Sauerkraut: Germany’s cuisine for colder months

It might not be difficult to guess that Sauerkraut is a popular dish in Germany; after all, it is a German word. But this well-known German dish – which directly translates to “sour cabbage” – is also widespread in the United States, and has been used in American English since 1776.

Sauerkraut is a form of chopped cabbage that has been salted, fermented and often flavored with additional spices and ingredients such as juniper berries. In Germany, it is often served with pork, sausage or potatoes. Traditionally it is also consumed on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck and wealth during the new year.

The origins of Sauerkraut, however, can be traced back to 200 B.C., when Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage in wine. When Genghis Khan invaded China, he allegedly took the recipe for fermented cabbage and modified it, using salt instead of wine. When the Tatars (Mongolian tribes) arrived in Europe not long thereafter, they brought Sauerkraut with them, and the dish became popular in Eastern Europe and Germanic regions.

Sauerkraut was particularly valuable in northern climates because it could be preserved and consumed all throughout the winter. By allowing the dried cabbage to ferment, sugars are turned into lactic acid, which function as a preservative and allow for the long-term storage of the dish. The fermented cabbage also retains many of its nutrients and is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. In fact, Europeans have long used Sauerkraut to treat stomach ulcers and soothe the digestive tract.

Although Sauerkraut was not invented in Germany, it became a part of German cuisine and culture, and when German immigrants came to the US, they brought Sauerkraut with them. The dish was particularly useful for long voyages across the Atlantic, since it could be so easily preserved. The Pennsylvania Dutch, which settled in Lancaster County, made Sauerkraut one of their specialties, and continue to serve it on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of good fortune.

World War I led to the development of anti-German sentiment in the US. For the duration of the war, Sauerkraut was referred to as “liberty cabbage.” Today, however, the dish continues to be known by its German name, Sauerkraut.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: The Pig Museum

Countless plush pigs are presented in the pig museum in Stuttgart, Germany. The Stuttgart pig museum displays more than 50,000 lucky pigs, piggy banks and plush pigs. © dpa / picture-alliance

Are your kids tired of spending hours in “boring” museums?

Take them to the Pig Museum in Stuttgart, Germany!

This museum features 25 themed rooms with more than 50,000 different pigs, ranging from piggy banks to stuffed animal pigs. Visitors can learn about the evolution of different species of pigs, as well as myths and legends about pigs from around the world.

This museum is less than ordinary – and its history is unusual, too. The concept began when Erika Wilhelmer, the owner of the museum and an avid pig paraphernalia collector, decided to convert a slaughterhouse into a museum in 1988. Over the years, her collection grew – and in 1992 the Guinness Book of World Records declared it the world’s largest pig museum. Once the museum had reached 40,000 pig items, it was relocated to its current location in Stuttgart.

Whether you find pigs adorable or you have an appetite for them, the Pig Museum in Stuttgart is sure to teach you something new about these intelligent farm animals! And when you’re finished exploring the history and culture surrounding pigs, you can relax in the beer garden and order some delicious Swabian delicacies.

A tram decorated as a pig stands in front of the pig museum in Stuttgart, Germany. © dpa / picture-alliance
Countless piggy banks are presented in the pig museum in Stuttgart. © dpa / picture-alliance

Word of the Week: Fanmeile

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During big televised sporting events – like the World Cup – thousands of Germans gather in the streets to watch the games together on large screens throughout the city. They will usually be waving flags, cheering and sporting their favorite team’s colors. In German, this sort of area is called a Fanmeile (“fan mile”) – a public space that is transformed during significant sporting events.

With the 2018 World Cup about to begin, Fanmeilen will be popping up all over Germany. This summer in Berlin, the street between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column will be transformed into a massive Fanmeile (the largest in Germany!), complete with food and drink stands. Television screens will air the games while up to 100,000 people gather on the street to watch.

Germans sometimes refer to a Fanmeile as a “public viewing”, which they use to describe places that air sports games. But while a public viewing can also take place in a smaller locale such as a bar, restaurant, school or church, Fanmeilen are large-scale outdoor regions that typically accommodate thousands of people.

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Fanmeilen originated in Germany during the 2006 World Cup, which means they are still relatively new. In 2006, Germany hosted the World Cup – but not everyone could get tickets. FIFA-sponsored Fanmeilen were therefore set up for people without tickets to watch the games. The concept was a huge success, and the screenings became events in themselves – especially the screening of the Germany vs. Argentina game in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finale. The longest Fanmeile was located in Berlin and brought together 900,000 soccer enthusiasts.

