german reunification

Tales of pickles and 'Ostalgie'

On the day to commemorate 25 years of German reunification, it seems only right to recognise the beloved Spreewälder Gurken (Spreewald pickles) and the concept of Ostalgie. For this little gherkin, represents a wealth of German history and political, even emotional conflict. He is more than just a pickle and encapsulates the essence of Ostalgie, the longing or nostalgia for the East German regime, the GDR.

Ask today's Berliner how they feel about the German reunification and of course, the majority are relieved and positive about the end of the GDR (and their country becoming whole again). However, there are some who lament the loss of the communist era and with it, the social system and the feeling of being part of a community.

This longing, affectionately termed 'ostalgie', a play on the words 'ost' meaning east and 'nostalgie' meaning nostalgia, encompasses the sentiment felt by some East germans that it was better in the days of the GDR. 'Die Mauer im Kopf' (wall in the mind) represents the divide, east from west, that continues to be felt by some. The remains of the Berlin wall may have been swept away, but it could take another generation for its effects to be fully forgotten. 

Walking around Neukölln, where I live, the difficult past of this city can be so easily forgotten, but enter Mitte or walk by Ostbahnhof and the remnants can be seen. Walk along Bernauerstraße on your way to Mauer Park, pass the Eastside gallery on your way to Berghain, Berlin's struggle is tangible, though it may now be brightly coloured. 

The Spreewald pickle, hailing from the damp, swampy forests of the Spreewald region just outside of Berlin, are one of the last remaining 'Ostprodukte' (Eastern products) to survive the fall of the wall. Flavoured either with dill, mustard seed or spices, they help satiate this nostalgia and represent a little win over the dominant West.

A popular delicacy in Berlin for centuries, stemming back to the 1740s when Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, brought both potatoes and cucumbers to Germany. He was a good man- I have no idea what Berliners would do without potatoes and pickles!

Other OstProdukte that can still be found in today's German supermarkets are Rotkäppchen, Vita cola and Berliner Pilsner. Rotkäppchen sekt (sparkling wine) is still very much the favoured Berliner bubbles of choice. A few days ago, in my local Späti, (corner shop), a lady was forced to buy a bottle of Mumm as the Rotkäppchen was sold out and this clearly pained her no end. Rotkäppchen actually now owns Mumm, but she wasn't to know.

If your interest has been piqued, go to Ostpaket in Mitte here in Berlin, which is an Ostalgie paradise. 

The authentic way to enjoy this juicy, fruity little Spreewälder pickle is with a hunk of good German bread and a lick of schmalz (dripping). If, like me, dripping gives you the fear, then you can find veggie options as shown in the photo. 

Enjoy with a nice Berliner Pilsner or a glass of Rotkäppchen and raise your glass to the German Reunification.