Food in Germany
How to get a service
In Germany, we usually find a table we like ourselves in the establishments we sit in. In more expensive restaurants, it is more likely that a waiter will accompany you to the entrance and show you to a table.
If you get a table, it’s yours until you leave. There is no need to rush. Even in country restaurants and in cities like Munich, it is not unusual to take a seat at a table where other people are already seated, especially if there are no other seats available. Although it is rare to have a conversation, in this case a short hello is very helpful.
Normally you pay your bill directly to your server. It is customary to split the bill among the people at the table. For information on tips, see “Tips” in the “Purchase” section.
German food generally stays true to its roots and a typical dish consists of meat with some form of potato and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. Modern German cuisine has been influenced by other European countries such as Italy and France to become lighter. The dishes have a great local variety to discover. Most German pubs and restaurants tend to be child and dog friendly, although both are expected to be well behaved and not too noisy.
Since most large employers have a canteen for their employees, you will find relatively few sandwich shops and take-outs. In Germany, gastronomic culture is dominated by the Gasthaus/Gasthof and restaurants. The classification of eateries into 7 categories gives you an overview of budget and taste. Starting at the bottom of the scale, here are the categories:
Schnellimbiss” (fast food) is what it says on the signs of the German stalls and small shops that mainly sell sausage and chips. Sausages include the bratwurst, a fried and usually cooked pork sausage. A very German variant is the currywurst: a minced meat sausage covered with spicy ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder. Most gastropubs contain beer and often spirits.
Döner kebab is a Turkish dish consisting of veal, chicken or sometimes lamb stuffed in bread, similar to Greek gyros and Arabic shawarma. Although it is considered Turkish, it is actually a speciality of German origin. Legend has it that it was invented by Turkish immigrants in West Berlin in the 1970s. In fact, the kebab is the most popular fast food in Germany. Sales in kebab shops far exceed those of McDonald’s and Burger King.
Nevertheless, fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut can be found in most cities. Nordsee is a German seafood chain that offers “Rollmops” (pickled herring) and many other fish and seafood snacks. However, many independent takeaways (most along the German coast) offer slightly better and slightly cheaper seafood. You can also find independent shops selling pizzas by the slice.
Besides the option of grabbing a sweet snack at a bakery, there seem to be ice cream parlours on every corner in summer. Try spaghetti for a popular sundae that’s hard to find elsewhere. You crush the vanilla ice cream with a potato masher to form the “noodles”. These are topped with strawberry sauce to imitate “spaghetti sauce” and usually white chocolate chips or ground almonds for “Parmesan”.
Bakeries and butchers
Germans don’t have a tradition of sandwich shops, but you will find that bakeries and butchers sell pretty good take-away food and are serious competition for fast food chains. Even the smallest bakeries sell many types of bread or rolls, most of which are darker (e.g. with wholemeal or rye flour) than the very popular white bread around the world and are certainly worth a try. Even if they haven’t made it before, almost all butchers will make you a sandwich if you ask them to. Some butchers will even prepare meals for you.
This “imbiss” butchery is especially popular in southern Germany, and the quality and freshness of the food is generally high. Butcher shops that sell a lot of food often have a narrow counter that stands upright on one edge so you have a place to put your food while you get up to eat it. Other bakeries and butchers even have tables and chairs and serve you more or less like a café, as they also sell coffee and other hot drinks.
Canteens and cafeterias
Although rarely a tourist attraction in themselves, canteens and cafeterias are a good alternative to fast food restaurants if you want to sit down to eat but are short on time or have a limited budget. Many companies allow non-employees to eat in their canteens, although most require some knowledge of location and access, as do university and college cafeterias. Retired people and office workers also appreciate self-service restaurants in large furniture stores such as XXXL.
