Tales of Potatoes and Potsdam


The potato, or rather the Kartoffel, is king in Germany. 

It is the staple accompaniment for so many dishes, the childhood favourite of simply boiled and served with herby quark, or fried alongside an intimidatingly large schnitzel or used to create pillows of deliciousness in the form of German dumplings, Knödel. Debates are made as to the best way to make your kartoffel salat (potato salad) and any traditional German dish is not without the humble tuber in some form.

The potato invokes passion and great enthusiasm here in Germany, which is perhaps most evident in the sweet tale of the potato Linda. This particular variety of potato almost became extinct in Germany back in 2004, when the company that distributed it decided they were no longer going to. This meant that any farmer that continued to grow this potato would be acting illegally. Petitions were signed and rallies were made and with support from the media, Linda was saved. This was a farmer's success story and supports the fact, one should never try and come between a German and their potato! 

Now, in the area I live in Berlin- Neukölln, there is a farmers market named Die Dicke Linda (the fat Linda) in honour of this special spud.

Cookbooks and restaurants can be found dedicated solely to this humble veggie. The potato is revered and celebrated and to be honest, I can whole heartedly understand. WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT POTATOES?

It is thanks to Prussia's favourite king, Frederick the Great, that we have such potato based specialities in Germany today.

He introduced this strange and exotic vegetable to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1743 which, initially, was met with suspicion and avoidance.

However, Old Fritz, recognising the potato's affordable and nourishing qualities, was on a mission to encourage his people to accept it. He decided to grow potatoes in abundance within the gardens leading up to his palace, Sanssouci, in Potsdam and ordered his soldiers to guard the potato fields heavily, thus piquing the interest of the villagers. At night, the king instructed his soldiers to relax their guard so as to allow villagers to creep into the fields and steal these 'treasured' potatoes.

And the rest, as they say, is history. To this day, the Germans love their spuds. If you visit the palace at Potsdam and go to Frederick's grave, you will find an array of potato offerings, scattered across his resting space. Flowers are redundant, it is the potato that should be left as a mark of respect and gratitude for bringing this great vegetable and source of such culinary wealth to their land.

Interestingly, the potato was shunned across Europe, originally brought over from South America by the Spanish during the 15th century. During the 18th century, it was met with doubt from the British, as potatoes were not mentioned in the Bible, and in France, Marie Antoinette needed a lot of persuasion to accept the strange looking tuber as food. This was achieved by a scientist named Antoine Parmentier (Parmentier potatoes!) who introduced her to the beauty of potato plant blossoms in the form of a trendy head dress.

Back in Germany, I recently made the journey from Berlin to Potsdam with my brother, visiting from London, and decided to respect the potato-offering tradition by leaving a few from my kitchen on the old king's grave. Unfortunately, my offerings were not too pretty and had become a little old and shriveled, (it was a Sunday when the whole of Germany is closed!).I decided to take them regardless. I mean after all- they were from the very expensive Bio Company, so I figured they would be good enough for Old Fritz and not too offensive!

Now, I am a fairly sentimental person and to be fair, it doesn't take much to stir my emotional side,  but it felt quite special to take part in this old tradition of placing a potato on top of Frederick the Great's grave and remembering his part to play.

Should I get out more? I don't know, but lets raise a schnapps (preferably a potato based one) to Old Fritz and his faith in the potato.