My name is Charlie and since August I have been working as a translation intern for Sprachenfabrik as part of my modern languages degree at Durham University in England. I am here not only to gain valuable experience in the work of a translator and to improve my language skills, but also to experience German life and culture – and of course, an inescapable part of the culture is trying the food. The stereotypes of schnitzel, sausage and beer have mostly not been true for my time in Germany thus far (in fact, the only sausage I have eaten so far was in England while waiting at the Channel Tunnel terminal), but even my everyday experience of food has been in many ways quite different.
My flat is next door to a supermarket, meaning food shopping trips have become a significant part of my day. While some of Germany’s supermarkets have made their way over to England, they are of the more discount variety. My local supermarket is however much more upmarket, with displays of winter squashes in exotic colours, meat deli counters, shelves of organic cereals and an incredibly extensive range of drinks of all kinds – I can’t say I have ever had a craving for prickly-pear flavour green tea before, but it certainly tastes very nice.
Yet one of the biggest differences has, quite unexpectedly, been the German approach to bread. Bread is of course a staple food in both England and Germany, but it seems that the German enjoy a much richer variety of different loaves, rolls and buns as part of their everyday lives than in England. The humble sliced bread I used to eat at home is only used for toast here, so my housemate tried to introduce me to some of the breads eaten in Germany: first was a rye bread that comes from the area, which wasn’t really to my taste. Luckily there are a lot of other delicious kinds available in the bakeries, from the crusty Brötchen rolls my housemates enjoy for breakfast to the Laugenstangen (pretzel breadsticks) we sometimes buy for lunch at the bakery along the road from the Sprachenfabrik offices. Yet my favourite so far has possibly been Fladenbrot, a large, filling flatbread that is actually not German at all, but comes from Turkey.
The Germans have proved to be bigger lovers of cake than I imagined. I was lucky enough to arrive for my internship at Sprachenfabrik just before a lot of birthdays in the office, so there has been at times a seemingly endless supply of cakes, pastries and other goodies. I am no stranger to a good cake (one friend here was quite surprised to find out the English people know cake mix is), but it is something I would probably mainly bake and eat on big occasions. On the other hand, my German housemates are baking all the time: when they have a spare twenty minutes before going out or when friends are coming round, they bake. Of course, with so many different kinds of cake and Kuchen always around, it’s hard to keep track of all the different kinds. I came home one evening and heard my housemate tell me she was cooking Pflaumenkuchen, which I knew to be a sweet desert with plums. She had in fact said Flamm(en)kuchen (a savoury dish, something like pizza), which left me quite confused when she started getting cheese, spring onions and mushrooms out of the fridge.
It’s been a fun few months getting to grips with German food and drink and I look forward to spending the rest of my time here delving even deeper into the supermarket aisles to see what I can find. Mahlzeit!