In a beer garden you can get the nearby drink. In the traditional Bavarian breweries it is possible to bring your own food if you buy their drinks. Most places offer simple meals. Some beer gardens are also called beer cellars, especially in Franconia. Historically, the beer cellar arose from the need to keep beer cool before it was artificially cooled. So underground structures were dug and soon beer was sold directly from the warehouses during the summer months, giving birth to the beer cellar tradition as we know it today. Many of them are located in quite beautiful natural surroundings, but the most famous beer cellar ensemble is probably in Erlangen, where they created the Bergkirchweih, one of the biggest beer festivals in the region. They were dug through a mountain on the outskirts of the city and gave the city an advantage in beer storage and thus higher production capacities, which made Erlangen beer a household name after the railway connection made export possible. However, the invention of artificial cooling put an end to this advantage. The cellars still exist and one of them, apart from its role at the Bergkirchweih, functions like a normal cellar (to which it is often reduced) all year round.
As the name suggests, a beer garden is located in a garden. It can be completely outdoors, or you can choose between an indoor (almost always non-smoking) and an outdoor area. They range in size from cosy little corners to some of the largest eateries in the world, hosting thousands of people. The Munich Oktoberfest, which takes place every year at the end of September, creates some of the most famous temporary beer gardens in the world.
Smaller breweries sell their products directly to the customer and sometimes you will find food there. The hock or pork knuckle (the lower part of the pig’s leg) is usually part of the offerings. It is a typical German speciality and probably the best dish in almost all pubs of this kind.
Probably 50% of all eating places belong to this group. These are mainly family businesses that have been owned for generations, comparable to pubs in the UK. You can go there just to have a drink or to try German food (often with local flavour). The quality of the food varies greatly from place to place, but the staff will usually give you an indication of the standard; the regulations require restaurant owners to disclose certain potentially harmful ingredients (e.g. Glutamate/MSG) in footnotes – a menu containing many of these usually indicates poor quality; if a “guesthouse” / cheap restaurant is crowded with Germans or Asians, this at least indicates adequate quality (unless the crowding is due to an organised bus tour).
In Germany, there is a wide range of flavours (e.g. Chinese, German, Japanese, Thai, Polish, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Vietnamese) and almost every style in the world is represented.
Turkish cuisine in Germany ranges from simple “kebab” shops to restaurants, mostly family-run, that offer a wide selection of homemade Turkish dishes that are usually very inexpensive (compared to German price levels).
In Germany, you will rarely find restaurants that cater to special needs (kosher restaurants, for example, are only common in cities with a large Jewish population like Berlin), although most restaurants will prepare special dishes or variations if they are not satisfied with ready-made meals or if they are not too fancy. Most restaurants offer at least some vegetarian dishes. Muslims might want to stick to Turkish or Arabic restaurants. At some Turkish or Arabic kiosks, vegetarians can find falafel and ganoush au baba to their liking. For less strict Jews, the halal Turkish food stalls (sometimes spelled helal in Turkish) are also the best option for meat dishes.
In most restaurants in Germany you can choose your own table. You can make reservations (recommended for large groups and Saturday night haute cuisine) and these are marked with reservation cards (“Reserved”). In expensive restaurants in big cities you have to reserve and are seated by the staff (who do not allow you to choose your table).
Restaurants in shopping areas often offer special menus for lunch during the week. These are cheap options (from 5 euros, sometimes with a drink) and a good way to try local food. Special dishes are usually offered daily or weekly, especially if they include fresh ingredients such as fish.
Some restaurants offer all-you-can-eat buffets where you pay about 10 euros and can eat as much as you want. Drinks are not included in this price.
The “XXL restaurants” are on the rise. They mainly offer standard meat dishes like schnitzel or bratwurst in sizes ranging from large to inhuman. Often there is a dish that you can hardly eat on your own (it usually weighs 2 kg!), but if you manage to eat it all (and keep it in the house), the meal is free and you get a reward. Unlike in other restaurants, it is customary and encouraged to take leftovers home.
Good manners at the table
On very formal occasions and in upmarket restaurants, some German customs may differ from those to which some visitors are accustomed:
- It is considered bad manners to eat with your elbows on the table. Only leave your wrists on the table. Most Germans will keep these manners in everyday life, because it is one of the most basic rules that parents teach their children. If you go to a restaurant with your German friends, you might also want to pay attention to this.
