Konnopke's World: Berlin's Most Famous Sausage Stand Fights Changing Times and Tastes

By Thomas Hüetlin

Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood has radically changed since the Wall came down. One thing that hasn't changed, though, is Konnopke's. Having survived a world war and a dictatorship, the 80-year-old sausage stand now has new challenges to face.

A woman enjoys currywurst and fries outside the Konnopke's sausage stand. Zoom
DPA

A woman enjoys currywurst and fries outside the Konnopke's sausage stand.

Waltraud Ziervogel sits next to the cash register at Konnopke's snack bar on an aluminum chair she has made more comfortable with faded cushions. "As far as I'm concerned," she says, "they can handcuff me and carry away, but I'm not leaving this spot."

Cars drive by on the two-lane street in front of the sausage stand and drive a little faster on the other side, where there are three lanes. The subway rattles loudly by on green tracks towering over the stand.

"That's normal," says Ziervogel, the daughter of Max Konnopke, who started selling sausages there 80 years ago.

But what isn't normal is that there are two backhoes digging into the pavement 10 meters (33 feet) from her stand. The backhoes hiss and roar as they work on part of an €8.5 million ($11.4 million) project to renovate a busy intersection on Schönhauser Allee. The intersection lies in the city's trendy and rapidly gentrifying Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, in what was once East Berlin.

Konnopke's, it would seem, is in the way. But Frau Ziervogel refuses to budge. If she can help it, the 74-year-old intends to keep selling sausages even when she's 105.

Worlds Colliding

Ziervogel's sausage stand might just be the most famous one in Germany. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was a regular here, as was actress and entertainer Liza Minnelli. Busloads of tourists are known to visit the stand.

The top of the refrigerator at her stand is lined with beer bottles surrounding an Easter bunny holding yellow paper primroses. And one of the most popular items served there is currywurst, a favorite German side-stall delicacy made by taking a sausage, chopping it up, drowning it in ketchup and sprinkling it with curry powder.

But, just a stone's throw away, you can find a completely different type of place. Take the snack bar "Filletstück," for example, whose menu advertises dishes like "Donald Russell's Irish beef, dry-aged for at least three weeks," a 400-gram (14-oz.) steak -- for €52. This snack bar represents a new kind of world, one teeming with latte-macchiato bars, spotless health-food stores and restaurants serving all sorts of novelties.

The Good Ol' Days

A supplier unloads four sacks of potatoes onto the pavement, each of which weighs 25 kilograms. "Hold on," Ziervogel says to an employee. "Give me a minute, and I'll help you carry them down to the cellar."

It's a blue-skied spring morning. Ziervogel gets up from her aluminum chair to sit down in another chair and smoke a Marlboro in what she calls her shaded "little garden." Here, there are four yellow tables walled in on three sides and covered with a green awning separating it from the underside of the subway tracks. "I don't want to say that East Germany was a great place," she says, "but at least they let you work in peace."

In this case, the people disturbing her peace are officials from Berlin's transportation authority and a bothersome city council member from the Green Party.

It all started in 1987, when city officials preparing for festivities marking Berlin's 750th anniversary asked Ziervogel for her thoughts on how to clean up the neighborhood. "With a little snack bar garden," she told them. And suddenly, within no time, there it was.

"We were always busy," Ziervogel says, "and we always had enough sausage. Those higher-ups knew that if Konnopke's stopped selling sausages, and just sold potato pancakes instead, it would be the end of East Germany."

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