DAY TWENTY FOUR Duelling Sausages
This lunchtime is being spent under the linden tree in Niederdorla at the geographical centre of Germany. We are in Thuringia and our Thuringian picnic is, of course, a Thuringian Bratwurst feast with the local cassis mustard made by Born Feinkost. There is remarkable pride in this part of the world for their sausage – the Thuringian Bratwurst dates back to 1404 and is the only sausage with its own dedicated museum (the currywurst museum in Berlin doesn't count). And it tastes special: pork with pepper, caraway, marjoram, and garlic cooked by roasting over charcoal, cooled occasionally with sprinklings of Thuringian beer.
Thuringian Bratwurst (c)germany.travel
Whichever way you turn under this linden tree, you are gazing in the direction of unique regional sausages. If you google 'sausage map of Germany', you will waste your time. There isn't one. The sheer number of regional variations is beyond the scope of cartography. These variations bind a region's identity to its speciality sausages (and beer) and make for a shared German heritage. This did not escape von Bismarck when, in the late nineteenth century, he welded the multiplicity of independent states into a united Germany. The shared heritage of beer and sausages just overwhelmed the religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences of the new nation. Bismarck was a huge man of 20 stones, partial to sausages and beer. He liked to have a bowl of sausages at his right hand at breakfast. His aphorism that “to retain respect for sausages and policy, one must not watch them in the making” lives on. Herrings too were a favourite: the 'Bismarck Herring' is a filleted salted herring marinaded in vinegar and served cold.
Bismarck was a great one for duelling: on one occasion he was insulted by Rudolf Virchow, an expert in pathology, and so called him out. Virchow, of course, had the choice of weapons and opted for sausages. He took a pair of cooked sausages and infected one with trichina intestinal parasites and said “Let His Excellency do me the honour of choosing whichever of these he wishes to eat and I will eat the other.” He heard no more from Bismarck. Perhaps the best evidence of the deep roots that sausages have in German culture lies in the language. In England, though we really do eat 1.5 billion sausage-based meals a year, we never hear a sausage idiom - except the ghastly 'you silly sausage'. In Germany, you hear them all the time:
Das ist mir Wurscht (this means sausage to me) - don't know, mate Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst (it’s all about the sausage) – this really matters Die Wurst vom Teller ziehen – he's so useless, he can't even steal a sausage from a plate Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen - playing an offended, or sulking, liver sausage/ going off in a huff Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei - everything has an end, only the sausage has two Jemandem eine Extrawurst braten - to fry an extra sausage for someone ie give them a treat There may be as many as 1,500 different kinds of German wurste. Some of the more famous include our Thuringian sausages; the Lange Rote, 'Freiburg's shortest landmark' - a thick, herby, red coloured pork sausage; Nürnberg rostbratwurst – a pork chipolata with marjoram, ginger, cardamom and lemon powder; Landjäger - an air dried sausage of beef, pork, lard, sugar and spices; and Bregenwurst - the Race Marshal's least favourite - pork, pork belly, and pig or cattle brain, served with kale. The Frankfurter Bockwurst, made of veal with some pork and paprika, though it looks similar, is not the American hot dog, which is a smoked sausage.
And if you are going to Nurnberg, you must book into the Wursthotel in Rittersbach. This splendid establishment has wurste to eat, all sorts of wurste on the wallpaper, wurst mobiles hanging down and even a wurst-shaped pillow for your head.
the owner, Claus Boebel, in one of his bedrooms
The recipe for one famous sausage, Teewurst, is still secret. It is thought to be made from pork, bacon, and beef, smoked over beechwood and then fermented – which gives the distinctive sour flavour. Invented in 1874, the Teewurst, as the name implies, was designed to be eaten at teatime on open-faced sandwiches.
Currywurste are usually skinless sausages. The method of creating sausages without skin was developed in the bleak years just after the war by Max Brueckner, a butcher in East Germany, who used hot water to create a protein casing around the sausage. Brueckner was something of a local hero: the Soviets ordered him to supply two types of sausage – one with a high meat content for their troops and one without for the locals. Bruckner delivered the two types to the authorities but at some point they discovered that he had reversed his instructions. He was tried and sentenced to death. Somehow he managed to escape to West Berlin where he started his own business - and one of his first customers was none other than Herta Heuer, the lady who, in 1949, invented currywurst.
One sausage in particular that you will be offered in Munich is Weisswurst. These fat white sausages of back bacon and veal with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger and cardamom are a breakfast sausage, necessarily so because they contain no preservatives and therefore should not, as they say, be allowed to 'hear the church bells chime at noon'. It is unlikely that you will hear the noonday bells anyway, if you are attending the Munich Oktoberfest. This is an eighteen day festival of beer and sausages that originated in 1810 as part of the marriage celebrations of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Foolishly, thirty years later when the coffers were a little empty, Ludwig imposed a tax on beer. Such was the ferocity of the Bavarian Beer Riots that Ludwig had to bring down the price of beer by ten percent to calm things. These days his Octoberfest is host to six million visitors who eat 60,000 sausages, drink two million gallons of beer and share 1,400 portaloos. And the visitors lose things: 2,685 items in 2018 - mostly keys, clothes and mobile phones but also portable travel cages for cats, dentures, a leather whip, a tuba, 2 crutches and a drum set. Each has a story. But for how long will Germany's sausage culture last? Between 1961 and 2011, annual meat consumption rose from 64 kilograms to 90 kilograms per person. Then it started to decline and Germans now average 60 kilograms. The German Society for Nutrition, however, recommends an annual consumption of 30 kilograms. The pressure is on. Signs of change are appearing: meat-free Christmas markets and, in 2017, fifteen vegan Christmas markets.
In 2016, Germany had the highest percentage of vegetarians - 10% (7.8 million) and vegans - 1.1% (900,000) in the west. Like most Europeans, Germans are increasingly worried about antibiotics in meat, large-scale “factory farming”, felling rain forests for crops for livestock – and the implications for global warming from meat consumption. And finally, and in a way most significantly for the survival of the sausage, the creators of these regional specialities, the independent artisan butchers, are disappearing. Forty years ago, there were 70,000 butchers in Germany; now there are 17,000 and around 400 leave the profession each year.
Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei - everything has an end, only the sausage has two. Perhaps, in the future, one will be meat and the other vegetable.
On that note, here is the 1987 hit by Stephan Remmler Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei - https://youtu.be/a4JSE32fuOc
This page lists the twenty amazing mustards made by Born Feinkost - https://born-feinkost.de/de/Shop/Feinschmecker-Senf
Here are somewhat verbose instructions for making your own authentic Bratwurst - https://www.daringgourmet.com/homemade-german-bratwurst/
And Big Boy advises on the ten best beer tents at the Oktoberfest - https://youtu.be/YbL2Hj61Vog