- When you bring the fork to your mouth, the tines should point upwards (not downwards as in the UK).
- When eating soup or other food from your spoon, hold it with the tip towards your mouth (not parallel to your lips as in the UK). Spoons used for stirring drinks, such as coffee, should never be put in the mouth.
- If you have to leave the table temporarily, you can put your napkin (which should have been folded in half on your lap once by then) in an elegant little pile on the table to the left of your plate – unless it looks really dirty, in which case you can leave it on your chair.
When you want to clear the dishes, place the knife and fork parallel to each other, with the tips at about the eleven-thirty mark on your plate. Otherwise the waiters will assume that you are still eating.
Beef roulade with red cabbage and dumplings: This dish is quite unique in Germany. Very thin slices of beef are wrapped around a piece of bacon and marinated cucumber until they look like a mini barrel (5 cm in diameter), seasoned with tiny pieces of onion, German mustard, ground black pepper and salt. The meat is quickly roasted and then slow-cooked for an hour while red cabbage and potato dumplings are prepared. Then the meat is removed from the pan and the gravy is prepared in the pan. Dumplings, red cabbage and roulades are served with the gravy in one dish.
Schnitzel with fries: There are probably as many variations of the schnitzel as there are restaurants in Germany. What most of them have in common is a thin slice of pork, usually breaded and fried briefly, and often served with French fries (usually called pommes frites or often just apples). Variations of this dish are usually served with different types of sauce: e.g. gypsy schnitzel, onion schnitzel, lumberjack schnitzel and Wiener schnitzel (as the name suggests, an Austrian dish – in reality it has to be veal instead of pork, which is why most restaurants offer a Wiener Art Schnitzel or Wiener Schnitzel – which may be pork). In the south, you often get Spätzle (the famous Swabian noodles) with it instead of French fries. Spätzle are typical egg noodles from southern Germany – most restaurants prepare them fresh. Because of the ease of preparation, ordering them could be considered an insult to any establishment with a good reputation (with the possible exception of Wiener Schnitzel). It is true that it is almost inevitable to find it on the menu of any seedy German pub (and there are many of them…), apart from being the most common dish in German restaurants (yes, at least German government officials call their pubs as good as the usual fast-food restaurants!).
Rehrücken mit Spätzle: Germany has preserved vast forests such as the famous Black Forest, the Bavarian Forest and the Odenwald. In and around these regions you can enjoy the best game in Germany. Rehrücken means venison fillet and is often served with freshly prepared pasta like spaetzle and a very good sauce based on dry red wine.
Sausage: No country in the world has a greater variety of sausage types than Germany and it would take some time to list them all. Bratwurst is fried, other varieties like Bavarian Weißwurst are boiled. Here’s the short version: “Red” beef sausage, Frankfurt-style “Frankfurter Wurst”, “Palatinate Bratwurst”, “Nuremberg Bratwurst” – the smallest of them all, but a serious contender for best German sausage, “coarse Bratwurst”, Landjäger, Thuringian Bratwurst, Currywurst, Weisswurst ….could go on until tomorrow. If you find a sausage on a menu, it is often a good (and sometimes the only) choice. It is often served with mashed potatoes, French fries or potato salad. Probably the most popular type of sausage is the currywurst (a sliced grilled sausage served with ketchup and curry powder) and can be bought almost anywhere.
Königsberger Klopse: Literally translated as “Königsberger meatballs”, this is a typical dish from Berlin and the surrounding area. The meatballs are made of minced pork and anchovies and are cooked and served in a white sauce with capers and rice or potatoes.
Matje roll: Herring sauce or “pug” in a bun, a typical street snack.
From the north of Germany to the south, you will find a great variety of food and each region retains its origins. In the coastal regions, people like to eat seafood and the most famous dishes are the “Finkenwerder Scholle”.
In the Cologne region there is Sauerbraten, a roast meat marinated in vinegar. Traditionally, Sauerbraten was made from the meat of horses that pulled the barges on the Rhine all their lives, but today the dish is mostly made from beef.
