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Magical Germany: German Breakfast

The English language actually has a word for German breakfast: Dinner.

Although that’s not entirely fair since most dinners have far less bread and meat than a German breakfast.

Unlike most other food cultures, Germans don’t crow so much about their breakfasts. Not like the Brits and their Full English or us Amis and our pancakes and bacon or even the French and their croissant. Italians? Italy doesn’t have breakfast: They just sip espresso and look good. It’s true, Italian’s wake up looking good. I know. I’ve been.

German breakfast
Photo thanks Kai Hendry via Creative Commons

But Germans don’t go on and on about their breakfasts mainly because they’re so busy trying to eat said breakfasts. The cornerstone of every German breakfast is the country’s true pride: Bread. I know you think it’s cars or beers but that’s just for show. Germans are mostly passionate about their flour, yeast and water all baked up into a hell for the gluten-averse.

German breakfasts are centered on a mini version of bread, the Brötchen (tiny loaf of bread). Brötchen come in various forms from boring white rolls to complex conflagrations of seeds, nuts, high-tech flours and tears from Nietzsche. Each Brötchen is cut in half, buttered and then belegt (covered) with anything you want but preferably an animal product and probably meat. Schinken, for example, a German ham. Or Leberwurst, which is predictably liverwurst.

German breakfast is what’s for breakfast

On a good day German Frühstück (breakfast) judges will also allow jam, Nutella, scrambled eggs and the occasional vegetable on a Brötchen. Some Germans even have a strange syrupy stuff called Goldsaft (Gold Juice, really!) on their breakfast tables, which is sugar beet syrup and is odorless and tasteless and not even sticky. It’s only on people’s tables because it’s called Gold Juice and who doesn’t want a little Gold Juice on their table?

Ne’er do wells, idlers and Bayern Munich fans, that’s who.

As if all of that isn’t enough, many Germans also include a soft-boiled egg to break their fast. They see it more as a way to cleanse the pallet, I think. Like an ovo-sorbet.

I’ve never been clear on what the suggested serving size is for a German breakfast but I’m usually full after two Brötchen halves (or one Brötchen for the math majors among us). But I generally eat two full Brötchen because, to quote Louis C.K., I don’t quit eating when I’m full. I quit eating when I hate myself.

Like a good German.

The first time any non-German encounters a Teutonic petit dejeuner, their reaction is always the same: How do Germans start the day like this and not end up looking … American? Heck, I still have that reaction every time I have a German breakfast. Because, if I eat German breakfasts too often, I end up looking American. Or, rather, more American. But I don’t know how they do it. I’ve shared living space with a German for 14 years and shired two half-Germans and still have no idea.

Frühstücksersatzverdauungsmagen

How they pull it off is a state secret more protected than the UFOs at Roswell or Heino’s eye color. The only way I can explain it is that Germans have an extra stomach. Like cows. They have a Frühstücksersatzverdauungsmagen (second German stomach) where the basic laws of nutrition, thermal dynamics and maybe even gravity are moot. The Frühstücksersatzverdauungsmagen digests breakfast foods in another dimension and encourages Germans to make cars, beer and horrible pop music while eliminating any and all calories.

There is no other answer. And Frühstücksersatzverdauungsmagen is a real word. Swear.

After writing all of that I’ve decided we’re having a German breakfast for dinner which Germans do too: It’s called Abendbrot (evening bread).

Because you can never have enough bread.

The Nutella pizza

After about 15 years in-country, I discovered yet another magical corner of Germany: The Nutella pizza. It happened after spontaneously hitting one of our favorite pizza joints in a Berlin neighborhood that might be Kreuzberg, Schöneberg or Tiergarten but is all parts great (I’m going to respect its privacy by just not checking).

“Ok,” I said to my fellow diners, who were comprised of a 9-year-old, a 10-year-old and my wife (age withheld). “Are we done? Can we go?”

My daughter picked up an errant Pizza Klub menu, stained by previous diners, and pointed at the thing she’d been waiting to point at the whole meal: Nutella pizza.

Nutella pizza
The actual Nutella pizza.

