Herta Heuwer might not be a household name in the United States, but in Germany, she’s been honored with a commemorative plaque, a museum exhibition, a ketchup-drenched Google doodle, and with a lot of copycat currywurst. She was also recently celebrated with what might be the least flattering coin of all time, one that shows her silver likeness gently prodding the side of a sausage with one finger.
Although some sources describe Heuwer as a Berlin housewife, we prefer the ones that call her an entrepreneur. In 1949, she reportedly gave some booze to some British soldiers, in exchange for a bottle of ketchup. In either an enduring stroke of genius or an inspired bit of post-War innovation (or both) she covered a sliced sausage with a ketchup-based sauce and sprinkled it with curry powder.
“On the 4th of September 1949 Herta Heuwer got down to work. it was a rainy day, so business was slow and she had time on her hands,” the now-closed Currywurst Museum said of Heuwer. “Determined to conjure up something really for her guests, she took her newly acquired spices from the shelf, adding ingredient after ingredient to the dark tomato paste, thoughtfully tasting and making notes. Ten or twelve spices were to her liking [...] The next day she heated up the sauce, poured some over a well-fried sausage and proudly served the world’s first currywurst."
According to The Local, she started selling sausages from tray, and then from a van that she bought and turned into an increasingly popular stand. Her customers went bonkers for currywurst—and fast. Within a couple of months, she opened a second stand to keep up with Berlin’s craving, and had 19 people on staff who worked all day, every day. (A small plaque marks the place where her original stand stood for more than two decades; the memorial is currently beside a Go Asia supermarket).
In 1951, she patented her sauce, Chillup, and was basically Harland Sanders when it came to keeping her collection of spices a secret. When she died in 1999, she took her original Chillup recipe with her, but her contribution to German cuisine lives on. DW estimates that Germans eat 800 million orders of currywurst every year, and it has been voted Germans' favorite cafeteria lunch for 26 straight years.
2019 marks 70 years since Heuwer made that historic trade with a long-forgotten British soldier and Staatliche Münze Berlin, one of the country’s four coin mints, decided to honor her with a special coin. Unfortunately, it’s lowkey heinous. On one hand, it’s her own coin! On the other, she looks lumpen and wild-eyed as she pokes the side of one sausage! I both hate it and want it—but as of this writing, there are only seven left in stock.
But if we can’t all have a coin to put on proud (???) display, at least we can remember her name, admire her ingenuity, and thank her for all that secret sauce.