Labskaus (although strictly speaking it is not a German invention) is a northern dish and opinions about it are divided, some like it, others hate it. It consists of mashed potatoes, beetroot juice and dried meat, decorated with rollmops and/or young herring and/or a fried egg and/or pickles and/or slices of beetroot. The north is also famous for its lamb dishes, the best variety is probably the “Rudenlamm” (lamb from the small Baltic island of Ruden; only a few restaurants in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern serve this dish), the second best variety the “Salzwiesenlamm”. (salt meadow lamb). The Lüneburg Heath is not only famous for its heathland, but also for the Heidschnucken, a special breed of sheep. However, many restaurants import their lamb from New Zealand because it is cheaper there. Crabs and mussels are also common on the German coast, especially in North Friesland.
A Hamburg speciality is the “Aalsuppe” (eel soup), which – despite its name (in this case “Aal” means “everything”, not “eel”) – originally contained almost everything – except eel (today many restaurants include eel in this soup, as the name has caused confusion among tourists). There is a wide variety of fish dishes on the coast. Be careful: if a restaurant offers “noble fish platter” or another dish with the same name, the fish may not be fresh and even (ironically) of poor quality. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to eat fish only in specialised (or quality) restaurants. The “Nordsee” is a chain of fast-food restaurants that offers fish and other seafood of standardised quality at low prices throughout Germany, but you will rarely find authentic specialities there.
Pfälzer Saumagen: A well-known dish in the Palatinate for a long time, but hard to find outside this region. It is literally a pork belly stuffed with mashed potatoes and meat, cooked for 2-3 hours and then cut into thick slices. It is often served with sauerkraut. It gained fame because Helmut Kohl liked to serve it to official state guests such as Gorbachev and Reagan when he was Chancellor.
Swabia is famous for its “Spätzle” (a type of noodle, often served with cheese like “Kässpätzle”) and “Maultaschen” (noodles filled with spinach and minced meat, but there are many variations, including vegetarian).
In Bavaria, these include pork knuckle with dumplings, Leberkäs/meatloaf with potato salad, Nürnberger Bratwurst (probably the smallest sausage in Germany), Weißwurst and Obatzda (a spicy mixture of several dairy products).
The south is also famous for its beautiful cakes like the “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte” (cake with lots of cream and kirsch).
In Saxony, the Eierschecke, a cake made of eggs and cream, similar to a cheesecake, is a delicacy.
A speciality of the East is the “Soljanka” (originally from Ukraine, but probably the most common dish in the GDR), a sour soup with vegetables and usually some kind of meat or sausage.
White asparagus floods restaurants all over Germany from April to June, especially in and around Baden-Baden and in the small town of Schwetzingen (“asparagus capital”) near Heidelberg, in an area north and north-east of Hanover (“Lower Saxony Asparagus Route”) and in the area south-west of Berlin, especially in the town of Beelitz and along the Lower Rhine (“Walbeck Asparagus”). Franconia, especially the garlic country around Nuremberg, also has quite good asparagus. Many vegetables are available all year round and are often imported from far away, whereas asparagus can only be found for two months and is best eaten fresh after harvesting, it stays nice for a few hours or until the next day. Asparagus is treated with great care and is harvested before it is exposed to daylight so that it stays white. When exposed to daylight, they change colour and turn green, which can give them a bitter taste. For this reason, most Germans think white asparagus is better. The veneration of this white vegetable can seem almost religious, especially in areas where asparagus is traditionally grown. Even rural “mum and pop” restaurants offer a page or more of asparagus recipes in addition to their usual menu.
The standard asparagus dish consists of asparagus spears, hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes and some form of meat. The most common meat is ham, preferably smoked, but you will also find it with schnitzel (fried breaded pork), turkey, beef or whatever is available in the kitchen.
White asparagus soup is one of hundreds of different recipes you can find using white asparagus. It is often prepared with cream and contains some of the finest pieces of asparagus.