Angels began singing. Cloudy skies parted and a non-denominational spiritual of indeterminate sex spoke, making it clear we were ordering the Nutella pizza.

People seem to always give credit for Nutella to the country in which they first encounter it. Like a moustachioed turn-of-the-century hipster sampling Frites in Paris and making an incorrect assumption. I could google “Nutella history” and reword Ferrerro (Nutella’s owner) PR copy or copy and paste a Wikipedia entry but this post isn’t about Nutella’s origin story, it’s about my Nutella origin story. (And it’s 2016, you can do the googling yourself).

My first Nutella

I first encountered Nutella on my first-ever morning in Germany, back when the Kaisers still roamed the earth and Weimar was a town, not a historical period. After my guest parents taught me how to slice open a Brötchen and smear on Nutella (with butter, a practice I no longer follow), I figured they were allowing me a rare German treat because they were new guest parents and it was my first morning in Germany.

I mean, who has chocolate for breakfast? Unless it’s in a donut, of course.

But it wasn’t a special treat. I quickly came to realize that Nutella is a staple of the German diet behind Kartoffeln, Wurst and Weltschmerz. It’s always on the breakfast table, usually on a tray next to sugar beet syrup (Zuckerrübensyrup) and a jar of jelly last used during the Kohl administration.

I’m grateful to the Gehrings of Oldenburg for this introduction.

However, Nutella was one of the first child-rearing fights between my wife and I: She wanted to allow the children to have it while they were still in the womb but I argued it might give them too much of a taste for chocolate.

“Peanut butter, on the other hand,” I said.

Thanks, Pizza Klub

“It’s no different!” she claimed.

We all know she was wrong.

But by introducing them to Nutella so early, my daughter (and Pizza Klub) introduced me to the Nutella pizza.

So somehow my wife was right.

 

Magical Germany: Tischmülleimer

The first time I saw one on a breakfast table at a hotel in Nuremberg, I thought it was hiding some breakfast delight. Extra butter. Milk. Tea, maybe. But it had an odd size and it was shaped like a tiny trash can.

Because it was a tiny trash can.

Tischmülleimer
Pic Jochen Wegner under Creative Commons

Yes, in Germany there are tiny trash cans on breakfast tables at bed & breakfasts (and your grandmother’s).

Guys! Tiny trash cans!

“They’re totally old fashioned,” my German wife told me as I sat down to write this. “Nobody uses them any more.”

Au contraire mon Frau.

She hasn’t googled Tischmülleimer (table trash can) recently. Or checked on amazon.de for Tischabfalleimer (table trash can). Or gone to the housewares section in any department store and looked for Tischabfallbehälter (table trash can).

Because Germany still has trash cans on many of its tables. Lots of its tables.

Tischmülleimer = Ordnung

How obsessed with Ordnung (table trash can … actually, order) do you have to be to have tiny trash cans on your breakfast table? So obsessed that you put tiny trash cans on your breakfast table. So obsessed that you have to take out the trash before you’ve even finished your Rühreier mit Speck (table trash … oh never mind, it’s scrambled eggs with bacon).

Teen-aged me thought the Germans were genius for their Tischmülleimer. You could spread all sorts of stuff on your bread and then throw all the detritus away sofort! It allowed you to focus on your German breakfast which, as we all know, requires full concentration.

Tischmülleimer make sense when you think of all the things the not-always-environmentally-conscious Germans serve in tiny plastic packages. Jelly. Honey. Butter. Cream cheese. Pumpernickel. Schmelzkäse (processed cheese). Angst. And Nutella. That can leave a table looking pretty unordentlich. The-day-after-New-Years disorderly. Plus: That tiny trash can is just the thing for your soft boiled egg shells (though you’ll still end up with some between your teeth).

Even better: The wait staff (or your grandmother) doesn’t have to come through and clean up your trash while you’re quoting Goethe and ladling quark (this weird cheese/yoghurt stuff) into your piehole. You can just throw it away!

When I was in high school in America, I imagined being an adult meant having all the CDs of my favorite bands. As an exchange student in Germany, I imagined being an adult as being able to have a Tischmülleimer at every table.

Now I’m an adult and I don’t have either.

And I never quote Goethe.