What do the following have in common? A gherkin and a gecko, an octopus and a carrot, Lithuanian cheese and the Bundeswehr; a stretched Trabant ‘limousine’ beer dispenser and six petite equine gymnasts; €110 and 415,000 ravenous Berliners?
Over the last ten days Berlin has hosted International Green Week. Since 1926 this remarkable international exhibition has brought the world’s food, agricultural and horticultural industries to the city. This year over 1,600 exhibitors from 57 countries created pavilions or stands to promote their produce: Switzerland marketed its Gruyère and Appenzeller, Norway sold its salmon and Aquavit, France opened oyster and champagne bars, Australia flogged kangaroo bratwurst and kangaroo goulash, Britain’s village fair stall plugged fudge and Walker’s Crisps.
Alongside the foreigners, eight of Germany’s federal states – Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt, Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia – also offered their tastiest and more intoxicating produce to voracious visitors, myself included. Over the course of a single day I sampled more varieties of German pig (acorn-fed, Bio-organic, Holstein and Thuringian, without casing, with added veal, ginger and nutmeg) and tasted more varieties of beer than I had in the previous year. According to the Messe Berlin marketing department, as many as 100,000 different culinary titbits are given away over the duration of the fair.
Beyond the Fair Trade and Bio Markt sections, prize-winning cattle chewed the cud and rabbits slept off their exertions. Audiences watched indoor horse shows and equine gymnastics. Salesmen marketed rape-seed-powered cars, domestic solar panels, combine harvesters, livestock inseminators, worm compost and good hygiene. The Bundeswehr handed out samples of army field rations while at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture experts discussed the impact of rising food prices on the poorest people in the world.
Over the years the fair has welcomed 30,000,000 visitors and – on the last Sunday – most of them seemed to turned up once again. At the end of Green Week, in its final hour, most exhibitors sell off their produce at bargain prices. The Australian Food Council does not want to fly its remaining half-ton of kangaroo sausages back to Oz, so they’re flogged for a song. Austrian butchers stand in the aisles offering bulging €10 bags of pork. Bargain-hunting Berliners arrive at the fair with shopping carts and rucksacks, scavenging the 26 exhibition halls for tasty deals. Like many residents, my refrigerator is now full of the most peculiar products: Bavarian white sausages, Latvian 9mm Energy drink, Hungarian paprika salami and a stinking box of overripe French cheese.
The Grüne Woche is one of Berlin’s busiest, tastiest, most enduring and exhausting events. This year fair attracted 415,000 visitors who each spent an average of €110 (that’s a total of €45,000,000 over the ten days). Like most of them, I can’t wait for next year’s show.