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Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Sausage vendors feel pinch of a diluted tradition


"It's less a meal, more an institution," chuckles the retired policeman when talking about currywurst and pomme frites.

For 15 years "Bernd" has been a familiar figure, serving German sausage specialities to customers from a converted caravan on Savigny Platz in Berlin. But now he's quit his pitch on the square.

"Selling currywurst just isn't paying anymore," he sighs.

In earlier years, a trio of currywurst stalls were to be found on the tree-fringed square, close to where the city's overhead S-Bahn trains rumble past, and restaurants and pubs compete on both sides of the Kantstrasse.

Now all have gone, much to the dismay of street workers, writers, artists, poets and teachers from the nearby Technical University, who live in the vicinity of the square, and used to learn all the latest city gossip when munching their mid-day currywurst and pommes.

It's a similar story in several other Berlin districts. currywurst proprietors have been hurt by the bewildering spread of alternative fast-food outlets in Berlin in recent years, he says.

"Sure, a lot of sausages still get eaten in Berlin, but the demand is nowhere near as great as in former times," maintains ex-cop Bernd.

"People are in such a mad rush these days," explains Bernd, who used to patrol Berlin's streets in the mid-1980s until he was forced to take early retirement with a serious back ailment. "They flock to these `indoor' fast food joints," he sniffs. "It's wrecking our trade."

Sandwich havens, Starbucks coffee joints, mini-pizza establishments, Sushi take-outs, bagel parlours, even rival "hot-dog" stalls, have mushroomed, as speed has become of essence in the German capital.

Not that Berliners have given up on the currywurst. Down-town, there are still dozens of stalls in business, selling bockwurst, currywurst and boulettes (meat balls), spiced and ladled with a variety of sauces, to customers near the main railway stations.

But their numbers have declined.

Still, on Wittemberg Platz "sausage tradition" holds strong. Close to the Ka-de-We department store, and along the bustling Potsdamer and Schlossstrasse shopping avenues in Schoeneberg, the currywurst seems as popular as ever.

On cold wintry January mornings customers line up to buy their Currywurst und Pommes for 2.50 euros at a brightly lit stall, just a few paces from the giant store.

While on the other side of the square, a second gaily lit schnell-imbiss (fast snack bar) also does brisk business. A husband-and-wife team are constantly in motion, plying Berliners with chopped up currywurst, ladled with ketchup and a dash of pepper.

The currywurst habit also remains popular in Dahlem, a green district to the south west of Berlin.

At an imposing stone-built underground station, crowned with a quaint thatched roof, students from the nearby Free University regularly consume their currywurst -- or bockwurst -- in style, and sip coffee for a mere US$0.50 a cup.

Last year Jon von Wetzlar, a local film-maker and author, spent months moving about Berlin with photographer Christoph Buckstegen, reviewing the social, gastronomic and architectural impact of Asian, Turkish, Belgian, Finnish and German food stalls.

Von Wetzlar claims currywurst establishments have a useful urban architectural purpose, and lend character to city areas that otherwise would have remained sterile and vacant.

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