Another example of a seasonal speciality is “kale”. (green cabbage). It is mainly found in Lower Saxony, especially in southern and south-western regions such as the Emsland or around the Wiehengebirge and the Teutoburg Forest, but also everywhere else and in the eastern regions of North Rhine-Westphalia. It is usually served with a kind of cooked sausage (called “Pinkel”) and fried potatoes. If you travel to Lower Saxony in autumn, you should find some in all the inns.
Lebkuchen is one of the many Christmas and gingerbread biscuits that exist in Germany. The best known are produced in and around Nuremberg.
Stollen is a type of cake eaten during Advent and Christmas. The original Stollen is only made in Dresden, Saxony, but you can buy Stollen anywhere in Germany (although the Dresden Stollen is considered the best and relatively cheap).
Around St Martin’s Day and Christmas, grilled geese (“Martinsgans” / “Christmas goose”) are quite common in German restaurants, accompanied by red cabbage and dumplings, preferably as a menu with liver accompanied by some kind of salad, as a starter, goose soup and dessert.
Germans are very fond of their bread, which they make in many variations. It is the food that Germans miss the most when they are away from home. Most people love their relatively dark and dense bread and disdain the soft breads sold in other countries. Bakeries rarely supply less than twenty different types of bread and it is worth trying some. In fact, many Germans buy their lunch or small snacks from bakeries instead of buying take-out or other meals. The price of a loaf of bread varies between 0.50 and 4 euros, depending on the size (real specialities can cost more).
Since German bread is generally very good, sandwiches (belegtes Brot) are also usually of good quality, even at train stations and airports. However, if you want to save money, do as most people do and make the sandwich yourself, as sandwiches can be quite expensive if bought ready-made.
Outside of big cities like Berlin, there are not many places that are particularly suitable for vegetarian or vegan customers. Most restaurants offer one or two vegetarian dishes. If there are no vegetarian dishes on the menu, please ask.
When ordering, be sure to ask if the dish is suitable for vegetarians, as chicken broth and bacon cubes are often “undeclared” ingredients on German menus.
However, there are usually health food shops, health food shops or health food shops in every city that offer vegetarian bread, spreads, cheese, ice cream, vegan milk substitutes, tofu and seitan. The variety and quality of products is great, and you will find suppliers who can answer specific nutritional questions in depth.
Veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise in Germany, so many supermarkets (e.g. Edeka and Rewe) also offer a small selection of vegan products in their “delicatessen” section, such as seitan sausages, tofu or soy milk at a reasonable price.
Allergies and coeliac disease
In Germany, the labelling of packaging is usually reliable when buying food. All food must be correctly labelled, including additives and preservatives. Look out for wheat, flour or malt and starch. Be especially careful of foods with flavour enhancers that may contain gluten.
- Reformhaus. A network of 3,000 health food shops in Germany and Austria with departments for gluten-free products, including pasta, bread and sweets. Health food shops are usually located on the lower level of shopping centres (e.g. PotsdamerArkaden etc.).
- DM Blinds. The equivalent of CWS/Shopper’s Drug Mart in Germany has departments dedicated to wheat and gluten-free products.
- Alnatura. – Natural food shop with a large section for gluten-free products.
The various federal states began banning smoking in public and other places at the beginning of 2007, but the laws vary from state to state. Smoking is generally prohibited in all restaurants and cafés. Some venues may have separate smoking areas, but it is best to check when booking. Smokers should be prepared to go outside if they wish to light up. Smoking is not permitted on any public transport, including platforms (except in designated smoking areas clearly marked ‘smoking area’). The laws are strictly enforced.
In restaurants it is widely accepted that customers leave their table without paying the bill to smoke and come back later. If you are alone, tell the staff that you are going outside to smoke and if you have a bag or coat, leave it there.
There is also shooting in Germany, more in the centre than in the south or north. In most big cities you can find a shop where you can get devices or cash, with or without nicotine. The law does not clearly deal with vaping at the moment. So if you want to be safe, do as you do with smoking and accept the usual non-smoking rules.
