The (second) breakfast of champions

Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for the British newspaper The Times, explores the more mystifying rituals of Teutonic breakfast culture.

The (second) breakfast of champions
Photo: DPA

Germany is governed by ritual, as strange and as rigid as those in Japan. However, instead of the oriental tea-ceremony, the Germans have the “Second Breakfast.” Usually this is an elegantly packed, lovingly unpacked Leberwurstbrot, which must be consumed between 9:30 and 10 am.

The other day I went to the bakers for a cup of coffee and found that I had to balance my cup and my Fleischsalat (only Germans could come up with something called “meat salad” to put on your toast) on the very edge of a table because the place was full of orange-glowing rubbish collectors, carpenters and gardeners. A bus driver popped by and so did the policemen who should have been keeping an eye on the local Jewish memorial.

“Aha,” said one customer, “you celebrate Bergfest too?” Mountains give me nightmares – I have long argued for making Bavaria flat – so I didn’t understand the reference. Apparently the Bergfest, and my apologies to readers who have always known this, is celebrated at 12 o’clock on Wednesday because it is the summit of the working week. From then on, it is all downhill towards the well-deserved weekend.

Fine, I thought, I have learned something new. But the next day, while walking the dog, I noticed that all my fellow workweek mountaineers were sitting in their trucks eating Leberwurst on bread at precisely 9:30 am. It was like that irritating television advertisement for that midmorning snack Knoppers: “Mornings at half past nine in Germany!” It’s almost as if the stomachs of the whole German population have been programmed to rumble since their first Pausenbrot at school. How many calories does a German labourer need? How many Puddingbretzel have to be consumed before he can successfully check your tyre pressure or fix your sink? How many hours does he spend actually working?

There are even regional takes on this second breakfast culture. In Plattdeutsch, or Low German, it’s called Fofftein. We can deduce from the word that the North German spends no more than fifteen minutes on his Brotzeit. The Berliner, according to my investigations, takes 45 minutes. Perhaps a certain Bundesbank director could do the appropriate calculation to see how much time is crumbling away every month. Germany seems convinced that it has made the giant leap into a service society – shopping until 9 pm on Fridays! But it is still held back by archaic routines such as this second breakfast. Or have you ever tried to ring a plumber at 10:15 a.m.?

The answer – obviously – is to introduce the Anglo-Saxon model. The priority of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new government has to be to persuade the nation to eat the full English breakfast every morning. Scrambled or fried egg, baked beans, grilled tomato, two sausages, mushrooms, fried bread. Tea with milk. Cornflakes or porridge. The resulting boost in productivity should put Germany firmly on the path to growth.

Now, you don’t have to be a top dietician to work out the problem with the English breakfast. It was devised in the Industrial Revolution to give workers the 3,000 calories they needed to dig in the coal mines; by four o’clock, they had burned up the energy and were ready for teatime. But you don’t burn 3,000 calories by working in a call centre. So, there is the risk of getting fat. Not, though, if you use high quality ingredients and eat in moderation. In that case, the breakfast can do you nothing but good. Organic eggs, home-made bread, grilled bio-tomatoes, meaty tight-skinned sausages.

Britain is full of happy octogenarians who have eaten the bacon-and-egg breakfast all their lives, all fitter than I am. Germans should convert now to get the nation’s proverbial intestines chugging. Who knows – maybe soon you will be able to get your washing machine fixed in the Fatherland at 9:30 am.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.