Shinjuku, Japan. 1954. On my 22nd birthday my mates took me to a famous German restaurant for dinner. I remember that it was tucked away in a side street — an alley, really — off the main drag; and during the war, we were told, it was the favorite dining spot for the visiting German officers, basically your average Nazi officer with money and good taste.

While we dined, a tall man with an eye tic visible behind a monocle — I swear this is a true story — came to our table with a big camera and flashbulb attachment and took our picture. I wish I had that shot now, but that’s a story for another day.

This day, the menu sported the usual dishes: wienerschnitzel, sauerkraut, sauerbraten, and there at the bottom of the menu, a name that jumped from the page: Kartoffelsalat! Yah! Kartoffelsalat, hot German potato salad. My father’s favorite.

St. Louis 1936-39. Potatoes. There were always potatoes on the table at supper, a large bowl of baked and peeled or simply mashed.

Yes, we were Irish, and everyone knows the potato is to the Irish what pasta is to the Italians and rice to the Chinese. But our non-Irish neighbors, the Edelsteins, down the block, had them at supper, as did the non-Irish Garcias and the Vogts on Michigan Avenue. It was at the height of the Great Depression, and potatoes, like tomatoes, were cheaper.

But at least twice a week my mother prepared for her husband his favorite potato dish: the delicious Kartoffelsalat, hot potato salad, with vinegar and bacon, awash with its drippings. I remember this dish simply by the aroma.

Don’t go away. This is not a food column. This is simply a recollection of my father’s strange passion for German food, the heavy stuff that raised his blood pressure and probably killed him, especially sauerkraut, which I, too, came to love.

For years I wondered why the son of two Irish immigrants famously fond of pork chops and potatoes came to take this bizarre departure. Then one Christmas, Pop’s sister Kate told me how it came about.

When my grandparents came to America, fate or friends lured them to South St. Louis, where, because of the great Anheuser-Busch Brewery’s economic impact there, a generous population of Germans dominated the streets. Irish and Germans, strange street fellows indeed.

When my father and his brothers Jack and Pat and sister Kate were of school age, the immigrant Devines moved south to Ivory Street into a nice apartment next to a German bakery and six blocks from St. Boniface Church and school. A Catholic Church and school so close? How wonderful. We’ll take it.

The kids were immediately enrolled there under the care, research tells me, of the Sisters of Christian Charity.

Hold on, here comes one of the family’s favorite legends.

On the first Christmas of that year, Pop and his siblings came home, stood by the dining room table and proudly recited the Holy Rosary and sang the carol “Silent Night” in Irish-accented German.

Aunt Kate said the assembled family and friends did not applaud. They sat there in the glow of the season, stunned and, she added, horrified.

If Grandpa had had access to Google back then, he might have checked and found, to his horror, that the church down the street was named after “St. Boniface, an English monk, who had devoted his religious life to the conversion of the Germanic tribes, and who came to be known as the apostle of the Germans.”

Aunt Kate then recorded that only weeks later, the elder Devines took a firmer personal hand by transferring the kids from the “Germans” over to the more acceptable St. Columbkille’s School and Church at 8200 Michigan Ave., a stone’s throw from where I would come into the world.

My research shows that this church served the Irish families of south St. Louis.

Here’s the delicious punch line: When St.Columbkille’s closed in 1952, the remaining parishioners were asked to join St. Boniface Church, the German parish four blocks north. By this time, the last two members of my family had long departed for greener pastures, but I’m sure they would have declined the offer.

Kartoffelsalat! Bring me a beer.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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