Major Nuremberg brat exhibit opens in Germany

notesYou say you love bratwurst? Germany’s Bavaria is centuries ahead of us in that regard, and now a new exhibit in Nuremberg’s local history museum is devoted to the sausage.

The show about Nuremberg Rostbratwurst fills the first level of Stadtmuseum Fembohaus and is a first step toward deciding whether the city should open a permanent bratwurst museum.

In room after room, artifacts, odes of love, tales of lore, historic postcards and enlarged portraits spell out what makes this sausage unusual and endearing in Nuremberg and beyond. Lyrics to an 1889 polka pay homage to the bratwurst. So does a miniature Bratwurstküchen, where butchers make sausage in the basement, then sizzle and serve it upstairs.

Six of these restaurants still exist in Nuremberg, and most are near the Hauptmarkt downtown. Many more were in business until bombings nearly leveled the city 70 years ago, during World War II.

U.S. bratwurst typically is made with pork, but that is nobody’s requirement. Some versions contain beef, chicken or soy. Some butchers experiment wildly, slipping hot peppers, cheese, garlic, bacon, beer or other surprises into the links’ casing.

We call them all brats, but what we accept as flavor enhancers would border on blasphemy in Nuremberg, which is strict in determining what makes its finger-sized Rostbratwurst globally distinctive.

Among the conclusions: Each link must be 7-9 centimeters (2.75 to 3.5 inches) long, weigh 20-25 grams (less than 1 ounce) and contain marjoram, mace and no more than 35 percent fat. The sausages are made with pork, chopped medium coarse and stuffed tight into sheep casing.

They traditionally are grilled over a beechwood fire, served on a pewter or tin plate (heart-shaped, ideally) and plopped onto a bed of sauerkraut. Potato salad is likely, too. Using horseradish, mustard or both as condiments is fine, but don’t ask for ketchup.

Blaue Zipfel is the rare, acceptable variation for preparing these sausages: The meat is cooked in a stock of spiced vinegar, wine and onions (and typically eaten on Christmas Eve).

Nuremberg Rostbratwurst fed the poor during the Middle Ages (“small enough to stuff through a keyhole,” is how the story goes). It was the first lunch and last supper for the imprisoned who were kept in dungeons before being hung.

Today, the sausage is as common as our hamburgers on restaurant menus and a popular offering for food vendors at outdoor events. About 150 Nuremberg butchers and four corporations produce around 1 billion links per year.

As a sandwich, it’s three links per Kaiser roll. One plated serving means your choice of six, eight, 10 or 12 sausages.

“Twelve?” I repeat to my guide, Alena Borsky.

She shrugs and says, “If you are a big man, you eat them all.”

Evidence of sausage making in Nuremberg goes back to 1462, and the unusual size can be traced to 1573, when production of smaller sausages was one way to deal with increased meat prices.

“From one pound, butchers could make five sausages instead of (the usual) four,” Alena explains.

The Society for the Protection of the Nuremberg Bratwurst, formed in 1998, ensures that Old World traditions and consistent quality continue. The sausage in 2003 became a geographically protected product, just like Parmesan cheese or Parma ham.

Admirers have long appreciated the difference between this and other bratwurst.

“The sausages in my belly are like forget-me-nots from Germany,” wrote Bayreuth author Jean Paul in 1813, after receiving the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst as a gift.

At the museum exhibit, Alena points out a 1938 book full of handwritten restaurant customer testimonials and interprets one rave review: “The sausages have one mistake – the ends are very near.”

Now dozens of museum visitors are adding contemporary sentiments, each jotted onto a paper plate. Among the translated messages:

“No sweets are better.”

“We even had them on our wedding day.”

“I like them very much, but now I turned vegetarian.”

What we have here is an intense love story that has lasted ages, and it’s not easily duplicated in America. Wisconsin’s Sheboygan can call itself the Brat Capital of the World, but that doesn’t make it so.

“Have you heard of Johnsonville Sausage?” I ask my guide.

“Not yet,” she replies, diplomatically.

“A Cultural History of the Nuremberg Bratwurst” stays in place through March 29 at Stadtmuseum Fembohaus, Burgstrasse 15, Nuremberg. A free guidebook explains the exhibit in English.

Admission is 5 Euro (about $6.25). The museum is closed on Mondays. museums.nuremberg.de/fembohaus, 011-49-911-231-5421

A new, 90-minute bratwurst history and cultural tour also can be arranged in Nuremberg. nuernberg-tours.de, 011-49-911-350-64631

The city’s six remaining Bratwurstküchen are the Bratwursthäusle, Bratwurstglöcklein, Goldenes Posthorn, Bratwurst Röslein, Zum Gulden Stern and Bratwurstherzl. die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de, bratwurst-roeslein.de, bratwurstkueche.de, bratwurstherzle.de

Bavaria tussles with Thuringia as Germany’s sausage capital. The latter is home to Thuringer Rostbratwurst (a geographically protected product) and in 2006 opened the German Bratwurst Museum. bratwurstmuseum.de, 011-49-3628-604-412