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Germany - Land of 1200 Sausages Print


Wurst? defines Germany's cities and regions. Quite apart from the obvious ones like the Frankfurter, there is Bratwurst from Franconia, Bregenwurst from Saxony, Pinkel from Bremen, Teewurst from Pomerania, and Weisswurst from Bavaria. Every region has its wurst and it's claimed that there are 1,200 of them - that's more than three times as many as the French have cheeses.



In Germany? sausage embody centuries of national, regional and local history, they are living assertions of local diversity and regional trading links - the gastronomic equivalents of the flourishing regional dialects. They have a special place in the regional and local memory - and indeed in the national psyche.



Peter Peter [the food correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] describes sausage as "history on the plate".



"Traditionally, manufacturing sausages was a very complicated feat of craftsmanship - you needed a lot of experience to mince the meat, to add exotic spices to preserve it," he says.



"So it was the pride and privilege of German free towns, and still nowadays, a lot of sausages bear the names of historically relevant towns."



Take the Nurembergers from Nuremberg, for example, small sausages about the size of a finger.



"They have added cinnamon and other spices. Because Nuremberg was the twin city of Venice, they had a privileged access to the oriental spices."



The nuremberger sausage may not be familiar to non-Germans, but everyone knows the frankfurter. The basic, bland sausage in a bun is available on nearly every street corner across Germany, and across Europe and America as well: smoky, finely minced meat, almost to a paste, then plastered with mustard or tomato ketchup. But the frankfurter did not begin like that.



"The frankfurter, the famous frankfurter, they started as a coronation sausage, in Frankfurt for the Roman emperor," explains Peter.



"They grilled an ox when the emperor was crowned and they filled it with these sausages and it was luxury because of the finest mincemeat. People abroad bought these things because the name of Frankfurt gave them the idea of luxury."



So next time you tuck into a frankfurter, just think for a moment of the link between the humble hot dog and the imperial pageantry in Frankfurt Cathedral.



In the late 19th Century, food production became mechanised in Germany, as it did elsewhere, and wurst manufacture, traditionally a cottage industry, fell victim to the trend. The ability to finely mince meat was no longer a sign of quality and craftsmanship - instead it allowed anything, and frequently everything, to be included in the sausage, making it the food of the proletarian poor. And in Berlin, the fastest growing city in Europe at the time. It became notoriously difficult to be sure what was actually in a Berlin sausage. Hence the famous - though probably apocryphal - remark by Bismarck, that citizens do not really want to know how either laws or sausages are made.



Fifty years later, the poor quality of Berlin sausages was to have a very unexpected consequence. Museums are dedicated to material evidence, and, disappointingly, sausages leave few physical traces. Unlike beer, with its ? legacy of glasses and tankards, sausages have few dishes or utensils that are exclusively connected to them, and so museums struggle to tell the tale of the wurst.



In the British Museum we can muster little more than some suggestive cartoons about 18th Century royal weddings. Which is why it was with surprise and delight that, a few years ago, the international museum community discovered that we all had a new colleague, the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, located just beside Checkpoint Charlie - the most famous crossing point in the Berlin Wall, until it was knocked down in 1989.



The museum's existence speaks of the astounding success of a very late arrival on the wurst scene, not the heir to proud traditions of an Imperial Free City, but the result of food shortages in post-1945 Berlin. Parodying John Maynard Keynes, who wrote a book about The Economic Consequences of the Peace, you might say that the currywurst is one of The Gastronomic Consequences of the Peace. And it is still very much with us - an essential part of the Berlin experience.



"Currywurst was invented by the help of an unknown British soldier, who sold curry powder on the black market in Berlin in the late 40s. And for these very cheap sausages, they need some sensory contrast, so they decided to sprinkle curry powder on the sausage," says Peter.



"It was a time when we frenetically discovered foreign dishes, so it was interesting having something Indian, something exotic. It became a symbol of a town that had never had excellent sausages.



"After 1989, Berlin became very popular; a lot of Germans discovered Berlin - so going to a currywurst stall became an experience of a lot of young people. So a dish that in a certain way is a white trash dish became a symbol of visiting Berlin, of young lifestyle."



To the British observer, Germany is a nation of startling diversity. Regional specialities represent centuries of regional history - different beers and locally distinct sausages, all managed by national regulations that began 500 years ago and that say one thing: This is German.

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