German streetfood - Currywurst

written on 19/11/2020
by Jutta Triebe


Currywurst (German: [ˈkœʁiˌvʊɐ̯st]) is a fast food dish of German origin consisting of steamed, then fried pork sausage (German: Bratwurst) typically cut into bite-sized chunks and seasoned with curry ketchup, a sauce based on spiced ketchup or tomato paste topped with curry powder, or a ready-made ketchup seasoned with curry and other spices. This dish is often served with French fries.

Honestly it’s not that simple. In 2020, Currywurst (in combination with French fries) is the most popular canteen food in Germany for the 28th time in a row.

The "inventor of the Currywurst" Herta Heuwer, who had been running a snack stand on the corner of Kant- and Kaiser-Friedrich-Strasse in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg since the summer of 1949, claimed that the typical Currywurst sauce for serving with fried sausage was invented by her in September 1949.



She lived in the British military sector of Berlin after World War II and as a matter of fact she apparently traded spirits for ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder from British soldiers, mixed them up and served the result over grilled sausage. 

Since June 29, 2003, there has been a plaque in honour of Herta Heuwer at the former location of her snack bar.



However, Heuwer cannot claim the development of the Currywurst itself. The role of the butcher Max Brückner from Johanngeorgenstadt in the Erzgebirge is to be considered.

He had come to West Berlin after the end of the war, had founded a company in Berlin-Spandau with some employees from home and had a self-developed process for the production of a sausage without skin, which became known as "Spandauer without skin".

It was only together with Frank Friedrich that Herta could have developed the final dish, which she then sold in her snack bar.



The sausage used must be a fine, non-cured and non-smoked bratwurst of medium quality with a maximum five percent added water... They are first fried whole, about half of which is covered with hot fat in a fat pan.

When it is handed over to the customer, the sausage is cut by hand into bite-sized pieces - some traditional snack bars such as Krasselt’s snack bar in Berlin-Steglitz only serve Currywurst with an oblique cut. Both halves of the sausage are given a wooden fork. Finally, the sauce is poured over the sausage and generously sprinkled with curry powder (or vice versa).

Some statistics: Berlin: In 1959, Herta Heuwer patented her Currywurst sauce “Chillup”. In 2009 the first Currywurst museum opened in central Germany. The people of Berlin allegedly eat 63 million curry sausages every year, and it is said to be 800 million in Germany.


Recipe:

This homemade curry ketchup has cracked the code for the perfect ratio of spices and ingredients.

Ingredients:

  •     1 tablespoon olive oil
  •     1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  •     1 small clove garlic
  •     1 1/2 tablespoons quality curry powder
  •     1 tablespoon quality sweet paprika
  •     1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  •     1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •     1 cup ketchup
  •     1 tablespoon tomato paste
  •     5 tablespoons vegetable or chicken broth
  •     1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  •     1 tablespoon honey
  •     1 teaspoon quality Worcestershire sauce
  •     1 teaspoon sugar
  •     1/4 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
  •     1/2 teaspoon salt
  •     1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  •     pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, for more heat)
  •    
  • 4 genuine German bratwursts, bockwurst, rotwurst or weisswurst (see blog post about selecting the right sausages)
  •     extra curry powder for sprinkling
  •     French fries or crispy bread rolls (Brötchen) for serving

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and cook the onions until just soft and translucent. Do not brown them.

Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the curry powder, paprika, cloves and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds.

Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Use an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  Let the mixture cool completely and then refrigerate for a day before using to allow time for the flavours to meld. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups.  The curry ketchup will keep for up to a month in the fridge.

How to make Currywurst:

If the sausages are not pre-cooked, first poach them in lightly simmering water.  The next step is to grill/fry them to finish them off. 

You can either grill or pan-fry the sausages.

The important thing is to cook them until they develop a thick and crispy browned outer crust.  (So if you're pan-frying, be sure to use enough oil.) 

Some currywurst stands also cut vertical slits along the currywurst to prevent them from bursting open while cooking and then the sausages are sliced along the lines into bite-sized chunks before serving.

To serve, slice the wursts vertically into bite-sized pieces, top with some curry ketchup, and sprinkle with curry powder.  Serve with French fries or a crispy bread roll (Brötchen).  Currywurst and fries/Brötchen are served on paper food trays and eaten with wooden forks.


 



In its English translation, Timm's novel is called The Invention of Curried Sausage, but a better rendering of Entdeckung would be "discovery".  Currywurst seems so elemental a force of fast-food nature that it can't have been deliberately invented.

It was there all along; Timm's novel imagines it coming to light in the presence of an enterprising German woman in the days after the end of the Second World War.

Die Entdeckung der Currywurst reminds us of the German film Goodbye Lenin! – or properly said, it's the other way around, as the film appeared ten years after the novel, and was probably influenced by it.

In Goodbye Lenin! a family goes to great lengths to conceal the fall of the Berlin Wall from their ailing mother, a maternal hero of the DDR. In Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, the discoverer of the snack, Lena Brücker, conceals the end of the war from her lover Bremer.

How do you keep someone unaware of the end of World War II? Bremer is a deserter who doesn't dare leave Lena Brücker's apartment. As long as she keeps newspapers away from him and neglects to repair her radio, there's little chance he'll find out independently.

So Brücker concocts a story about the Germans joining forces with the "Tommys" and "Amis" to chase Stalin's army back to Moscow. Why? He's a wonderful lover, and she isn't likely to find a better man in the Hamburg of the Nachkrieg.

But Bremer believes her story a little too well. He's not much of a Nazi, but he's a profound nationalistic patriot, and Brücker is scathingly skeptical about all fanaticisms. Ultimately she is horrified to learn about the the concentration and death camps and the extent of the Holocaust, and Bremer goes packing out of her life with nary an afterthought.

Except that the narrative of Die Entdeckung der Currywurst is one long afterthought, a beautifully poised and told tale of regret, of wasted lives, of warped futures and pasts. Lena Brücker tells her story to the narrator, an Uwe-Timm-like younger writer who has grown up after the war eating her currywurst.

As she tells the story, we have access to the thoughts of Bremer and others through her narrative, and the narrator sometimes touches their minds with her barely there as intermediary. Sometimes the embedded narrative wanes, and the narrator deals with Brücker in the "present" moment (the early 1990s). The narrative creates itself out of its own sheer storytelling.

Die Entdeckung der Currywurst is clearly not about its title event, it's a novel that keeps deferring the telling of its own ostensible story.


Comic-adaptation and film version

In 2005 a comic version of the novella was published by Carlsen Verlag in Hamburg. The well-known comic artist Isabel Kreitz translated the story into exciting black and white pictures, for which she meticulously researched the war and post-war situation in Hamburg. An appendix entitled "Heldenklau und Ami-Currency" gives a lot of information about Hamburg at that time. 

In 2008, based on Timm's novella, a movie was made with the same title. Ulla Wagner wrote the script and directed; she cast the main roles to Barbara Sukowa (Lena Brücker) and Alexander Khuon (Hermann Bremer).

You can watch it on Amazon.




Photo 3: ©OTFW, Berlin