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.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.