Germany Guide for Refugees
Nine important things to know about eating and drinking in Germany
Germans know that food and drink are good for the soul. They like to eat well, and they have plenty of choices. DW's Matthias von Hein sums up some important facts about food and drink in Germany.
Alcohol is legal in Germany. The traditional place for drinking beer is the local "Kneipe," Germany's equivalent of a bar or pub. Drinking is a part of daily life for many adults.
The most popular alcoholic drink in Germany is beer. On average, Germans drink over 100 liters per year. There is an abundance of regional beers: Over 1,300 breweries make sure that people's thirst for beer is quenched. The Germans are particularly proud of what they call the "Reinheitsgebot," a "purity law" which has stipulated for over 500 years that beer can only be made from malt, hops, yeast and water.
In Germany, it is illegal to drive a car or ride a bike under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol consumption has been steadily decreasing. Still, each year over 100,000 people end up in a hospital due to alcohol poisoning. Some 1.3 million Germans are addicted, and about 74,000 die every year because of alcohol abuse.
Germans love bread. Every year, a German will eat about 82 kilos' worth, and there are over 300 kinds to choose from. Leavened bread, based on sourdough or yeast, is traditional, but it is possible to buy unleavened bread almost everywhere in Germany. Germans tend to eat fresh rolls in the morning, which they buy from the local bakery. Bakers used to always make bread themselves, but now over half of the baked goods bought in Germany are mass-produced and frozen – bakery assistants just have to stick them into the oven. Germans like to eat bread with butter, jam, cheese, ham or sausage for breakfast or as an evening meal.
Germany is a paradise for lovers of sausage. There are an estimated 1,500 different types of sausage in the country. An ordinary supermarket might have about 100 types on sale. On average, Germans eat about 30 kilograms of sausage every year. This is almost half of their overall consumption of meat. Sausages tend to be made from pork, but it is possible to buy beef, lamb or poultry sausages in Germany, as well as ones made from tofu for vegetarians.
Germany's favorite fast food originated in Turkey. The döner kebab is a flatbread filled with grilled meat, onions, tomatoes, salad and various sauces. The meat can be lamb, beef or poultry, but never pork. There are over 16,000 kebab restaurants in Germany, and altogether they sell 30 "döners" a second. The döner arrived in Germany at the beginning of the 1970s and has become a staple over the years. For vegetarians, there is a Middle-Eastern alternative: the felafel.
As soon as it gets warmer, people in Germany start barbecuing - on balconies, in gardens, in parks or at the beach. Anything can be grilled, of course; usually it's meat, but fish, tofu sausages, aubergines or other vegetables are also used. Grilling has become an institution, and the range of barbecues on sale at DIY stores is staggering. You can also buy a basic barbecue grill at most gas stations. Some parks even put up barbecues for people to use. If you're lucky they will be sheltered, so you can take refuge if there's a sudden storm. It goes without saying that people are expected to clear up after themselves and to take care not to irritate their neighbors with the smoke and the smell of barbecuing meat on the balcony. To avoid any unpleasantness, it's best to simply invite the neighbors over!
Water is highly regulated in Germany because it is such an important part of daily life. It is possible to drink tap water, although the quality will vary depending on the city and the region. Nonetheless, many people prefer to buy water in bottles. Bottled water comes in different forms: sparkling, slightly sparkling and still.
Food is relatively cheap in Germany. There is tough competition between discount stores such as Aldi, Lidl or Plus. Germans spend about a third of their income on rent, whereas they only spend an eighth on food, drink and tobacco. Most food is bought in supermarkets, but there are also smaller stores such as butchers or bakeries. Organic stores and supermarkets are gaining ground in Germany. The food there tends to be more expensive, but it has not been exposed to harmful pesticides. Weekly markets where people can buy seasonal and regional food remain a lasting tradition. It is not common to bargain in Germany; prices are fixed so that comparisons are easy to make. In most German cities, there are halal butchers and stores run by immigrants that sell products that were not always traditional in German cuisine.
Special dietary requirements
About 10 percent of the population in Germany is vegetarian, and the figure is rising. People have various reasons for choosing not to eat meat: Some are influenced by Buddhism or Hinduism. Many people believe it is healthier, while some dislike the mass industrialization of the meat industry and its harmful impact on the environment. Furthermore, allergies are becoming more common. The number of people who are lactose- or gluten-intolerant is increasing. Often people who have particular dietary requirements warn their hosts in advance to prevent embarrassing misunderstandings at the table if they are invited for lunch or dinner.
About half of Germany's four million Muslims fast during Ramadan. Many employers take this into account, although there is no official obligation to do so. Fasting is also traditional among Christians during Lent, the 40 days between the end of Carnival and Easter. Many nonpracticing Germans, too, will choose to fast for health reasons during this time, giving up alcohol, meat or chocolate, for example, or solids altogether.