The Ketwurst Is Germany’s Strangely Phallic Answer to the Hot Dog


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The Ketwurst Is Germany’s Strangely Phallic Answer to the Hot Dog

The ketwurst is an East German hot-dog-not-hot-dog made by pushing a bread roll onto a hot spike, toasting the inside, swilling a sausage around in a tray of ketchup, and squeezing the resulting meat mess into the bread hole.

I think it was the squirt that did for me. That and the spike.

We can all talk a lot of guff about food authenticity. About the "real" taste of a place, of "original" recipes. About tradition, history, peasantry, monarchy. About regional variations, national identities, innovation and heritage, truth and beauty, substance and style.

Well, my friends, the ketwurst is the dong-shaped, brown-splattered, bread-wedged exception that basically proves that rule is bullshit. Just because something comes from a specific area and has a brilliant story behind it, doesn't mean you will necessarily want to put it in your mouth. I mean, hell, we all learned that lesson after being asked for a blow job by a Geordie squaddie back in 2002 (right, lads?)


I have been in Germany, on and off, for much of this summer. Living almost within spitting distance of the last city remnants of Berlin Wall, I have cycled to Poland, through the rolling, baked yellow countryside of the former East Germany, read the original menu from the Fernsehturm de Berlin (the restaurant at the top of East Berlin's TV tower), and discovered a cornucopia of Soviet memorabilia in a man's attic. But none of this had prepared me for the ketwurst.


The ketwurst, a sausage and bread snack developed in East Germany in the 1970s. All photos by the author.

OK, that's not true. A lot of things had prepared me for the ketwurst. Firstly, I have eaten sausages before. Quite cheap sausages, even. I have also eaten bread—lots of it. I have also put the odd disgusting, pink meat tube in my mouth and hoped for the best, and I have eaten in more shopping centres than I am happy to admit. But the ketwurst is a special case because—and I hate to get all "I've got a degree" on you here—it is basically a pork-and-wheat interrogation of Jean Baudrillard's theory of Simulacra and Simulation.

READ MORE: Everything I Ate When I Cycled the Route of the Berlin Wall

I know what you're thinking—fuck this girl. But hear me out. Because, you see, while the ketwurst was originally presented to the people of the East German Republic as an intrinsically East German dish, the ketwurst could only actually exist—could only have ever existed—as a response to the hot dog; a Soviet reaction to capitalist America. The ketwurst is both a simulacrum of East German identity and a simulation of an existing Western dish.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. The ketwurst is, quite simply, an East German hot-dog-not-hot-dog made by pushing a bread roll onto a hot spike, toasting the inside, swilling a sausage around in a tray of thick, brown tomato ketchup-not-ketchup, and then squeezing the resulting meat mess into the bread hole using a big ol' pair of tongs. They are, perhaps not surprisingly, rather hard to find in modern Berlin. I had to cycle all the way to Zentrum Schoneweide in the Treptow-Köpenick district of the city to find a stall that would sell me one.


Ketwurst on sale at the Zentrum Schoneweide shopping centre in Berlin.

The ketwurst was developed in the late 1970s by an institution whose name—Rationalisierungs und Forschungszentrum Gaststätten Hotels Gemeinschaftsverpflegung—I can only really translate as the Rationalisation and Research Centre for Restaurants, Hotels, and Caterers. These are the guys who, apparently, brought East Germans the krusta (a pizza-not-pizza made of dark, bread-like dough that came in squares) and the grilletta (a hamburger-not-hamburger of pork meat and bread).

Always willing to get on my bike and cycle for an hour in the name of lunch, I headed over to Schoneweide only to discover that the blue dot on my Google Map was actually in a shopping centre, overlooking a large, three-lane highway, faced on the other side by a titanic Decathlon store. Going up the long, mostly horizontal gradient of the revolving walkway to the second floor I saw Asian food stalls, wine shops, a rather nice looking supermarket. Not, I fear, for me. I was heading to a small stall, in a far corner, where a man in a navy apron and grey sweatshirt was standing behind a small collection of hot spikes and gently sweating sausages.


"Erm, ein ketwurst?" I ventured, hopefully.

Silent, barely making eye contact, my man set about his gastronomic task. A roll barely bigger than a fist but about as long as a foot, was pushed, wordlessly, onto one of the toasting spikes. A sausage was retrieved from a large steaming jar and doused in a stainless steel tray full of ketchup. I was breathless with expectation, my face pressed against the glass cabinet (behind which was a deeply unappetising example ketwurst lolling gaudily in a plastic cup). The arms of the tongs with which the stallholder was gripping the sausage were ketchup-stained and dripping. With a deft movement, he pushed almost the entire sausage into the roll, until just a nubbin—a mere knoll of pork—was left poking out of the top, a necklace of brownish ketchup sliding down the sides.

READ MORE: Eating Two Lunches at the Two Best Chicken Shops in Berlin

Without so much as a flicker, the napkin-wrapped ketwurst was handed over to me. I passed back a two-Euro coin in exchange and walked to a table in the corner.

Here, I sat with a bottle of Club Mate at my side, and surveyed my lunch. It looked phallic, of course. But it also looked, well, quite a lot like a hotdog. Or, like a Chinese sausage bun with one end sewn up. Or a sausage roll but wearing a bread sleeping bag rather than pastry coat. As I bit into it a geyser of ketchup squirted into my mouth (unlike the Polish or Czech variations, where condiments are squirted down the roll and then redistributed by the inserted sausage, a ketwurst inserts the already-wet sausage into the bread). Sauce was running down my fingers too. The sausage itself was fine–basically a Frankfurter—and the bread was delicious, partly thanks to what I shall from now on call the "interior toasting."


But the best thing was that unlike the traditional, American, capitalist, western hotdog, large dollops of ketchup and mustard couldn't drip out of the end and onto my thigh. It certainly wasn't the taste. The taste was overwhelmingly disappointing.

And so, brushing down my breadcrumbs and walking back to my 1970s DDR bike, with its back-pedal brakes, heavy frame, and battery-saving dynamo, I was once again reminded how sometimes, we are wrong to fetishise something just because it's old, or because it only really existed in one small area of the world, or because it seems like a novelty, or because the politics behind it is interesting. When it's going in your mouth, that stuff doesn't necessarily matter. What matters is that it's good.

And the ketwurst barely cuts the mustard.