Thinking about German food most people imagine sauerkraut, massive sausages, and foaming mugs of beer. It's true a lot of Germans love that, but it's by no means the whole story.
There is now lots of lighter, modern 'German' food, and of course Germany is well stocked with Turkish, Italian, Thai, Greek and Yugoslavian and Indian restaurants. Most popular are the Turkish restaurants with Doner Kebabs (Döner Kebap) and Falafel leading the way.
In Berlin almost every street has a Turkish restaurant, some of which are open 24 hours. Nowadays there are also lots of 'Schnellimbiss' (fast-food stalls) offering German versions of fast-food, for example 'Currywurst', a fried sausage in a spicy, curry-like sauce.
Much of Germany is very fertile land with lots of water available and a stable climate, meaning that meat and dairy products have always been abundant.
This resulted in a problem of storage, which is why so much of German food is 'preserves' - smoked, marinated, salted, and pickled food. Historically Germany had more interchange and contact with North Europe that with Asia or Southern Europe, hence the tendency away from lighter, spicy foods.
Not so long ago Germans would eat five meals a day but now people usually eat three. Traditionally the first meal is breakfast (Frühstück) which is usually based on bread and rolls with any choice of honey, jam, cheese or cold meats, plus fruit, muesli, cornflakes, boiled eggs, yoghurt, cream cheese (Quark) all washed down with plentiful coffee or tea.
The main meal of the day was lunch (Mittagessen) which can be anywhere between two and seven courses. There can be an appetiser (Vorspeise), a hot soup, a main course usually consisting of potatoes, vegetables and meat, side dishes (Beilagen), and finally a sweet course called Nachspeisen. Dinner (Abendbrod) is usually cold and is served from about five to six o'clock.
Nowadays the difference in German's lifestyle means that dinner is often the main meal, and 'continental' breakfasts of cereals sometimes replace the traditional German one. But Germans still take their breakfast seriously, some cafes serve breakfast until late in the afternoon, and it's just as normal to invite friends round for breakfast as for any other meal.
Pork is the most popular meat in Germany and there are about 1500 varieties of sausage, including: Bierschinken - containing pistachios, Wienerwurst – beef and pork flavoured with garlic and coriander, (thought to be the origin of the American frankfurter), Bierwurst – with juniper berries and cardamom, and Bratwurst which contains pork, veal, nutmeg and ginger.
There are about 300 varieties of bread in Germany, most of which are delicious, dark breads full of protein. Examples include the grainy black pumpernickel, the salty pretzel, Landbrot ("farm bread") made mostly of wheat and just a bit of rye, and sunflower bread, filled with sunflower seeds. In the city of Ulm there is a museum dedicated to bread and its history.
For flavouring, common in German food are juniper, cardamom, caraway, pepper (black and white), dill, marjoram, and parsley.
Sweet German dishes also come in all shapes and sizes. Some are well known outside of Germany for example Blackforest Gateau (Schwarzwalden Kirschtorte), and stollen but these are just the tip of the iceberg, concealing a mind blowing and delicious variety.
It would be terrible to make your time in Germany the start of your diet, you'd be missing out on such pleasures as: Brandy soaked raisin cookies, candied sweet potatoes, marble cake, Pflaumenkuchen (plum, coffee and almonds) and vast amounts of fruity strudels, punches and ice cream.
Germany also has a claim to the invention of marzipan, although most people believe it began as a confection in Middle Eastern harems. The alternative story is that during a famine in 1407 a baker in Lübeck was left with only four ingredients but still had to make food. The ingredients he had were sugar, almonds eggs and rose-water, and the result, marzipan, was so delicious that people carried on eating it even after the famine was over.
Tea is usually black or herbal, and watch out for the Milchkaffee, a whole bowl of coffee heaped with foamed milk. Germans are also very fond of a good beer ("liquid bread") and Germany has around 5-6,000 varieties of beer.
The famed Oktoberfest in Munich celebrates German beer (and drinking it) in September each year. Germany produces quality wine, sparkling wine, and brandy (they are known as Wein, Sekt and Weinbrand respectively). German wines are usually not too high in alcohol content and tend to be sweet. Every year the Moselle wine festival is held in the village of Bernkastel-Kues, during which the village fountain spouts Moselle wine.
In spite of the modern trends in Germany away from heavy foods, obesity is still a big problem in Germany and obese people are still heavily stigmatised. The annual cost of obesity in Germany has been estimated at US$10 billion. In 1999 it was estimated that 47% of Germans were overweight and 11% were obese.
In 2004 Bloomburg News Service reported how an obese man who was teased by his relatives for his excessive flatulence shut himself up in his room after a meal of corned beef, beans and cabbage. The next day he was found dead and was declared to have died as a consequence of breathing in methane produced by his own body. Three of his rescuers were taken ill and one was hospitalised.
Other articles by Robert Easton
The Amber Room
The Berlin Wall
Hiking in Austria
Sex in Germany
Sex in Austria
Sex in Switzerland
Skiing in Switzerland
German sausages come in all shapes, colors and sizes
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