Expatica’s correspondent discovers there is a lot more to national obsessions than beer, cars and wursts.
These days, I am having a strange recurring dream: In it, I am being stalked by giant white asparagus.
This is no surprise though because in Germany, it is Spargelzeit, the season when everyone goes nuts over the arrival of the white asparagus (Spargel).
The albino stalk
And truly, it is everywhere, in every form: You can’t escape the albino stalk. It creeps into every conversation. Huge sections of fruit and vegetable stands are dominated by it. Restaurants have entire menus devoted to it: spargel soup; Spargel with hollandaise sauce; Spargel with steak (the steak is the side dish); even spargel ice cream. Really!
Which brings me to the true topic of this month’s missive: German passions. Because while everyone knows that Germans are crazy about well-engineered cars (and speed), beer and wursts, there are lesser known national obsessions and they can be quite instructive.
So what does spargel-mania really say? Well, we in U.S. don’t really have an equivalent national passion for a seasonal food (barbeque doesn’t count). But what I find really entertaining is this ability to be so obsessive about the vegetable and what results from it: The Spargel Premium Pizza (with hollandaise sauce) offered for delivery by Pizza Max is a great example.
In fact, Germans often go overboard when it comes to food: I saw duck, red cabbage and apple pizza around Christmas time and a strange Whopper involving “Cajun” spices and cranberry sauce. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burger King is offering fried Spargel these days.
Another lesser known German obsession is with kidneys. I am certain I have never had another American mention their kidneys to me. Here, sentences are often peppered with references to the organ. One German I know sleeps in an old-fashioned men’s flannel nightshirt: “I have to protect my kidneys from getting cold.” Motorcyclists wear special belts to do that. Doctors advise patients to not sit on cold pavement or grass to avoid hurting the organ.
It is interesting how often the subject comes up. Even my boyfriend reading a German mystery novel came across two references to kidneys in the first chapter.
And what does this all mean? Well, I suspect it has something to do with a deeply held interest in this country in all things medical and scientific. I have noticed that medical detective shows, even American ones such as “House” do very well here.
That brings me to The Documentary. Nowhere else have I seen such a thirst for non-fictional story-telling. In my local video store, a huge section, prominently displayed, is devoted to them. German television airs far more of them (even on cable channels) than the U.S. or Britain. The German Film Prize for documentaries is a big deal here.
And people really watch.
How do I know? I can’t be at a party without someone some obscure fact they gleaned from a documentary such as how albatross stay monogamous or how the plastic recycling process really works. In winter, I noticed that the strange sand used to help pedestrians navigate ice. My friend explained that it is a special kind of gravel that is collected back every year and reprocessed. He saw it on a documentary.
Even my boyfriend is full of daily titbits, such as how sanitation engineers get into apartment buildings from, you guessed it, documentaries.
And why is this so? Maybe it has something to do with the national love for facts, details, for knowing things (and lecturing about them). Being called an intellectual is not an insult here.
One friend offered a different interpretation: “We Germans feel frivolous, even guilty, for watching just escape-type shows where we don’t learn anything.”
So now I am just waiting for someone to tell me what they learned from a documentary on the effects of Spargel on kidneys.