Drinks in Germany
The legal drinking age is set:
- 14 – Minors are allowed to consume and possess non-distilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine, provided they are accompanied by their parents or a guardian.
- 16 – Minors may not consume and possess distilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine, without their parents or guardians. Any drink containing distilled alcohol (even if the total alcohol content is lower than that of a typical beer) is not allowed.
- 18 years old – as an adult you have unlimited access to alcohol.
For centuries, beer production in Bavaria was regulated by the Purity Law, which became the subject of national politics with the reunification of Germany in 1871. This law stipulated that German beer could only be made from hops, malt and water (yeast was not known at that time). The Purity Law has been watered down by European integration with imports, but German breweries still have to abide by it, because national law applies to them. However, the national law has also been watered down and now provides that various additives and adjuvants may be used during the production process as long as they are not included in the final product.
The national beer market is not dominated by one or a few large breweries. Although there are a few big players, the regional diversity is enormous with more than 1,200 breweries, most of which serve only local markets. In general, bars and restaurants serve local varieties, which vary from city to city. However, the north is less diverse than the south, and especially in communities that do not specialise in beer, large breweries are more likely to mass-produce diluted pilsners. If you really want to discover German beer, try to stick to smaller brands as they don’t have to appeal to a mass market and therefore have a more ‘individual’ taste. When sitting in a German pub, a local beer is always an option, and often the only one.
Specialities include Weizenbier (or Weißbier in Bavaria), a refreshing top-fermented beer popular in the south, Alt, a type of dark beer particularly popular in Düsseldorf and the surrounding area, and Kölsch, a special beer brewed in Cologne. Pilsner”, the German name for Pilsner, is a light, golden-coloured beer that is very popular in Germany. There are also seasonal beers that are only made at certain times of the year (such as Bockbier in winter and Maibock in May, both of which contain more alcohol, sometimes twice as much as a normal full beer).
Beer is usually served in 200 or 300ml glasses (in the north) or in 500ml glasses in the south. In the beer gardens in Bavaria, 500mL is a small beer (“Halbe”) and one litre is normal (“Maß” pronounced “Mahss”). Except in “Irish pubs”, pints or pitchers are rare.
For Germans, lots of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality, so beer is always served with lots of foam. (All glasses have volume markings for critical souls).
Moreover, Germans are not afraid to mix beer with other drinks (even if older people might disagree). Beer is usually mixed with carbonated lemonade (usually in a ratio of 1:1) and “Radler” (so called because it is a refreshing drink that a cyclist can enjoy on a bike ride in spring or summer) (or “Alsterwasser”/”Alster” (after the river in Hamburg) in the north); Pilsener/Altbier “cocktails” and soft drinks like Fanta, a “Krefelder”/”Colaweizen” cola and buckwheat beer is another combination that can be found. Pils mixed with cola is especially popular with young Germans and has – depending on the region – different names like “Diesel”, “Schmutziges” or “Schweinebier”, just to name a few. Another famous local speciality is the “Berliner Weiße”, a cloudy and sour wheat beer of about 3 % vol. with syrups added (traditionally raspberry-based), which is very refreshing in summer. These mixed beer drinks are widespread and popular and can be bought in pre-mixed bottles (usually in six-packs) wherever normal beer is sold.
Pubs in Germany are open until 02:00 or later. Food is usually available until midnight. Germans usually go out after 20:00 (popular pubs are already full at 18:00).
The undisputed capital of cider (or Äbblwoi, as it is called here) in Germany is Frankfurt. The people of Frankfurt love their cider. There are even special bars (‘Apfelweinkneipe’) that serve only cider and some gastronomic specialities. The cider is often served in a special jug called a ‘Bembel’. The taste is somewhat different from ciders from other countries and tends to be quite refreshing. In autumn, when the apples are made into cider, you will find signs in some places saying “Frischer Most” or “Süßer”. This is the first product of the “cider” production line; one glass of cider is fine, but after two or three glasses you will have a problem, unless you like to spend a lot of time on the toilet. In Saarland and the surrounding areas, cider is called “Viez”. Here it varies from “Süßer Viez” (sweet), to “Viez Fein-Herb” (semi-sweet) to “Alter Saerkower” (sour). The Viez capital of this region is Merzig. In winter it is also customary to drink warm cider (with a few cloves and sugar). It is considered an effective measure against the common cold.
