Just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, an important Cold War landmark in the once divided city and one of Berlin's most-famous tourist attractions, a museum is set to open this week dedicated to a rather more light-hearted aspect of the German capital's history: the local staple currywurst.
On Saturday, the sausage-lovers' shrine is set to open to tourists, giving them a taste of Germany's favorite side-stall delicacy -- a chopped-up, fried sausage drenched in tomato ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder.
Walking into the museum, the theme is unmistakeable -- this is a pork-eater's paradise. Currywurst paraphernalia bedecks the walls, and sausage shaped benches and accoutrements found at a typical German fast food stand complete the effect in the relatively small, open-plan space. The interactive exhibition features interviews broadcast through speakers disguised as ketchup bottles, a game played with curry powder shakers and fridges, containing traditional, sausage-related German products. There is even an area devoted to the controversial claim that Hamburg is the true home to the currywurst, but this myth is quickly dispelled -- Berlin refuses to allow the port city to take credit for the iconic snack.
A Berlin Favorite Since 1949
Every aspect of the currywurst experience is chopped up, researched and served with a side of trivia. All of the ingredients -- from the spices to the obligatory bread roll -- have a special section dedicated to them. Due respect is also paid to the queen of the currywurst, Herta Heuwer, the woman credited with first creating the snack in the western Berlin district of Charlottenburg in 1949. Archive footage shows her being interviewed on German television, hailed by the audience as a national heroine for introducing the snack to a grateful nation. Heuwer took her closely-guarded secret recipe to the grave, but luckily for Germans the currywurst formula is one that's fairly simple to recreate.
And of course, this would not be an authentic German exhibition without a nod to the environment. The "Rubbish for the Future" section of the display focusses on the traditional paper plates on which the sausages are served, describing the production and recycling processes that make the currywurst both a convenient and an eco-friendly side-stall snack.
At the end of the visit there is the usual plethora of nostalgic keepsakes and knick knacks on sale, including a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "Don't worry -- be Curry." But if you want to go home with the star souvenir it's going to cost you. Currywurst from a stall at the side of the road may come cheap, but a soft toy sausage will set you back a whopping €29.90 ($42.63). No wonder it has a smile on its face. After a steep entrance fee of €11 for adults for such a small museum, the expressions on guests' faces may be different.
But however kitsch it may seem, this is no laughing matter. If there's one thing the Germans take seriously it's their sausages, and the museum's curators are keen to emphasize the cultural significance of the popular snack. Some might find the idea a bit strange, but museum director Birgit Breloh says the exhibition is a tribute to "a phenomenon," adding that "no other German national dish inspires such excitement as the currywurst."
The museum is not without its critics though. Protesters wearing pigs' noses crashed the media opening of the exhibition and called for the museum to give greater prominence to a more humane alternative: vegetarian currywurst.
A spokesperson from the German Vegetarian Society called the museum a "glorification of the old, original sausage," and pointed out the health and environmental benefits of the meat-free alternative.
Appetite whetted and wurst trivia learned, visitors may be disappointed to find that the museum does not currently sell currywurst to its guests. Instead, sausage enthusiasts will have to don their t-shirts and badges and take to the streets in search of an authentic roadside stall -- not too hard a task in one of Berlin's busiest tourist areas.