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Abendbrot: What time do Germans eat dinner?

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Abendbrot: What time do Germans eat dinner?
A family have dinner at a beer garden in the Upper Palatine Forest in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Tourismuszentrum Oberpfälzer Wal | Thomas Kujat

The traditional German dinner time is much earlier than in other European countries. But that, along with what people eat in the evening, is changing.


In other European countries, such as France and Spain, the natives generally don't sit down at the dinner table until at least 8 pm. In Italy, it's not uncommon to have a cena (dinner) at 10 pm.

But in Germany, the traditional dinner time is much earlier: you'll find many German households having their evening meal between 5 and 7 pm. 


Not only do Germans like to eat early, but they also eat cold. One of the most widely used names for dinner alongside Abendessen (evening meal) is Abendbrot: literally "evening bread". That's because - traditionally - the evening meal is more of a snack than a hot, sit-down dish and consists of slices of bread with cheese, sausage and pickled vegetables. 

Though that may sound a tad boring at first, when you remember that Germany has over 300 types of bread and a pretty wide range of sausage cuts, Abendbrot starts to look a lot more mouthwatering.

READ ALSO: Five delicious breads you have to try in Germany

The northern Germans also like to add a pickled Bismarck herring, while in the south you're more likely to get sausage salad served alongside your Brotscheibe (slice of bread).

Where does the Abendbrot tradition come from?

Cultural researchers generally believe that the German custom of eating cold food in the early evening dates back to the 1920s. At that time, industry increasingly dominated everyday life - in contrast to the more agricultural structures in countries like Italy and France.

A table set for a traditional German dinner.

A table set for a traditional German dinner. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

Lots of German factories had canteens where workers got a hot, filling meal at lunchtime and no longer needed such a big meal in the evening. The practice of eating only a bread-based snack in the evening became even more widespread after the war when the number of working women also rapidly increased.

Do people really still eat so early in Germany?

While an early Abendbrot and a big, warm, Mittagstisch (lunch) are still popular in Germany, being part of a globalised world full of new eating trends and working patterns has, of course, had an impact on the love of an early dinner of bread and cheese. 

In most major German cities, you'll find restaurants open until midnight, with food still being served after 10 pm. 

The content of the traditional German Abendbrot is being called into question now too, as many nutrition experts recommend eating a low-carbohydrate meal in the evening.

READ ALSO: Five things that are changing about Germany - and five that never will 

The classic sausage topping is also declining in popularity as more and more people opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet. That said, there is a growing range of vegan and vegetarian meat substitutes available now in German supermarkets.

What about other meals?

As reported in the Berliner Morgenpost, a recent YouGov poll found that the most popular meal of the day in Germany is, in fact, breakfast. 

According to the survey, one-third of the 2050 respondents think that breakfast is the "most important meal" of the day and only one in fourteen adults said they never eat breakfast.


Most people between 18 and 24 eat breakfast in the morning and only two percent say they never do. By contrast, among older people aged 45 and over, eight percent say they don't eat anything in the morning.

READ ALSO: Is Germany falling out of love with Abendbrot?

What people like to eat for breakfast also varied greatly across the generations. Older people prefer a hearty breakfast with bread, cheese and sausage, while the popularity of fruit and muesli is twice as high among those aged 24 and under than among all adults overall. 


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