Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.
Christie Dietz, A Sausage Has Two
Christie Dietz was born in London, but after moving about a bit, working in various creative (and uncreative) jobs and doing a fair bit of traveling around the world, she moved to Wiesbaden, a beautiful spa town in the heart of Germany’s Riesling wine region, with her German husband in 2010. She’s settled there for now, and in Germany for good, as she just acquired German citizenship. Her work as a freelance writer focuses on German food and travel, both featured on her website, A Sausage Has Two, and other publications that to date have included The Guardian, Fodor’s, Time Out, EATEN, and National Geographic Traveller Food.
Without A Path How did you get started in writing about German cuisine and wine?
Christie Dietz I first started blogging in 2005, spending hours in sweaty internet cafés writing about my travels in order to keep my family and friends updated back home. On moving to Wiesbaden in 2010, I began a new blog to share stories about settling into my new life in Germany. It wasn’t long before I realized I was basically just writing about my culinary experiences here: local specialties I’d tried for the first time, trips to the local farmers’ market, weekend excursions to wineries with my in-laws, and my experiments in the kitchen trying to make traditional German meals. I was unable to find anyone else blogging about German food and drink, and having realized there was much more to it than I’d expected, I decided to focus on the topic exclusively.
WAP Your website is “A Sausage Has Two.” Two of what?
CD The name comes from the German saying, “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” That is, “everything has an end, only the sausage has two.” Sausages do feature on the site. There are allegedly over 1,500 different types in Germany, so it would be remiss of me not to include them, but I try to present the German cuisine in a way that goes beyond its stereotype. The traditional food and drink here is largely seasonal and very regional, and I try to reflect that in the stories I tell about my culinary explorations, the traditions and processes I learn about, and the people that I meet. I also share guides to ingredients and dishes, traditional German recipes, and culinary travel guides including recommendations for what and where to eat and drink.
WAP Was there a moment — a specific meal or drink — that more or less convinced you to start writing about German cuisine?
CD There wasn’t one meal specifically, no. It was more of a gradual realization that there was much more to Germany’s cuisine than I was – and I think most people outside Germany are – aware of. Coming to understand how underestimated and undervalued German food is outside of the country itself made me really want to write about it. Of course, there’s the odd experience that stands out that provoked these thoughts. For example, the first time I came across white asparagus, the most fervently celebrated produce in the seasonal German calendar, but one that I’d never heard of before moving here. And then I discovered local specialties such as Grüne Soße, a cold sauce from Frankfurt made with seven specific herbs, that went against all the preconceptions I had about German food.
WAP Most travelers have an image that comes to mind when they think of German food. Are they right?
CD Well, they’re not wrong. The stereotype of German food — all the huge plates of pork and dumplings — of course exists for a reason, but there are all sorts of wonderful seasonal and regional dishes that people outside of Germany rarely hear about. There are plenty of traditional German dishes that are available up and down the country, perhaps in slightly different variations, and for example, you’re unlikely to find a traditional German menu without a sausage on it, but that sausage will — with one or two exceptions — vary considerably depending on where in the country you’re eating it. Restaurant menus will often list a selection of local and/or seasonal specialties in addition to standard German dishes, many of which are often little known outside their region, let alone Germany.
WAP How can travelers best experience German culinary traditions and drinking culture?
CD I’d encourage visitors to travel not just to the most obvious locations such as Munich and Berlin, but visit other cities, too — Frankfurt or Münster, perhaps — or explore German wine country, the mountains or the coast. Germany is a huge country, and culinary traditions vary around it to an astonishing degree. Wander away from the hotspots and you can try all sorts of lesser-known regional specialties and join in with all manner of local events, from seafood festivals on the beach to cheese-making demonstrations on a dairy farm, and gin tastings at small distillers or vineyard wine walks.
WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since getting started on this topic?
CD I was really surprised to discover how seasonally many Germans eat. Farmers’ markets and excellent local produce are plentiful here, but what continues to amaze me is the fierce regionality of the cuisine. There are of course are various regional dishes that have become popular all around the country, but there are many more dishes you’ll find in one region — or even one village — that you won’t find in the next, or there’ll be a difference in the way a specialty is enjoyed between two neighboring towns.
Now I’m traveling around the country with the specific purpose of learning about regional cuisine and am being exposed to different attitudes towards food and varying local specialties, processes, and traditions. I’m realizing that I hadn’t really grasped just to what extent regionality was important here. I was in Münster recently researching white asparagus and tried a couple of other local delicacies whilst I was there, including a cured and beechwood-smoked ham made with the meat of forest-dwelling acorn-fed pigs (Wesfälischer Knochenschinken). When I returned home, around 250 kilometers south, none of my friends, family or colleagues had ever heard of it. Last weekend in the Pfalz I tried Ilbesheimer Kunschdhäwelfläsch, salted, seasoned pork neck served with Riesling onions, which is a specialty of the village of Ilbesheim — home to approximately 600 people. Of course, there are many countries where the food and drink are regionally defined, but it was a huge surprise to me that it’s so extreme here in Germany.
WAP Do you have a favorite destination for eating and drinking in Germany?
CD There’s so much of the country I’ve yet to explore, but I’m very much in love with the region in which I live. Whether you’re eating a cured pork chop with sauerkraut and mashed potato and some very potent local apple wine in a traditional tavern in Frankfurt, or at a seasonal pop-up restaurant in the vineyards enjoying white asparagus and drinking wine, there’s a real focus on enjoying yourself around here, and on making sure others are having a good time, too.
WAP What are you most excited about in the world of German cuisine?
CD Right now, the young winemakers in the Pfalz (Palatinate). German wine has a very unfair reputation around much of the rest of the world, but some truly excellent wines are produced here, and the quality of wine that’s being produced by the next generation of vintners in the Pfalz is quite extraordinary. There’s a competition every year open to winemakers along the Südliche Weinstraße (southern wine route, which runs through the Pfalz down to the French border) under 35 years old. I got to spend a bit of time with some of them recently, and I find their passion, knowledge, and the way in which they work together incredibly inspiring. In particular, I’d recommend checking out Marius Meyer (of Weingut Klaus Meyer) and Stefan Meyer (no relation) if you’re visiting the region.
WAP Could you offer any tips for travelers who might be intimidated by some of the very German sounding menu offerings?
CD When eating out somewhere casual and traditional in Germany, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from your server — or even the people at the next table. Most people speak a tiny bit of English and the Germans are hugely proud of their regional cuisine. Locals will be only too happy to point you towards a regional specialty. Don’t just stick to the dishes you’re familiar with, challenge your taste buds and learn something about wherever you are by trying something new. Even if you discover that veal tripe in red wine (Schwäbische Kalbskutteln, a specialty of Swabia) isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll have a good story to tell when you get home.
WAP What are you working on at the moment or what are you most looking forward to sharing?
CD I’ve got my first feature for National Geographic Traveller Food coming out in the summer, as well as articles for various other publications, plus a book contribution and lots of website content from my recent travels in the works. I’m also trying to get my newsletter back on track. In addition, I run food and wine tours of Mainz, Germany’s wine capital, with a friend and local wine expert, and we’re busy fixing a few more dates for those over the summer. And I’m planning lots more trips around Germany during the course of the rest of the year, including to the Baltic island of Usedom, Niedersachsen, Bavaria, Swabia, and the Mosel. I’m very excited about learning and sharing more about regional German food and drink, and all the notes I’m taking are being absorbed into a top secret project I hope to be able to announce at the end of the year.