Consequentially, the word Fanmeile was selected by the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache as the 2006 Word of the Year.

Berlin’s Fanmeile is still the largest World Cup viewing area in Germany – and the number of fans will surely increase if Germany makes it into the finals this summer. Additionally, Fanmeilen have popped up all over Europe – including countries like Austria and Switzerland.

Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, make sure to check out a Fanmeile if you’re in Germany. It’s the experience that counts!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Pretzels: A medieval German delicacy

If you’ve ever been to a German bakery, you might have noticed the fresh-baked pretzels every morning behind the glass. Pretzels have long been a part of German food culture – but they have also made their way to the United States.

There are several unconfirmed stories about the invention of the pretzel, but the earliest recorded evidence of pretzels is their appearance in the crest of German bakers’ guilds in the year 1111. A pretzel was also depicted in an 1185 painting of a banquet for the Persian King Ahaseurus, which was published in the Hortus Deliciarum, a medieval manuscript that was compiled in Alsace (which at that time was claimed by the German Empire). A prayer book from 1140 also shows St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. Later images show pretzels hung around childrens’ necks on New Year’s Day for good luck, on Christmas trees in Austria and as part of Easter egg hunts in Germany. During the 16th century, pretzels were consumed on Good Friday, and some Catholics considered them an important part of Lent.

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Pretzels were deeply integrated in both religion and German culture. As a result, German immigrants brought pretzels with them when they came to the US in the 1700s, and pretzels quickly became a staple food of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In 1861, a man named Julius Sturgis founded the first pretzel bakery in the US, calling it the Sturgis Pretzel House. The bakery, which is located in Lititz, Pennsylvania, continues to produce pretzels and is also a tourist attraction, run by Sturgis’ descendents. To this day, Pennsylvania remains a hot spot for pretzel production, producing about 80 percent of all pretzels in the US.

In Germany, pretzels also grew in popularity and can now be found at food carts, fairs and festivals and childrens’ lunch boxes. From Germany’s Oktoberfest to the pretzel stand at a US shopping mall, this medieval European delicacy has made its way around the world.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Worms celebrates the 1,000th birthday of its cathedral

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On the west bank of the Rhine River is one of Germany’s oldest cities: Worms. And this year, the city is celebrating the 1,000th birthday of its oldest cathedral – a historic building that has shaped the city’s history like none other.

The St. Peter’s Dom stands on the highest point of the inner city of Worms. The historic cathedral was consecrated in the year 1018 and it has been the site of many important events in German history.

Worms is prominently featured in the famous epic poem The Nibelungenlied (in English: “The Song of the Nibelungs”) – and one scene takes place at the portal of the cathedral.

But the Worms Cathedral became even more well-known during the Martin Luther era. In 1521, the Diet of Worms (an imperial council presided over by Emperor Charles V) was held in the cathedral and Luther was ordered to appear there and respond to charges of heresy. Luther spent 10 days in Worms and refused to recant – and this changed the course of history.

“Here I stand, I can do no other,” Luther said before the Diet of Worms.

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Centuries later, the St. Peter’s Dom is a popular tourist attraction. As the city celebrates its 1,000th birthday, former German President Joachim Gauck delivered a ceremonial speech on Saturday.

“The people of Worms identify with their cathedral, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran or not religious at all,” Tobias Schafer, a provost at the cathedral, told Deutsche Welle.

Travel Tuesday: Marksburg Castle

Germany is home to thousands of castles. While some are ruins from the Middle Ages, others are extravagant palaces constructed by Germany’s last monarchs.

For those who enjoy seeing medieval castles, the Marksburg Castle in Rhineland-Palatinate is worth a trip. This majestic castle sits high on a cliff, which made it impenetrable to enemy forces and allowed it to survive for centuries.

The castle was constructed in the 12th century by a powerful family in the region. Over the centuries that followed, it was rebuilt many times over by high noble counts.

In the 19th century, French emperor Napoleon took control of the region and gave the Marksburg Castle to an ally of his, the Duke of Nassau. At this time, the castle was used as a prison and a home for disabled soldiers.

Castle ownership changed hands again before it was finally sold to the German Castle Association in the year 1900. Since 1931, Marksburg has been the head office of this organization, which is dedicated to the conservation of historic buildings.

Today, the castle is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is open daily for guided tours.

