A Wurst-case scenario for the summer

Germans love a good barbecue as much as Americans and Australians. Jeff Kavanagh explores a unique grilling culture where the Wurst is the best.

A Wurst-case scenario for the summer
Photo: DPA

In a nation so frequently associated with sausages, it’s perhaps unsurprising that barbecuing should enjoy such popularity in Germany. Every year as soon as spring starts to break through the darkness of winter, charcoals begin to glow beneath grills, and plumes of fragrant smoke drift upwards from parks and gardens across the country.

Germans, of course, are not alone in appreciating a good barbecue – Australians, Argentinians, and Americans all enjoy a long tradition of burning meat in the outdoors. Each tradition has its subtleties, however, and there are a few aspects of German Grillkultur that should be appreciated before donning an apron and reaching for the fire-starters.

Whether the result of some primal urge to provide meat for the clan or just the opportunity to drink beer in the garden on a Sunday afternoon, barbecuing in Germany, as in many other countries, tends to be male-dominated, at least as far as handling the tongs is concerned. Sabine Schröder, a 42-year-old team assistant from Neetze, a small village in Lower Saxony, and her husband, Bernd, 47, have a barbecue almost every weekend between April and September.

“Sometimes I start the fire, and I can put charcoal on the barbecue,” she explains. “But grilling is a man’s thing. My part is to make a salad.”

Bernd’s part is to cook the pork sausages and fillet, the marinated chicken, turkey, and steak they get from their local butcher, and he’s well-prepared for the task.

“We have a big iron barbecue, and Bernd has a little suitcase with tongs, a fork and knife; all the equipment you need,” Sabine says.

Charcoal is king

Another hard and fast barbecue rule in the Schröder household concerns the use of charcoal. Sabine’s unimpressed by news of Germany’s first public electric barbecue, which has recently been installed in front of the St. Michaelis Church, close to the harbour in Hamburg.

“Cooking with electricity or gas is not really barbequing,” she says, reckoning that charcoal gives the food a special taste. They aren’t, however, advocates of dousing the hot coals with beer, a common practice amongst German grillmeisters. “We think it’s a myth that it gives flavour to the meat,” she argues. “We like to drink the beer instead.”

The Schröders’ preference for charcoal-fuelled barbecuing is reflected in a study recently conducted on behalf of the supermarket chain Lidl, which found that over 70 percent of Germans favoured the method to sizzle their sausages. The survey also established that 90 percent of Germans throw some sort of Wurst on the grill every time they have a barbecue.

Firing up the coals at home might be a luxury that the Sabine and Bernd, who have a 300-square-metre garden, are able to enjoy but it’s not always afforded to those living in bigger towns and cities, even if they do have their own patch of grass. Most Germans can relate stories of strife over smoking barbecues and unwanted odours, as well as impart advice about how often you’re allowed to have barbecues and how to avoid upsetting your neighbours.

Some will say you shouldn’t grill every week, and it’s important to make sure you down smoke out those living next to you. Another tip is to inform your neighbours ahead of time when you’re going to have a barbecue, so they can close their windows and mentally prepare for the extra noise. Or you can always simply offer them a few extra sausages as tasty compensation for their trouble.

Going electric?

Those living in apartment buildings with only balconies and small gardens face an even bigger challenge cooking outdoors, particularly if they wish to use charcoal. Most apartment buildings’ Hausordnungen or “house rules” – ban the use of charcoal barbecues on balconies for safety reasons, and tenants with gardens are frequently limited to a certain number a year.

“We’re only allowed to have electric barbecues,” says Aileen Tiedemann, a 34-year-old who lives on the second floor of an apartment building in the Hamburg suburb of Eimsbüttel. “So I go to my parents’ house or a park to have a proper one.”

This desire to have a “proper” barbecue goes some way to explaining the popularity of Einweggrill – a small disposable grill consisting of an aluminium tray, charcoal, and a metal mesh. Every summer stacks appear in supermarkets and petrol stations, and every weekend in parks across the country groups of friends and families gather round them to grill packs of supermarket sausages and drink beer.

Accompanied by tubs of ready-made potato and pasta salad, and a baguette or two, food prepared on an Einweggrill might not be an aficionado’s idea of a barbecuing, but it does demonstrate many Germans’ belief that all you really need to enjoy grilling is pleasant weather, a few bratwurst, and a bit of space away from anyone you might upset. And some charcoal, natürlich.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.