The Very Best Wurst is Currywurst!
For such an old country, Germany’s most popular fast food snack is not yet 100 years old. In fact, the Currywurst was invented during one of Germany’s most trying times. Immediately after World War Two, when Berlin was mostly rubble, divided into four military occupation zones and completely conquered, food was quite scarce, so an ingenious chef decided to concoct a sauce to entice her customers into purchasing more sausages.
On what was to be her 100th birthday, Google dedicated a doodle to Herta Heuwer and her Currywurst. http://www.google.com/doodles/herta-heuwers-100th-birthday
The chef’s name was Herta Charlotte Heuwer, nee. Pöppel and was born on 30 July 1913 in Königsberg (today Kaliningrad). Not very well known throughout the world, she is nonetheless very important to all tourists to Germany who are grateful for her culinary invention. Rivaling only the more modern Döner in popularity, Currywurst was her personal invention to enhance the typical boring old sausage that was served everywhere.
As a young child, Herta’s parents moved to Berlin where she received an apprenticeship in sewing and became a seamstress. That didn’t seem to work out so well as she also became a sales person at the world famous KaDeWe department store. After the war she helped clean up Berlin and became a Trümmerfrau. These iconic women cleared the rubble, knocked mortar off of destroyed bricks and scooped endless amounts of rock and building materials into waiting trains. Simply put, due to their diligence and hard work, the debris that was once Berlin was removed and the slowly came back to life. Herta also helped and worked at the Berliner Küchenhilfe where the unemployed and homeless could receive some shelter and food. Here she improved her abilities to cook and learned much about owning and operating her own restaurant.
Other Important Culinary Germans
She eventually obtained space to open her first Imbissstand, a small stereotypical German fast food stand serving sausages, fried meats, french fries, potato salads and a small variety of soups. Her stand was in the historic neighborhood of Charlottenburg, which was located in the British Zone of Berlin. Being bored with just serving plain old Bratwurst or other sausages, Herta wanted to create a unique sauce to compliment her sausages. She was able to get ketchup (perhaps from the American sector), Worcestershire sauce and curry powder from British soldiers, and began experimenting and creating different sauces. She added German flavors as well, perhaps such well-known ingredients in German cooking as cloves, paprika, onions, mustard as well as red and green bell peppers. In addition, traditional Hungarian flavors were well known in Germany, so combining tomato paste with bell peppers, adding in the Worcestershire sauce, regular ketchup and curry powder, she created a sauce that would eventually become the most loved snack in Germany.
Calling her sauce Chillup, she eventually patented her invention in 1959, but by that time endless amounts of imitators had popped up all over Berlin. But none could say they were the first. In 1976 she retired from her Imbissstand and as she died on 03 July 1999 in Berlin, she took her original Currywurst recipe to the grave. Not even her husband Kurt Emil Heuwer knew the exact ingredients. And although Berlin is the home of the Currywurst, and there is an actual Currywurst museum dedicated to the popular snack, countless stands all over Germany serve up their own take on the delicious Wurst.
The definition of a genuine Currywurst is a deep-fried sausage that has a curry sauce generously poured on it and curry powder liberally applied on the top to ramp up the flavor. Every fast food stand has their own take on it, just like hamburger stands throughout the United States have their own variations of burgers. The sausage is not a Bratwurst, however, but rather it is a cured and lightly smoked sausage made with pork and beef and is red, not white. Herta used a Dampfwurst for her original invention, preferring the steamed and slightly smoked sausage over other variations.
Outside of Berlin, one often finds a Bratcurry in lieu of a Currywurst. The menu will state Currywurst, but no Berliner calls it as such. The practice is to take a normal Bratwurst, cut it into one inch slices and slather it with curry ketchup. This is not authentic, and many a Berliner consider the practice "just plain wrong." Generally curry ketchups are quite sweet, but curry sauces run the gamut from sweet and mild to ultra spicy. One Imbiss in Cologne in well known for their home-made sauces with varying degrees of heat and with different, unique spices. Their spiciest curry sauce is so hot, my Texas students were sweating after just one bite!
More German Foods
When in Berlin, or for that matter, anywhere in Germany, give a Currywurst a try. You won’t be disappointed as you eat and reminisce about the story of occupied Berlin and Herta Heuwer. Guten Appetit!!!