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CULTURE

Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

Whether it's Puffer or Pudding, be sure to get to know these German foods with quirky names.

Five German foods that aren't what you think they are
Layers of cream, cherries and Biskuit or sponge are typical for the German Black Forest gateau. Photo: DPA

For newcomers to Germany or beginners learning the language, food can be an excellent way to learn new words and get involved in the culture.

Familiarising yourself with regional or seasonal food on menus, reading signs next to products displayed at bakeries or at farmers markets, or even product labels at the supermarket is a great way to build up your knowledge (and an appetite).

When starting out though, it’s important to double check the meaning.

In some cases there are some very English-sounding German food words that when translated, mean something quite different to how they’re spelled or spoken out loud. Here's a few to look out for.

Keks 

When spoken in German, the word Keks (biscuit), sounds a lot like cakes. This can cause some confusion, because often both Keks (biscuit) and Kuchen (the word for cake in German) are sold at the same places like bakeries, and supermarkets.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Für einen Kurztrip in die Sonne braucht man nur Handgebäck. #Leibniz #Butterkeks #Sommer #Ferien #Urlaub #Sonne

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One of Germany’s most famous commercially produced biscuits, Leibniz original Butterkeks.

So be aware that when you see or hear Keks, what is being referred to is indeed a biscuit (British English) or cookies (American English). A classic to try and often sold at bakeries, is the shortbread style Heidesand Kekse (Sand of the heath biscuits), but rest assured there is no sand in them, it simply refers to the texture.

Christmas is also a wonderful time to bake or buy Kekse (this is the plural) with endless options for sale at chocolate stores, stalls, bakeries and cafes.

Bonus point: Note that when speaking informally, Germans also say that something or someone gets on their “Keks”, whereas in English we would say it gets on our nerves.

For example: “Das geht mir total auf den Keks!” (That really annoys me/gets on my nerves!)

Erdeerbowle

The end of spring, and summertime is strawberry season in Germany. This prized berry is a much loved seasonal feature and is celebrated at bakeries with an array of strawberry themed creations like Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake) and Erdbeer-Sahne biskuitrolle (strawberry cream roll).

Strawberry huts also appear in the summer. These are temporary shops sometimes painted to look like strawberries where you can purchase the fruit, as well as other berries by the punnet.

Where you’ll also see strawberries is at cafe’s and bars. As you sit down or walk past, their chalkboard signs will often read: Erdbeerbowle. Although it is absolutely delicious, this apparent bowl full of strawberries is not quite what it seems.

The term Erdbeerbowle actually refers to a strawberry wine punch often made with strawberries, sugar, lemon zest and a combination of white wine and sparkling wine. It’s a refreshing drink that goes down a little too easily, and is a must do in summer.

The meaning of bowl can easily be misconstrued when ordering an Erdeerbowle.

Pudding

English sounding terms in German also test our knowledge of cultural variations for certain English terms. Pudding for example in British culture is generally a term for dessert, while in Germany Pudding has a number of meanings.

Pudding can refer to a custard or cream used as an ingredient, as well as a ready-to-eat dessert. As a custard or cream ingredient, Pudding is found filled in pastries or wedged between cakes at cafe’s, restaurant and bakeries, like the classic Bienenstich (bee sting cake).

German bee sting cake (Bienenstich) filled with Pudding.

For use at home, you will find packets of Puddingpulver (pudding powder) at supermarkets, as well as Puddingcreme, a ready-made pudding in liquid form to pour onto or use in desserts.

For a ready-to-eat treat, Pudding can also be found in the dairy aisle at supermarkets, presented in yoghurt style tubs. Some flavours and styles of this ready made sweet treat include Sahnepudding (cream or custard pudding), Griesspudding (semolina pudding), and Schokopudding (chocolate pudding) to name a few. 

Biskuit

If you learned anything from Keks earlier, then you won’t be surprised that the German word Biskuit (pronounced bis-quit), is not what is sounds like either.

Not only is this not a biscuit (no surprises here), but actually a type of sponge. Biskuit is used predominantly in cake making. The most famous German desserts to try featuring Biskuit, include Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake), Frankfurter Kranz (Frankfurt crown cake), as well as Biskuitrollen (sponge rolls). You’ll be able to enjoy a Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at special bakeries, and at cafes.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Black Forest cake ?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte ?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Urlaub in Deutschland? Ja klar. Nach einem längeren Aufenthalt im schönen Schwarzwald?, musste ich zu Hause unbedingt ein Rezept für eine glutenfreie und laktosefreie Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte austesten. Und ich bin sehr zufrieden damit, die Torte schmeckte mir und meinen Kollegen so richtig gut. ?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Um die Torte noch etwas schokoladiger zu machen, habe ich Zartbitter Schokolade anstatt Kakao für den Biskuit verwendet! Das Rezept ist ab heute auf meinem Blog online gegangen.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Wie findet ihr das Ergebnis?? Habt einen tollen Sonntag! ☀️⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ After a long trip to the Black Forest, I decided to bake the typical traditional Black Forest Cake in a gluten free and lactose free version. And here you can see the yummy result!?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Do you like what you see? ? Have a sunny Sunday.☀️ #glutenfrei #glutenfree #sansgluten #glutenfreelife #mannisstglutenfrei #glutenfreerecipes #celiacdesease #sanzaglutine #glutenfreefoodporn #glutenfreibacken #semgluten #glutensiz #glutenfreefoods #igfood #glutenfreediet #instayummy #glutensensitivity #glutenfreeintolerances #healthyfood #foodphotography #foodblogger_de #frankfurtfoodblogger #makeitdelicious #eatprettythings #bakersofinstagram #bakersgonnabake #hobbybaker #bakingwithlove #schwarzwälderkirschtorte #schwarzwälderkirsch

A post shared by Frank Man(n) isst glutenfrei ? (@mannisstglutenfrei) on

German Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) made with layers of chocolate sponge or Biskuit.

Puffers

At the end of the year Christmas markets open all over the country and feature an array of stalls, many of which are repeat fixtures.

One such food stall you’ll often find is the Kartoffelpuffer stand which sells piping hot, just fried potato pancakes, often served with Apfelmus (not a mousse as the word would imply but an apple sauce).

The word Puffer conjures the expectation of a food that puffs up or rises, these snacks however don't actually puff up very much at all, and the term translates more to a fritter or a pancake. This of course does not take away from the taste of this very rich, savoury comfort food, perfect to enjoy in the colder Christmas weather. 

A stallholder at a typical Christmas market stand selling Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes/fritters).

If linguistic confusions teach us anything, it’s actually that it presents a way to remember new words, spell them and pronounce them too. As James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery”, and through language we also get to learn about cultures in the process.

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OPINION & ANALYISIS

What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”

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