Spicy sausage that is worthy of a shrine in Berlin
Musuem to open in honour of Germany's favourite meat snack, the currywurst
Saturday 15 August 2009
It is Germany's answer to fish and chips, fried pork sausage chopped into slices, drowned in ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder. Buy one at any Berlin kiosk and you will invariably be asked whether you want it served with or without its intestine.
Revolting to some, the humble currywurst (or curried sausage) is considered one of the delicacies of Teutonic cuisine. The Germans have been eating 800 million of them a year since the snack was first offered to the war-ravaged nation in 1949. And today, to mark the snack's sixtieth anniversary, Berlin will open its very own Currywurst Museum, a 600sq-metre shrine to the spicy smothered sausage.
Behind the city's former Cold War crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie, the €5m museum is a currywurst Disneyland. Visitors are greeted by a human-sized currywurst puppet and a replica Berlin sausage-stand before embarking on an interactive tour which traces the dish from its humble origins up to the present day. "The exhibition is a tribute to the currywurst phenomenon," said Birgit Breloh, the museum's director. "No other German dish inspires such excitement."
Being Berlin, a museum devoted to the consumption of meat has already attracted ideological protest. At a media preview, demonstrators from Germany's Vegetarian Society gatecrashed the exhibition, sporting pig snouts and arguing in favour of a humane alternative, a vegetarian currywurst. The museum, which hopes to attract some 350,000 visitors a year, devotes a large section to the inventor, Herta Heuwer.
The Berlin shop assistant lived in the city's British military sector after the Second World War and is credited with creating the popular snack from ingredients obtained from a British Naafi (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes): ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. It was an attempt to offer Berliners something a bit more exciting than dull post-war rations.
As at countless kiosks across Germany and Berlin today, the sauce was poured over a chopped-up sausage on a paper plate. Customers are asked before the sauce is administered, whether they want the darm, or skin, on the sausage left on or taken off.
Ms Heuwer's currywurst proved such a roaring success that she employed a staff of 19 to run a stand in West Berlin's Charlottenburg district during the Fifties and Sixties. She patented her sauce, called Chillup, in 1951 and a metal plaque honouring her contribution to sausage cuisine today marks the spot where her stand once stood. Nowadays Berlin's leading currywurst stand is in the east Berlin district of Prenzlauerberg and patronised by such worthies as Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor.
The stand has been in the same family since 1942. Its owner "discovered" the currywurst in West Berlin in the 1950s before the building of the city's infamous Wall, and imported the recipe to the communist east.
Martin Löwer, the museum's curator says the sausage is a cult icon in the city, with Berliners scoffing 70 million a year. "People from all walks of life enjoy the experience," he said. "Its uncomplicated and that's what people want." But the city's claim to the sausage is the subject of a still unresolved dispute with Hamburg, which insists that its sausage-sellers invented the currywurst two years before Ms Heuwer.
Irritating as Hamburg's counter-claim may be, the currywurst is, in any case, no longer the favourite snack of Berliners. The spicy sausage was knocked off its perch in the capital decades ago by the Turkish doner kebab.
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