Germans drink a lot of coffee. The port of Hamburg is currently the busiest place in the world for the coffee trade. Coffee is always freshly prepared from ground coffee or coffee beans – not immediately. However, people from countries with a great coffee tradition (such as Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece or Austria) may find the coffee served in normal restaurants a bit boring. A German speciality, originally from North Frisia but now also common in East Frisia, is the “Pharisee”, a mixture of coffee and a spirit, usually rum, with a thick cream on top. A variant of this mixture is “Tote Tante“, where the coffee is replaced by hot chocolate.
In recent years, the American coffee chain Starbucks or clones have developed in Germany, but mostly you come across “cafés” that usually offer a large selection of cakes to go with your coffee.
Are you visiting Germany in December? Then go to one of the famous Christmas markets (the most famous are in Nuremberg, Dresden, Leipzig, Münster, Bremen, Augsburg and Aachen) and there you will find mulled wine, a spicy wine served very hot to comfort you in the cold of winter.
The generic term for fruit-based spirits is Obstler, and each region has its own specialities.
“Kirschwasser” literally means “cherry water”; it tastes of cherries, but on the other hand it is no ordinary drinking water. The production of spirits has a long tradition in Baden, and “Kirschwasser” is probably the flagship. This might tempt you to try other specialities such as raspberry spirit (raspberry-based), sloe fire (flavoured with sloe berries), Williamchrist (pear-based) and Apfelkorn (apple juice and grain, see below).
“Bavarians love their beer as much as they love their gentian, a high-alcohol spirit better suited as a digestive liquor after a hearty meal.
Korn“, made from grain, is probably the most common alcohol in Germany. Korn is especially popular in the north, where it surpasses beer in popularity. In the south, the situation is reversed. The main production centre (Berentzen) is in Haselünne, where tours and tastings in the distilleries can be organised. The town is close to the Ems river in north-west Germany; for rail transport to Haselünne (very little dense), see Eisenbahnfreunde Hasetal. A common mixture is Korn with apple juice (“Apfelkorn”), which usually reaches about 20 % abv and is mostly drunk by young people. Another town famous for its Doppelkorn (with a tradition of more than five hundred years) is Nordhausen in Thuringia, where tours and tastings are also easy to organise.
In North Frisia, “Köm” (caraway alcohol), pure or mixed with tea (“Teepunsch”), is very popular.
Eiergrog” is a hot mixture of egg liqueur and rum.
Tea is also very popular and a large selection is readily available. The region of East Frisia in particular has a long tea tradition and is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. The tea ceremony in East Frisia consists of serving black tea in a flat porcelain cup with special rock candy (kluntje) added to the cup before pouring the tea. The cream is added afterwards, but not mixed with the tea. The East Frisian attachment to tea was mocked in a rather infamous advertisement for a certain sweet to be served with coffee, but this was interrupted by a loud East Frisian saying “Und was is mit Tee?” (What about tea?) in a stereotypical North German accent. Most Germans still know this idiom, though not necessarily its origin.
Especially in winter, Germans love their hot chocolate, which is available everywhere. In Germany, hot chocolate is more or less plain – i.e. bittersweet – and in the gourmet places it can be quite dark and bitter and only slightly sweet. It is usually served with whipped cream (fresh whipped cream, also called whipped cream). Although it is usually served prepared in advance, there are also cafés that serve a block of chocolate that you mix yourself and melt in hot milk. Milk chocolate is called Kinderschokolade in Germany and is not taken seriously at all, so don’t expect to be able to order a hot milk chocolate as an adult.
