Currywurst is a fast-food specialty found all over Germany. According to some (ie Wikipedia), currywurst was invented by Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, and has been popular with locals and tourists alike ever since. The sausage is covered in curry flavoured ketchup (yum…) and is often served with french fries. Currywurst is often served in stalls on the street (on little pieces of card like in the photo below). Currywurst is obviously rather popular – 800 million servings are sold in Germany each year… So, even though currywurst is a stereotypical food associated with Germany, there’s some truth behind is as it’s such a popular street snack.
Europe used to be 80% – 90% covered in forest. Nowadays, this is more like 3%.
Glühwein – mulled wine
Served by most German families around Christmas time, Glühwein is the German version of mulled wine famous worldwide. There are many different varieties: ingredients range from from cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods to cloves and oranges. German Glühwein is normally mixed in with rum or brandy. So children don’t get left out, there are many recipes for a non-alcoholic type – apple juice is used as the base for this. Here’s a recipe that everyone can enjoy as a winter warmer during the Christmas season:
4 cups of apple juice (best not from concentrate)
2 cups of black tea
2 tablespoons of sugar
The peel and juice of 1 lemon
The peel and juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
Heat the apple juice and black tea in a pan, then add the other ingredients slowly, stirring all the time.
Strain the Glühwein through a sieve, then pour into mugs for serving.
Lebkuchen – German gingerbread
Often in the shape of Lebkuchen Herzen – gingerbread hearts – you can find these German biscuits in many other countries around Christmas time. In London, they are sold at market stalls, hanging on colourful strings. The Lebkuchen usually feature Christmas messages written in icing writing, or winter-related pictures like Santa, reindeer or snowmen. You can also buy plain hearts to decorate yourself at home. Although in Germany Lebkucken are eaten all year round, the Christmas type is normally softer and sweeter, spiced with cinnamon.
Two sweet things traditionally eaten around Christmas time in Holland are chocolate letters from Sinterklaas, and pepernoten (similar to kruidnoten).
Rather than celebrate like many other countries, on December 24 or 25, the big day for the Dutch is December 5. Before Sinterklaas (their version of Santa/ Father Christmas) arrives, on the 5th, children leave their shoes next to the fire place – or nowadays, the radiator – in the hope that their shoes will be filled during the night. Normally, they leave a little treat for Sinterklaas’ horse, like a carrot or some hay. When they wake up, they find some sweets or a little present in their shoes.
Pepernoten and kruidnoten are like little round biscuits, often mixed with sweets and given in sacks to little children at the time of Sinterklaas. They are spiced with ginger and cinnamon, and are often hidden in rooms along with chocolate coins for children to hunt for on Sinterklaas eve.
At many Dutch Sinterklaas parties, people also receive chocolate initials, the first letter of each person’s name. These letters, which come in melk (milk), witte (white), or puur (dark) chocolate, are popular throughout the Sinterklaas season, early December, and are eaten by children and adults alike. The letters are only sold from the first day of October till December 5 . We can trace the custom of giving people edible letters back to Germanic times – when children were born, they were given a bread letter as a sign of good fortune for their lives. Interestingly, we can see evidence of pastry letters in some Dutch Masters‘ still-life paintings which date back to the 1500 and 1600’s.
German Christmas does not start on Christmas Eve but starts at Advent. There are four Advent Sundays before Christmas when Germans light a candle on each Sunday on beautiful wreaths. There are sometimes also small presents given on those evenings. On 6th December it is St Nicholas day where the children put a plate under their beds in the night before and tradition says that St Nicholas comes and brings presents if the children have been good and sticks and coal if they were not. However the biggest difference between an English and a German Christmas is that the Germans celebrate on Christmas Eve. The presents are opened then, followed by a family meal. In Germany they do not have a single dominant Christmas meal like turkey, but instead eat goose or carp. Often Father Christmas visits the family on Christmas Eve and children play their instruments or recite poems. Christmas Day and Boxing Day mean further family meals but do not have any special traditions, unlike in other countries.
In Austria and Germany, the traditional costume known as Tracht always used to be the preserve of the ultra-conservative. But these traditional clothes – lederhosen for men and dirndl dresses for women – have recently become rather fashionable.
So says the BBC.co.uk article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19976271. Apparently, not only is the typical Austrian outfit seen on people in the countryside, it’s also everywhere in the big cities like Vienna (although in a less obvious form: the traditional green-collared jackets are an example). And it’s not only the locals who are falling back in love with the lederhosen and dirndls – when the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood visited Austria about 10 years ago, she said:
‘I do not understand you Austrians. If every woman wore a dirndl, there would not be any more ugliness’
The people of Austria seem to have taken note: recently, the shops that sell the ‘Tracht’ have been reporting big profits, and you can buy the outfits all over – not just in specialist shops. Maybe Londoners will catch on and start walking round dressed as Beefeaters.
Angela Merkel is tomorrow morning landing in Greece for crisis talks with Karolos Papoulias and the Greek government. Karolos Papoulias – the president of the country – and Merkel will be trying to sort out a deal to stabilize the Eurozone.
All of Europe hopes that a deal can be done – otherwise there is a risk that Greece may have to leave the Eurozone, creating enormous uncertainty for the whole of the continent AND BEYOND. Fingers crossed.