Sven Marx Cycles Around the World

For the many of us here who bike to work, even a half hour ride can wind us enough to consider purchasing an E-bike. So when we found out we’d be visited by a German cyclist who is making his way around the WORLD, we stood in awe and had a plethora of questions ready to throw at him.

DCM Boris Ruge with cyclist Sven Marx outside of the German Embassy.

Who is this mystery cycling? His name is Sven Marx and he is someone to follow—we suggest on social media rather than on a bike. About ten years ago, Sven found out he had a 1 cm large tumor of the brain stem. After having it partially removed, he was left with double vision which throws of his balance. Within the same span of time, he was also diagnosed with skin cancer. Obviously, both balance and exposure to the sun are major parts of being on a bicycle. Sven promised himself, however, that if he survived to his 50th birthday with two life-threatening diagnoses, he would hit the road on a trip around the world.

Since rolling out on April 23rd, 2017, he has visited 5 continents, 41 countries, stopped in 27 capitals, and cycled over 43,500 miles! He even made a stop to visit the pope! He often sleeps in a tent overnight and carries everything on his bike—clothes, food, equipment, everything. His bike, in fact, weighs a whopping 132 pounds.

Sven consumes at least 10 chocolate bars a day to intake enough calories.

He said he can’t keep count of his calories intake when he is riding so many miles per day but that his diet consists of a lot of sugar and salt to keep his body energized—including “at least ten chocolate bars a day”.

Sven’s mission is to use his trip to raise awareness for and start a conversation about reducing barriers for those with disabilities. Under the motto “Inclusion Requires Action” he hopes his cycling the world will showcase that disabilities should not hold anyone back from reaching for their dreams and that anything is possible if we ensure access for everyone.
During his stop at the German Embassy, Sven shared a hot coffee with our Deputy Chief of Mission Boris Ruge and took a well-deserved break inside to explain his mission and experiences. He told us that the most important aspect to completing such a long journey by bike is staying calm and avoiding allowing your heart to race. So in the end it was the diplomats who were out of breath– with excitement, compared to the heroic cyclist!

Follow Sven’s journey on his blog (in German) at sven-globetrotter.com.

By Claire MacFarlane, German Embassy

German scientist Joachim Hecker brings experiments to American schools

For the next few weeks, German scientist Joachim Hecker is in the US, where he is visiting schools and conducting entertaining science experiments with high school kids.

Before beginning his roadtrip, Hecker sat down with us at the German Embassy and showed us a few of his favorite experiments — including a trick to burn money without actually damaging the bill!

Watch the interview with Joachim Hecker:

Watch the money-burning experiment only:

Travel Tuesday: Schrecksee

High up in the German Alps is a lake so eerie that it’s known as the Schrecksee (“fright lake”).  With an elevation of 5,949 feet, the Schrecksee is Germany’s highest alpine lake – and it’s often covered in fog.

While some might consider it spooky, others would call it beautiful: the Schrecksee has a mystical feel to it.

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Located in the Swabian region of Allgäu, the natural lake lies in the Alps — but getting there is no easy feat. Hiking up to the Schrecksee takes about seven to eight hours round-trip, on average. The views, however, are worth the effort: the Austrian border is located only about 1,000 feet away and hikers can peer over to Germany’s neighbor from the Schrecksee.

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Those wanting to cool off can swim in the lake — but with temperatures around 55 degrees in the summer, few find the desire to do so.

Today, the Schrecksee remains a lesser-known travel destination in Germany, perhaps due to the difficulty in reaching it. But for those with a sense of adventure and motivation for a long hike, the Schrecksee is well worth a visit! Just make sure to start your hike early enough to make it back down before sunset.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kaffeeklatsch

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You probably know that Germans love gathering for Kaffee und Kuchen (“coffee and cake”), traditionally in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. But did you know there’s a name for this type of social gathering? Germans call their afternoon coffee-and-cake sessions a Kaffeeklatsch (“coffee gossip”).

Like the name implies, a Kaffeeklatsch presents the opportunity for coffee (or tea) and conversation. It can be held in someone’s house, at the office or even at a cafe. Traditionally, however, a Kaffeeklatsch is held in someone’s home – often on Sundays. Many Germans use Kaffee und Kuchen as an opportunity to invite friends or family to catch up. And they’ll sometimes make quite an event out of it, bringing out a pretty tablecloth and their best tableware. In addition to coffee, Germans will usually serve some sort of pastry, whether it’s homemade cheesecake or something sweet from the bakery.

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