An American BBQ in Germany
It’s no secret Americans love BBQ’s. It’s not that folks in other countries don’t, but it never seems to have caught on like it did in America. Come rain, snow or insects, the diehard American BBQer will have one. This is evidenced by countless block parties, 4th of July celebrations and BBQ cook off contests, not to mention restaurants.
Why it has become an almost exclusive American institution is anybody’s guess. However, to illustrate this claim, here is a little story that happened in the late 1960s. It was observed by a young American while vacationing along Germany’s Rhine River.
To preface the tale, let’s look at a little European culture. Bicycles are popular on that continent and many take road trips on them in groups or even individually. Only basic necessities are taken, a small tent, water, bedroll, food and a small styrene can to cook it on. Of course, Americans do this also, but it’s much more popular in Europe…kind of like a coming of age or rite of passage experience.
The story begins as a large American family pulls into one of many camp sites for cycling travelers along the Rhine. But, the Americans are not cycling. They arrive in another American icon, a station wagon. It’s obvious they are a U.S. Military family as a U.S Air Force decal is prominently plastered on the rear window.
As the occupants pile out a group of excited kids hollering in English hurriedly start setting up camp. The mom, noticing that although the camp ground is close to being filled to capacity, it’s also extremely quiet and warns her kids to keep the noise down. Then out comes the tent, five times the size of any others present. The kids start putting it up while the dad pulls out a medium sized charcoal grill. It’s a good thing he brought it as the grounds were noticeably absent of any.
With the tent up, the kids take off to the river’s edge to play and dad tosses a match onto the charcoal. At this point most other campers were still huddled in their small tents sleeping or cooking an unappetizing meal over a styrene flame and hadn’t really noticed the newcomers. But that was about to change.
The ice chests are unloaded and preparations for lunch get underway. The dad dons his big white chef’s hat and ridiculous looking apron with the words “Home of the Whopper” emblazoned in front and begins making huge hamburger patties. Soon, the coals are ready and the patties are plopped on the grill.
Shortly thereafter they are sizzling over an open flame and their juices send clouds of aromatic smoke wafting across the camp ground and into the small neighboring tents. One by one their occupants peek out the tent flaps to see what’s going on. Other’s stop in their tracks and sniff the air. Although curious, they are a little shy about coming up directly to investigate. But one brave soul, no doubt prompted by the mouth watering smells, slowly ventured forward to get a good look.
The other campers eventually garnered the courage to emerge from their tents and watched to see what kind of reception their lone unofficial representative would receive. The first of the burgers were now done and the mom began making sandwiches with all the fixings…baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad etc. Mrs. Mom offers the first plate to Mr. Unofficial Representative, who meekly accepts it. He speaks a little English, enough to profusely thank his American hostess.
When he sinks his teeth into the huge hamburger an expression of sheer delight crosses his face. Apparently, it was his first one. Perhaps emboldened by his success, the others slowly shuffle about, eventually ending up close to the ever increasing crowd at the American’s camp. Fortunately, Mrs. Mom had packed a lot of hamburger meat and hotdogs. Maybe she had expected more company. But in any event, there was plenty to go around and she was kept busy being a gracious hostess handing out meals.
A few campers spoke enough English to carry on a conversation and translated for those who didn’t. Before long it resembled the familiar American block party, minus the houses and streets. Cultural barriers dropped and everyone relaxed and had a good time swapping jokes, telling stories and learning a little about each other.
The reader may be wondering who the American observer of all this frivolity was. It was the author, at the time just a young lad of 16 there with his family. The author often wonders if the event sparked a BBQ revolution in Europe…after all hamburger originated at the German port of Hamburg.