Danke Schoen.  I’ve only heard Wayne Newton sing those two words.  The lyric echoes through my mother’s favorite song popular decades ago, but in a few short minutes, the woman sitting at the table next to me has said it twice. I was dining alone in Interlaken, Switzerland and suddenly felt my long departed parent’s presence. “Danke Schoen,” thank you, indeed.

Earlier in the day, I’d arrived in the city by myself. It was snowing lightly as I made my way from the train station to the Hotel du Nord and warmed up before considering the evening ahead.  This was one of my first stops on a solo Swiss train adventure. As the afternoon weather cleared to a soft glow, I elected to take a walk before dining in Interlaken. There was a path from my hotel that wound around the central square. From my room, I glimpsed the edge of downtown on the other side of the large green park, so that’s where I headed.

A few mothers with strollers walked briskly by, otherwise, traffic was light and I had the trail to myself. Pausing, I swiveled my gaze from the fairy book facade of the Victoria Jungfrau Hotel and up to the mountain peaks overhead. As clear as if she’d been standing next to me, I imagined my mother’s high-pitched voice exclaiming, “Oh my!” The view, full of park, hotel, and the giant mountains overhead was shockingly beautiful.

Town Square from Hotel du Nord in Interlaken Switzerland

A corner of the Town Square from Hotel du Nord in Interlaken, Switzerland. Photo: Elaine Masters

I must have been close to the spot where my parents stood on their European vacation long ago. They’d called home to California from Interlaken and my dad explained patiently that the village was set between lakes at the base of the Alps. Suddenly, I no longer felt alone but on a mission to savor the city and toast to my parent’s vacation escape from suburbia many decades earlier.

Detail of the Hotel Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken

The towering facade of the Hotel Victoria-Jungfrau. Photo: Elaine Masters

The village main street was a hushed bustle as small shops completed their day’s business. For an hour, I wandered then followed a young group of Japanese students into a bright Swatch store. The manager and I commiserated about the city and before we parted, she recommended a place for dinner. A few blocks away I stepped into the casual warmth of Cafe des Alpes.

Cafe des Alpes dining in Interlaken

Inside Cafe des Alpes . Photo: Elaine Masters

Shown to a discreet spot in the deep dining room, I slid into an upholstered booth and observed the room. The waiter smoothly lit a small candle alongside a pair of small pine cones on the table. A couple nearby chatted intimately in French.  A business group commandeered a rear banquet table. There were no white linens; all was comfortably casual at Cafe des Alpes. I ordered White Beere, Muchner Weisse, from Hofbrau Muchen. Rosti, a traditional dish, was listed as a menu favorite, its pizza-like crust made from hash brown potatoes, but I opted for a heftier dinner.

Ordering from the Alpen Hut section of the menu, my entree was presented in a steaming skillet. I savored every bit of the thick, ladle-full of red cabbage stewed with a touch of allspice. It kissed moist squares of ‘Jugged Deer,’ wine-soaked bites of venison, which were tender and lean. Several varieties of mushrooms, creamy chestnut halves, and a petite marinated pear posed on the platter. A cheesy helping of spaetzle (noodles) nudged into the gravy. It was delicious and easy to imagine hikers in a remote Alpen hut filling up on a similar dish. Pity I wasn’t going to be working off the calories as easily as they would.

Table bottle of pear schnapps while dining in Interlaken

Table bottle of pear schnapps while dining in Interlaken. Photo: Elaine Masters

A toast to dining in Interlaken

Once my empty dishes were deftly swept away, a bottle of Pear Schnapps appeared in front of me. The clear, strong brew filled a recycled Jack Daniels bottle and the waiter filled a shot glass expertly then slipped away, leaving the bottle. The invitation was dangerously clear – I could help myself! A bottle on their table too, the couple next to me giggled in surprise and we raised our glasses in a toast together to dining in Interlaken.

The cake selection in Cafe des Alpes

The cake selection in Cafe des Alpes. Photo: Elaine Masters

Before leaving I slipped about $10 into the check folder (on the roughly $40 bill.) The waiter asked what the cash was for. “For you and the service,” I replied. He beamed shyly as his palm grazed his heart in thanks and then he leaned forward, swept my hand up, kissing it before disappearing into the kitchen. It was such an unexpected and sweet exchange.

Later I learned that Swiss tipping is done differently. Most often bills are rounded off, the extra offered for service in an efficient and no-fuss manner. Of course, that would be the Swiss way. I’d over-tipped while dining in Interlaken but I think that my parents would have approved. Danke Schoen, indeed.

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Disclosure: I was hosted by Visit Interlaken who offered a gift card to cover the meal – except for the tip!