Five German Treats From Five Different Regions Of Germany
I think just about everybody knows the saying, “The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.” It is one I have grown up hearing over and over again, and I have found it to be very true. One of my own passions, possibly the one closest to my heart, is baking. In German, the saying goes like this: “Liebe geht durch den Magen”. Or, in other words: “Love moves through the stomach.”
So, in the spirit of this great phrase (and to stay with the theme of travel), I thought it would be a nice idea to introduce you to a couple of my favourite baked treats from my country: Germany. I’ll season it with a bit of history and a dash of culture and cultural differences between the regions of Germany.
For reference: I am going to speak about a place called the Rhineland a bit, because that is where I am from and so I am going to compare other parts of Germany to mine. The Rhineland is a part of North Rhine-Westphalia (west Germany) and its name quite literally translates to the land next to a large part of the river Rhine.
Berliner from Northern Germany
Let’s start this little journey off in the north of Germany. Judging by its name, one could assume this wonderful piece of fried, jam-packed, powdered treat is from Berlin, our capital. It isn’t, though. I have not been able to find out exactly where it is from, other than that it is from northern Germany (Berlin is more north-east). Besides that, there is a lot of disagreement about what these delicious treats are called.
The official name, as I’ve found it, is berliner pfannkuchen or berlin pancakes. They are made of sweet yeast dough, shaped into fist-sized balls and then deep fried. Traditionally, they are filled with jam, but there are regional differences. For instance, in east Germany, they are often filled with plum puree.
In the Rhineland (west Germany), where I am from, they are a very traditional treat to have for Karnival. Because that season is one for jokes and fun, people like to fill them not only with jam, but also mustard or onions, in order to fool people into eating the less desirable ones.
Karnival – I deliberately do not write it with a ‘C’, to separate it from the Carnivals that are like fairs – is a world-wide tradition, as it is based on the Catholic religion, but Germany’s Karnival originated in Cologne. It is similar to Brazil’s Carnival, but in Germany we dress up in different kinds of costumes – I suppose more like you would on Halloween, without the blood.
Also, our Karnival is based on different historical influences, which began way back in the old Germanic times. Apparently the first records of a Karnival in Germany dates back to the late 1200s. The first parade, as we know it today, took place in Cologne in the early 1800s.
The berliner are also a traditional treat to have for New Year’s Eve, not only in the Rhineland, but also in the north and other parts of Germany.
Christstollen from Sachsen (or Saxony)
Christstollen are really just regular stollen. With this wonderful piece of cake, we move to the east of Germany. Sachsen, or Saxony, lies in the east of Germany and yes, it is related to the Saxon-half of Anglo-Saxon. The stollen is made of a sweet and fatty yeast-based dough, which is usually stuffed with dried fruits, such as sultanas, and marzipan. As you can see in the photo, the finished product is also covered in powdered sugar. The stollen is a cake made throughout the year, but it becomes the classic christstollen during the Christmas time. I know it best as such and less as a normal stollen throughout the year.
The first time the word stollen was referred to in writing is from a text by the Bishop Heinrich I. of Grünberg, who wrote a document for the founding of the Naumburg’s Baker’s Guild. Naumburg is a town in Saxony-Anhalt, a neighbouring state to Saxony. This document dates back to 1329 and had originally been written in Latin. However, the original is lost and so only German translations remain, which date back to the 16th century. It is unclear how close this stollen came to the recipe bakers use nowadays. However, the stollen from this recipe most likely comes very close to the stollen of the old-timey recipe of 1730.
It is obvious just how far back this classic German cake goes and just how much history has shaped and changed it into the terribly sweet treat we know it as today. If you want to have a truly German Christmas time, you should definitely plan to have a christstollen with you – whether you bake it yourself or not.
Nürnberger Lebkuchen (or gingerbread) from Nürnberg (or Nuremburg), Bavaria
Did you know that you can only call that bubbly alcohol ‘champagne’ if it actually is from Champagne, France? That’s called a protected designation of origin. The same goes for the nürnberger lebkuchen, or as you would say in English: The nuremburg gingerbread. And with that, I welcome you to the south of Germany. Did you think I’d go with the pretzel for this one? The classic Munich bow-like bread stick? Well, no. I thought that would be just too obvious and I also do not like it so much myself.
Well, the south, the south. Let me tell you a thing or two about the German state of Bavaria. It’s quite famous, I’d say. It gave us not just the pretzel, but Oktoberfest, Lederhosen and Dirndls as well. When people tell me what they believe the stereotypical German is, they describe to me the classic Bavarian. There is a lot of people, including lots of Bavarians, who even say that Bavaria isn’t completely German, just because their traditions and way-of-life is quite different from the rest of Germany. It’s no better or worse; it is just very different. It has got one of the best football/soccer clubs in the world, though!
