Aside from being a bit put off by this different brand of asparagus that's exceedingly rare in the States, and reportedly had to be peeled before consuming, I was flummoxed at the sheer enthusiasm the Germans had for the vegetable. Many even religiously adjust their schedules and eating habits in the Spring to maximize Spargel consumption, and I'd bet big money that there's an annual hollandaise bubble around late April-early May, as it is the Spargel sauce of choice. Many lands tout their scenic wine or beer routes, but I reckon few can say that have a designated Spargel-route; Delbrück in northeastern Germany can make this proud claim, and they advertise their veg-specific cycle tour route on the Internets with the slogan "Pure cycle and asparagus pleasure." If I loved white Spargel as much as I love cycling, this would be a dream come true for my inner hedonist...but I don't, so it really isn't (to boot, there is nary a hill in the region, rendering the cycling equally marginal). Although my home province of Berlin/Brandenburg doesn't have its own Asparagus Pleasure Route as far as I'm aware, it does have its own epicenter of asparagus production located in and around the town of Beelitz, just southeast of city limits. In other words, if you're in Berlin and your asparagus didn't come from Beelitz, you've been had.
|After 50 total hours of sunshine all Winter, Spargelzeit finally|
shines its light on Berlin.
For those hard-to-convince readers needing more evidence of just how serious (or rather, giddy) the Germans are about the mighty asparagus stalk, the Spargelzeit phenomenon has also reached into the realm of television: one of the longest-running and most popular series in Germany was and is the crime show Tatort, and the 2010 episode called Spargelzeit (if you love Tatort and Spargel and have an hour to burn, you can watch the whole episode on YouTube) racked up the highest ratings for a Tatort show in 13 years (about 10.5 million viewers and a 29% share!), which puts it high in the running for the most watched show Germany-wide.
In search of some sort of concrete reasons behind this Teuton-Vegetable love affair, I found some information at germanfoods.org that points to the history of asparagus as a "luxury vegetable." Back in the day, it was almost exclusively available to the medieval rich and famous, and was therefore a rare treat for the humble plebs, who were drinking chunky-style beer and living in the otherwise-monotone culinary world north of the Alps. I think there could be something to this history playing a role on modern Spargel-eating habits, but I can think of two possible additional factors: first, Spargelzeit comes right at the glorious moment when the cold, grey winter of northern Germany gives way to blossoming flowers and trees and chirping birds. Asparagus, in other words, is just another happy indication that winter has come to a close. Second, and probably more importantly, I think Spargelzeit is really just the most popular example of the larger phenomenon of ingrained seasonal eating and drinking habits in Germany that emphasize the beginnings of a particular food or drink's harvesting season.
|Erdbeerzeit is still the best Zeit of them all|
as far as I'm concerned. (Photo: Hölker Verlag)
All of these Zeiten underline the much more prevalent tendency of Germans to eat seasonally. This tendency is part by choice, part out of habit, and part by general availability of produce. Any American who has lived in Germany or wandered into a German supermarket on vacation has probably noticed that the breadth of produce is far narrower than that found in its American counterparts (I've also read blogs complaining about the barren supermarkets of Germany). For many years in the U.S., I grew used to year-round strawberries, avocados, grapefruits and almost any other seasonal fare that was flown in from opposite hemispheres, so it took me a while to get used to the comparably sparse selection at the typical Rewe, Edeka and especially the increasingly numerous Bioläden (organic grocery stores). But when I got beyond this initial frustration, I realized that seasonal eating and the Germans' various food obsessions are actually one of my favorite aspects of German (and really, European) culture: it really is a wonderful way to enjoy the passing of the seasons and forces you to enjoy those foods even more when they're available and fresh. It also minimizes the shipping of food across hemispheres and oceans (see this article from the Local on this topic) or inefficient production in giant greenhouses. So enjoy your Spargel thoroughly (for now), and the strawberries will be here in no time flat.