeeper for 20 years and also has an evening job in a local restaurant. Robin is in his last year of high school. An interesting point of discussion is climate change. They tell us that winters are not as cold as they've been in the past, there are less frequent snowfalls and the summer of 2018 was the hottest and driest for 30 years. After the chat we're farewelled with a little bottle of schnapps.
Back on board I compare stories with a friend who was allotted to a different Burgstadt household. Apparently her hostess was the epitome of Germany's renowned efficiency and keenly gave guests a complete tour of her house, even opening cupboards and drawers. Two different luscious cakes were served, one of which was baked by the owner's 80-year-old mother.
Cake-making has a long tradition in Germany and we experienced what's known as "kaffee und kuchen". Even when she's not expecting guests, Corinna bakes three times a week and her family has cake every day for breakfast.
The home hosting excursion is offered on every Travelmarvel 15-day European Gems cruise, between Amsterdam and Budapest (or reverse). 2020 cruises start from $5595 a person, twin share, including fly-free offers and $400 earlybird saving. See travelmarvel.com.au
Caroline Gladstone travelled as a guest of Travelmarvel.