In praise of bratwurst
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“What would you like?” the waitress asked me, as if there were any real choice. At Bratwursthäusle, in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, it’s more a case of how many would you like: this restaurant devoted to the city’s famous sausages serves roast bratwurst, boiled bratwurst, and not much else. You can opt for 6, 8, 10 or 12 and if you choose roast, the bratwurst come served on a heart-shaped tin plate. The message is clear: Nuremberg loves bratwurst.
This passion is currently on special display. 2013 marks the 700th birthday of the marjoram-flavoured little sausage, the Nürnberger Bratwurst, which, thanks to designation under the EU’s Protected Geographical Indication scheme, can only be made in the city. The date of the anniversary is based on a 1313 ordinance from the city’s elders dictating how meat should be treated, which contains the first mention of bratwurst.
A year of celebrations is promised, beginning on Friday, when there will be a speech by the mayor, Ulrich Maly, on the Insel Schütt, an island in the Pegnitz, the river that flows through the city. Afterwards Maly will present the Bratwurst Prizes, which recognise those who have worked to promote the Nuremberg bratwurst, and there will be a ceremony involving music and poetry in the town’s Industrie und Handelskammer (chamber of commerce), broadcast live on Bavarian television.
The event coincides with the annual Old Town Festival and will include guided tours of the city’s bratwurst hotspots, but visitors at any time can take a self-guided version of the tour, produced by the Society for the Protection of Nuremberg Bratwurst (see its website, below, for details). Following it earlier this month, I was left in no doubt that Nuremberg lives up to its claim to be Germany’s sausage capital.
First stop: the cobbled, humpbacked Fleischbrücke (meat bridge) in whose shadow the bratwurst’s contents were once traded, then a short walk along the Pegnitz to the squat, brick-built Henkerturm (Hangman’s Tower), where the condemned were routinely offered a final meal of – you guessed it.
South of the river, there’s the Weisser Turm (White Tower), a 13th-century fortification and former site of an important pre-second world war Bratwurstküchen (literally “bratwurst kitchens”, where the sausages are prepared and presented in strictly prescribed traditional ways). The restaurant no longer exists but bratwurst are still sold here: I bought Drei im Weckla (three in a bun), a traditional Nuremberg street snack, from a stall run by a man with a lavish white moustache that stretched like a sail from the top of his ears to his nostrils.
Next, the tour brought me to the Schuldturm (Guilt Tower), where Hans Stromer, a 16th-century judge, was imprisoned for treachery. According to legend, in prison he consumed 28,000 bratwurst before his death, all of which had to be passed through the keyhole to him as the door could not be opened. This, some say, is why Nuremberg bratwurst are so small: between 7cm and 9cm long and weighing no more than 25g. It’s a nice story but more likely the size of the sausages was a response to the rising price of quality meat at some point in the bratwurst’s history. Such questions will be addressed in an exhibition to open at Nuremberg’s City Museum in April next year.
My tour ended across the river from the museum, at the current incarnation of the city’s first Bratwurstküchen, the Bratwurstglöcklein (the original was destroyed during the war). Like the Bratwursthäusle, the waitresses are dressed in dirndls and the rostbratwurst are cooked on an open-grill above a beechwood fire, but here they are delivered on a bell-shaped plate to reflect the name of the restaurant.
Having demolished 10 of the gently spiced little sausages, I was left as impressed by the ritual as much as the flavour. In a city almost completely destroyed in 1945, it seems the sausages offer a link to the past. No wonder the locals are so proud of their bratwurst. As Brigitte Korn, director of the City Museum, says: “I think that most Nurembergers would say that theirs is the best bratwurst in Germany.”