A Bratkartoffelverhältnis, which literally means “fried potato relationship,” is not about how much Germans love fried potatoes, but it is about finding a meal ticket, or at the very least someone who cooks for you.
“Er hat ein Bratkartoffelverhältnis mit ihr,” essentially translates, for instance, into “he only sees her because she feeds and waters him.”
At the same time, “er sucht ein Bratkartoffelverhältnis” means “he’s looking for a meal ticket.”
According to some online sources, the origin of this expression dates back to the early 20th-century, World War I era, when short-term love affairs were entered into because of the better provisions provided by one particular partner in the relationship.
These “relationships of convenience” often revolved around adequate food, shelter and other basic needs – things that are often in short supply in wartime or other crisis situations.
Today, however, this expression is more often than not used in Germany as a tongue-in-cheek, synonym for a “wilde Ehe” (wild marriage), a reference to co-habitation without tying the knot. This is a not entirely uncommon relationship status, for instance, in Germany and most Nordic countries, where a couple might live together for decades, with or without children, in what is officially recognized after a certain period of time as a common-law marriage.
Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) are, incidentally, a very popular side dish in Germany, usually fried up in a pan with some onions and bits of ham or bacon. They are often served with fried eggs, sometimes with ketchup on the side, a meal that is also known as “chips’n’egg” in Great Britain. (Note to anyone who might want to try this at home: the Bratkartoffeln are usually prepared by slicing already pre-cooked, boiled potatoes into a hot, greased-up skillet – this is a way of using up leftover boiled potatoes, another staple of the traditional German diet.)
A Verhältnis, moreover, refers to a “relationship.” So if you hear someone say “er hat ein Verhältnis mit ihr” (he has a relationship with her), it usually means there is some kind of hanky panky going on.
Other nouns that share the “Brat-” prefix – besides the classic bratwurst (sausage), or brats, natürlich (of course) – include: Bratfisch (fried fisch); Brathering (fried herring); Brathühnchen/Brathendl (roast chicken); Bratfett/Bratenfett (fat for frying); Bratensoße (gravy); Bratenfleisch (meat for roasting); Bratenwender (fish slice); Bratofen/Bratröhre (oven); Bratpfanne (frying pan); and Bratrost (Grill).