However, nuremburg gingerbread is a very famous treat in Germany, but I am not sure just how well known it is around the world. The long, long history of nuremburg gingerbread goes all the way back to the 12th Century. Something qualitatively special about the nuremburg gingerbread is that there is usually a high proportion of almond and nut cores and very little to no flour.
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (or Black Forest Cake) from Schwarzwald (or Black Forest), Baden-Würtemberg
I wanted to give you at least one classic – one that most people seem to know. It did take me an embarrassingly long time, when I was younger, to realize that black forest cake is the same thing as what I’ve always known as schwarzwälder kirschtorte, which literally translated means black forest cherry cake. I don’t know why I didn’t believe it, but it always surprises me when people actually care for things that are relevant to Germany.
Usually, all people want to talk about is World War II. I am always happy to discuss history, of course, because – as we are taught in school – you have to study and analyse history in order to prevent it from happening again. It is really almost a sort of mantra you grow up with in this country. (Or, at least, this was how I have grown up.) Obviously, the world is struggling with this right now, but I won’t go into it further. This is about baking, not politics.
To get back to the point – I am always a little surprised when people like and enjoy things from Germany. The schwarzwald or black forest, is a mountainous region in the South of Germany. Baden-Würtemberg is a large state west of Bavaria and its capital is Stuttgart. However, it is not clear whether the cake actually comes from there and bears the name because of it. There are different theories. For instance, some believe that the chocolate grating is reminiscent of a dark forest and therefore the cake was called “black forest”, having nothing to do with the region itself. Others believe that it got its name because the cherry liquor, which is a key component of the cake, is commonly made in the Black Forest region.
Apparently, in the Black Forest region they did have a dessert all the way back in the 19th century that contained the key components of the cake: chocolate, whipped cream and cherries. However, the baker Josef Keller claims the cake comes from North Rhine-Westphalia – the former Bad Godesberg, near Cologne, to be exact. Again, there are multiple theories. What we do know is that the first written record of the cake as the schwarzwälder kirschtorte dates back to 1934, where it appeared in a cookbook.
Nowadays, we immediately make the connection to the Black Forest area, whether it is sure the cake is from there or not. They even have a black forest cake festival down there.
Weckmann from Rhineland
Out of all these treats, the weckmann is definitely my favourite. It just has the most nostalgic value for me. With it, I am finally taking you to my homeland. The very West of Germany. The famous Rhineland. It is simply, and completely objectively, the absolute best part of Germany. Here, the actual fun people of Germany live. Yes, I know the stereotype of Germans not knowing how to take a joke or just how to have fun in general. But here in the Rhineland, all that is not true at all. It is the home to some of the best football/soccer in Germany (do not argue with me about this) and are the home of Karnival. We know how to throw a proper party and how to make really good beer.
However, the weckmann does not have its origins here, unfortunately. I know it’s a little bit of a cheat, but bear with me. The special treat is from Europe, that’s about as much as my research was able to narrow it down. It has an interesting history, because it’s quite unclear just how it became what it is today. People in all parts of Germany also have different traditions that include the weckmann, as well as many different names. I am using the one I know, but people may also call it dambedei, stutenkerl, piefekopp or ditz.
The weckmann’s history goes back centuries and was apparently supposed to be a special present for the children. The weckmann supposedly portrays Saint Nicholas. He was a bishop and so the pipe you can see in the picture was originally a crosier. The children got the treat for Saint Nicholas Day, which many people in Germany celebrate each year, and back then sugar and butter were rare. The weckmann, loaded with both, therefore made for a very special present. Legend has it, that one day in the 18th Century, a baker had used up all his little crosiers for the weckmann and so resolved to using small plastic pipes instead. This then became the weckmann as we know him today.
Again, there are different stories about his origin, but this one is definitely my favourite. So, I chose it to tell you.
Now, why is the weckmann so significant for me? Well, where I am from, we do not have it for Saint Nicholas Day, but we actually traditionally have it for Saint Martin’s Day. It is in November and was always one of my favourite Holidays. We would make pretty lanterns at kindergarten or school, walk in the long parades around town singing songs and lighting the streets with our lanterns; someone would play out the tale of Saint Martin cutting off a part of his cloak for a freezing, homeless man, and we would go around the neighbourhood singing songs and receiving candy for it.
In Kindergarten, I even got to be Saint Martin in the play once, riding a real pony and all. I always helped the local church packing the bags full of candy that parents could buy for their children. All money was for a good cause, of course. And I would join my mum in walking around the neighbourhood selling the tickets for the candy bags. It was just one of the most beautiful times of the year when I was a child and it always always included the delicious Weckmann.