Abendbrot - German evening customs

written on 26/08/2020
by Tim Jacobi

When Germans have dinner, they usually call it either “Abendbrot” (literally = evening bread) or “Abendessen” (= evening food). The main difference between the two terms is the formality of the meal.

Eating at an expensive restaurant is never Abendbrot. Other than that, the two are usually interchangeable. But why is dinner called evening bread?

Simply because German dinner is strikingly similar to its breakfast: bread, butter, and slices of meat or cheese (as well as other additions like tomatoes or pickles) are eaten in place of a warm meal.

This meal is usually prepared by the entire family. Someone slices the bread, while someone else prepares the cheese, and yet another person carries it all to the table.

An important part of the Abendbrot is thus the preparation. Even in families where a specific person normally cooks alone, everyone helps with the Abendbrot in some way.

The Abendbrot itself is also quite interesting. What’s put on the bread is called “Aufschnitt” (literally = on-cut) if it’s sliced, like Salami, and “Aufstrich” (= on-spread) if it’s spread with a knife, like “Leberwurst” (liver sausage).

The essential parts that cannot be missing from any Abendbrot are bread (not toast!), either butter or margarine, and some form of both Aufschnitt and Aufstrich.

Other than cheese, which varies from family to family, the most important of those are Salami, Leberwurst, and Fleischwurst, which strangely translates literally to meat sausage.

It’s not that Germans don’t have “normal” dinner. While this varies from region to region, and even amongst individual households, warm meals for dinner are not uncommon either, mostly amongst the younger generations.

However, no matter what’s actually being prepared, many Germans are quite picky about the time at which dinner is served. Especially older people often expect dinner to be ready promptly at a specific time, like 6 o’clock.

This is not only due to stereotypical German punctuality (a stereotype very much grounded in reality), but also by Germany’s unique post-dinner custom of watching TV. 

Every evening at 8 o'clock, the ARD, one of Germany’s main public TV channels airs the news called “Tagesschau”. Afterwards, at 8.15pm, the programme varies from day to day, with one important exception.

On Sundays, ARD (and some other public channels) airs “Tatort”, a TV series that has been running practically uninterrupted since the early 1970s. But this is another story to be told soon.