The Memorable Not-So-Great Birthday


It was a birthday to remember. Our daughter turned 22 before Christmas 2006. We were overseas in Germany; she was in Colorado. There was no opportunity to bake a cake. Instead, I invited her on a mother/daughter adventure after the holidays. It would include some fasting and detoxifying, the Deutsch way. It was an opportunity to study foreign nutritional practices before completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science. She said okay because, after all, I was paying. As it turned out, she would have preferred the cake.

malteser-clinic-of-weckbecker_128_2_1280_720_5_1403698681A friend told me about the Malteaser Klinik in Bad Brückenau. She seemed to know a lot about it without having been there. Her details were factual rather than descriptive. A naturopathic German physician pioneered a treatment plan to maintain, or restore, optimal health. It included many detoxifying therapies. It was medically supervised. It was located next to a forest. It had spa-like attributes—indoor pool, gym, sauna, hiking trails. There was free time to bond and have fun. However, we were underprepared.

I registered us for a five-day “Therapeutic Fasting Classic”. It was their most popular package. Normally clients stayed for 7, 10 or 21 days, under doctor’s orders. The plan [translated from Deutsch] included:

  1. Fasting drinks, fasting broths, etc.
  2. Best medical attention: two physician contacts per week
  3. One supervised ergometer training
  4. Daily Kneipp therapy
  5. Daily colon therapy
  6. Daily Kartoffelsack or feucht-heisse leberpackung [hot-humid liver potato sack]

Even with a good dictionary, not everything was entirely clear. During check-in, it was explained that fasting is an optimal way to rest and restore the digestive organs from processing solid food. Animals do it naturally, as in hibernation. Undisciplined humans [like us] pay clinics [like this] to tell them how to do what animals do instinctively.







That evening, in the communal dining room, places were already set with hot tea and one tablespoon of solid honey, served with a tiny spoon. It took the edge off since we had not eaten since that morning. Then we realized this was the entire meal. Nutritionist daughter said the honey was to give our brains some carbohydrate in order to function while fasting. Breakfast the next morning was a glass of fresh carrot juice. Lunch—a bowl of clear broth with freshly chopped herbs to sprinkle on top. Refills allowed, with extra herbs. Q4mU6.St.117Dinner was the same as the night before, except tea flavors changed daily. Between meals there were stations with unlimited water, tea or a faux coffee made from barley. Daughter suffered from abrupt caffeine withdrawal headache, not helped by sympathetic doctor’s brief temple massage and, “It will go away soon.” She looked at me crossly, but remained silent.

Each day was scheduled around “meal” times, morning therapy appointments, and an afternoon potato sack ritual. Kneipp therapy is designed to toughen the body by alternating hot and cold water to various parts of the anatomy. After a timed soak in warm water, the targeted area is immersed in icy water for 30 seconds. Circulation is encouraged; the immune system and bodily functions are strengthened. The logic seemed sound. Reality was slightly more shocking. The first session was full body immersion in a tin bathtub filled with very warm water. Lovely. tin_bath_yorkExcept, shortly after you relaxed into the water, it was time to get out and be sprayed front and back with very cold water. Three times in the warm tub, three times out for an icy shower. kneippAfter the cold-water-hose-wielding Frau did her thing, a small lament surfaced, “WHY, exactly, are we doing this for my birthday?” Point taken, but we were already there. And we had no car.

Thankfully, daily Kartoffelsack liver detox had its’ high points. While we sipped broth at noon and tried to chew the fresh herbs, a hot, damp sack of cooked potatoes was being put into our beds. Back in the room, under the duvet, we placed the towel wrapped sack over the right side of the torso. Shortly afterwards, a dream-like state of semi-consciousness took over, with vivid imagery. It was strange and pleasant at the same time. After the first day we began to hurry through lunch, anticipating warmed bags of smashed potatoes to help our livers and fuel surreal dreams. As they cooled, we roused enough to push them to the floor. Then, without speaking, rolled over into a heavy, drug-like sleep. We did not know the principle behind this therapy, but it never disappointed. It was a good way to pass a few hours.


Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, 1986

By the second day, caffeine headache was gone, attitudes readjusted, and therapies were at least tolerated. Open communication was important because it was necessary to do some “inner work” as well as support each other through the nonstop, aching hunger. After the potato sack nap, afternoons and evenings were a long stretch of time to fill. I brought the book Perfume by Patrick Süskind. It’s a dark sort of story set in France in the 1700s, dealing with murder and the sense of smell. It proved to be highly entertaining, even humorous when read aloud. We played endless rounds of Scrabble, Backgammon and card games. We listened to music. I watched German game shows on TV, answering questions for the contestants. We walked to the village in late afternoon dusk to be distracted by the shops. We worked out daily in the gym before tea/honey suppertime. Comedy proved to be one of the best diversions. First season television episodes of the American version of “The Office” provided such laugh out loud pleasure that we savored two, or more, each day. By the third day, adaptation set in. Appetite diminished. We were genuinely full after bowls of broth or tea. We had more energy after “rest hour” with the potatoes.

On Friday evening we were ushered to an area of the dining room screened off from the fasting crowd. A table for two was set with linens and candles. The Clinic Director lit the candles and made a little speech congratulating us on completing the fast. We were cautioned to re-enter the food world carefully in the upcoming days. They served us soup, slightly thickened with lentils, onions, carrots and savory herbs. There was a plain piece of toasted bread. Taste buds reawakened. Every flavor was discernible. There was joy in feeling texture in the mouth. We chewed and swallowed slowly. The next morning we breakfasted on a kind of warm, nourishing gruel with a glass of apple juice before being picked up.

That evening, back in the home village, we went out for a restaurant meal and talked about the experience. We had gone there knowing next to nothing about the German approach to health. That was definitely the adventure part. The not-so-great birthday part was simply that it was not an ideal choice for a healthy 22 year-old. At the time, I thought any adventure, even an “unusual” one, would be more meaningful than something tangible. It was certainly memorable, but understandably forgettable as a gift. Since then, with our far-reaching geography, family birthdays are special when we can simply be together. With cake. Without broth.

WALDORF RED CAKE–Especially for Birthdays


  • ½ C. butter
  • 1 ½ C. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz. red food color
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. cocoa
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 2 C. + 2 T. flour

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add cocoa and food coloring. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla and vinegar well. Pour into 2 greased 9 inch round cake pans. Bake 350F. [180C.] until done~30 minutes. Cool on racks before frosting.


  • 3 T. flour
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. butter

Cook flour and milk over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Blend creamed ingredients into the cooled flour mixture. An electric mixer works best. Spread frosting on bottom layer of cake. Cover with top layer and complete frosting. Enjoy with loved ones.