Some Germans are as passionate about their wine as they are about their beer. The similarities don’t end there; both products are often produced by small farms and the best wines are consumed locally. Viticulture in Germany has a 2,000-year history, as the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier shows, but of course it was a Roman colony back then. The sun is the limiting factor for wine production in Germany and therefore wine production is limited to the south. White wine plays an important role in wine production, but some regions also produce red wines (Ahr, Baden Württemberg). White wines are made from Riesling, Kerner and Müller-Thurgau grapes (there are many more, but to name them all is beyond the scope) and generally produce fresh and fruity wines. German wines can be acidic and are quite refreshing. It is generally accepted that Riesling grapes produce the best German wines, but they need a lot of sun and grow best in highly exposed regions such as the Mosel, Rheingau, Bergstrasse, Kaiserstuhl and Pfalz.
The best way to find out about wines is to go to the place where they are made and taste them on the spot. This tasting, called “wine tasting“, is usually free, but in tourist areas a small fee is charged.
Good wines usually accompany good food, so you can visit the place when you are hungry and thirsty. The so-called Straußenwirtschaft, Besenwirtschaft or Heckenwirtschaft are small “pubs” or gardens where a winegrower sells his own wine, usually with small dishes like sandwiches or cheese and ham. Usually they are only open in summer and autumn, and not more than 4 months a year (due to legal regulations). As they are sometimes located in the vineyards or in certain alleys, they are not always easy to find. Therefore, it is best to ask a local resident which is the nearest (or best) Straußenwirtschaft they know.
In autumn, you can buy “Federweißer” in southwest Germany. This is a partially fermented white wine that contains a little alcohol (depending on age) but has a very sweet taste. It is also available from red grapes, under the name “Roter Sauser” or “Roter Rauscher”.
The wine-growing regions are:
The Ahr is a paradise for German red wines. Half of its production is devoted to red wines and it is densely populated with inns and Straußwirten. There is a saying that the person who has visited the Ahr and remembers being there has not been there.
With around 15,500 hectares of vineyards and a production of 1 million hectolitres, Baden is the third largest wine-growing region in Germany. It is the southernmost wine-growing region in Germany and the only German member of Category B of European wines, together with the famous French regions of Alsace, Champagne and Loire. The Baden region stretches over more than 400 km and is divided into nine regional groups: Tauberfranken, Badische Bergstrasse, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tuniberg, Markgräflerland and Bodensee. Kaiserstuhl and Markgräflerland are the best-known regions for Baden wine. One of the largest winegrowers’ cooperatives is the Badische Winzerkellerin Breisach.
Franconia: Franconia is in the northern part of Bavaria and you can find very good wines there. Some wines produced in Franconia are sold in a special bottle called a “Bocksbeutel”.
Hessische Bergstraße: Situated on the slopes of the Rhine valley, it is a small, quiet wine-growing region and the wines are generally drunk in and around Heppenheim.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: Germany’s steepest vineyards can be seen as you drive through the Mosel valley from Koblenz to Trier.
Palatinate: Germany’s largest wine-growing region. There are excellent wines to taste and many pretty villages nestled in the vineyards. Wine tasting in Deidesheim is a good idea and several major German wine producers are all on the main road. If you want to see the largest wine barrel in the world, head to Bad Dürkheim.
Rheingau: This is the smallest wine-growing region, but it produces the highest-rated Riesling wines in Germany. Visit Wiesbaden and take a trip on the Rhine to Eltville and Rüdesheim.
Rheinhessen is also famous for its Riesling. Visit Mainz and take a trip on the Rhine to Worms, Oppenheim, Ingelheim or Bingen.
Saale-Unstrut: is located in Saxony-Anhalt on the banks of the Saale and Unstrut rivers and is the northernmost wine-growing region in Europe.
Saxony: One of the smallest wine-growing regions in Germany, nestled on the Elbe near Dresden and Meissen.
Württemberg: As already mentioned, the rule here is strictly that the best wine is consumed by the inhabitants; the per capita consumption of wine is twice as high as in the rest of Germany, regardless of whether it is red or white wine. The region’s speciality is the red wine called Trollinger, which can be very good by German standards.