How sausage flavours the German language
The one that came up most often was the classic âViel Regen bringt viel Segenâ or âlots of rain brings many blessingsâ, which I suspected was less a time-tested truth than a means of consoling an inconsolable bride. My father-in-law, however, only looked at me sadly, shaking his head and repeating âSchweinewetter, Schweinewetterâ (âPig weatherâ).
Those concerned with how much weâd invested in the big day might have discussed how Iâd spent âSchweinegeldâ (âpig moneyâ or a lot of money). Still others, in an effort to get me to buck up, could have declared, âAlles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zweiâ (âEverything has an end; only the sausage has twoâ).
Visitors to Germany love to joke about the countryâs obsession with all things sausage, but Germans don’t do anything to discourage them. In fact, their speech is littered with references to Wurst; full of idioms that speak to the timelessness and intrinsic value of their meat products.
As Bonn-based scholar and food writer Irina Dumitrescu detailed in her reprinted 2013 essay âCurrywurstâ, no matter the occasion, the German language will probably have a suitably sausage-y saying for it.ââDas ist mir Wurschtâ or âitâs sausage to meâ is a way of expressing disinterest, perhaps because both ends look and taste the same. Counterintuitively, âes geht um die Wurstâ or âitâs about the sausageâ gives a sense of urgency: now it really counts. A woman who âspielt die beleidigte Leberwurstâ or âplays the insulted liverwurstâ is a prima donna in a huff; while someone who can barely steal sausage from a plate â âdie Wurst vom Teller ziehenâ â is unimpressive despite his pretensions.â
Germans also employ common sayings about pigs and swine. As with Schweinwetter, the prefix âschwein or âsauâ (sow) can be used as an intensifier, and saying someone âhat Schweinâ (has a pig) means he had very good luck. I certainly could have used a spare lucky pig or âGlĂŒcksschweinâ on that wet wedding day.
Statistics from the Bundesministerium fĂŒr ErnĂ€hrung und Landwirtschaft (National Ministry of Food and Agriculture) show that the pig is far and away the most popular animal to eat in Germany, with each citizen of the Bundesrepublik consuming 52.1kg per year (in contrast, the Independent reports that poultry consumption in the UK is rising while sales of beef and pork are on the decline). It was all but inevitable that pork would become thoroughly baked into the German psyche, its savoury juices trickling down into everyday language. When and why this started, however, is a bit of a mystery.
âThe image of the butcher in Germany is always this fat guy who has two sausages heâs holding upâŠ this rough, laughable figure,â said Hendrik Haase, who has devoted himself to quality, local meat, writing a book on the subject, Crafted Meat; opening Berlin butcher stall and eatery Kumpel & Keule; and founding The Butcherâs Manifesto, which he calls âa rotary club for butchersâ.Using humour to deal with a touchy subject isnât unique to Germany, but itâs central to the way many Germans approach many aspects of their lives. Why should their carnivorous proclivities be any different?
âWeâre trying to deal with the fact that somebody is killing something for us,â Haase added, âthat some animal had to die so you [could] eat a sausage.â
Another theory has to do with the fact that owning a pig used to mean you had a certain amount of wealth and status. âMy grandmother had two pigs a year, and she would make sausages, because youâd want to preserve that for as long as you could,â Haase said.
Ursula Heinzelmann, food scholar and author of Beyond Bratwurst: A History of Food in Germany, explains it as a difference between farming and roaming peoples: âIf a culture keeps pigs, thatâs a sign that they have settled down and are not nomadic anymore. Letâs say thatâs the difference between Europe and [certain groups in] northern Africa or the [Middle] East.â
Eating sausages can also help form a sense of camaraderie. No German institution promotes this quite as well as the beer hall or Biergarten, where sausages are always on the menu. In Germany even today, food is often more about ritual and gathering, less about taste.
In their quest to be frugal, Germans often value price over flavour as well â and rarely do the two come together as successfully as they do in the humble Wurst. âWe figured out a long time ago that [conserving] was best done by stuffing all those little bits and pieces, including the offal, into the casings,â Heinzelmann explained. It isnât fancy, it isnât refined, yet it defines what it is to be German â to want to save every last bit of the treasured pig.Whatâs more, writes Neil MacGregor in his book Germany: Memories of a Nation, each part of Germany had its own sausage: âWurst, like beer, defines Germanyâs cities and regions, each different sausage with its own ingredients and particular traditionsâŠ. A Wurst map of Germany would be a mosaic of ungraspable complexity.â
It canât be a coincidence, then, that the names of several meat products have endured. Wieners, Frankfurters and even the humble Hamburger all are simply names of German-speaking cities, and of people from those cities. One can almost imagine the smooth little sausages from Vienna (Wien) or Frankfurt, practically bursting their casings with pride at hailing from such illustrious places. Those eating them â perhaps laughing over Wurst-laden speech to signal their belonging to this multi-faceted yet unifying culture â might feel a similar burst of pride as they downed a beer and bit into a sausage named for their hometown.
For our part, we served no Wurst at our wedding, but we did have something even better; something I consider so German, it gave the whole ceremony, damp and muddy as it was, an almost medieval bent: a wild boar roasting on a spit, which guests were invited to sample at their leisure.
Perhaps it was the GlĂŒcksschwein we needed after all: Seven years later, no-one remembers the weather, but everyone is still talking about the food.