LivingTravelQuintessential East German foods

Quintessential East German foods

Louder than the buildings, experiences and products that evoke the unique feeling of Ostalgie (a combination of the German words for “this” and “nostalgia”), there is food. “Good German food” is generally reminiscent of roast pork and potatoes, but East German food can be the kind only a Mutti could love. The product of DDR ingredient restrictions, East German foods were often born out of necessity.

That does not mean that they cannot be enjoyed. There has been a wave of nostalgic Ossi restaurants opening in places like Berlin with the most persistent eateries hoping to get back in fashion. Whether you find them in a restaurant or try them yourself, you haven’t really had a taste of life behind the Wall until you’ve had these East German foods.

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A version of East German dumplings, Königsberger Klopse , is named after the Prussian capital of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). Covered in a creamy sauce with capers and lemon, they are served with boiled potatoes.

Although the dish outlived its namesake (the city was destroyed by Allied bombing and then taken over by the Russians), it was clouded by the fate of the city. Any reference to Königsberg was prohibited under the DDR rule.

The party renamed it Kochklöpse , although the German people once again called it Revanchistenklöpse (revisionist dumplings). Fortunately, the delicious East German food remained popular enough to survive the DDR and regain its original name.

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I’ve tried this East German staple a number of times and just can’t get in – a common sentiment for people who have tried it with its English name, head cheese.

Known as Sülze , Schwartenmagen, or Presskopf , this jellied meat is often seasoned with pickles or vinegar in East Germany. It usually comes in the form of a loaf and is sliced and served with raw onion.

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Veal cutlet

Although technically Austrian, the Schnitzel can be found throughout Germany and there are some rather strange adaptations of the old East. Meat was scarce at the time of the Wall, so Jagdwurst (spiced pork sausage similar to mortadella) was sometimes used. Another unique Berlin adaptation was the schnitzel made from cow’s udder. Understandably, very few places still serve any of these traditional dishes.

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Knuckle of pork

The robust roast pork knuckle ( Schweinshaxe ) may seem like it falls lower on the Bavarian side of things, but when boiled or steamed it’s all East German, baby. It lacks the crunchy crunch of the Bavarian Schweinshaxe, but is extremely juicy. One simply has to remove the layer of fat and burrow into the moist meat underneath.

Like many traditional foods in East Germany, it is often paired with Sauerkraut and Erbspüree (pea puree). If you have to throw some potatoes in there (it’s Germany after all), try Knödel (meatballs).

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Hamburg also claims ownership of this Berlin sausage, but Currywurst is a must in East Germany. The result of a resourceful German housewife trying to add flavor to her family’s meager postwar diet, she switched alcohol to curry powder from English merchants. Combining it with ketchup and Worcestershire and applying it generously over a sliced Bratwurst , it made one of the most popular dishes in Germany today with around 800 million sold each year.

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Blood sausage

Continuing the sausage theme, Blutwurst (blood sausage) also comes in regional varieties. A hot dog made from frozen blood may not sound appetizing, but off this list, it’s one of my favorite things.

The strangely named Tote Oma (Dead Grandmother) is a beloved East German version. Blutwurst is served loose and hot, usually alongside sauerkraut and potatoes. In Spreewald, just outside Berlin, the version is called Grützwurst and it comes with Sorbian sauerkraut or smoked ham.

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