For those who haven’t had the pleasure of tasting Currywurst, it consists of steamed, then fried pork sausages covered with ketchup and curry powder (curry ketchup is also available in stores for all of you lazy bastards). This refined “gourmet” dish is either served with fries or Brötchen (small piece of bread). It is what Fish & Chips are to the Brits or Hamburgers to the Americans.
According to the most credible version, the story starts after World War II, when women had to earn enough money to feed their families. Post-war years in Berlin saw the rise of an amazing breed of female entrepreneurs.
On September 4th 1949, four months after the end of the Allies’ Berlin Airlift, Herta Heuwer opened her Imbissbude (snack stand) on Stuttgarter Platz – the red light district of the British occupied part of West Berlin. She traded her booze for ketchup, curry powder, Worcestershire sauce and other spices with thirsty English soldiers. On that rainy and slow day, she got bored and decided to experiment on some new sauces. The unusual taste was most certainly a welcome change to what limited food options there were. So for shits and giggles, she turned post-war necessity to good advantage by mixing available ingredients. It was an instant hit, mainly amongst hungry construction workers rebuilding the city, who valued its high protein content, hint of exotic flavour and low cost. By 1951, it was so popular that it got patented as “Chillup” as 10,000 wursts were sold each week. Business improved so much that she had to move to a larger location to accommodate her customers and therefore opened a small restaurant that operated until 1975.
Herta refused to sell her recipe and the rights to her sauce to the American group Kraft Food and has since become a national hero.
As western Berliners grew richer, eating a wurst standing up at an outdoor snack bar became a social phenomenon. Actors, politicians, prostitutes, everyone from various social backgrounds had “curry fever”. Today, at the original location of her fast food stand, is a plaque honoring her and her beloved creation.
If the dish was such a big hit, it was mainly because of its sense of community, which at the time was missed and fully embraced.
Even ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder was known to be a big fan. Indeed, in 2002 when George W. Bush made his official visit to Berlin, Currywurst was on the menu and was largely left untouched by the American president (it’s clearly not for everyone).
To celebrate its 60th birthday, in 2009, the Currywurst museum opened right next door to Check Point Charlie (confirming Currywurst as a significant marker in recent German history– we reckon). 800 million Currywursts are eaten per year in the country, explains museum director Birgit Breloh, which is 1500 wursts every minute (that’s what she said).
Currywurst has even expanded beyond its German borders, and is now found around the world. Here are just a few places where you might find the famous dish:
– Herman ze German in London
– The no1 Currywurst Truck of LA
– Mama’s restaurant in Bali
– Wechsler’s currywurst in NYC
– WurstExpress in Sedgefield, South Africa
– Euro Curry in Bangkok
– König in Tokyo
Unfortunately for some (and fortunately for others), Berlin has a new kid in town called Döner, usually made by Turks but also by the Lebanese and Iraqi. Know to be the healthier option to Currywurst, it’s making quite an impression on the hipsters in town. Talking about hipsters, you should know Berlin is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, and Germany as a whole has one of the highest followings for the international movement known as “Slow Food.”
Here are our favourite Currywurst spots in Berlin:
Still standing in the same place where it all began in 1930 is Konnopke’s Imbiss (but they’ve been selling Currywurst way later). Extra points on the 5 level curry strength option. Don’t think that just because you’re in Germany that level 5 is for the faint at heart. It’s not.
One of Berlin’s hotspots for Currywurst. Everyone ends up here sooner or later: Tourists, residents and even half-cut celebs. The food booth is opened the whole night and if you like you can even get a glass of champagne with your Currywurst.
There are three or four Currywurst counters competing for the title of best Currywurst in Berlin. The reigning cult champ is Krasselts, (they’ve taken home two annual titles). Their creamy homemade tomato sauce is carefully created with love. You’ll love it too.