Is Germany's Food Scene Understating Its American Influence?
This week's post comes courtesy of my fellow English mate, Nic Houghton, from the blog 40 Percent German, who quite likes talking about food.
Flicking through the news a few days ago, I came across and article on the Deutsche Welle titled Berlin's food trends take over Germany. The article looks at the current state of Berlin’s food industry and suggests that thanks to the German capital's mix of different cultures, it has created a burgeoning interest in new food ideas, as well as fusions of German recipes with ingredients more common to other nations. Ingredients such as quinoa and papaya, as well as trends in food sustainability are changing the way residents of Berlin eat. The advent of the vegan movement and an interest in local ingredients have, in addition, enhanced the menus and pallets of Berliners and been a driving force in Germany's food scene, which is a burgeoning industry which shows no signs of slowing down.
The food itself is changing, but so is the way food is served; with the growth of food van culture, consumers have new options for at lunchtime, as well as dining out in an evening. The success of these trends has now spread to the smaller cities of Germany. It is the open mindedness of Berliners and younger Germans, many of whom experience an Auslandssemester (semester abroad) as part of their studies and bring back with them different, more enlightened eating habits, as well as a sharp increase in non-German residents, which have all helped to fuel the expansion of Germany's food scene and a change in people's pallets.
Is it really a Berlin thing?
At once I was perplexed by this view. I am in no way a “foodie” and have frequently been ridiculed by friends for being more than happy with the most basic of meals. Cheese on toast or a humble sausage roll are equally delicious to me as any fine dining experience. Despite my unsophisticated habits, I am not a total philistine. I enjoy going to nice restaurants and eating food from all around the world, which I have been able to do in Bavaria ever since I first came here in 2008. Looking at the options in my home of Nürnberg, any number of different regions and cultures are represented.
However, what I found odd about the article was not the claims that Berlin is an international hub (which would be hard to disagree with) but that one nation was conspicuous by its absence in its influence on Berlin's burgeoning food scene: the USA. Whether we are talking about the growth of veganism, food trucks, the use of local ingredients or of gourmet burgers and fusion recipes, all these trends originate in the USA. They have been part of the culinary landscape of America for many years. America, for good or for ill, have a massive influence on cultural norms throughout Germany, especially when it comes to food.
Yet, ask a German about American food and they will point to the mighty golden arches of McDonalds, the Whopper in Burger King or the weirdly expensive (given the quality) pizzas of Pizza Hut. American food, in the minds of many Germans, means fast and unhealthy.
This is unsurprising given the high profile arrivals of popular American chains. It was announced recently that Five Guys, the US based fast food chain, will soon open restaurants in Germany. What impact the arrival of one more American burger chain is unknown, but the recent past suggests it may well lead to another change in the German consumers eating habits.
American culture and the arrival of American chains to Germany has changed how Germans eat. Sure, Currywurst and the advent of the Kebap have their origin stories in Berlin, but the arrival of American chains to Germany has already changed how Germans eat.
As a micro-example, take the opening of Dunkin’ Donuts in my local area. Within days of the the American chain opening stores here in Nürnberg, nearly every bakery in the city was producing competing products. The Krapfen may well be a staple of German bakeries, but until Dunkin’ Donuts arrived, German consumers would be unlikely to buy them in vast quantities. Now, walk into any German bakery and at least one section of the counter, which usually holds the best and brightest of German baking, you will find all manner of glazed doughnuts. Not only that, they can be purchased in giant 24 piece boxes, which up until a few years ago you would only have ever seen on TV and cinema screens. As anyone who has ever watched an American cop show or movie can attests, one of the stable tropes of any US based police station is the iconic rectangular white box filled to the brim with jelly doughnuts.
And Hipster Foodtrucks
It would be ridiculous to argue that Germany's food scene is simply influenced by America via TV and the opening of a few well placed chains, however. The gastronomic trends of the US, especially those of the West Coast of the United States, are often brought back by German employees of major companies such as Siemens or Adidas. The latter is especially influential in the growth of food trucks, craft brewing or gourmet burgers, given that the US headquarters of the Herzogenaurach-based sports behemoth is located in the hipster Hochburg of Portland, Oregon. I would argue that the trend for veganism and the popularity of locavorism (buying locally sourced products) comes directly from the West Coast trends that have been increasing exponentially during recent years.
These smaller, less heralded American led culture shifts into healthy eating and sustainable food production can be seen throughout Germany. Veganism may be surprising in a country such as Germany, where meat or animal based products are the main ingredient in nearly all local dishes, but it is more and more common. Food trucks too are more visible, with food truck tours occurring throughout Germany. It is not uncommon now to see American style metallic food truck trailers waiting for the lunchtime rush outside office blocks here in Franconia. American food culture is increasingly part of the German food experience. It may be hard to detect, but this influence is entering not only the food heartlands of Germany, but also in to the production of a product Germans hold most dear.
And Kraft Bier
Germans may not quickly recognise the influence of America, but in one industry specifically, they can be seen to be actively attempting to ignore it: The industry in question? Brewing. For many years, German beer has come under the spell of craft brewing, a trend that has its origins in the current American beer brewing renaissance. Coming from Britain and living in Franconia, the epicentre of small, privately owned German “craft” breweries, I was surprised when my local bar started stocking IPA.
For the uninitiated, IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale, given its name as it was one of the first and possibly easiest beers to export to India because it was formulated to survive long journeys and because the brewers happened to be next to the East India docks in London. Although originally a British product, IPA has become widely popular among American drinkers and is often associated with the hipster aesthetic. My local pub, it turned out, was supporting a small craft brewery based in the local area that was looking to make strides into the saturated local beer market, by producing beers that were more common with America than Germany.
Travelling to the US recently, I was unsurprised to find bar after bar had at least ten different IPAs on tap, as well as many “German style” beers that certainly did not adhere to the Reinheitsgebot. Germany may grudgingly accept IPAs, but it will be a cold day in hell before it agrees to stock blueberry flavoured Weizen.
The Best of Both Worlds
While some may bemoan my appraisal of the influences on Germany's food scene and especially upon its beer, and I would state for the record that America is certainly not the shining restaurant on the hill that my previous statements may suggest. I am very happy that Germany has not taken on such awful trends as the non-labelling of food packaging to avoid discussing potential harmful or unethical ingredients and I am pleased that Germany has, up to this point, not adopted the practice of mega farms or the extensive use of pharmaceuticals on cattle to as great an extent as America has.
Nevertheless, some of the most popular food trends in Germany have their origins in the US, and to pretend that they have somehow appeared organically in Berlin with no outside influence is disingenuous. Germany’s capital can lay claim to many things, but Taco trucks are not one of them.
About The Author
Nic Houghton is an English & Intercultural trainer and English language blogger based in Germany since 2011. Founder of 40% German, Nic focuses on explaining German and UK culture, looking at the little details that are often misunderstood or misrepresented by both the British and the Germans.