Snapshots from Germany: The Currywurst

Note: Please welcome our new Berlin-based columnist Steen Hanssen. He'll be sharing traditional German recipes with us, as well tips on where to find the best pizza slice, Indian food, or kebab in Berlin. It seemed only natural to start with currywurst. Take it away, Steen! —The Mgmt.

Currywurst_Urs Kuckertz.jpg

[Photograph: Urs Kuckertz]

Arguably the most famous and iconic Berliner street food dish is the currywurst. Few German dishes are so popular and have inspired so much controversy. The traditional currywurst is a fried, scalded sausage with a fine texture cut into thick slices and seasoned with a ketchup-curry powder sauce. The sausage (wurst in German) is served with or without casing (or "gut," the skin of the sausage), an existential choice for devoted currywurst fans. It may be accompanied by either fries (pommes) or a bread roll (brötchen).

Though it's not among my top five city snacks in Berlin (we'll save that for another column) it's an indisputable must-try at any of the hundreds of street food stands (imbiss) throughout Berlin.

Politicians running for office are well advised to be photographed munching a currywurst. Songs, books, movies and even an entire museum have been dedicated to the currywurst.

In 1993 the German author Uwe Timm published the novel Die Entdeckung der Currywurst (translation: The Discovery of the Currywurst) in which the fictional character Lena Brücker accidentally invents the currywurst in Hamburg (Germany's second largest city after Berlin). It's reported that a decade or so ago, the citizens of Hamburg put up a commemorative plate dedicated to Frau Lena Brücker's invention of the currywurst. Now many believe Hamburg is the true birthplace of the famed dish.

But legend has it that on September 4, 1949, at the corner of the then red light district of Kant-/Kaiser-Friedrich-Strasse, Frau Herta Heuwer (1913-1999) served a pork sausage with gut, while adding a sauce made of tomato paste and curry powder, which she subsequently patented "Chillup" sauce. And yes, at the exact spot there's a plate commemorating this groundbreaking event.

Today the currywurst is sold in the millions in all shapes and forms (even a horrific tofu version) and the sauce is offered in many variations as well.

Having recently resettled in Berlin after a four-year stint in Jakarta enjoying sambal olek, I foolishly attempted to impress a friend by ordering an alleged five-million Scoville unit curry sauce to go with my gutless wurst—it was one of the hottest bites of my life. To the considerable amusement of the snack bar owner, I failed to devourer the dish.