For the love of Spargel: Why Germany has eased border rules amid the coronavirus pandemic

In the time of Coronavirus, what resource could be so vital to the wellbeing and morale of the German people, that the government would override stringent border measures to secure it? Simple. White asparagus, or ‘Spargel’.

For the love of Spargel: Why Germany has eased border rules amid the coronavirus pandemic
Asparagus Queen Gina-Luise Schrey presents the first Beelitz Spargel at the official start of the season on April 7th 2020. Photo: DPA

You might have heard recently about the German government’s decision to allow thousands of specialist seasonal workers from eastern Europe – mainly from Romania and Poland – to come and pick the country's white asparagus (Spargel) crop.

This is a unique exemption to the country’s policy against allowing foreign workers to enter Germany during the current coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in border closures and wide-ranging 'no contact' restrictions.

Workers are being flown into the country and taken by bus directly to farms so they can harvest the crops while observing strict social distancing measures. These specialist workers are needed as Spargel requires training to pick.

Why all the fuss? It's because in Germany, Spargel is treated with almost religious reverence. As soon as the weather begins to improve in mid-April, stands selling the vegetable appear all over the country.

Traditionally, it is served steamed, with a hollandaise sauce and almost every German you meet will have their own special favourite recipe. 

In non-corona times, around 300,000 seasonal workers travel to Germany each year to help with fruit and vegetable harvests, according to the German Farmers' Association.


Why is Germany so Spargel-obsessed?

The roots of Germany’s love affair with Spargel are somewhat obscured, but as far as can be ascertained, it was first introduced in the Duchy of Württemberg sometime in the 16th century by visiting traders.

Originally restricted to the nobility as a unique delicacy, its allure led to it becoming a popular dish across Germany by the early 20th century.

Harvest workers flown in from Romania arrive at Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden airport on April 9th. Photo: DPA.

While it’s now available in almost every supermarket, most Germans choose to buy them close to their source, so to speak, from stalls dotted throughout towns and villages. 

Today, Spargel farmers are highly respected members of their community, and almost every region has ‘Spargel Queen’ competitions – a very serious business indeed.

Spargel Queens, or ‘Spargelkönigin’ are expected to be both tireless advocates for both their region, and local Spargel producers. Local young women, who compete for the prestigious positions, undergo all sorts of competitions to assess their suitability before an eventual winner is crowned. 

Much like many things in Germany, the Spargel season runs to a tight schedule. The season ends abruptly on the 24th of June, just as summer fruits are harvested.

SEE ALSO: German asparagus 40 percent more expensive than a year ago

Indeed, as an old folk proverb states: ‘When cherries are red, Spargel is dead’ (or Kirschen rot, Spargel tot). The stands disappear and the country prepares for the colder months, dreaming of the white spears of steamed goodness yet to come. 

The good stuff. Photo: DPA

It speaks as a huge testament to the German love affair with Spargel, that as Europe puts up walls and barriers to prevent the spread of a deadly contagion, an exception is made for the country’s favourite vegetable.

Indeed, some might say it has almost become a symbol of Germany’s determination and hope for better days.

Member comments

  1. I love Spargel, but I never quite understand why the Germans have been SO slow to discover the added delights of the green variety, which is really far more characterful. Over the 20 yrs I’ve been associated with Germany, the green has been making definite but painfully slow inroads. Old habits die hard and if one thing marks out the country it’s the love of, and adherence to tradition.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.