Fine Dining in Germany

Before I try to write about today’s German Fine Dining some comments on the history of Fine Dining in Germany are necessary. Why? Because it is hard to understand recent developments without knowing the roots.

Those of you being bored with some history could skip pages 1 and 2..

A Brief History of German Fine Dining (until WWII)

German cuisine stands for a wide variety of very distinct regional specialties from Hax’n and Weißwurst in Bavaria, Spätzle and Rostbraten in Swabia (see below) to Sauerbraten in the Ruhrgebiet and Schinken, Aale, Hering, Sauerkraut, Kutteln, Spargel, Kohl etc. you name it.

Rostbraten mit Spätzle

The interesting question, though, is whether Germany has its own tradition in Fine Dining. Without going into much details it is fair to say that in the until the 17th and 18th century German Fine Dining was reserved to the nobility and very much inspired by French courtly feasts. In the 19th centure Prussian parsimony ruled until the economy began to prosper from 1871 onwards (“Gründerzeit”). At the end of the 19th century French influence was re-installed as Kaiser Wilhelm hired Urbain Dubois and Emile Bernard as courtly chefs.

Nevertheless, in 1822 the art historian Karl Friedrich von Rumohr condensed his thoughts about fine dining and cooking in his “Geist der Kochkunst” which is frequently named along Brillat-Savarins “Physiologie du goût” as one of the leading gastro-philosophical works (“Gastrosophie”) . Rumohr was a vigorous opponent to gluttony and a very precise thinker about the culinary arts, dining culture and food in general. His influence, however, is less practical and more theoretical than Brillat-Savarin, yet there is a recipe for “Veal Kidneys a la Rumohr” which Eckard Witzigmann turned into “Veal Sweatbread Rumohr” in the early 80s.

Karl-Friedrich von Rumohr (1785-1843)

In the early 20th century there have been very important German chefs who shaped German Fine Dining, namely Alfred Walterspiel and Gustav Horcher. Walterspiel became chef de cuisine in the Hotel Atlantik in Hamburg at the age of 29 and bought the internationally renowned Berlin restaurant “Hiller” from Louis Adlon in 1912. Unfortunately this was closed during the first world war by the Wucheramt due to inopportune luxury. In 1926 Walterspiel (together with his brother Otto) bought the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich whose restaurant was named after him until 1995. His book “Meine Kunst in Küche und Restaurant” still is a standard in every cookbook collection. Horcher, on the other hand, created a unique style of service in his restaurants (including the famous stool for the handbag of a lady frequently encountered these days around the globe). The restaurant Horcher in Madrid still carries on the family tradition. Especially in the “Golden 20s” Berlin and its restaurants was highly regarded in Europe. As the Michelin was not international these days Germany does not have dynasties such as the Maison Troisgros or Maison Pic which was for sure exacerbated by the two world wars.

Fine Dining in the 20s

Walterspiel: Fine Dining in the 20s

After the second world war Germany was economically too weak to generate great chefs because there was simply no demand. In the mid to late 60s the Wirtschaftswunder again created some demand for Fine Dining. But, most restaurateurs did not return to Walterspiel’s or Horcher’s recipes or principles but instead ate a lot in the Elsass (at Haeberlin) and then sent their children to France for training. So, Germany was first under French influence, then shortly developed a German approach to Fine Dining, lost it and then imported French and international cuisine again.

Sources (any comments are welcome):

  • Jean Claude Bourgueil: “Typisch Deutsch“, Edition Port Culinaire (the relevant parts can be found here)
  • Interview with Gerhard Bauer an expert of culinary history in the Küche Magazin
  • Hauer, Thomas M.: “Carl Friedrich von Rumohr und Der Geist der bürgerlichen Küche“, Dissertation University of Karlsruhe, 2000

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