Unusual Tastes: The Restaurants of Weimar Germany

Postcard advertising the Residenz casino in Berlin
Postcard advertising the Residenz-Casino in Berlin (via)

Let’s enjoy the carnival of the inflation. It’s loads of fun and paper, printed paper, flimsy stuff — do they still call it money? … Krupp and Stinnes get rid of their debts, we of our savings. The profiteers dance in the palace hotels.

–Klaus Mann (1923)

The capital of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919–1933), Berlin alone was home to some twenty thousand eateries. The immense number reflected not so much a diversity of tastes for cuisine as a panoply of preferences for entertainment. In keeping with the spirit of the times, those latter tastes often ran to the grotesque and the perverse. Many of the metropolis’s restaurateurs augmented their bill of fare, top-heavy with hearty German staples, with marvels astonishing and often terrible to behold. A restaurant’s real draw was not so much the tenderness of its roast pork nor the pungency of its sauerkraut as it was the arresting spectacle of its stage show.

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“A Solemn and an Awful Thing”: Dining with Americans Sickens Dickens

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream (1875)

To the distinction between dining and merely feeding no one was more alive than Charles Dickens. For him, any refreshment to be gotten from a meal was merely incidental. The true importance of dinner lay not in the dishes that laden the table but in the fellowship to be had around it.

In believing that conviviality trumped digestion, Dickens showed himself quintessentially a Victorian gentleman. Dining in company became cherished entertainment in the nineteenth century, Victorian appetites grown keener for the wit and charm of friends and family than for any cutlet or custard. You can imagine, then, Dickens’s horror upon visiting the United States in 1842 for a comprehensive tour and discovering that Americans reduced mealtime to a barren silence punctuated only by the moist mechanics of ingestion.

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Fanfare for a Common Fungus: The "Trumpet of Death"

Depending on the region, June heralds the arrival of a coal-black mushroom known variously as the “trumpet of death,” the “horn of plenty” or “black chanterelles.” The fruiting bodies of this mushroom encircle oaks and tend to bunch under rhododendrons, proliferating seemingly overnight and disappearing usually within a week.

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