currywurst

Photo by Helen Soteriou

The Iconic Street Food of Berlin

A dish so loved there’s an entire museum dedicated to it
currywurst

Photo by Helen Soteriou

Berlin's street food staple.

Currywurst is one of those foods you either love or hate, and it’s the civic fast food of Berlin. It is more than just street food. Currywurst has turned into a symbol for resourcefulness, and has achieved cult status — providing inspiration for songwriters, comedians, authors, and documentary filmmakers.

It’s a simple dish but a cultural behemoth for the country, crossing social classes and allowing you to mingle with the strangers at your table as you stand there chowing down on some currywurst.

But what exactly is it? Well, currywurst comprises a boiled sausage cut into pieces, slathered with tomato sauce, and flavored with a dusting of curry powder on top. It can be eaten by itself but is usually served with either fries or a simple bread roll. You can even opt for the classier option of Champagne and currywurst at the Duke Restaurant at the Ellington Hotel.

According to the Berlin legend, a woman named Herta Heuwer invented currywurst in 1949. Her snack stand was situated in Charlottenburg, a western borough in Berlin, where she started selling the ketchup and curry powder poured over sausages.

There are more than 2,000 places that sell currywurst in the city, and even a Currywurst Museum in Berlin dedicated to the dish. Approximately 70,000 to 80,000 guests visit the exhibition per year —40 percent international guests and 60 percent German visitors.

The idea for the museum first came up during a holiday trip to Jamaica. The initiator and curator visited an exhibition about the yam root and thought about doing something similar in Berlin with the sausage.

In 2005, an interdisciplinary team started research on the topic and the interactive exhibition about the cult classic dish opened Aug. 15, 2009. When visited, I found it to be one of the most interesting and beautifully designed museums in Europe.

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The ingredients, preparation of the sausage, sauce and curry powder, the history and legends about its invention, and the development of fast-food culture are all presented at the museum through hands-on exhibits and video footage.